Now TV vs Sky TV: which is best for you?
23rd Jan 2014 | 15:01
Satellite or streaming: the choice is yours
You no longer have to commit to an annual contract in order to watch premium pay TV.
For the first time you can watch the broadcaster's top tier channels without tethering yourself to a dish. But just how do the two services compare, and what can you expect if you opt for IP TV rather than have your telly served up on a dish?
Now TV vs Sky TV: price
Full fat Sky and semi-skimmed Now TV have very different price tags. Like SVoD rivals Netflix and Lovefilm Instant, Now TV tempts at less than a tenner, however it differs in the choice of packages offered.
The Now TV Entertainment bundle is currently promoted at £4.99, scheduled to rise to £8.99 per month at the end of May. It offers selected shows from ten Sky pay channels (Sky 1, Sky Atlantic, Sky Living, Sky Arts, Gold, Fox, MTV, Disney, Discovery and Comedy Central), and access to live channel streams.
Now TV's Sky Movies pass offers rolling access to Sky's channel bouquet. New subscribers get a 30 day free trial, which then defaults to a monthly fee of £8.99. This auto renews, but you can bail at any time.
Sports fans can score the Sky Sports Day Pass for £9.99. This allows you to watch all six Sky Sports channels live for 24 hours. An event-driven purchase, it's a no-fuss way to catch specific games and special events.
As a contract-in Pay service, the Sky proposition is fundamentally different and a good deal more complicated. Buyers can opt for specific packages or the whole enchilada (which incidentally will cost you a whole lot more than a whole lot of enchiladas).
The basic Sky Entertainment TV pack is £21.50 monthly, and includes Sky 1 & 2, Sky Atlantic, Sky Living and Sky Arts. In total you get you over 35 premium channels and all the usual free-to-air stuff, including 11 HD services. There are also Extra and Extra + iterations, upsold for £27 and £32 respectively. The Extra deal brings the pay channel count up to 80(ish), while Extra+ adds over 50 HD channels as well as Sky 3D and access to boxsets. The additional content is undoubtedly worth the uplift, particularly if you're an HD snob.
Sports and movie packages are incremental to the TV entertainment pack. Sky Sports is an additional £22 a month. HD is an additional £5.25 monthly.
Similarly, the expansive Sky Movies portfolio is an additional £16 a month, with another £5.25 if you want them in HD.
Now TV vs Sky TV: content
With access to ten live TV channels, the Now TV Entertainment package looks like a steal, however subscribers don't get unfettered access to all programmes due to rights and licensing issues. This results in slating – a practice wherein you see only an apology slate instead of a programme. The general rule of thumb seems to be that if it's a popular US show you actually want to watch, it'll be slated.
Conversly On Demand offers a goodly selection of Sky's home made shows alongside some strong imports. It should be noted that episodes are only available for a few of weeks, which makes the selection look a little random. There's a limited selection of boxsets, however these change routinely and may only be available for a few weeks before vanishing.
Now TV Movies is a churning service, albeit one with a large repository of movies available – Now TV cites 800 currently on demand. You also get a curated selection of new-ish titles, up to 16 a month. These arrive in line with its satellite-delivered sibling.
By way of comparison, Sky TV's content choice is immense. From its sprawling entertainment channels, though to premium movie and sports content, the satcaster seemingly has something for everyone.
Sky also offers extensive on-demand content, with the main terrestrial broadcasters supplemented by Sky's own channels and the likes of Fox, Universal, Nat Geo and History. Rather than stream, these are downloaded to the set-top box itself, although you can start watching before your shows fully land on the box. There's an exhaustive selection of movies on demand in both SD and HD.
Now TV vs Sky: devices
The core Sky experience is, naturally enough, satellite delivered and the brand offers a range of set top boxes for the job. There's the standard Sky+HD PVR able to record around 60 hours of HD and 185 hours of SD; it comes free when you join Sky TV or upgrade to the Entertainment Extra + package.
Then there's the Sky+HD 2TB box, able to store up to 350 hours of HD or 1,180 hours of SD; this is priced at £49 for those taking their first Sky+HD subscription (set-up costs may be extra). Both receivers now come with integrated Wi-Fi.
You can also view Sky channels using Sky Go on a laptop, tablet or mobile, although only two devices can be registered. Saying that, this is 'free' with your subscription and is a great service on its own.
Shows can be streamed from 4OD, Sky1, Sky Living, Sky Atlantic, Watch, Gold, Dave, Comedy Central, Universal, Syfy, TLC, Sky Arts, Alibi, Discovery, Nat Geo and CI.
Subscribe to Sky Go Extra for £5 and you can download too, as well as register two more devices. Sky Go comes free is you already pay for Sky Multiroom.
It's also worth noting that you can get Sky Go without a Sky subscription, from £15. This is for smartphone, tablet and laptop only. If you want all the channels - complete with sports and movies - then this ramps up to £40.
As an IP based service, Now TV is widely available on a host of connected devices, including LG's Smart TV screens and Blu-ray players, PS3 and Xbox 360 games consoles, YouView (Sports and Movies only), Roku media streamers and Sky's own Roku-made Now TV box. It's also available as an app for iOS and Android devices.
Now TV vs Sky TV: quality
If you're looking for top notch sound and vision quality, Sky TV wins hands down. Image quality from the satcaster's HD channels is excellent and Sky transmits Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound on movies and TV shows when available. The service can be considered the gold standard when it comes to TV quality.
Now TV is a little less clear cut, as the user experience depends on the speed of connection and playback device. While not officially sold as an HD service, adaptive streaming technology can give surprisingly good results when your connection is fast.
Image quality can be bolstered by upscaling in the playback device; set top boxes and the brand's own Now TV box upscale to 720p. Audio though is stereo only.
Now TV vs Sky TV: verdict
While this may seem a David and Goliath comparison, both Sky and its non-contract offspring Now TV offer compelling ways to consumer linear TV and On Demand. As the granddaddy of UK pay services, Sky can't be beat when it comes to wealth of content and overall performance. But it's not cheap, particularly when you factor in the surcharges for HD. It remains however, our top choice for hi-def and on-demand.
If Sky is a long term commitment, then Now TV is more of a one night stand, with strings attached. The Entertainment package is a fair punt at £4.99, but can be undermined by licensing issues and flighty content. The Sky Sports day pass is a different proposition, and rather good value, while the Sky Movies package is fine value be movie fans looking to sporadically gorge.