Or Goren | Mar 19, 2018 | 0
NOW TV, Sky’s streaming TV service, fills a gap in the life of a cord cutter: Ditching the traditional pay-TV contracts (Sky TV, BT, etc’) often means having to wait if you want to watch the latest programmes or movies, until those arrive on Netflix or Amazon. But with NOW TV, you get the best of both worlds (at least in theory) – the latest shows and movies from Sky as soon as they air, plus a selection of “box-sets” that you can binge-watch.
NOW TV was launched by Sky back in 2012 as a way to fight Netflix, which also launched in the UK that same year. Having realised that more and more people are willing to ditch year-long contracts for the flexibility – and pricing – of services like Netflix, Sky had to find an answer – and it did, sort of, with NOW TV – but while it has some clear advantages over Netflix (mainly the newer TV shows and films), it also has some downsides.
In this NOW TV review, I’ll take a look at the streaming service itself and its pricing, how it compares to the other streaming TV services out there, and I’ll also review the NOW TV boxes, as these are the most common way to get NOW TV – though certainly not the only one (more on that later.)
NOW TV Review
Who is it for: Cord Cutters looking for a cheaper way to watch the latest films, shows and sports
Interface & Usage
Value For Money
Overall Rating: 85%
- The very latest films and TV programmes
- Flexible “Passes” and pricing – Choose what you want to watch
- Available on many devices
- No monthly contracts
- Excellent live sports content
- Back-catalogue of Box-Sets is small compared to Netflix
- Many show available only for a limited time, then disappear
- Only 720p
- No subtitles on most of the TV shows
- Gets expensive if you want it all
Less of a “Netflix Killer” and more of a complementary streaming service, NOW TV offers most of the latest talked-about TV programmes, recent films, and all of Sky’s Sports channels. But their selection of full box-sets is limited, their picture quality is disappointing at 720p, and if you combine all the content passes together – things get pricey.
NOW TV Prices
Unlike Netflix and Amazon Instant Video’s “One Price Fits All” strategy, NOW TV have divided their content into separate “Passes” – Entertainment (TV), Sky Cinema, Sky Sports, and Kids.
Each pass has a different monthly price, which is both a good thing and a bad thing: It means you have more flexibility, paying only for the content you need, which is what we Cord Cutters want. On the other hand, it also means that if you want it ALL, you’re going to pay a lot more than you would on Netflix (even without the Sports Pass, which is the most expensive.)
The prices, as of February 2018, are:
CinemaOver 1,000 Movies
- 11 Live Sky Movies Channels
- New Premiere Every Day
- Most Recent Blockbusters
- Rich Back-Catalogue
EntertainmentLatest TV Shows
- 11 Live Sky TV Channels
- Over 250 TV Box-Sets
- Latest TV Shows As They Air
- TV Catch-Up Service
SportsLive Sporting Events
- 10 Live Sports Channels
- Premier League football
- Daily / Weekly Passes Available
- Set-up Viewing Alerts
- 6 Live Children’s Channels + On Demand
- Popular Titles
- Parental Controls
Note that the NOW TV Sports pass has a different pricing model – you can either get a Day Pass (£7.99), a Week Pass (£12.99) or a Month Pass (£33.99) – again, this gives you more flexibility, but can add up when you put it all together.
Taking a look at the comparable Sky TV prices, “The Original Bundle” which is similar to the Entertainment Pass (with the addition of the Sky Q set-top box, the Freeview channels) can be had for around £20/m – with an 18 months contract. The “Complete Bundle”, which includes TV, Cinema AND Sky Sports (along with a Sky Q set-top box) costs £68.5/m these days, on an 18 months contract – AND in most cases, you need to add set-up fees.
Getting ALL the Now TV passes would cost £54.96/m – so again, NOW TV comes out cheaper, AND you get the flexibility of changing passes (or cancelling altogether) every month – just remember that the passes renew automatically every month, so you need to remember to cancel when you want some time off.
Pricing Tip: NOW TV boxes often come with bundled passes, usually two or three months of either the Cinema, Entertainment or Kids passes. During special sales, it might even be cost-effective to buy a box with some passes when you don’t need the box – because the bundled passes might be cheaper than when buying separately. Check out the current NOW TV Offers here.
