Sky’s Now TV Box review round-up

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When it comes to the latest in audiovisual technology it wouldn’t be unfair to say Sky TV’s ageing satellite system is years behind the competition when it comes to streaming and catchup TV. And with the likes of LoveFilm and Netflix changing the landscape of TV consumption, Sky has finally realised that its current crop of set top boxes just can’t keep pace with the ever-changing world of Internet TV.

Step forth Sky’s Now TV box, a dinky little plastic box that you can pick up for less than a tenner, and upgrades your TV to a smart TV capable of streaming services like BBC iPlayer and access to Sky’s premium programming without the need of a satellite dish.

There are several reasons why Sky has launched the Now TV box. Firstly, their current raft of set top boxes just can’t compete with the Apple TVs and game consoles of the world. If you’ve ever plugged your Sky box into a broadband router you’ll know that catchup TV doesn’t really work with Sky’s legacy system. I tried it a few months ago and was prompted to download each show on iPlayer before I could watch them – hardly an ideal solution.

So it’s no surprise that their Now TV box looks to solve a lot of the issues Sky faces with its proprietary boxes: first up, the Now TV comes with built-in WiFi, which means Sky can now beam online content to consumers who don’t have a Sky dish. Now TV also grants access to a range of a free catchup services from likes of Channel 4’s 4oD and Channel 5’s Demand5 catchup service.

As well these free services you get access to Now TV’s Sky services, which offers a range of content from Sky TV including premium movies and sport. This mean Now TV is clever alternative for those who don’t actually have a satellite dish. At the moment a Sky Sports day pass costs £9.99, which gives you access to all of Sky’s sports channels for 24 hours.

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Sky Movies fairs a little better in the value for money stakes: the movies subscription costs a not unreasonable £8.99 per month for three months and £15 per month thereafter – better still there’s no yearly contract so you could subscribe for just a few months at a time.

There are downsides though: at the moment the Now TV is lacking quite a few apps you’d expect from an Internet TV service – so at the moment both LoveFilm and Netflix are missing in action. But you do get access to rudimentary versions of Facebook and Spotify – so you win some and lose some.

Techradar were impressed with the functionality on offer for the price during their hands-on review, but they too couldn’t forgive Sky for blocking out other services: “It should be pointed out that Sky is restricting some competing services from the library – and that means you can’t use this as a sneaky Netflix of LoveFilm box. Curses.”

Expert Reviews noted during their review that the set top box didn’t offer a value for money as an alternative to a full Sky Package but they did like the idea of a few friends chipping in for a big Premiership game using the system’s day pass: “At this price, it’s obviously not a replacement for Sky Sports on satellite for serious sports fans. Get a couple of mates to chip in and it’s actually quite reasonable.”

Expert Reviews weren’t enamoured by the quality of the streams either, which is limited to just 720p at the moment: “Unfortunately this the maximum output resolution the box runs at, and so though video quality is acceptable, it pales in comparison to 1080p content from Netflix or LoveFilm.”

Overall if you’re looking for a cheap way to add some smart functionality to an ageing TV, then Now TV is a no-brainer. If you’re looking for a box that supports both Netflix and Lovefilm then Now TV won’t serve you well for the time being – but for the price it’s hard not to be impressed by Sky’s first attempt at a fully-fledged Internet TV service.

Sky Sports Kick Off New Season With Pub Challenge App

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Sky Sports has launched a new app to coincide with the start of the new football season, offering features aimed specifically at fans watching games in their local pubs. Included in Sky Sports Pub Challenge is a pub finder for locating big-screen TVs and a variety of games and activities to play once you’ve been checked in to a nearby watering hole.

The emphasis is on adding a competitive prediction element to a match — you can take on your friends and anyone else who happens to be using the app in the same venue. “We’re expecting Sky Sports Pub Challenge to be a big hit with people who like to watch the big games with friends down at the pub,” said Sky’s David Rey. “It’s a rewarding and sociable way for people to get into the action and make the most of match days down at their local pub.”

Not only do you get bragging rights if you make an accurate score prediction, there’s money on the table too: monthly prizes up to £2,500 can be won and there’s a grand end-of-season prize of £20,000. Free tickets to Barclays Premier League games are also on offer for those who know their football.

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Having an app that can quickly pinpoint a Sky Sports pub in an unfamiliar location is reason enough to download it; the trivia games and prediction leagues are an added bonus that should appeal to groups of supporters who head down to the pub to enjoy (or suffer through) matches on a regular basis. According to Sky, over 2.2m of us watch live sport in the pub at least once a week. With many venues now offering Wi-Fi as well as a variety of beers, you might not even have to rely on a dodgy mobile connection to get involved.

Sky Sports Pub Challenge is available now free of charge for iPhone and Android. Other built-in features include lists of upcoming fixtures and the ability to forward plan meet ups with friends.

