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How Now TV defined home entertainment in 2013

Now TV, Sky's diminutive set-top box, pretty much blew the competition out of this water this year.

TV isn't linear any more. Apart from the X Factor finals or the latest jungle eviction, we're increasingly following our own schedules when it comes to watching TV.

Plugging a laptop into your TV is probably the quickest way to set yourself up -- unless you're happy sitting at a desk -- but we still don't reckon it's the easiest option.

Not since the advent of Now TV, Sky's diminutive set-top box, which pretty much blew the competition out of the water this year.

Why? For starters, at £10 a pop it's an absolute bargain. Considering it's effectively a re-sprayed Roku LT, which usually retails for four times that price, Sky's picking up most of the tab on each one, which is generous in anyone's book.

Second, it lets you watch Sky's sport and movie channels without a bulky Sky box. Movies cost £8.99 a month, which is less than the price of a new DVD -- not to mention most cinema tickets -- and you can buy into sports event-by-event, for £10 per day. So, whether it's the Ashes or the Open, you get a front row seat for a fixed price, and no contract.

So, it's a stealth device, designed to sell you Sky content, but what's wrong with that? Apple has long been using the iPod and iPhone as a route into the iTunes Store, and Amazon has done the same with the Kindle, propping up its expanding range of e-readers with premium content.

There are caveats, though. Compare the Now TV box with the Roku LT on which it's based and you'll notice that some of the most compelling rival services have been removed. Chief among them is Netflix, which made the jump on to Virgin Media's TiVo boxes last month. That means you won't be able to watch Netflix exclusives like Kevin Spacey's reworked House of Cards.

You do get access to BBC iPlayer, 4oD and Demand 5 though, which are burnt into the firmware alongside Sky News. It's certainly a more convenient way to scroll back through programmes you've missed over the last seven days.

You can also download apps like Spotify, Facebook and Vimeo, although Spotify only works with a paid-for Premium account.

Setup was a breeze in our tests. The 8.4cm-square box scans for wireless 802.11b/g/n networks and hooks in to your existing Now TV account, which you can sign up for using a regular browser. Although it suggests you need to pay for a trial subscription to a Sky service to complete this step, active discussions in the Now TV forums suggest that this isn't actually necessary, which means you're effectively getting a terrestrial TV streaming device for a tenner. Bargain.

Other than that, you'll need at least a 2.5Mbps connection and an available HDMI port (there's a cable in the box). Video is streamed in 720p 16:9 anamorphic format.

Of course, you don't need to buy a box to access the service. You can also stream to your smart phone, tablet, computer or console. That would be missing the point, though.

Now TV defined home entertainment in 2013 by making it so simple that even a clueless couch potato could get it up and running, and bundled it up in a great little device that's discreet enough not to look out of place below your TV. It's a real winner.