NOW TV Combo packages: Adding to the flexibility (and complexity) of choosing a NOW TV package, Sky have added the NOW TV Combo bundles, that include broadband and a phone line. This way for one monthly price, you can mix and match TV Passes, a variety of broadband speeds, and several phone line packages. Just like the TV passes, the Combo bundles are monthly, so you don’t have to sign long-term contracts.
These Combo bundles are not necessarily the cheapest when compared to other providers – but they offer some more flexibility, so it’s a good idea to at least check the prices. You can see the current NOW TV Combo offers by Clicking Here.
How To Watch NOW TV
To watch NOW TV, you need a supporting device with the NOW TV app. As of this writing, supported devices include:
- Smart TVs: Selected models by LG and Samsung [Check Relevant TV Offers on Amazon]
- Streaming Boxes: Chromecast, Roku, Apple TV, YouView, EETV, NOW TV Box, the new NOW TV Stick
- Gaming Consoles: PS4, PS3, XBOX ONE, XBOX 360
- Phones/Tablets: iOS and Android apps
- PC: Mac/Windows via app or browser.
Note that the Amazon Fire TV range does NOT have a NOW TV app.
It’s also important to note that the interface and features are not identical on the different devices and apps – for example, at the moment subtitles CANNOT be activated on the smartphone apps and the Chromecast.
As far as picture quality, NOW TV is a disappointment, as they cap everything at 720p. At this day and age, with Netflix and Amazon slowly rolling out Ultra HD 4K content (and even Sky TV themselves with their Sky Q box), it’s a real shame you can’t even get Full HD with the Now TV content. NOW TV are saying they’ll add 1080p “By the end of 2018” – we’ll have to wait and see.
The interface on all the NOW TV passes is pretty straight-forward, dividing the content between categories such as “Hot Now”, “New Releases” etc’. Unlike Netflix, NOW TV doesn’t offer User Profiles, so you can’t have different members of the family create separate watchlists.
Another missing feature is the ability to download TV programmes and movies to your smartphone or tablet – while both Netflix and Amazon already offer this feature, NOW TV is behind – so no watching on the tube, for example.
Device and Streaming Limit: A NOW TV subscription lets you register up to FOUR DEVICES to the service, and you can only make ONE change each month. That means that if, for example, you register a NOW TV Box, two smartphone and an iPad – you won’t be able to add another phone. That might be a problem for big families.
Additionally, you can only watch up to TWO simultaneous streams. While that’s identical to Netflix’ Standard subscription, Netflix’ premium subscription allows 4 simultaneous streams.
The Content – What Can I Watch On NOW TV?
As mentioned, content on NOW TV is divided into four “Passes” – Entertainment, Cinema, Kids and Sports. It’s a bit hard to compare NOW TV’s selection to that of Netflix and Amazon, as they’re not meant to be an all-encompassing library – instead, they focus more on the latest shows and movies, in addition to a limited, changing back-catalogue.
Another unique feature of NOW TV is the Live Channels – instead of just watching on-demand content, you can actually watch most of Sky’s channels as they’re being broadcast. While that’s kind of old-school for cord cutters, it’s a nice addition when you just want to flip channels and see what’s on NOW, without thinking too much.
The NOW TV Sky Cinema Pass – £9.99/m
With this pass, you get a constantly updating list of recently released movies, as well as a back-catalogue consisting of both blockbusters and some obscure films you’ve never heard of.
As of October 2017, the NOW TV Sky Cinema Pass has 1297 movies in its library. The selection is comprehensive, from Disney/Pixar favourites such as Zootopia, Finding Dory and Up, to more recent blockbusters such as Rogue One, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Sully.