Sky Now TV: A threat to Netflix and Lovefilm?

Sky has entered the internet TV arena with the launch of a new service called Now TV. With streaming services available on PC, Mac and selected Android handsets, the service puts Sky, and owners BSkyB, in direct competition with streaming giants Netflix and Lovefilm.

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Now TV subscribers will gain access to a range of Sky Movies content, including the service’s 11 channels and 600 movies. If movies alone aren’t enough to sway you, The Guardian reports that Now TV users will also be able to access other BSkyB content later in the year. This includes Sky Sports content, such as Premier League football, rugby, cricket and golfing tournaments, in addition to Sky1 and Sky Atlantic.

Stephen van Rooyen, BSkyB managing director of sales and marketing, said: “We are targeting the 13m non-pay TV households out there with a no commitment, no contract way of delivering Sky content they want in a dip in and dip out way. The whole idea is to have something ‘not Sky’, it is purposely designed to attract new customers.”

NowTV is available as a subscription or pay-as-you-view service. Subscribers can watch unlimited content for £15 a month, while less prolific viewers can expect to pay between 99p and £3.49 per film using the “pay and play” option.

With the new service, BSkyB are targeting consumers who avoid subscribing to costly cable packages, and offering them a more flexible option. Despite this, Now TV’s monthly fee is still three times higher than Netflix and LoveFilm’s cheapest packages.

Van Rooyen defended the company’s pricing, saying “The most important thing to look at is what the service is, the quality of what we are delivering, we don’t want to replicate what LoveFilm and Netflix have done. We offer around 75% of the top 100 box office movies, and have rights to offer films a year before rivals – the value is in the premium quality we have.”

Although the service is only currently available on a limited number of gadgets, BSkyB have announced plans to roll out further versions for iPhone, iPad, Xbox and even PlayStation 3. It will also be available via YouView, a new service that combines Freeview with online content.

Great Gadgets & Gifts for Her

Forget the usual perfume or underwear and think outside the box this year with a few gadget ideas…

Zeo Sleep Manager

Do you have a sister or partner who is always looking for way to improve her health and wellbeing? The Zeo Sleep Manager Mobile (£89) uses the latest technology to tell you how you slept. A Zeo Softwave headband tracks your sleep stages throughout the night and then transfers your sleep data either to a bedside unit or wirelessly to your smart phone. In the morning, Zeo shows you how much time you spent in Light, Deep and REM sleep and gives you a real, timed sleep graph with your sleep patterns. You can then compare your nightly Zeo sleep score to your age group, personal target and learn how to improve your sleep.

Price: £89
From: www.myzeo.co.uk

Zeo

Jelly Belly Scented phone covers

The Jelly Belly Candy Company has launched a new range of scented smartphone covers for BlackBerry and Apple users. There are nine popular scented covers to choose from, so she can carry her favourite jelly bean scent with her wherever she goes. Choose from Bubblegum, Very Cherry, Blueberry, Top Banana, Green Apple, Wild Blackberry, French Vanilla, Liquorice and Grape. Each purchase comes with a 10g bag of jelly beans (which you can gobble up before Christmas if you like!) – even the camera lens hole is the shape of a jelly bean!

Price: £15.99 and £17.99
From: www.amazon.co.uk

Black-Zomm

ZOMM Wireless Leash

Using Bluetooth® technology, the ZOMM Leash prevents users from losing their mobile phone by vibrating, flashing lights and sounding an alarm whenever they walk a set distance away from it. The device is designed to easily attach to key rings, bag straps or fit into pockets and is fully-customisable. Many women also use the Leash as a safety device to keep their children from wandering-off while out and about. Pop the Leash into a child’s pocket and if they stray too far away, the alarm will sound – alerting parents that their child is out of sight.

Price: £69.95
From: www.zomm.co.uk

Griffin-and-Threadless

Threadless iPhone & iPod Cases

Griffin has teamed up with crowd-sourcing company, Threadless, to turn its most popular t-shirts into great-looking iPhone cases. Available in a range of designs there’s sure to be something to suit her taste.

Price: : £24.99
From: Apple stores

Prima-Donna

PrimaDonna S from De’Longhi

Good things come in small packages and if she loves a really good cup of coffee in the morning but can’t justify taking up space in the kitchen, De Longhi has released the PrimaDonna S coffee machine, which it says is the most compact and feature-rich bean to cup coffee machine to date. She can enjoy espressos, cappuccinos and lattes all at the touch of a button, if your pockets are deep enough..

Price: £1,395
From: www.johnlewis.com

Sky+-Agent-Provocateur

Sky+HD Designer Boxes

Has she been hinting that she’d like a little something from Agent Provocateur? Well here’s something you’ll both enjoy then – a limited edition Sky+HD box with a design especially created by the famous lingerie designers. Other designers who have got in on the act include Matthew Williamson, Farrow & Ball and Julie Verhoeven. Treat yourself to a Sky Sports package while you’re at it!

