Now TV is the pay-as-you-go streaming version of Sky, with various bundles to choose from. It’s ideal if you want to watch Sky Sports, Sky Cinema or Sky’s entertainment contract but don’t want to sign up to a long term (and costly) deal; perhaps if you only want Sky Sports over the cricket season or Sky Cinema over the winter.
You’ve long been able to buy Now TV devices to plug into your TV, but now there’s this: the Now TV Streaming Stick. It’s a version of Roku’s Streaming Stick and uses Roku’s software – but costs just £15.
Is it worth it in the face of so many other capable streaming devices and services?
What’s the competition like?
Before we get into the details of how the Streaming Stick performs, it’s worth looking at what rivals it’s up against – and crucially at what price.
The two main competitors are the Amazon Fire TV Stick (which is over twice the price) and Google’s £30 Chromecast. If you’ve got Roku, YouView, EE TV, Apple TV, PlayStation 3/4, Xbox 360 (or later) or a 2015-or-later Samsung or LG Smart TV then you can already get access to Now TV through its app.
Now TV boasts monthly entertainment, movies, sports and kids’ passes, which are £3 per month for kids’ content, £8 for entertainment, £10 for Sky Cinema and £34 for Sky Sports – although you can also get a Sky Sports £7 day pass or £11 for a week.
The Now TV Streaming Stick is subsidised by Sky as a gateway to signing up for the packages, hence the low price. If you subscribe you can also watch Now TV content through a computer or mobile device in addition (up to four devices are supported).
The Now TV Smart Stick will also give you access to catch-up services including BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Demand 5 and All 4, plus you can download over apps including YouTube, Sky Store and Vevo. As such, it’s a great way to bring catch-up TV to an older TV or a TV where the built-in apps aren’t as good.
If you want Freeview channels as well, then check out the £40 Now TV Smart Box.
Design and remote
Standard HDMI dongle design
Powered via USB port
No included extender cable
Nicely-designed Wi-Fi remote included
The Now TV Streaming Stick is a standard HDMI dongle so it can plug directly into your TV or another screen (or something like a projector). As with other dongle-designed streamers, USB power is required from a 5W charger included in the box. Refreshingly, USB power could be from a port on your TV. This is unusual since usually device manufacturers recommend using the included mains supply, but we always prefer using the screen so the device powers down when the TV does.
It’s worth noting that there’s no extender cable in the box as with many other similar devices, so you’ll need a little bit of room next to your HDMI port for it to fit in or you’ll need an extender, which you can pick up for next to nothing.
The new Wi-Fi remote doesn’t need line-of-sight control (essential for a stick that will probably be around the back of your TV). The remote is well-designed and doesn’t feel cheap.
As well as basic menu navigation controls, there’s also a Kids button for easy access to the Kids section of the guide; a My TV quick access control so you can see programmes you’ve saved or are in the course of watching; and a Sky Store button, as the Now TV Streaming Stick gives you access to Sky’s download store where you can buy or rent blockbusters at the same time that they come out on DVD or Blu-ray – so before they’re shown on Sky Cinema.
The remote also features a microphone button. As on Sky Q, Apple TV or Fire TV with Alexa you need to hold this button while you talk into the remote. You can ask for a director or actor by name and all relevant content will be dredged up from Now TV content (though not, for example, from BBC iPlayer or other catch-up services).
You’re also able to ask for a particular app, like iPlayer, by voice. We found it generally quite effective providing we were crystal clear – there were a few queries we tried where the remote didn’t recognise what we said – as it’s a simpler voice offering than, say, Amazon’s solution.
Box to viewing in a few minutes
Needs a Now TV account
Interface is functional but doesn’t really show-off content well
The remote can also be used to control your TV’s volume. You can specify this in the settings menu, but we found it controlled our Samsung TV automatically without further setup. However, one disadvantage is that you can’t set it up to control the volume on other devices, such as a soundbar.
Initial setup of the Streaming Stick is so simple: plug it in and when prompted enter your Wi-Fi details, then sign into your Now TV account (you can create one on a computer or mobile device if you don’t have one already). That’s it, job done.
