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Eye on Demand | November 17, 2017

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Now TV Box (2nd Gen) Review

Now TV Box (2nd Gen) Review

Review Overview

Value For Money
9
User Interface
7
Availability and Quality of Services8
7
7.7

Amazing Value

If I told you that you could have a fully responsive, HD set-top box that will stream free UK catch-up content such as the BBC’s iPayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and Demand 5 for only £15 and no monthly fees, would you believe me? Granted, there are a few catches but underneath it all is possibly the best deal in IPTV. If you want a sofa-friendly way to watch UK content on your television, but don’t want to spend a lot of money – then this could very well be the box for you!

Sky are somewhat well known in the UK for being the country’s largest pay TV operator. In fact, they have branched to a few other nations now and many other pay TV services around the world use equipment originally developed for Sky UK. But initially their focus was always on satellite delivery across Britain where they carried a large number of channels including the main FTA ones.

Previously, their only IPTV excursions were to supplement their main subscription packages, but in the face of ever increasing competition from the Internet, they have not only branched out with a zero-commitment subscription service, but also a cheap and affordable box to deliver this and other channels to your television screen.

The Now TV box is currently in its second incarnation, with the first version housed in a white-cased custom Roku LT box. While only £10, it was considered a little sluggish, but despite this, we loved the device mainly due to its incredibly low price tag. Even though the 2nd generation model now costs £15, it makes up for it with more horsepower under the hood, and an additional Ethernet port.

Before I go on any further, it should be pointed out that this review is for the Sky Now TV set top box – that is, the piece of hardware that sits under your television and is a one off payment for ownership. This should not be confused with the Sky Now TV subscription service, which is designed to work on this box, but is not required – that’s covered in another review.

 

  • Physical

    Essentially Sky (who are part owners of Roku UK) have taken a 2015 Roku 2 box, placed a new case over the top and pumped it full of its own firmware – which is for better or worse, simply a modified version of the Roku UI. Taking into account that the same basic Roku 2 hardware retails in the UK for £70, four and a half times dearer than this box, you can see exactly how good a bargain this really is. In fact, it is clear Sky are subsidizing this device in order to get it into as many homes as possible since it even comes with an HDMI cable, which alone can cost a good £10.

    Come to think of it, if you’re after an HDMI cable, you may as well just buy this box since you will then get a cheap IPTV platform on the side.

    Outside of that HDMI cable, what you get for £15 is a rather attractive small black puck that is compact enough to find a home almost anywhere around your television set (89mm x 89mm x 24mm), and it’s a great improvement over the eye-poking white model that may as well have had flashing neon lights.NowTV Front

     

    In fact, outside of the alternate labelling, the box looks pretty much exactly the same as a 2015 Roku 2.

    All ports are located at the rear, where you’ll be happy to spot an Ethernet port. This is a huge improvement over the original Now TV Box which only allowed for WiFi connectivity. While this may have been all very good in a home where WiFi runs smoothly, a good deal of folk had wished for a physical connection and Now TV have thankfully obliged. As for Wifi, on the 2nd generation box it provides 802.11 dual-band (a/b/g/n compatible) with WEP, WPA and WPA2 support.

    Ports

     

    Other connections include the obvious HDMI cable for a normal modern television connection, which can deliver either 7.1 or 5.1 surround sound if your television supports this, or your receiver/home cinema amplifier offers video pass-through. However, many people will not have this setup and the lack of a dedicated optical or digital out would be missed by some.

    There is also a power socket and a reset switch in case things go belly-up, but don’t get too excited about that USB Port and Micro SD card slot as these are for developer usage only.

    While the box is capable of 1080p output, the only apps that support high definition at the time of publication were Now TV’s own service and the BBC iPlayer plus Sports app, and in both cases these only delivered 720p streams.

    Remote

    The 2nd Generation Now TV remote is made from matt black plastic and is almost as identical and basic as the Roku 2 remote, but with two Now TV-based buttons; one to take you direct to the Sky Store and the other for direct access to the Now TV subscription service from Sky. It is clear that Sky want to push their own service, which is fair enough since this is their own piece of hardware. It is just important to know that you don’t actually need a Sky subscription to use any of the free apps.

    The remote requires line of sight and doesn’t include any of the great features found on Roku’s high-end remotes, such as gyroscopic control or a headphone jack.

    Installing the device is extremely quick and easy. Plug the HDMI port from the back of the Now TV box to a spare HDMI connector on your television, slot in in the power adapter, and place the supplied batteries into your remote – but you will need a Sky account set up, although that doesn’t mean they will charge you unless you have a running subscription, nor will they barrage you to take one out.

    Sky will only deliver this box to a UK address, so if you wish to own one abroad, you will need a family or friend to re-ship it to you.