As far as the quality of the films – while that’s often a matter of taste, I checked using JustWatch how many of the films in the Cinema Pass have a higher-than-80 rating on Rotten Tomatoes: As of this writing, that number is 356 titles. So that either tells you something about the selection, or about the quality of recent Hollywood films in general…
In addition to movies-on-demand, you can also watch these movie channels LIVE:
- Sky Cinema Select
- Sky Cinema Greats
- Sky Cinema Sci-Fi & Horror
- Sky Cinema Family
- Sky Cinema Premiere
- Sky Cinema Drama & Romance
- Sky Cinema Hits
- Sky Cinema Crime & Thriller
- Sky Cinema Action & Adventure
- Sky Cinema Comedy
- Sky Cinema Disney
The picture quality is stuck at 720p which, again, is a real shame and a major downside for NOW TV.
As for subtitles – that’s another problematic topic with NOW TV, but things are looking up for movie buffs who need subtitles, as a growing selection of their cinema titles finally have them. Note, though, that only certain devices support subtitles – you can’t see them on your phone, for example.
Bottom Line: The movie pass is best if you’re after the latest movie releases (mostly big-name blockbusters). If you’re just looking for a casual movie to watch, you’ll get better value out of Netflix and Amazon – but NOW TV can’t be beaten for the freshness.
As always, the fact that the movie pass can be cancelled every month, means you can watch a bunch of films, cancel for a few months, and then re-subscribe when the selection gets filled with things you haven’t seen yet.
The NOW TV Entertainment Pass – £7.99/m
This pass, which can also be described as the “TV Pass”, is made up of three parts: A changing back-catalogue of TV Box-Sets, Catch-Up TV with shows from the past 7-30 days, and Live channels.
As of this writing, the Entertainment Pass has several hundred TV shows in its catalogue, including both Box-Sets and Catch-Up. They put a greater emphasis on newer shows, so if you’re in the market for a larger back-catalogue of older favourites, Netflix would be a better bet.
However, if you’re looking to watch the latest water-cooler shows from American studios (as well as Sky Originals and a limited selection from other British broadcasters), this is the place to be. From Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and Grey’s Anatomy, to Curb Your Enthusiasm, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Tin Star – if the programme is new and talked about, there’s a good chance you’ll find it on NOW TV.
There’s a catch, though – most of the shows, especially the “bigger” ones, are on for a limited time. Usually, past seasons of a show will be added to the service a few weeks before the new season starts, then the new season will air (often mere hours after its US broadcast, but sometimes at an annoying delay of up to a month or two), and then the whole show, with all its seasons, will disappear from the service – until next year, when a new season is set to begin.
If you’re looking to jump on the wagon of a long-running show such as Game Of Thrones, this is going to be a problem, since you’ll have to hurry up and watch multiple seasons during a very limited window.
In comparison, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video also change their selection and remove shows from time to time – but they usually stay on for years before they’re removed, so you can watch at a much more leisurely pace.
NOW TV’s Catch-Up is a different story altogether – you don’t get a full box-set of the series, but instead, you get the latest episode that was broadcast (on UK television) for a limited time – usually 30 days. It’s a nice feature to have when you’re following the hottest shows in real time, but doesn’t let you jump into a series that started a while ago, because the earlier episodes will be gone.
And as with the Cinema Pass, you also get a selection of channels that you can watch LIVE:
- Sky 1
- Sky Arts
- Sky Atlantic
- Sky Living
- Comedy Central
- Discovery Channel
- ITV Encore
- Nat Geo Wild
The picture quality is, again, stuck at 720p, which is especially annoying with beautiful shows such as Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, or the nature channels.
Subtitles are a sad topic here – NOW TV have been promising subtitles for years, and although the Cinema Pass already has an OK selection of movies with subtitles, The Entertainment Pass all but ignores the needs of the hearing impaired for now (or people who just understand better with subtitles on), currently offering subtitles on… 4 (!) TV shows.
Bottom Line: While the selection of TV shows is not as big as the one on Netflix, if you want to watch the shows everyone’s talking about (other than Netflix/Amazon originals) – this is the place to find them.
The value-for-money is obviously not as good as the other guys, since you don’t get any movies for the price – but it’s still a unique offering. And, as a cord cutter, you can always cancel and re-subscribe when your favourite shows are back on.
