Now TV Combo review (hands-on): Now TV Combo is now on sale – a broadband package for the modern age
Update: Now TV Combo is now available to buy. Our full review of Now TV’s flexible broadband, phone and TV package will be coming shortly, until then you can read our first impressions below.
Original: For a long time, Now TV has offered stripped-back Sky TV with extra on-demand features for those who don’t want to fork out for a full-blown Sky package. However, with the newly announced and soon-to-be-launched Now TV Combo, the on-demand service is branching out into broadband, calls and live TV.
Now TV Combo may sound tricky to get your head around at first. In essence, though, it’s perfectly simple: for a one-off setup fee, you can pick up a broadband, TV and phone package with no monthly contract, on a model which is fully scalable and changeable month on month. Think of it as the Giffgaff of TV and broadband packages.
So, what do you get as part of Now TV Combo? Every Combo package comes with the new Now TV Smart Box, a Now TV Hub for connecting your home to broadband, and your pick of a Now TV “pass” to suit your needs. No matter which pass you opt for, be it Sports, Kids, Movies or Entertainment, the new Smart Box also offers up more than 60 Freeview channels – with 15 in HD – plus catch-up services such as iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and Demand 5, and the ability to pause and rewind live TV.
Now TV Combo hands-on: Now TV Smart Box
Now TV’s latest device, the Smart Box, is a complete overhaul of the previous Now TV streaming box. As with the previous box, it’s been built for Sky by streaming hardware specialist Roku.
The new box is larger than the original Now TV box – in fact, it’s larger than most rivals, including the Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV. However, compared with the lot of them, it’s the most stylish. Its low-profile glossy plastic shell looks attractive and feels like a device you’d put on the TV stand under your screen, rather than tuck it away behind.
As an overall package, it’s pleasingly simple to use. While Now TV has never been a particular headache to navigate, the team has polished the interface and the improved guts of the Smart Box, meaning everything feels snappy and responsive. Content – depending on your internet connection – is quick to load and run. The new Now TV homepage is a welcome addition, providing you with a quick way to jump right into the last live TV channel you watched or browse a selection of curated programmes – a bit like Sky Q’s My Q section.
The Now TV Kids section has also been overhauled to match that of the iOS app interface. Here, extraneous information is stripped back, and content becomes much easier to navigate for younger users. Programmes play automatically, too, as children are – like hungover adults – quite happy to watch shows endlessly.
One big draw of the Smart Box over a traditional Now TV streamer or standard monthly pass is its inclusion of live-broadcast, Freeview TV. This means you don’t have to go through the rigmarole of switching inputs when you want to watch “normal” TV, and it comes with the added benefit of a pause-and-rewind facility.
Unfortunately, live TV only outputs at up to 720p, where Now TV, catch-up and paid-for content can display at 1080p. There’s no 4K support, although since this has yet to arrive on Sky’s premium TV platform, Sky Q, that’s hardly surprising.
The Smart Box also contains all the connectivity you’d expect. You’ve got 802.11n Wi-Fi and Ethernet, a microSD slot and USB port, plus HDMI for your video output. It’s possible to play back media files via the USB port if you can’t find anything to watch on the various available services, or if you want to show off your holiday photos.