Sometimes with an extensive media collection on my PC it can be hard to immerse into a good viewing session. With the allure of Facebook, Twitter, games and, heck, even getting comfortable in an office chair against a desk, sometimes the experience is a little lacking from the human perspective.
I recently acquired a nice little television that I could place in a more comfortable position – nearer to my bed. I’ve no intention of connecting this set to broadcast TV and intended to use it purely to access both content on demand on the web and on my local PC via my home network.
The NowTV box has proved a perfect accompaniment to the TV to allow it to perform the functions I want.
The box is essentially a pared-down Roku streaming box with built in WiFi and a more curated “channel store”. I’d have liked to see Ethernet as an option (though the WiFi has been very good) but as a subsidised device, the idea is to hook into Sky’s supported services.
It’s incredibly easy to set up: plug the power and HDMI in and it’s ready to go. There’s the slight hassle of not being able to use the box without a NowTV account (which requires submitting card details for a presumed payment after a trial period for one of Sky’s packages) which is a one-off annoyance, and considering the box’s £10 cost – including shipping- is tolerable. The box functions fine too once the subscription is cancelled before the first payment; it’s just remembering to do it!
Web content works really well, with the default selection of “channels” (ie: apps) a great start. All the major UK broadcasters are represented, with a few Sky-promoted ones too. I did note that the Sky channels could not be “deleted”, though again, as a subsidised box, it’s to be expected. I added the TWiT.tv and YouTube channels from the curated “channel store”
A notable success for me has been the YouTube TV app which has the almost-magical feature of allowing pairing to a mobile device or computer; this then allows content to be “pushed” to the TV with the computer or mobile device acting as a remote control. I’d never been that happy with the YouTube performance on iOS (lack of background audio for one) so this is a really great feature and alone makes the NowTV box a worthwhile investment. And I’ve not even started on local content!
I’ve been a big fan of DLNA streaming across my home network – that is, using the DLNA standard to pull media from my PC sitting in my room to compatible devices such as the living room TV. It’s a seamless and pretty great experience, especially as everything I own supports it out of the box. Local streaming was a main part of wanting the Now TV box, though the setup was somewhat less intuitive than with the bundled apps.
There is no pure DLNA client for the NowTV that I can find, which annoyed me initially as it’s supposedly an industry standard, though unlikely to be officially supported as it does not correlate with Sky’s plans for the device. I researched two options for apps that I could side-load somewhat-officially onto my NowTV – Plex and MediaBrowser. I was originally annoyed that both of these apps required a companion app on my local PC to fling media across the network. Why duplicate Windows 7’s excellent streaming functionality? I relented and gave Plex a go, though the insistence that I eventually sign up and give them money quickly brought MediaBrowser to my attention.
MediaBrowser has, to its credit, performed flawlessly. I was able to “hide” the MediaBrowser server to prevent duplication to other devices that support vanilla DLNA, alleviating my first concern, and the library functions are surprisingly powerful, pulling down all sorts of interesting and useful metadata to go with my collections.
I could’ve easily bought a Chromecast for pretty much identical functionality but I didn’t for a number of reasons: the NowTV was cheaper, had confirmed media streaming apps in the form of Plex or MediaBrower (I couldn’t find any confirmed ones for Chromecast) and, as a surprisingly important factor, the NowTV included a physical remote; I didn’t fancy using my iPhone as a remote control as, again, it’s another app to install. I prefer things to be as simple as possible and in this instance, another little bit of plastic is fine.
Overall though I’m thrilled with the box as it performs perfectly. It’s silent, and responsive and is a great enhancement to the previously “dumb” TV I had acquired and is a perfect companion to internet or network-based viewing!