    Important: As this box is designed for a UK environment, the electrical power socket is of British design, 240v AC and will most likely not fit a foreign socket. Do not under any circumstances try to force a UK plug into a non UK socket as this can be extremely dangerous – this may sound obvious, but you would be surprised to know how often I hear of this. If your voltage is the same as that in the UK, you can buy a cheap travel-converter, but the best method is to simply buy a local power supply adapter that supports your country’s voltage and current, and outputs to 6volts, 2amps. Even a good quality power adapter does not cost a lot of money and will probably save your life.

     

     

    Unblocking geographic restrictions on this device is supported by the following Smart DNS providers:

    Ad GetflixAd SDNSP

  • Services

    Of course, all of this is designed for use within the UK itself, and British users will be blessed with all services working without geographic restrictions (though not all are free). BBC iPlayer (free), BBC Sport (free), ITV Hub (free) Demand 5 (free), All 4 (free), Sky Now (sub), BBC and Sky News (free) and Crunchyroll (sub) are just some of the services that can be accessed from within the UK.

    Just to avoid some confusion here, In following Roku’s tradition, Now TV calls all their apps (3rd party of otherwise) Channels. This is a little confusing, since everyone else calls them apps. Whenever you see the Now TV box mentioning a channel, the chances are they are referring to apps, unless of course they are referring to real channels within their own Now TV channel (sorry, app).

    There are some notable omissions here. For a start, Netflix is completely missing and will most likely never be available. Sky would probably see Netflix as their largest competitor so it is no surprise that they don’t allow this service to be available on the box. It doesn’t go without notice that the original Roku box which this is clearly cloned from, was originally created as a Netflix player, so its absence is quite telling. Amazon Instant Prime UK is also missing but if Sky aren’t going to allow Netflix onboard, it should come as no surprise. What is surprising however is that UKTV Play and the official version of TVPlayer are also missing.

     

    Free Now TV Channels

    BBC iPlayerDemand5

    BBC Sport button

    ITV Hub ButtonAll4TVPlayer

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport and ITV Hub apps above provide live streams as well as catch-up, but at the time of publication, Demand 5 and All 4 only offer catch-up content. In order to watch those channels live, you’ll need the unofficial sideloaded TVPlayer app, which offers around 60 live channels.

    Note: TVPlayer as mentioned above is an unofficial version and doesn’t include the great subscription channels the official TVPlayer offers. Unfortunately, at this date, the official TVPlayer doesn’t provide a Now TV app.

    Subscription Now TV Channels

    NowTV2

     

     

     

     

    Now TV’s Entertainment and Movies packages provide both live, catch-up and on-demand content, with their Sports Pass offering live feeds.

     

    These services are geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    Ad GetflixAd SDNSP

  • User Interface

    Despite the incredible low cost, the user interface is actually rather pleasant, and this is not something to take too lightly. Also in the low-cost bracket is Google’s Chromecast device which doesn’t even bother with a UI at all, and while the Fire TV Stick costs double that of the Now TV Box, more than 70% of the UI concentrates on Amazon.

    One of the main reasons is the device’s roots in Roku. Utilizing an interface that could be confused with what is running on the latest Roku 3, there is good reason to be impressed. Navigation is swift and although there are fewer channels than you would find on a real Roku, the uncluttered layout works incredibly well for a box that only costs £15.

    Setting up the box is just as easy as plugging in the physical connections. You will need a Sky Now TV account, which must be set up on a computer before hand. But this does not require a subscription if you just want the free services like the iPlayer or Demand 5, and was probably created anyway when you ordered the box from Now TV. During the set-up process, you will also be asked to connect to your home WiFi, so you will need to keep your access code handy. Once that is done, and a likely firmware update is out of the way, you should be ready to use the device. (Users outside of the UK will need to also configure their router for a SmartDNS service)

    There really isn’t a lot to say about this platform’s user interface. Basically all it does is give you a list of the available apps, and from that point onwards, it is up to the app’s own UI.

     

    Unblocking geographic restrictions on this device is supported by the following Smart DNS providers:

    Ad GetflixAd SDNSP

     

  • Sideloading Additional Apps

    Despite the Now TV box being effectively a rebadged Roku, it lacks the huge range of apps that Roku offers. There are no Netflix or Prime apps (and Now TV are unlikely to ever allow their main competition on board), but it also lacks a huge range of apps that many of us can’t see any logical reason to omit.

    While Plex is one such app (a fantastic free portal that allows easy access to your own owned content), TVPlayer is understandable for its omission due to the fact that no official Roku app is available yet.

    While this is something TVPlayer really should sort out, there is an unofficial version available which can be sideloaded onto the Now TV box offering excellent quality live streams of UK channels including the BBC, ITV, 4, 5, Dave, Really, Yesterday, Drama and many more.

