Now TV is Sky's aggressive attempt to stay relevant, as more people rely on streaming services such as YouView, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video to watch TV. It's using the exclusive deals it has struck with the rights holders of big sport events, buzzworthy American dramas and starry Hollywood movies to bring it all to the UK for small monthly fees and no long-term contracts.
To get the service out there, Sky could have followed Netflix's example and made a version of its app for lots of different TVs and almost every streaming media box, but that would have been expensive and slow for the company. Instead, it's produced apps for a smaller range of devices, such as the iPad, Xbox 360 and some LG TVs. To plug the gap, it's also taken the bold step of selling its own streaming box incredibly cheaply: £10, plus a fee to watch the Now TV service.
Lots of channels (but no Netflix)
It's amazing value. The Now TV box is essentially a rebadged Roku LT, which means you get a very solid streamer with loads of apps. iPlayer is the headline act here: if you don't have a convenient way of watching BBC programmes, it's almost worth buying this box just for that. But other UK channels get a look in too, with apps from Channels 4 and 5, although there's no ITV.
One notable absence is Netflix. It's one of the only TV streamers I've seen that doesn't support the service. The box is technically capable of running it, but Sky has blocked it, as it doesn't want to give its arch-rival another route to its customers for such a small price. There's no support for Amazon Instant Video or YouTube either.
You do get apps such as Spotify, Vimeo and Vevo, however, and there's a CNET app if you want to catch up on our latest videos. Here's the full list of apps the box supports at the time of writing this review.
Easy to use
The interface is fairly simple. The box is controlled with an infrared remote, which you use to cycle through a straightforward grid of icons corresponding to the different apps. It works pretty much like every other streaming box out there at the moment, with the exception of Google's Chromecast, and the remote is decent.
To set it up, you need to sign up to Now TV online and hand over your credit card details. Monthly costs for the service are generally low, starting at £5 per month for the entertainment package, which includes plenty of good American TV, such as Game of Thrones, from studios such as HBO. It's £9 per month for movies, or £10 per day (yes, per day) for access to every Sky Sports channel. Sky announced a modest price rise at the start of May, but recanted shortly afterwards. You can expect these prices to go up by a pound or two at some stage, but there's currently no indication when that will be.
As with many other streaming services, there's no long-standing commitment, so once you've paid for a month, you could just cancel, keep the box and use it to access iPlayer, Channel 4, 5 and so on.
Sky's deals mean there's plenty to watch on the entertainment package (I have barely used Netflix in weeks) and Sky Sports is full of more sportiness than you could ever watch, even after BT taking some of its football matches away. Looking at Now TV's "what's new" listing for its Movie service, none of the films were available on Netflix, although most were available to buy or rent from Amazon and elsewhere.