You can get contract-free access to premium Sky Sports, TV series and films through NOW TV. But is it the same as Sky without a contract?
With cheap prices and flexible contract lengths, NOW TV is a very tempting offer, especially compared to Sky’s 18-month contracts. There are some important differences between the two, however, that might make one provider more suited to your needs.
We’re taking a look at the differences between NOW TV and Sky in terms of their services, channels, on-demand content, contracts, prices, hardware, multiscreen and picture quality to help you make the right choice between the two.
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Both Sky and NOW TV are triple-play providers, meaning you can take your broadband, landline and TV services with them in one monthly bill.
Although primarily known as a streaming service, NOW TV offers broadband, phone and TV packages. They have both ADSL and fibre broadband, with maximum speeds ranging from 17Mbps to 76Mbps. Similar to other providers, they offer three different call plans, too: Pay as you use, Evenings and weekends and Anytime calls.
NOW TV’s TV packages are very different from other providers, though — and we’ll go into more detail in that in a bit. Basically, you only pay for the channel bundles you want as you want.
Going one step beyond triple-play, Sky is now a quad-play provider, so you can also bundle your mobile with them, too.
Sky offers ADSL and fibre broadband, and their phone plans cover evenings and weekends, anytime calls or international calls. They offer a basic Sky Entertainment package with 320 channels, then you can add and remove 31-day add-ons for Sky Cinema, Sky Sports, HD, Box Sets and kids' content.
We’ll mostly look at TV in this guide, however, since that’s the biggest differentiator between the two providers.
With every TV provider, the package you sign up for determines which channels you get — but NOW TV takes that concept to the next level.
With NOW TV, you only get the channels you pay for with your pass. NOW TV has four different themed passes, each offering different channels.
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Despite getting these channels, however, watching live programmes through NOW TV is restricted on certain devices, so you might only be able to access on-demand content, depending upon how you’re watching NOW TV.
The NOW TV Kids pass gives you access to six live kids' TV channels, including Cartoon Network and Nick Jr., plus thousands of ad-free on-demand content from these channels.
If you have the NOW TV Smart Box, you can also watch 85 Freeview channels with an aerial.
In terms of channel numbers, Sky dwarfs NOW TV. While NOW TV maxes out at 118 channels if you sign up for every pass and have a NOW TV Smart Box, Sky TV packages come with at least 320 channels — and that’s not including add-ons like Sky Cinema and Sky Sports.
Every Sky bundle comes with premium TV channels, including Sky Atlantic, Sky 1, E!, FOX and MTV. Tack on the 31-day Kids add-on and you’ll get more kids’ channels like The Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.
There are two main types of on-demand content from Sky and NOW TV: catch-up TV and box sets. Catch-up TV refers to series, episodes or other programmes from the past 30 days while box sets are older series or programmes that aired outside of the 30-day window of catch-up TV.
With NOW TV you can watch catch-up TV and box sets for free available on your pass. So if you sign up for an Entertainment pass, you can watch series one through six of Game of Thrones for free, but you won’t be able to watch films on demand, either for free or buying them individually.
Sky has an extensive catch-up TV service, but access to box sets is a bit more limited. Unless you sign up for the 31-day Box Sets upgrade, you won’t be able to watch any older box sets for free, but you can buy them on the Sky Store individually. If you had NOW TV, you would only have to buy an entire Entertainment pass to do so.
When it comes to contract length, these two providers differ greatly.
NOW TV has very flexible contracts no matter which service you take. Every NOW TV pass is available on a rolling monthly basis, and Sky Sports is even more flexible: You can take out a day, week or month Sky Sports pass on NOW TV.
This flexibility means you can dip in and out whenever you want to without paying any cancellation fees. Only have time to watch Game of Thrones? Sign up for a NOW TV pass on 16 July and cancel it once the series is finished. Need to keep your kids entertained during the summer hols? Buy a Kids pass or Sky Cinema pass for a few months.
Even if you take broadband and phone from NOW TV — although these deals are now called NOW Broadband — you can either sign up for an annual or monthly contract, depending upon your needs.
Sky, on the other hand, is much less flexible. Sky only offers 18-month contracts, although Sky Cinema and Sky Sports can be added and removed on a monthly basis, as can the Box Sets and Kids add-ons.
Since you only pay for the channels you want, NOW TV has flexible pricing, as you might expect.