    Before we go further, it should be clarified that this version is not the official release from TVPlayer, which is a brilliant service available on many other devices including Android TV, Fire TV, Apple TV and more. (Check out our review here). The official TVPlayer is also free, but in addition they have a premium service that offers extra channels including British EuroSport, History Channel, Nat Geo Channel and more. The premium channels are not available via this unofficial version.

    TVPlayer1

    Note: These instructions are for Now TV Box owners who want to install Plex or TVPlayer onto their Now TV devices. If you own a Roku box, Plex can be installed from the usual channel store, and the unofficial TVPlayer app can be installed via the private code: arteseatvp. Visit the developers website (The Artesea) for more details or to donate, or visit our own list of great private Roku codes for more fantastic channels!

    Gotcha: There are two main trip-hazards here: First, you can only install one sideloaded app at a time. Second, there are not a lot of sideloadable apps that are available out there, so don’t think you can throw Netflix on.


    Step 1: Play the remote game.

    First of all, you need to enable developer mode on your Now TV. With the Now TV already configured, switched on and ready to use, press the following buttons on the remote in the exact order shown:

    Home, Home, Home, Up, Up, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right

    Afterwards, you should see the developer screen. Make a note of your Now TV Box’s IP Address as you’ll need this later.

    Step1

    Step 2: Agree to terms.

    You didn’t think you could get away without agreeing to their terms and conditions did you?

    Step2

    Step 3: Create a password.

    Now you need to create a password which you will use to log in from a browser. If you forget this, it can be changed later.

    Step3

    Step 4: Fire up a Browser.

    On your computer or laptop (which must be in the same network as your Now TV), type the IP address you noted down into a browser. We found Firefox and Chrome worked great, but for some reason Safari caused problems. You should then be confronted with a username/password request.

    Username: rokudev

    Password: What you came up with earlier.

    Login

    Step 5: Install the APK.

    All you have to do now is to install the APK file for whatever channel you want sideloaded onto your Now TV.

    If you want the unofficial TVPlayer app, we recommend you grab the zip file directly from The Artesea. If you love what this developer has done with TVPlayer, don’t hesitate to donate to him.

    For Plex, we couldn’t find a terribly recent version that works with the Now TV box, except this one here.

    An alternative Plex front-end that is a little more polished is rarFlix which can found here.

    (If you know of any more great APK’s that can be sideloaded onto the Now TV, let us know by posting in the comments below)

    Once you download the APK you want, simply hit the Browse button as shown below, and click Install.

    Devpage

    Step 6: Complete.

    And that’s all you need to do. If you want to change the app which has been sideloaded, simply browse and install a new one and click the Replace button.

    Downloaded

    TVPlayer2

  • Accessing from outside the UK

    While this great little box will stream a pile of UK apps when inside the United Kingdom (and Ireland for that matter), outside of the UK it is a completely different story as there will be geo-blocking barriers in force that will require a SmartDNS service to be used. The catch is, because the Now TV box does not allow any in-depth network configurations, any alternate DNS servers will have to be configured on the router itself. This is only a tad more complicated than doing so directly on a device, and since everyone has a different type of router, instructions will need to be sourced independently from this review. As a general rule of thumb, recover your router’s manual from its hiding place or download the latest version from the internet and look for a setting where you can change the DNS servers.

    Note: Some routers supplied by ISP’s do not allow manual DNS changes – it would be wise to first check if you can perform this on your own router. If yours doesn’t, there is a way to use a cheap secondary router that can by following this guide.

    When you make changes to your router, just be sure to not change anything else, and write down your old DNS addresses in case you want to return to them. In most cases, this would simply be a setting to automatically obtain a DNS server, but it is always safer to be cautious – You can’t really break anything, but you can mess things up that could require help from a third party source to set right – Keep in mind that if you change to a DNS service on your router, all traffic will pass through those DNS servers. This has the positive effect that all devices in your home will be unblocked to applicable services (not just the Now TV box), but make sure you use a reputable DNS company.

    The catch here is that the only geo-restricted services that have been unblocked by the DNS company will actually work and not every smart DNS provider supports the Now TV Box. However, the Smart DNS providers listed below will support every streaming app on the Now TV box, at least at the time of publication. Our personal favourite is Getflix (the one my wife and I actually use at home as well). They have a great two week free trial where no credit card is needed, and then a monthly fee that’s less than a cup of coffee in most parts of the world (and in some cities, a lot less!)

    Ad GetflixAd SDNSP

     

    An alternative method is configuring VPN on a WW-DRT router. This can be somewhat more complicated, but as long as you don’t live too far outside of the UK, it should also work pretty well. In other words, Europe should be fine, the US most likely, but places like Australia, New Zealand and Asia would probably be to far for VPN, so Smart DNS would be a better option.

