Sky Stream, the standalone streaming box from Sky, represents a major shift for Sky. But let’s not forget, Sky already has a long-running streaming service: NOW (formerly NOW TV).
When Sky’s streaming TV (Sky Glass) launched in 2021, it was already a competitor to NOW, with it being based around streaming instead of a satellite dish, and the no-long-contracts pricing. But with Glass, you also had to buy a whole new TV set.
Sky Stream, which launched in late 2022 (see our full Sky Stream review), only requires a small box – and an ongoing subscription to Sky. It’s also based on streaming via broadband, and you can get it on a 31-days contract. Sounds familiar?
Sky Stream and NOW will be going head to head, both with their own pros and cons – NOW is cheaper than Stream, but it doesn’t have 4K content. Stream offers Freeview channels via broadband, but you can’t “take it with you” when you travel.
Sky’s Global Chief Product Officer, Fraser Stirling, told me when Stream launched that there’s room for both Sky Stream and Sky’s NOW, and they’re aimed at different audiences with different needs.
But is that indeed the case? In this in-depth comparison, we’ll take a closer look at Sky’s competing streaming services, and check which one is better – and for whom.
- Note: This article was originally published in October 2022, and has since been updated with new information and pricing details.
- Also See: Our Sky Glass vs NOW Comparison
- Also See: Our Sky Stream VS Virgin Media Stream Comparison
Before we dive in, here is a quick refresher: Sky Stream, the streaming puck from Sky, lets customers get Sky’s full roster of channels without a dish and without a long-term contract (though if you take one, you pay less), and works with any broadband provider. Stream includes channels from Sky, as well as many of the major streaming apps, and Freeview via broadband.
NOW (they changed their name from NOW TV) is Sky’s no-contract streaming service – a cheaper TV platform that gives you flexible packages (“memberships” of content), that can be watched on a large variety of streaming devices.
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Devices: Where Can You Watch Sky Stream / NOW?
Sky Stream comes as both a service and a device – you can’t get Stream without the physical set-top puck.
Sky’s services – as in, the channels and content, are baked into the box’s unique operating system (which it shared with Sky Glass) – you get things like the Playlist (sort of a watchlist combined with recordings), voice control (via the remote) and more – in a user interface that’s supposed to be both innovative and easy to use.
If you want to watch Sky in more rooms, you can get additional Stream pucks, at an extra cost.
You can’t take the Sky Stream puck with you when you travel (or visit your sister) – it’s geo-fenced around your home, and will only work at the address of the account holder.
Therefore, if you want to watch Sky’s channels on the go, as a Sky Stream subscriber, you’ll have to use Sky Go – which is yet another separate streaming service from Sky, meant to be used on smartphones, tablets and laptops. It doesn’t share an interface with Stream, so your watchlist and recommendations won’t sync between Sky Stream and Sky Go.
NOW, on the other hand, is a stand-alone streaming service that’s not dependent on any specific device. In fact, NOW used to sell their own streaming sticks and boxes – but those were discontinued.
So if you want to watch Sky’s channels via NOW – you just need a streaming device (that’s connected to your broadband).
The Winner: NOW.
Although you no longer have to buy a brand new TV to get Sky Stream – you’re still limited to watching Sky on that very specific device. NOW, however, lets you watch anywhere and everywhere, as long as you have a compatible device.
Content and Channels on Sky Stream and NOW
With Sky Stream being a streaming device (albeit limited), its content library is not just about Sky: it supports 3rd party streaming services and apps such as Prime Video, Disney+ and Netflix (though a few major ones are still missing), and even its Freeview channels are streamed via broadband instead of an aerial.
NOW is not a device – it’s a service/app. Whatever else you get around it, depends on the streaming device you’re using to watch NOW.
But if we look at Sky’s own channels – Stream and NOW are identical in what they offer. From channels like Sky Atlantic to Sky Witness, from Sky Sports channels to Sky Cinema – everything’s available both on Stream and NOW (with a few minor differences).
The pricing is different, of course (see below for more on that), and the content is divided into different types of packages – but it’s all there on both of them.
And since both NOW and Stream are based on streaming, most of the content is available both on-demand and live (except for sports content, where not everything is available on-demand).
But Stream does have the upper hand in one category: Freeview. While you can get Freeview for free, with an aerial, on almost every TV sold in the UK – some homes are in an area with bad reception.
Therefore, being able to get most (not all) of the Freeview channels via broadband, is a Stream benefit that doesn’t exist for NOW subscribers.