The NOW TV Sky Sports Pass – £7.99/d, £12.99/w, £33.99/m
All over the world, sports fans are somewhat of an Achilles hill among cord cutters, as it remains one of the strongholds of traditional cable/satellite TV. Thankfully, if you’re a sports fans in the UK – NOW TV comes to the rescue.
While certainly not cheap if you’re going to watch on a regular basis, the Sports Pass offers even more flexibility than the other passes, with Daily and Weekly passes in addition to the monthly ones. This means that if you’re only interested in specific sporting events, you can turn the pass on and off for a day or a week, without having to pay for the whole month (let alone for 12-18 months with regular Sky contracts.)
Unlike the other passes, though, the Sports Pass doesn’t offer any catch-up shows or on-demand sporting matches, which is a bit of shame – sometimes you want to see an event you missed from a couple of days ago, or re-watch a particularly exciting match.
Instead, you get 10 LIVE Sports channels:
- Sky Sports Main Event: Live Premier League football plus international qualifiers and the biggest live events from other channels
- Sky Sports Premier League
- Sky Sports Football
- Sky Sports Cricket
- Sky Sports Golf
- Sky Sports F1
- Sky Sports Action
- Sky Sports Arena
- Sky Sports News
- Sky Sports Mix
The NOW TV interface does help you see the games and events that are on now, and interesting events coming up later in the week.
Do note that special Sky Sports Box Office Events (such as boxing matches) are not included in the Sports Pass, and you will have to pay for them separately. In addition, if you have the NOW TV Box, you will have to download the special Sky Sports Box Office app if you want to watch the pay-per-view events. The only other option is to order and then watch them on your PC.
The 720p picture quality is even more annoying with the Sports Pass, as sporting events are exactly the place you would want the highest picture quality possible – but alas, NOW TV are still stuck behind the times with this.
Bottom Line: If you’re a sports-fan, the NOW TV Sports Pass is a godsend, offering you most of the sporting events you might want to watch throughout the year (in addition to those you can already watch for free on Freeview and the BBC), with the flexibility of subscribing and cancelling whenever you want.
Too bad about the 720p, though – and a library of interesting past-events, or at least a minimal catch-up service, would have been nice.
The NOW TV Kids Pass – £2.99/m
Up until 2016, several Kids channels were part of the Entertainment pack, until NOW TV decided to move them to a new, separate Kids Pass at additional cost. This obviously angered some users (because the Entertainment Pass’ price remained the same, and has since gone up). The good news is that the Kids Pass has more content, and it gives you some flexibility, in case you’re only interested in the Kids stuff and can do without the Entertainment Pass on some months.
The Kids Pass offers a unique picture-based interface for children (though let’s face it, children today know more about digital interfaces than their parents), and holds a lot of popular children’s shows on-demand, such as Dora the Explorer, Peppa Pig and SpongeBob SquarePants.
In addition to the box-sets you also get six LIVE channels:
- Cartoon Network
- Nick Jr.
NOW TV also offers parental controls, allowing you to set age restrictions with a pin, so your kids won’t accidentally go and watch Game of Thrones.
Bottom Line: While the BBC and the other Freeview channels offer an impressive amount of kids content, if you want a set environment where your kids can always find something fun to watch, the Kids Pass has a good collection.
Note, however, that it doesn’t include any Disney content – there are some animated Disney films, but those are in the Cinema Pass. The Disney TV shows were removed from NOW TV in 2016, and can now be found over at the Disney Life service.
NOW TV Vs. Netflix Vs. Amazon Instant Video
Even though NOW TV was meant to be a response to Netflix, comparing the two is a bit like apples and oranges. Or rather, oranges and easy peelers – they’re similar, but different in taste and size.
Netflix and Amazon Instant Video are all about size, variety and exclusive “Originals.” With more than 2,000 movies on the UK edition of Netflix, and close to that on Amazon Prime Instant Video, NOW TV’s selection of several hundred movies looks paltry. And the same can be said about the selection of TV programmes – the number on NOW TV is considerably smaller than on Netflix and Amazon.