    VPNs generally aren’t as cheap as Smart DNS services, but it just so happens that Getflix provide a VPN server in the UK!

  • Where to Buy

    The Now TV Box is available from either brick and mortar stores in the UK, or online, whether directly from Now TV or other merchants such as Amazon. However, it is important to keep in mind that online stores will only deliver to a UK address. If you live outside of the UK, you may have to have the box delivered to a friend or relative in the UK who can ship it further.

    Via Now TV

    Now TV offer free delivery for the box which costs only £15 to any UK address. When purchasing from Now TV, no subscription is required to any service, which means the box can be used for just the free catch-up services if desired. Click here to purchase the box, or click the banner below to go direct to Now TV and navigate from there..

     

    Via Amazon UK

    Amazon also have the same delivery restrictions to the UK, but although they look a little more expensive, they include Now TV Entertainment or Movies passes at reduced prices. Sometimes these are absolutely huge savings and if you don’t mind spending a little more than the standalone box costs, you can grab some incredible deals here.

    For the Now TV box with six months Entertainment pass, click here.

    For the same box and two months of Sky movies, click here.

    Ad GetflixAd SDNSP

  •  

    Conclusion

    Sky have certainly pulled off something of a coup here with their tiny Roku clone. This is really the best deal I have seen anywhere in the world for a high quality on-demand set-top-box. £15 is as close as we can get to throwaway money and it makes a great budget present for almost anyone you know, let along a fantastic way to access some of the best in UK television content.

    Now TV are not the only company to offer a rebadged Roku, but none do it at a price-point + feature-set like the Now TV box. Sky Germany for instance do pretty much the same thing but charge a staggering €70 and you don’t get any of the great free-to-air apps. Telstra in Australia have almost all of the Australian apps required, but not only charge $109, you also have to be a Telstra customer. For only £15 (including free delivery to a British address), UK residents will gain access to all of the free Smart TV services without any further costs, with additional channels like Sky’s own Now TV subscription service and others available if they so wish – what could be better for an entry level 1080p HD set-top box!

    A few additional costs would be required for foreign usage – shipping from the UK, a local power adapter and a SmartDNS service that works with this box, not to mention a router where you can configure that smart DNS.

    It’s not all cornish pasties and fish and chips though, as the box still only has a small range of apps available. While this includes the BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport, ITV Hub, All 4 and Demand 5, notably missing is UKTV Player and the official TVPlayer (although we have a guide on how to sideload an unofficial TVPlayer that provides access to many of the UK’s main FTA channels). And before we forget, the chances of Netflix or Prime ever arriving on this box are about as good as never.

    For those who are a bit nervous about trying out Smart TVs, this is possibly one of the cheapest solutions around. If you live in the UK, give it a go, at the very least you will end up with a spare HDMI cable which will very likely come in handy. If you are abroad and have a friend or family member in the UK who can re-ship it to you, this may also be a great way to finally get the BBC iPlayer on your main television set in HD! In fact, you could just think of it as a 15 pound BBC iPlayer box.

    Pros:

    • Incredible value for money.
    • Contains nearly all of the major FTA UK catch-up services.
    • Small and easy to place.
    • Responsive and easy to use UI.
    • 1080p HD ready.
    • No further subscription required for free services (e.g. BBC iPlayer)
    • Does not use a lot of power.
    • Free HDMI cable included.
    • Includes Ethernet as well as HDMI

    Cons:

    • No ability to manually change DNS server – must be done on router if possible. (Only needed to access UK restricted content, outside the UK)
    • No Netflix or Prime.
    • Limited channels compared to standard Roku.
    • No UKTV Play or TVPlayer.
    • Remote requires line-of-sight.

    Log:

    18.02.2016: Review published. Score: 7.7: Amazing Value

     

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Comments

  1. Shane
    • Hi Shane, thanks for the link 🙂

  2. Jimmy

    I’m using AKASO MXQ Pro TV Box,it’s really good,good price and good quality,AKASO has various models of TV Boxes,really worth looking at it!Maybe you should look it.

  3. Has something changed in the NOW TV BOX setup/geoblocking. My NOW TV BOX has worked quite happily for “years” with various smart DNS suppliers. Up to last weekend everything ok. Since Tuesday it will no longer connect tothe internet. Tried 3 different boxes both over wifi and ethernet. Tried with 2 different Smart DNS suppliers and even disabling smart DNS ( my smart DNS is in my router and has been for years) but the boxes will not pass the internet connection check. Passes the wfi and network connection. Router has been restarted numerous times. Is even the basic connection of the box now geoblocked. I am looking at PURELY the initial setup of the box and not the various geoblocked apps that runs on it. Iplayer works fine on all other devices n the household and chromecasting to TV