Price: £49 for existing customers (£149 for new customers)
From: www.sky.com/designerboxes

Atomic-Flyod

Atomic Floyd MiniDarts + Remote

Especially made for more delicately proportioned ears, Atomic Floyd has updated its MiniDarts earphone to include a remote feature that offers full control of playback and volume, plus seamless switching between music and chat (with full iPhone and iPad compatibility). Made from metal for a bigger sound and durability and offering soundproof noise isolation.

Price: £179.95
From: www.atomicfloyd.com

John Lewis Hearmuffs

Warm ears, cool sounds. These fashionable cable knit headphones connect to her iPod/iPhone/Phone/MP3 player via a 3.5mm headphone jack. They have an adjustable backband design for a great fit and are available in cream, black, pink and grey.

Price: £15
From: www.johnlewis.com

HoMedics

Homedics Me laser hair reduction system

Okay, this is not something to be buying a new girlfriend unless you want her to be an ex-girlfriend pretty rapidly, but if you’re sure your other half will not take offence, this system combines IPL with radio frequency to remove up to 89% more hair in just four treatments. The makers claim the system is unique, fast and efficient and can be used on a much wider spectrum of skin types as well as on the face below the cheekbones. A full body treatment takes just 30 minutes with ten per leg and two per underarm and one cartridge holds three full body treatments.

Price: £399.99
From: www.boots.com

SkyGo Brings Movies to Tablets/Smartphones

Just in time for the Christmas viewing season, Sky has announced that it is bringing Sky Movies Live and on demand on Sky Go.

This means that Sky TV customers can have access to hundreds of films via their tablets and smartphones, as well as at home on their TVs.

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Sky Movies subscribers can use Sky Go to stream movies on demand over a Wi-Fi connection (there should be 3G capability by the end of the year). They will be able to see content from all 11 Sky Movies channels – films they can look forward to over the next few weeks include Black Swan, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Little Fockers and Limitless.

This is the latest expansion to the Sky Go service, which lets customers view Sky content using their iPads, iPod Touch, iPhone, PC, Mac and laptops. SkyGo was launched in July this year and has nearly two million users to date. It also offers access to channels such as Sky News and Sky Sports.

Earlier this month, Sky also launched a dedicated Sky Movies App for iPhone and iPad, offering listings for movies currently showing on Sky Movies and at the cinema, movie trailers and the option to record movies via Sky+ remote record.

A Sky Go app for Android handsets should be available in the next few months.

Sky’s attempts at world domination look set to progress next year when the Sky Go experience will be supported by the ability for Sky customers to use at least 5,700 public Wi-Fi hotspots, ins coffee shops, restaurants, pubs, transport hubs, hotels and gyms. This follows Sky’s acquisition of the Cloud, a public Wi-Fi network.

The Sky Go app is available for free to Sky customers from the App Store on iPad, iPhone and iPod touch or at www.itunes.com/appstore

Preparing for the digital handover: the best of the set-top boxes

It all started off with a trial in the small Welsh communities of Ferryside and Llansteffan. 500 properties switched over to digital television in 2005, way before anyone else did, as part of a Government trial. Next was the Copeland area in the Borders in 2007. And now in 2010, BBC One and Two, ITV, Channel Four and five are systematically being dumped from the analogue airwaves as the Digital Switchover really starts to take a grip across the UK.

There’s a whole host of digital television set-top boxes out there to buy if you’ve never made the digital TV leap yet – but if you fancy something a little different, there’s also a load of other digital avenues to investigate.

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There’s a host of HTPCs around – Home Theatre PCs – or integrated digital TVs too, but are these about to sound a death knell for the more traditional set-top box? LatestGadgets decided to look at some set-top boxes on the market and ponders if they’re about to become obsolete in the face of more upmarket and deviant forms of digital television.

1. Philips DTR220 Freeview Set-Top Box – With a guide price of £35, this set-top box is digital television at a modest price and perfect for those on analogue television needing to make the transition to digital.

2. Alba ALDTR160 Freeview+ recorder (guide price £70) – Taking the next step up, Freeview+ draws inspiration from Tivo and Sky+ and allows you to record digital televison. It’s got a 160GB hard drive, equating to 80 hours of material, so recording your episodes of Coronation St. hasn’t quite been so easy.

3. Sky+ HD – You can now pick up Sky+ boxes relatively cheaply if you’re about to join Sky – or if you’re an existing customer – so there hasn’t really been a better time to delve into satellite television. And with HD functionality too, super-sharp image quality is one of this box’s more redeeming features.

