Launched in September, the new Smart Box with 4K & Voice Search is Now TV’s latest streaming box and its first to support 4K content.
Now TV is owned by Sky and provides contract-free access to the broadcaster’s content, including the latest Hollywood movies, top US shows such as Game of Thrones and The Flash, and topflight sporting content including Premier League football, golf and F1.
All content can be watched both live or on-demand and is available via themed ‘passes’ – one each for Entertainment, Kids shows, Sky Cinema and Sky Sports – which are all sold on monthly terms, plus weekly and daily passes for Sky Sports, and can be cancelled at any point.
In addition to providing access to Now TV’s own entertainment, movie and sports passes, the box also includes apps for BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, Demand 5 and UKTV Play, as well Netflix and YouTube.
Additional services such as Sky Sports Box Office, STV, Vimeo and MLB.tv can be added via an app store. One notable absence is Amazon’s Prime Video isn’t included in the Now TV app store which may be bad news for some potential buyers.
As with all previous Now TV devices, the Smart Box is made by Roku – whose streaming stick we previously reviewed here – and shares the puck-shape first popularised by the Apple TV and now common to most streaming boxes.
The box connects to your TV via a HDMI cable, it also needs to be connected to your broadband – which can be done via WiFi or with a cable – and of course needs a spare power socket.
Alongside all the connections for the above, the rear of the box also sports a MicroSD slot, allowing you to expand its storage space should you want to install more apps than its built-in storage can hold.
As you’d expect, the Smart Box allows you to live pause, rewind and fast forward both live and on-demand content but, as is common with all such devices, lacks any recording capability.
And, unlike the previous generation Smart Box which included Freeview, the new model is a purely streaming device, though given every TV you’re going to use it with includes Freeview, that’s hardly a big loss.
The box is markedly faster than previous generations, with near-instant responses to inputs and commands and the recently updated Now TV User Interface (UI) zips along, combining with the hardware to produce a high quality and seamless experience.
Although the Smart Box supports 4K, none of the Now TV content is available in the format and is instead currently limited to 720p, though an upgrade to full HD has already been confirmed.
If you want to watch any 4K shows or films on the box, you’ll need to sign up to Netflix or YouTube’s Premium service which offers selected original shows, such as the excellent Karate Kid sequel Cobra Kai.
Other than 4K, the Smart Box’s headline feature is the ability to search for content by speaking the title or the name of an actor or director in the remote control.
The feature quickly and correctly dealt with my requests to search for Rocky Balboa, The Blacklist, The Flash’s Grant Gustin and Harrison Ford, West World, and The Karate Kid, but when I asked it to search for ‘Christopher Robin’, instead of offering the film Goodbye Christopher Robin, which is available as part of the Sky Cinema pass, it instead showed me an entry for the actor Christopher Robin Miller.
That single blip aside, I was impressed at how fast and reliable Voice Search was.
However some caveats – while you can also use it find the additional apps, it can’t search inside them so a search for Jodi Whittaker will bring up Broadchurch because it’s listed within the Now TV library, but it can’t bring up Doctor Who which is accessible via BBC iPlayer.
Value For Money
Sky sells the Smart Box on its own for £45.99, lower than both Amazon’s latest 4K capable Fire Stick (£49.99) and the 4K Roku Streaming Stick + (£79.99) but savvy buyers will want to take advantage of its bundle deal which, for a total price of £49.99, includes the box plus one month Entertainment, Sky Cinema and Kids TV passes, plus a Sky Sports day pass.
The retail price for those passes – which can also be used by existing Now TV customers, good news for those upgrading from older models – is £29.96, dropping the cost of the box down to just a shade over £20.
Even if you don’t currently have a 4K TV, at that price you can afford to hedge your bets and opt for the Smart Box over the Now TV Stick – which costs £14.99 on its own or £19.99 with either a 2 month entertainment pass or one month Sky Cinema pass – just in case you do eventually upgrade your telly.
Now TV has long been my favourite streaming service thanks to its ability to offer Sky’s line-up of premium content on contract-free, wallet-friendly terms and the pricing of the new Smart Box makes it easy to recommend to those who’ve yet to take the plunge or longer-term users who are still using one of the older generation boxes.