This week there have been a lot of ads for smart TV services which simply plug in to the back of a TV via the HDMI port, turning it from a run-of-the-mill TV into a smart TV.
We look at the differences and similarities in NowTV and the Amazon Firestick, including charges, functionality, adaptability and choice of services.
If you want to get all the services that a smart TV has to offer, all you need to do is plug in a smart device into the back of your TV, configure it and BOOM! The world of NetFlix, Sky Cinema, Sky Sports, iPlayer, Amazon Prime, Catch-Up and Spotify, right? Well, in theory. The reality is it’s a little more complicated than that.
The Fire Stick is a simple plug and play device which slots straight in to the back of the TV and allows you to watch TV from myriad sources, gives you voice control, Alexa functionality and immediate access to your home network. It also comes with a handset which allows you to scroll through shows, services, controls and settings. From the homepage you can find all the apps and recently watched shows, boxsets you’ve started and recommendations based on your viewing habits.
It also anticipates your budget, ie, if there is a show for free on one platform, such as NetFlix, and it’s a paid event on another, it will go to the free option as a default, but also let you know about the other options, if for example you can only stream it for free, but you can buy it to keep on the other channel. The Fire Stick is fast, so less buffering and freezing, and it has a strong receiver too, so if your TV is a distance from your wireless router, you’ll find the service better than with some other devices.
With the handset you can control like a normal remote, or talk to Alexa by pressing a button and speaking, meaning that she doesn’t start doing things or answering back in the middle of a show because she misheard or someone on screen said ‘Alexa’! But of course you can link up to your home hub, Echo, or other smart speaker if you want that kind of access.
The Fire Stick is capable of delivering Full HD up to 1080p, so if you want 4K Ultra HD or HDR then another device is for you, but as an entry level device, the Fire Stick is the device for you.
Fast, stable connection to your WiFi and home hub
Easy to use controls and interface, handy recommendations.
At £40, it’s a very reasonable price, although this doesn’t include further subscriptions to additional services.
Geared to Amazon services and products.
No 4K Ultra or HDR capacity
Search sometimes gives erroneous results
The ad for Now TV makes it look like a simple solution that you can just plug and play, just like the Fire Stick. However, when you visit the Now TV website there are a number of different devices at different price points, all offering different functionality and services.
The Now TV Smart Stick, like the Fire Stick, offers HD TV and voice search, starting at about half the price while the Now TV Smart Box offers 4K. When you’re on the website you choose whether you want a stick or a box, then you have to choose which stick or box you want. This means choosing the ‘TV Passes’ you want bundled with your package. If you choose a sports TV Pass it’s not immediately clear whether you can also add an entertainment Pass. Click on the ‘Get Offer’ button and you’re taken to the purchase page, but besides a voucher code field you get no other options. But presumably because there is a stick option that has no TV Passes, and the devices themselves appear identical, it must be possible to increase your options.
While this, strictly speaking is a website/customer satisfaction issue, it bodes poorly for the customer. But ignoring the multiple TV Passes it’s possible to try for free for 14 days before starting a subscription, let’s look at what the devices actually do.
The stick itself is a simple plug and play device, plug it into the HDMI port and start watching TV instantly. After clicking around I found it’s possible to increase the number of channels you can watch, you need to buy further TV Passes via the website. Passes include 1000s of movies, hundreds of boxsets and live Sky broadcasts including sports. It also offers On Demand, Sky Store, UKTV Play and YouTube. Again, you can operate the search facility via the remote, however, looking at community pages and discussion forums, it looks like you will have problems if you want to synchronise it with your home hub without additional equipment or changing WiFi providers.
The Now TV Smart Box offers all the options that the stick does, but in 4KHD. Plug it in and make your options, including Sky Cinema, Sports, NickToons, Atlantic and many many more. Again it’s a plug and play device which is contract free, just plug it in, synch it with your WiFi, and add or delete TV Passes as you want. The website doesn’t actually say anything about whether the box connects to your home hub, whether there is voice control. You’re simply encouraged to buy the box, plug it in and add TV Passes.
4K HD available on the Now TV Smart Box
The stick is cheap, and many of the TV Passes start with a free trial period
No contracts are required, simply buy the stick or box and start enjoying TV straight away
It doesn’t appear to be easy to connect to home networks or home hubs unless you’re already on compatible platforms
Subscribing to multiple TV Passes can get expensive, notwithstanding the low entry cost
Trustpilot complaints include poor reception, picture freezing etc. poor customer service, problems with the stick itself and the remote not working properly.