The Winner: Sky Stream
If we only compare Sky’s channels – then both NOW and Stream have the same content. If you’re looking to get Freeview channels via broadband (because you don’t have good aerial reception or you can’t install a Freesat dish) – then Stream does have the upper hand.
Video and Sound Quality
Sky Stream (the box itself) supports 4K/HDR (provided your TV supports it as well) as well as Dolby Atmos audio (via passthrough).
If you want 4K content from Sky, however, you’ll need to pay an extra £6/month for the UHD/Dolby Atmos add-on pack. Otherwise, the baseline picture quality on Stream and its Sky channels is Full HD (1080p).
You can also use the puck to stream 4K content from 3rd party streaming services that include 4K content, such as Disney+ and Amazon’s Prime Video, if you’re subscribed to them.
On NOW, it’s a different story: there’s no 4K / HDR support at all, and the maximum video quality is Full HD (1080p).
But even for that, you need to pay extra for Full HD on NOW, and subscribe to NOW Boost – otherwise, the default video quality on NOW is a paltry 720p.
There’s also no Dolby Atmos support on NOW. You can only get Dolby Digital 5.1, but again – you need to pay for NOW Boost to get that.
The Winner: Sky Stream.
This is one of the primary areas where NOW feels intentionally handicapped, with an embarrassing video quality of 720p, unless you pay extra. And if you’re after 4K (and Dolby Atmos) content from Sky, then Stream is the clear winner here.
Sky Stream’s Interface VS NOW’s Interface
Sky Stream’s user interface, which is identical to the one on Sky Glass, is all about personalisation and recommendations.
Unlike Sky Q, with Stream you can’t record content locally on the device itself – instead, most of the content is streamed on-demand, either from Sky or one of the 3rd party apps – so you’re taken to BBC iPlayer, ITVX, Netflix, etc.
Some content can also be recorded to the cloud – mainly sports – but for most of the content, you’re dependent on the show/film still being available online, instead of having it reside on your local hard drive.
Everything on Stream revolves around the Playlist – a watchlist that you can add programmes and films to, from Sky’s channels as well as from 3rd party streaming services.
There’s also a global search, that lets you search (by voice, via the remote) among all the streaming services supported on the device – so if you say “Tom Holland“, you’ll see his films on Sky, Prime Video, Netflix, etc. – and you can then jump straight to them, if you have the right subscription.
NOW’s interface is quite basic, and is similar to many other streaming services – rows of content (either films or TV shows), divided into different categories.
There’s also a watchlist you can add content to, and a ‘Continue Watching’ row for things you’ve already started to watch.
Another differentiation is the Personal Playlists. On Sky Strem (and Glass), you can set separate playlists for each member of the family – while it’s not as robust as having fully separate profiles (as you do on Netflix or Amazon’s Fire TV, for example) – it still gives you more flexibility for separate watching.
NOW doesn’t have anything similar – neither profiles, nor personalised playlists.
The Winner: Sky Stream
NOW doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel – it’s a simple (some would say too simple) interface that lets you browse content (or search for it directly).
Sky Stream is the opposite – its interface is, some would say, the main attraction – and while it’s useful (especially the global search), it might get a bit confusing for new users, at least until they get used to it. Still, I like how it tries to take things in a different direction.
Cost: Sky Stream VS NOW Pricing
Unlike Sky’s dish-based solutions (such as Sky Q), and similarly to Sky Glass, Sky Stream doesn’t require a long-term contract, which is a major shift for Sky.
The basic contract is a 31-day rolling contract which you can cancel at any time without any penalty charges.
But you CAN also go for the 18-month contract – and that will lower your monthly subscription costs (although you’re then “stuck” with it for 18 months).
When you order Sky Stream, you no longer need to pay for the device itself (there used to be a “setup fee” of £39.95) – at least as of this writing. Once you get the puck, you install it yourself, and there are no engineers involved.
Note that following a change in Sky’s terms, you no longer “own” the device – the Stream puck is now a loan, and you have to send it back if you cancel your Sky subscription.
The basic Sky package that you must have with Stream is Sky Ultimate, which includes Sky Entertainment (a pack of channels like Sky Atlantic, Sky Max and others), Freeview, and the basic Netflix plan which only has SD content (but will be upgraded to 720p in November).
The rolling-contract version of this package on Sky Stream costs £29/month, and the same plan, with the 18-month contract, is £26/month.
On top of that, you can add more packs and channels from Sky and 3rd parties. As of this writing, the costs are:
- Sky Cinema (which includes Paramount+) for £13/month on the rolling contract, and £11/month on the 18-month contract.
- Sky Sports for £27/month on the rolling contract, and £25/month on the 18-month contract.
