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Sky Now TV Box (2015) review: Sky's updated streamer has a Netflix-sized hole, but the price is still hard to resist

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If you're living in the UK and like to keep up with what's on TV, it's hard to get the full picture without somehow getting involved with Sky. The satellite broadcaster is notorious for snapping up the rights to many of the most exciting shows and movies currently on offer, from "Game of Thrones" to the latest Disney movies.

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7.9

Sky Now TV Box (2015)

The Good

The £15 Sky Now TV Box is a cheap and easy-to-use way to get on-demand Sky programmes, as well as catch-up from terrestrial channels. The Ethernet port is a great addition.

The Bad

There are no Netflix or Amazon Prime Instant Video apps. Sky services only stream in 720p resolution and movie rentals are standard-definition only.

The Bottom Line

Sky's new Now TV box is a dirt-cheap way to get on-demand movies and TV shows from Sky and UK terrestrial channels, but heavy-duty streamers will find the lack of Netflix and Amazon apps frustrating.

Now TV is Sky's online streaming service. It's a response to the increasing popularity of services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video, which let you watch TV shows and movies through your Internet connection. Though it's available on many platforms already, including Apple TV and games consoles like the PlayStation 4, Sky hopes you'll want to stream through its own-brand set-top box. The first Now TV box impressed us with its simple interface, low price and broad range of streaming options, and the newest version is similarly tough to dislike.

What's new, and what can it do

The new Now TV Box, which costs £15, is broadly similar to the old model. The big differences are a faster processor for speedier menu navigation and an Ethernet port that's been added to the back. That Ethernet port is a real bonus because it means you can physically connect your router to the Now TV box, eliminating the risk that a flaky Wi-Fi signal will interrupt your viewing. A lack of reliability was our biggest problem with the old Now TV Box, so this is a definite step in the right direction.

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The revamped box features an Ethernet port, which is great if your Wi-Fi has a tendency to drop out. Luke Westaway/CNET

Sky's Now TV service is split into three sections -- Entertainment, Movies and Sports. Each section comes with a monthly access charge of £7, £10 and £32 respectively, though day and week passes are also available for Sports. You're not tied in for more than a month, so you can cancel or start up these packages at your leisure.

As the names suggest, the Entertainment tier is packed with on-demand TV, while the Movies and Sports packages handle Sky's impressive roster of movies and sporting programming, with sporting events available to view live.

Popcorn time

In this reviewer's opinion, it's the Entertainment section that offers the best value for money, granting access to box sets of dramas that are tricky to track down elsewhere. At the time of writing, these include "Hannibal", "The Walking Dead", "Game of Thrones" and "The Newsroom", as well as older shows you might have missed such as "The West Wing", "Mad Men" and "24".

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Now TV's offering is split into TV shows, movies and sports. Luke Westaway/CNET

The Movies service offers plenty of choice, but Sky holds back the newest and most desirable releases for its Sky Store app, where you make one-off payments to stream films. The Sky Store has a comparable selection to that of Apple's iTunes, for instance, but one seriously aggravating Now TV quirk is that you can't rent movies in HD. You can either rent in standard definition or buy in HD using Sky's bizarre "Buy and Keep" plan, which lets you watch the film as many times as you like while Sky also posts you a DVD copy. This usually costs about £14 for a new release.

iPlayer, but no Netflix or Amazon

The Now TV Box also comes pre-loaded with catch-up services for the UK's major terrestrial channels. So you'll get the BBC's iPlayer, ITV Player, Channel 4's All 4 and Demand 5. And, since the Now TV box is essentially a rebranded Roku box, you can also access the Roku channel store to add other, less TV-focused, apps to your lineup. Options include YouTube, Facebook and CNET's own app.

Notably absent, however, are the true titans of today's streaming TV: Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video. You can see why Sky wouldn't want to introduce its own customers to rival services -- especially those that pose a massive threat to its business -- but for Now TV Box owners, the omission is a pain. There's great TV available on both services, especially Netflix's roster of home-brewed shows, such as "House of Cards", "Daredevil" and "Orange is the New Black."

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Catch-up apps for terrestrial channels are represented, but there's no Netflix in sight. Luke Westaway/CNET

The Sky and terrestrial offerings may be more than enough for casual TV viewers, but serious streamers will have to find another way to get at one or more of these services. Happily, Netflix in particular is available on almost anything with a screen -- including smart TVs, games consoles and the YouView box -- so it's not exactly tough to track down.

720p limit

Although the new Now TV box is technically capable of handling video at a 1080p resolution, Sky only offers its Now TV services at the lower 720p resolution. When I tried watching a few episodes of "The Walking Dead" through Now TV on a 42-inch LG TV, the quality was serviceable. What blurriness I could discern never ruined my viewing pleasure, but it's a shame not to be able to stream in 1080p.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the Now TV's £15 price tag makes it tough to criticise. It performs its core functions -- beaming on-demand telly from Sky, the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 -- in a workmanlike fashion, and its interface is easy to get to grips with.

Be aware, however, that this £15 box is unlikely to replace all your current TV viewing. If your Internet dips out of service it won't work at all. And with no built-in hard drive, there's no option to download shows or movies to watch offline, or to save programmes for later.

The Now TV Box's greatest advantage is that it has very little mainstream competition in the UK TV market. While Sky itself is feeling the squeeze from subscription services like Netflix, no other UK broadcaster has a mainstream set-top box built exclusively for online viewing.

Given that streaming services are so numerous, and spread across a huge number of platforms, finding a single piece of affordable plug-in hardware to handle all your streaming is no mean feat. Bearing in mind the Now TV Box's low price, a few missing apps and a lack of 1080p resolution is hard to begrudge.

The Now TV box would make a good starter set for anyone dipping a toe in the waters of streaming TV. If you're happy to spend more, you could investigate the Roku 3 (£99 from Amazon), which has built-in Netflix but not an Amazon streaming app. Or you could try the £30 Google Chromecast , but it's lacking Amazon Prime Instant Video and some of the terrestrial channels' apps. If you're looking for Amazon streaming services, the Amazon Fire TV Stick (£35) is a good option.

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7.9

Sky Now TV Box (2015)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Ecosystem 7Features 7Performance 7Value 9