NOW TV typically runs promotions, but standard pricing for TV passes is less than a Sky package. Entertainment pass is usually £7.99, Kids pass is £2.99 and Sky Cinema is £9.99 per month. Sky Sports is £6.99 for a day pass, £10.99 for a week pass and £33.99 for a month pass.
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Sky Entertainment — standalone TV, not including broadband and calls — starts at £20 per month and can go up to £35 per month, depending upon which add-ons you choose. Adding Sky Sports or Sky Cinema to your package can set you back another £18 to £27.50 per month, depending on which packages you choose.
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Hardware and set-top boxes
You can watch NOW TV on up to four compatible devices, including the NOW TV Smart Stick, NOW TV Box and NOW TV Smart Box.
All of NOW TV's devices let you stream NOW TV and other apps, including catch-up services like BBC iPlayer and All 4. With the NOW TV Smart Box, you can also watch, pause and rewind Freeview TV if you have an aerial. Otherwise, since NOW TV is delivered through your broadband connection, you don’t need any other hardware.
Although you don’t need a NOW TV set-top box or streaming stick to watch NOW TV, it’s worth keeping in mind that not every device compatible with NOW TV will let you watch on your actual TV, and some devices have restrictions about watching live channels through your TV. Read more about how to watch NOW TV on TV in our guide.
For now, Sky requires a satellite, and you have to watch Sky through their set-top box, the Sky Q. Sky recently announced an IPTV service — meaning you won’t need a satellite dish — but this isn't available yet.
The Sky Q is a regular set-top box: Just plug it into your TV and you can stream on-demand content or watch, pause, rewind and record live TV. You can either get a box with a 1TB hard drive or a 2TB hard drive to hold even more recordings. The 1TB version lets you record three shows while watching a fourth live, and the 2TB box can record four shows while watching a fifth live.
Both NOW TV and Sky support multiroom viewing on up to two devices simultaneously — but there are ways to add more screens on both services.
With NOW TV, although you can register up to four devices on your account, only two can watch TV at the same time. That being said, there’s nothing to stop you from signing up for another account, buying the same TV pass or passes, and getting a further two devices to watch up to four screens at the same time.
For an extra monthly fee (and potentially a setup fee, depending upon when you sign up for multiroom viewing), Sky will loan you a Sky Q Mini box to let you watch programmes on two TVs at the same time — or three, if you have the 2TB Sky Q box. You can connect up to four total boxes, but the viewing restrictions will still be the same.
Streaming on devices
Each NOW TV account lets you register up to four streaming devices, and you can watch two simultaneously. This is done at the account level, not the TV pass level.
So if you use your mobile to check Sky Sports while you’re running errands with your kids — who are watching Peppa Pig through NOW TV on their tablet — no one else will be able to watch Sky Atlantic back at home through that same account since two devices are already streaming, even though you’re all watching things through different TV passes.
Similar to expanding multiroom capabilities, there’s nothing to stop you from signing up for a second (or third) account to keep passes separate, but if more than two people want to watch shows from the same pass at the same time, you’ll need to get another account or pass, which adds up.
Learn more about what devices are compatible with NOW TV in our dedicated guide to watching NOW TV.
Sky Go — free for all Sky customers — lets you register up to two devices, and you can watch them simultaneously. It supports both live and on-demand TV, including any extra content you pay for, like Sky Cinema or Sky Sports.
Watching through Sky Go does not count toward your multiroom limits, so between Sky Go and Sky Q Mini, you can watch TV on four devices at the same time for free.
Sign up for Sky Go Extra — which is free for multiroom customers — and you can watch on up to four devices (so six simultaneous screens, including the two Sky Q Mini boxes if you’re on multiroom) at the same time. You’ll also be able to download programmes to watch when you’re not connected to the internet.
Find out more information on Sky Go, including what channels are available and which devices are compatible, in our Sky Go guide.
Nowadays, HD is practically standard for content makers, and UHD/4K programming is on the rise, too.
Picture quality on NOW TV depends on your internet connection and what device you use. Both of NOW TV’s set-top boxes support a resolution of up to 1080p — but this depends on your broadband speed.
Sky is one of the leaders when it comes to picture quality: Both Sky Q boxes support HD quality, and the 2TB Sky Q supports UHD/4K quality video. Sky actively produces UHD content, particularly for sports and films.
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