Not too long ago, the options for watching TV comprised 1) free to air terrestrial channels, 2) premium content via expensive satellite, or 3) cable equipment tied to a specific subscription-based broadcast company.
Now, with fibre broadband and 5G mobile networks, the choice of receiving TV programmes has exploded and watching TV online is now commonplace. It is now possible to watch TV without cable or a satellite or terrestrial antenna.
Accessing Content Online
The pre-requisite for watching content online is a reasonably fast internet connection, whether from broadband over a landline or a mobile signal. The roll-out of super-fast fibre broadband and 5G mobile signals across the country is opening up practical online streaming for most areas.
For rural areas with poor connectivity, satellite-based internet signals are coming online, although latency issues make this option more suited to downloading content than streaming live internet TV programmes.
Smart televisions are now commonly available and integrated with the internet to allow the download and streaming of live programmes and on-demand services.
In effect, a smart TV is a small computer, digital media player and TV screen integrated together in one consumer package. Their advantage is they combine traditional TV reception with watching TV online if you are not ready for cord-cutting, but want alternatives to cable TV.
Streaming Devices and DVRs
Digital media players can link older television sets without internet capability to online content. These set-top boxes open up streaming and on-demand services to non-smart TVs, providing the facility to search for content. In addition, some media players can download and store content or record live programmes for later catch up viewing.
The simplest method to watch online content is via a web browser on a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Dozens of reputable websites offer programmes, either as a paid subscription service or free services that include advertisements.
As an alternative to a web browser, many apps are available for smart devices, from TV to smartphones, that provide live streaming services for TV shows and movies.
UK TV Streaming Services
1. Amazon Prime
Video streaming forms part of the broader Amazon Prime services and offers some good original content along with older programmes.
Amazon Prime Video is part of the online store's premium delivery service and is available with the Amazon Prime annual subscription. However, you can sign up for a short free trial before making the commitment. There is a single subscription option that provides access to all content.
One drawback is that the content range is not as impressive as other streaming options, and the app can be challenging to use. For instance, where content is available as HD or 4K programmes on other services, these are offered as standard.
Apple TV is a relative newcomer to the streaming world, but it has brought original content from the U.S. with big-name stars to help get established. It is available for a monthly subscription, with a short free trial and regular offers for free access with the purchase of Apple products.
It comes with a great app, as you would expect, so you’ll experience good compatibility with Apple devices that deliver 4K content. While it has some good programmes available, the range of content is limited with very few older programmes at the present time.
BritBox is a collaboration between the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 to provide access to their catalogue of older programmes and recent content along with a limited amount of high-quality original content not available elsewhere. BritBox is available for a low monthly subscription, with a free trial available as well.
This service has a great range of content that focuses on boxsets of classic shows like Prime Suspect and Fawlty Towers but is relatively narrow in the scope of programmes. The quality of the older programmes is also fairly basic, and quite a number are available through alternative free online streaming services.
The Disney Plus video streaming service offers Disney's programmes, including original content not available from other streaming services. Disney Plus is available for a monthly or annual subscription, and the annual commitment offers you a 15% discount compared with the monthly fee.
The content range includes programmes aimed at both adults and children and provides niche genres, popular franchises, and classic animated programmes. The range of content is more limited than other streaming options, since it is from one studio. Where content is available as HD or 4K programmes, these are also available in the standard format.
Hayu TV is a subscription-based video streaming service owned by NBC Universal, which delivers popular U.S. reality TV programmes. You can watch shows on-demand or download them. Hayu TV is available for a monthly subscription with no commitment and offers a free trial period on sign up.
Hayu TV is a niche reality TV product with a minimal range of programmes intended for an adult audience which means it has limited appeal for a more broad range of audiences.
Netflix stands out from the competition due to the impressive range of original high-quality content that it delivers alongside content from other programme production companies.
It is available for a monthly subscription with no minimum term. There are three tiers to choose from; the more expensive the plan, the better the image quality and the greater the number of devices you can use simultaneously.
The app is easy to use and highly capable, and the range of available content is impressive. However, to receive HD or 4K programmes, you will need to pay a higher subscription rate.
Now TV provides streaming of Sky and HBO programmes for non-sky subscribers, giving you access to high-quality and original content from the UK and US.
It is available for a monthly subscription with no minimum term. Different tiers depend on the type of content you want, including Children's programmes, general entertainment programmes and movies as separate options.
While this service offers no commitment access to sky content, the basic service is only standard TV quality and requires an additional fee to access HD format.
The All 4 free online service offers access to all Channel 4 content, including its commissioned films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, and programmes such as Big Brother, as well as live streaming services.
The service is free with the support of advertising. However, you can pay a low monthly fee to remove the adverts if you choose.
Channel 4 commissions a wide range of original content as well as bringing in content from the US. The only downside is that the adverts can be intrusive when watching programmes.
The BBC iPlayer offers all of the BBC's current content and some of its past programmes in one easy-to-use website and app. Technically the BBC iPlayer is not free since it requires you to hold a TV licence, regardless of what content you view. On the other hand, it does offer very high-quality programmes.
BBC iPlayer is perfect for watching live TV and catch-up for recently broadcast programmes. However, programmes are only available for one month or so after their original broadcast date.
Classic BBC programmes are also occasionally made available for online viewing for short periods. However, these appear on an ad-hoc basis, making it difficult to find specific older programmes.
The ITV Hub offers ITV's current content and older programmes as an online streaming service. It provides both live streaming of all ITV channels as well as programmes on catch up.
Programmes include adverts that allow the service to be free when watching streaming videos, but downloading content to view later will require a small monthly subscription payment. This paid service also has the advantage of removing adverts from the programmes.
STV Player is the online streaming service for the Scottish TV channel, which offers its programmes for live streaming and on-demand. STV includes content from the BBC and ITV as well as its own original content. The STV Player is for use only within Scotland; viewers outside of Scotland should use the ITV Hub.
UK TV Play is the online streaming service for UK TV owned channels, including Dave, Drama and Yesterday. Programmes include adverts and are available for live streaming and on-demand. UK TV commissions a good range of original content, including popular comedy and entertainment shows and older content produced for the BBC and ITV.
Since 2016, anyone in the UK viewing BBC content by any means must have a TV licence. This includes watching catch-up TV or on-demand programmes via the BBC iPlayer as well as live channels.
For all other TV programme sources, you only need a TV licence if you view live programmes or record them to view at a later date. Catch up and on-demand services that you do not receive via the BBC do not currently require a TV licence.
Watching TV no longer relies on access to terrestrial, satellite, or cable services. All major UK broadcasters now have online TV services that enable you to watch live broadcasts, catch up on programmes that you've missed, or download programmes to watch later.
You can view programmes on various devices, but the availability of services for specific devices can vary. Always check your streaming service website first make sure that it supports your viewing device of choice.
About the Author: Stephen Mash is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Stephen is a UK-based freelance technology writer with a background in cybersecurity and risk management.
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