However, the type of content is different – while Netflix and Amazon focus on full seasons of older shows, along with the newer exclusive originals (such as Stranger Things on Netflix and Transparent on Amazon), NOW TV focus on bringing the latest programmes from a variety of premium channels. And while they don’t have their own “originals” (unless you count the original Sky productions) you can say the premium content from other networks is “exclusive”, as you won’t find it on Amazon Prime Instant Video or Netflix.
As for pricing, if we take sports out of the equation (as Netflix and Amazon don’t offer any live sports as part of their regular subscription), adding the Entertainment Pass, Cinema Pass and Kids Pass together comes down to £20.97/m – that’s considerably higher than Netflix’ standard £7.99/m and Amazon’s £5.99 monthly Prime Video subscription.
Netflix and Amazon also offer superior picture quality with full HD and some 4K content, while NOW TV is stuck with 720p.
NOW TV’s advantage over the competition lies with having the most recent and highly-talked about shows – whether that’s worth the extra price you’re asked to pay, is up to you.
NOW TV Boxes Review – Streaming, Freeview And Apps
If you don’t already have a device with a NOW TV app (Chromecast, LG/Samsung telly, etc’), the NOW TV boxes are a good choice, and often come bundled with “free” Passes. But which one should you get?
At the moment, there are two NOW TV Box models sold: the NOW TV Smart Box and the cheaper NOW TV “Black” Box. (A third box, the “white” one, is an old model, not officially sold anymore – you might occasionally see it on eBay and the like, but you shouldn’t bother with it unless you’re getting it at a bargain for the passes it comes with.)
Both boxes connect to your TV via an HDMI port, and to the internet either via Ethernet or WiFi. The main difference for the Smart Box is the inclusion of a Freeview tuner – though it has its share of problems as a Freeview box (more on that in a second), and the processor – dual core on the “black” box, and quad-core on the “smart box”.
The boxes are in fact re-purposed Roku boxes, but their functionality has been limited – you can’t install the full variety of apps available for the Roku Eco-system, for example.
The NOW TV Smart Box
- Has The Major Apps
- Freeview Tuner
- Fast Interface
- Freeview is limited
- No Netflix/Amazon Apps
- NOW TV Limited to 720p
The top of the line box, the so-called “Smart Box”, came out in 2016 as a more expensive upgrade to the previous model. It’s sort of a hybrid set-top box: It’s a NOW TV-centred device, but it’s also a limited streamer with several apps, and it’s also a limited Freeview box.
Noticed the word “limited”, twice? That’s exactly the problem with the NOW TV Smart Box – it tries to be a bit of everything, which is good, but it doesn’t excel at any of its other uses other than being a NOW TV box – especially for its price.
First, let’s start with the good: If you’re looking for the best NOW TV streaming service experience, this is it. The interface is slick and relatively fast (thanks to the Quad-Core processor), and you can enable subtitles where they’re available (which isn’t an option on some of the other NOW TV apps out there.)
The picture quality is OK with the provided stream – while the box supports 1080p, NOW TV’s 720p cap means you get a sub-par picture quality when compared to Netflix/Amazon or even the HD Freeview channels.
As an internet TV streamer, the box offers a multitude of apps you can install – from BBC iPlayer to the ITV Hub, ALL4, Demand 5, and a few other Internet-content apps, such as YouTube, Spotify and Flickr. (See the complete list of NOW TV apps via this PDF link.)
While the available apps are useful, there are a few glaring omissions (and not by coincidence, of course) – There’s no Netflix, no Amazon Instant Video, and no Plex.
This means the Smart Box is a very limited streamer – you can’t rely on it as your single TV box, because who wouldn’t want Netflix, and possibly Amazon Instant Video? And Plex is a very popular media-streaming service, that lets you stream content directly from your computer. By now, it’s almost as essential as Netflix and Amazon – but it’s not here.
And if you must buy another streamer (or a Smart TV) for Netflix and the others, then they will most likely come with the other apps as well – so basically, instead of being a one-size-fits-all solution, the NOW TV Smart Box is reduced to a NOW-TV Streaming box, which is a shame.
