WHAT’S the best device for watching television programmes? Obviously, a television set is still quite suitable – no points for guessing that – but these days, almost anything with a screen can serve as a TV receiver, and that includes your phone.
The days of TV pictures being delivered only by aerial or satellite dish are over; the internet carries all the same channels and many more besides, with catch-up services as well as live streams. As long as you have a connection and the right app, you can start watching.
TV Catchup is a free app for iPhone, iPad, Android and your laptop, which lets you view more than 50 channels in real time, including Freeview favourites like Dave and Film4. Viewers who live in fringe reception areas like Wharfedale and Scarborough often can’t get these stations through normal aerials – so in theory you could use your phone as a receiver and hook it up to your telly for big-screen viewing. It depends on your phone’s connectivity and processing power, though.
Watch TV and a host of similar apps take the idea a stage further by installing on your Android device a suite of bookmarks to more than 100 channels from around the world which broadcast online. These are then sectioned into categories: movies, music, cartoons, and so on. Your device will have to have Flash Player installed for any of them to work; it’s a free download if you don’t have it already.
FilmOn is another streaming service, carrying a mix of free and subscription channels and also offering the facility to record. It’s accessible through a variety of apps for Apple and Android phones.
Of course, you can also view broadcasters’ own catch-up services like the BBC iPlayer, and if you’re a Sky subscriber, you’re eligible for Sky Go, a service which streams your regular channels to up to two laptops, mobiles, tablets or Xbox consoles. A fiver a month extra lets you download programmes as well as watch them live. Virgin customers with a top-tier TiVo package can access a similar service on an iPhone or iPad.
In all cases, you’ll only really get good results from your device’s wi-fi connection. Mobile data is often too slow for interruption-free viewing and can be prohibitively expensive, depending on the tariff you’re on.
It’s also worth knowing that FilmOn and TV Catchup are at the centre of a European legal wrangle, fuelled by broadcasters who don’t want their programmes retransmitted in this way. TV Catchup insists it is here to stay, and even if it isn’t it won’t be long before someone else starts doing something similar. The era of truly portable viewing is here to stay.