- Sky Kids for £6/month on either contract.
If you want to add 4K and Dolby Atmos, that’s another £6/month. And if you want to be able to fast forward adverts – that’s £5/month (it used to be free on the first year – but that’s no longer the case).
And lastly, if you want to be able to watch in other rooms – you need the “Whole Home” add-on, which is £12/month. The first Whole Home puck (so the second for you in total) is free for now – but you will have to pay £39.95 for additional ones.
NOW’s costs are different, and much more simple: there are three main packages (“memberships”) that you can join:
- NOW Entertainment, at £9.99/m. It’s equivalent to the Sky Entertainment/Ultimate pack, with two major differences – it includes Kids’ channels (which cost more on Sky), and it DOESN’T include the three Sky Sports channels that are part of Sky Entertainment (Racing, Mix and News).
- NOW Cinema, at £9.99/month. Identical to the Sky Cinema plan on Stream.
- NOW Sky Sports, at £34.99/month. Almost identical to Sky Sports on Stream (with Racing, Mix and News being part of this membership instead of Entertainment).
Then there’s NOW Boost, at £6/month – which adds Full HD (1080p) video quality, Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, no adverts (for on-demand content. You’ll still see adverts on Sky’s live channels), and the ability to stream on up to 3 devices at the same time (instead of just one).
There are no mandatory long-term contracts on NOW, and you can cancel at any point.
However, in the past year, Sky started offering optional “6 Month Saver Plans” on NOW, that DO include a minimum term (of 6 months, as of this writing) – for a lower monthly cost.
So let’s compare two similar packages:
Sky Stream with:
- Sky Ultimate (which also includes Netflix’s basic tier)
- Sky Cinema
- Sky Kids
- Sky Sports
The total would be £75/month on the rolling contract and £68/month on the 18-month contract.
And that’s WITHOUT adding things like advert skipping or Whole Home.
So let’s compare that to a NOW package that includes:
- NOW Entertainment (which also includes Kids)
- NOW Cinema
- NOW Sports
- NOW Boost (for HD and no adverts)
- Netflix Basic Plan without adverts (Standalone it’s £6.99/month)
The total is then £67.96.
As you can see – the two are pretty similar, especially if you take the 18-month contract with Stream. Though, keep in mind the big difference with the cost of Sky Sports – it’s £25-£27/month on Sky Stream, and £34.99/month on NOW (but it’s often discounted).
So if you’re not a sports fan, NOW (and Netflix) totals £32.97, while Sky Stream is £43-£48/m without sports.
And of course, with NOW you can decide you don’t need Netflix. With Stream, you don’t have that flexibility, as it’s built into Sky Ultimate.
The Winner: NOW.
Somewhat surprisingly, the difference between NOW’s pricing and Sky Stream isn’t very big. Whether that says something about how pricey NOW is, or how cheap Stream is – is up to you.
And yet – NOW is still cheaper – especially if you compare it to Stream’s no-contract tier. The whole point of cord-cutting and the streaming TV world, is to avoid the type of long-term contract we’ve long suffered with Sky – and Stream is bringing those back, somewhat, if you want the lower-cost option.
Also, don’t forget the portability issue – with NOW, you can watch on any supported device, including portable ones like Firesticks. With Stream, you’re stuck with the one box they give you (or more, if you buy more).
And one last thing to keep in mind – if you unsubscribe from Sky at any point, your Sky Stream box will stop working altogether. You can’t even use it for the 3rd party streaming apps like Prime Video – it simply won’t work at all, and you would have to send it back.
The Bottom Line: Sky Stream or NOW?
Unlike the comparison between NOW and Sky Glass – with Stream, there’s no TV set you have to buy, so we’re finally comparing apples to apples.
Sky Stream is a tempting offer, in many ways. For me, as a longtime cord-cutter, it’s certainly more tempting than any other traditional Sky TV offer we’ve seen to date (in terms of pricing, flexibility and contract length).
But streaming services are here to serve one main purpose – to supply us with content to watch on our tellies (or other gadgets).
In that regard, once you decide you want to watch Sky’s channels – is there any other consideration other than price? If not, then NOW is the clear winner, as it’s cheaper, AND it doesn’t try to entice you to sign a long-term contract.
If you want one device/service that puts most of the major services and TV channels (from Sky and others) around one innovative interface – then Stream is an interesting answer.
It’s not as encompassing as the streaming sticks from Amazon and Roku, but it does have the big names – including Freeview channels via broadband, which is a big plus for some.
But if you just want to watch Sky’s channels, at the lowest price and with maximum flexibility – then NOW is still the one to beat, among Sky’s offers.