4. Sony Bravia KDL46EX503U (£996.55 on Amazon) – Splash out with the 46-inch Sony Bravia TV with built in Freeview HD. It’s got all the mod-cons – like WiFi and Internet Video capabilities – and of course, integrated Freeview HD. Freeview has never quite been so luxurious.

5. Boxee Box – Boxee is a novel concept – a free computer program allowing you to collate videos from your computer and the Internet, pulling content from a number of outside sources too, such as YouTube and Last.fm. D-Link have made the soon-to-be-released Boxee Box, a sleek looking box which removed the PC from the Boxee equation, allowing you to watch content from the Internet or your hard drive. It’s similar to Home Theater PCs, but is designed for the living room.

“From the laptop to the living room”: The Smartbox 8000

Sky and IP Vision invited us to have a look at the range of content that the Fetch Smartbox 8000 Freeview+ box gave access to. The key feature they wanted to highlight was of course, access to the Sky Player that the Fetch Box enables. If you didn’t know, Sky Player is Sky’s online TV service that allows access to a range of live channels and on-demand services such as sport, movies and Ross Kemp documentaries.

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The Smartbox 8000 box has an Ethernet port and wireless built-in and the quality over a standard broadband connection was impressive (you wouldn’t be able to tell it wasn’t regular TV playing). You can also pause Live TV.

The Smartbox 8000 attempts feel like me the night before my History A-Level – cram in as much as possible However, here the results are a lot more successful. Featuring a Twin-Tuner DVR, Connection to Sky Player, iPlayer Access, Video on Demand and a Media Centre, the Fetch Box is a noble attempt to be the one box you ever need. Assuming you have no Blu-rays. This one box approach extends to the actual box, which not only contains the unit and remote but also batteries and all the leads you could desire. A small but classy move.

Set up is simply plugging into a TV, (it has an HDMI out) and adding an aerial and Internet connection. No more waiting for the Sky engineers to work their magic. The Smartbox 8000 also provides access to the BBC iPlayer, bringing online content “from the laptop to the living room”. Of course, there are other ways to do this – on the Wii for example, but it’s great to see the iPlayer built into a set-top box.

It gets better. With a twin-tuner and built in 160 Gb HDD it is trivial to record material from the Electronic Program Guide at the touch of a button – and even to record programs at the same time. And with access to On-Demand TV services, the need to actually record programs diminishes significantly. And even if you do record masses of content there are not one but two USB ports that you can attach external HDDs to store content on.

And in true Ginzu fashion, there’s more. The unit has basic but functional Media Centre abilities. Whilst this appears to be just “thrown in” the Smartbox 8000 can access a home network running a Windows Media server (or a Mac running a UPnP server) and playback music, pictures or video files – even high definition *.mkv files and stream them over the network. Or play them back via a USB key. Whilst the interface lacks the slickness of, say the Apple TV or the Boxee Box it trumps both those in terms of playback range (the former) or the ability to be purchased in the UK (the latter)

With a bit of something for everyone the FetchTV SmartBox 8000 with Freeview+ is “full of win” as the kids would say. Yours for £219 from John Lewis, Carphone Warehouse and Currys online.

Sky Mobile TV comes to App Store

Not content with only allowing XBox users the chance to view their wares, Sky are now offering iPhone devotees the opportunity to stream live TV right into their palm.

Channels such as Sky News, as well as their Sky Sports package, will be available via subscription, allowing you to watch top football action whilst on that tortuously pallid train journey or as you sup that wispily frothy latte in your favourite wi-fi enabled coffee shop.

Parting with £6 a month will see those with an iPhone (or iPod Touch) also able to pick up ESPN and the equine mainstay, At The Races.

Sky Sports on iPhone

Is it worth it? The live Barclays Premier League football on offer is undoubtedly the biggest draw here; the sport has proven to be a major factor in the success of Sky’s satellite service, and conversely, the investment and nourishment Sky has given to English football has injected real money, glamour and pizzazz into the game.

But we’re all used to taking in Torres v Terry on expansive TVs, both at home and in the pub – vast plains of televisual majesty, each blade of grass bristling under your nose and the crowd’s passion reverberating through the living room and your heart too.

And with this in mind, hand-held football threatens to be one epic comedown. The two darlings of Apple, the iPhone and the iPod Touch both boast a high quality display, crisp and sharp. But football is a kinetic, intricate game, brimming with subtle flourishes and – well, a pretty minuscule ball! One look away and you might lose sight of it.

Football is often seen as a communal activity too, from the 22 players on the pitch to the spectators simultaneously breathing in each kick of the ball. And nothing quite beats seeing your team slay your greatest rivals with a bunch of beer-stained mates.

Indulging in live iPhone football whilst lonesome threatens the existence of this particular enchanting past-time, but if you’re away from the big screen and rabidly ponderous of the Manchester Utd. vs Liverpool score, then there’s probably little better way of checking out the game – it’s just a fingertip away. That’s if you can see the ball, mind.