While it’s convenient to have Freeview channels in the same box and interface, the functionality is, again, limited. Theoretically, the Smart Box can replace the need for a separate Freeview set-top box. But if you take a look at our list of Best Freeview Boxes and Recorders, you’ll see a lot of features missing from the Smart Box’ Freeview implementation.
First and foremost is the lack of a full, 7-days Electronic Programme Guide (EPG). You can only see details for LIVE programming, and programmes that are coming up ahead – but you don’t get the full guide, which is a glaring omission. Additionally, you can’t use this box as a Freeview recorder – there’s no internal hard drive, and you can’t connect an external one.
Lastly, the Smart Box’ remote (which is the same remote from the Freeview-less “Black” box) isn’t really built for Freeview, so it doesn’t have numbers for channel selection, making channel flipping a tedious process when you’re trying to find your way around 75+ channels.
The NOW TV “Black Box”
- Has The Major Apps
- Good NOW TV Experience
- Slow Interface
- No Netflix/Amazon Apps
- NOW TV Limited to 720p
The NOW TV Box (nicknamed “black” simply because the older model was white – and the ‘Smart’ one has a blue logo on it) is the more affordable version of the Smart Box – especially if you buy it with a bundle that gives you a few “free” months on one of the passes.
It doesn’t have a Freeview tuner, and the processor is slower, but other than that it’s pretty similar to the Smart Box. The interface is slow and a bit laggy, but it’s a useful box for a NOW TV experience.
As a streamer, it holds the same limitations as the Smart Box – there are several TV and catch-up apps, but no Netflix/Amazon/Plex.
Bottom Line: Which NOW TV Box Should I Get?
In most instances, I would recommend the “black”, cheaper box. Yes, the Smart Box is better, faster, and has more features – but at almost double the price (depending on current offers), the limited, added functionality isn’t worth the price.
If you want NOW TV and a full Freeview experience, you’ll be better off buying the “black” NOW TV box, and a separate Freeview Box (see our recommendations here.)
If, however, you’re a very casual Freeview watcher, and you only want it in the background to watch the occasional live broadcast, then the Smart Box’ Freeview capabilities might be enough. But remember – you’re not getting Netflix and Amazon Instant Video – so you would STILL need another box/streamer.
So should you get the Black NOW TV box? Remember, the NOW TV app is also available on other devices. But if you don’t have it anywhere, the Black Box can be a great deal – especially when you buy it with additional Passes.
Conclusion – Can NOW TV Replace A Sky Subscription?
Comparing NOW TV to Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video is a bit of a problem. Yes, they’re both streaming video services, but NOW TV’s unique selling point is the inclusion of the most recent shows from premium American networks such as HBO, AMC and Showtime, as well as the most recent blockbusters, which usually reach Netflix and Amazon years later (if at all).
So NOW TV is less in competition with Netflix and Amazon, and more of a complementary service – you go to Netflix for the rich back-catalogue and the exclusive originals, and then go to NOW TV if you don’t want to wait for the shows everyone on Facebook’s talking about TODAY.
The better comparison, in this case, is with Sky’s “traditional” TV offering (or Virgin, or BT, or all the others) – is NOW TV a decent replacement for those services?
In my opinion – YES, but there’s a but. While NOW TV is cheaper and much more flexible than traditional cable/satellite subscriptions, it sometimes feels as if Sky are crippling their streaming service on purpose, maybe in order to keep it a few levels underneath their traditional TV service.
The fact that NOW TV only has 720p content (while the Sky Q box offers 4K content!) and the fact that most content on the NOW TV box comes without subtitles (while the opposite is true on Sky’s traditional TV service) are two main examples. It’s as if Sky want to eat the cake and keep it whole – have a streaming service option for those pesky cord cutters, without hurting their core business. Not to mention the pricing, which is very different from Netflix’.
Whether this strategy works remains to be seen – perhaps it’ll just drive more people towards the superior (at least technologically, and cost-wise) Netflix. On the other hand, if you’re a cord cutting sports fan – NOW TV is almost your only option.
All in all, NOW TV offers a decent, flexible service, with an impressive content library (and a not-so-impressive back-catalogue), that still has some catching up to do if it wants to lead the pack.