The interface has been redesigned, but won’t surprise anybody who’s used Now TV before. It’s all very simple and easy to use, with different sections split to match the available Now TV passes – Entertainment, Sports, Movies and Kids.
In some ways it feels a bit more outdated than, say, Amazon and Apple’s more image-led streaming interfaces, but it’s perfectly functional. It is, however, a little bit on the slow side when you click into an area which needs to be re-populated with content. When you click into the content you’ve selected it also takes a few seconds to load.
If you you click into a programme from a catch-up TV app you’re transported into that app, so iPlayer loads the familiar smart TV interface, for example and the on-screen controls are all iPlayer’s own. The catch-up TV services are all fairly slick now and the experience of using them here is good.
It’s worth noting that the Streaming Stick will enable you to able to pause live Sky TV for up to 30 minutes later on this year, but this feature doesn’t yet work.
Services and streaming quality
720p streams only
No Amazon Video
Apps are a distilled collection from Roku’s library
This isn’t a device to use for streaming from devices (like Chromecast) but it’s great for catch-up TV. Most of us already have a way to access that kind of content though, so the only advantage of having catch-up TV here is that all your viewing would be in one place. There’s also a bunch of around 50 apps including YouTube, TuneIn and Vevo, distilled down from the much wider selection that Roku offers.
While Netflix has now been added (September 2018), Amazon Video still isn’t supported. So if you’re subscribed to Amazon (and a lot of people are) that means this can’t be your only smart TV device.
Mind you, if you want this device to subscribe to Now TV Movies or to use Netflix, then you’ll likely not be so fussed about the lack of Amazon sipport. And there’s the Sky Store, too.
But the big disadvantage of this stick compared to rivals is that the services provided by Now TV are 720p, which is less than half the resolution of 1080p Full HD – as offered by many other rival services. And it’s a far fry from the increasingly adopted 4K Ultra-HD. There will be some who buy this stick believing they’ll get Full HD content from the outset, which isn’t the case.
However, the Streaming Stick is 1080p capable and Sky says that Now TV will be rolling out Full HD streams later in the year. But it’s hard to get away from the fact you can’t get that quality yet; even the interface is just 720p currently.
Thankfully the audio offering is better, with Dolby Digital+ and DTS support for surround sound.
The Kids area of the Now TV offering is worth a separate note, because we think that £3 a month for access to full kids’ programming will be good value for many parents and this will especially be the case when Now TV opens up downloads in its apps later this year.
Once inside the Kids area of the interface there’s also a soft lock, so you have to consciously exit the kids section. It’s designed so kids can’t just click around the entire interface willy nilly.
The main disadvantage with the Now TV Stick is the lack of its contents’ quality. Its 720p streams are archaic and we’re glad that Now TV will be bringing us 1080p streams from later in 2018.
But that’s in the future, not now, not at launch. Maybe such quality can be got away with for Kids and some Entertainment content, but paying premium prices for content without truly premium delivery is behind the curve.
This resolution shortcoming really shows up when streaming live channels or when you’re checking out content through catch-up TV which you’ve seen elsewhere at better quality.
The Streaming Stick’s advantages? It’s the initial cheap price, basic voice control and the ease-of-access to pay-as-you-go Sky services. Maybe you want it as a way to bring TV and catch-up services to a second TV or to grab a week’s access to Sports.
In the end, which streaming device you choose will probably come down to the services you use or the hardware you already own. The Now TV Streaming Stick has potential and provides access to quality content, just not in the quality that many will demand – and when that improves, so too may this budget stick’s score.
The alternatives to consider
Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote
While Amazon can’t provide access to all the content that Now TV offers, and costs more money from the outset, it can deliver content in higher quality and has access to plenty of other apps and content too.
Read the full article: Amazon Fire TV Stick review
Google Chromecast 2
A device that already offers Now TV access (also at 720p), while catering for additional casting and app opportunities at higher-still resolution. There’s also a 4K version if you want to spend a little more (Now TV remains 720p, of course).
Read the full article: Google Chromecast review
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