However, the proliferation of streaming services on top of the normal broadcast channels makes it a very big window indeed. So here are a few pointers on how to maximise your choice of viewing with the minimum of investment.
If you have a smart TV, you might not need any additional hardware to take advantage of these streams. If your set is “dumb” or the apps outdated, a Roku Express HD streaming stick will give you access to them all. You can get one delivered for £30.
Netflix is the best-known of the subscription giants, and you can expect to see many recent films – though by no means all – as well as TV shows from the recent and distant past. Netflix also commissions many of its own productions, from last year’s gangster epic, The Irishman, to stand-up comedy specials on both sides of the Atlantic. It also has the UK rights to some current American series.
The basic Netflix package is just under £6 a month, with viewing in standard definition on a single screen only. The cost goes up to £7.49 for high definition, which you can watch on two screens, large or small. There are apps for Apple and Android phones and tablets, and Netflix is also available on Playstation, Nintendo and Xbox consoles, Amazon Fire devices, Apple TV and Chromecast. If you want to watch in Ultra high-definition on up to four screens, the cost is £9 a month.
Amazon Prime is the streaming service from the world’s biggest online shop, and includes original films and TV series not available elsewhere. Jeremy Clarkson’s Grand Tour and its various spin-offs are perhaps the best-known of these. You can view on the same screens and devices as Netflix, and the monthly cost is £6, or as part of a £79 annual subscription which also includes free delivery on other items you buy from Amazon. However, by no means all movies that Amazon sells can be streamed on Prime – the rest must be bought and paid for in the normal way.
Now TV is Sky’s streaming platform, but without the contract. Sky has the UK rights to films and series on America’s premium cable networks HBO and Showtime, and often has first call on films after their initial cinema and DVD releases. It also has its own network of seven sports channels. Now TV sells its own set-top boxes but the Roku device is better and more flexible. You can also watch on Apple or Android phones, Playstation and Xbox consoles, Chromecast and certain models of smart TV. As with Sky’s main service, you pay individually for movies, sports and entertainment, the monthly costs of which are £10, £34 and £7 respectively. You can add six screens to your account and watch different shows on two screens at the same time.
Disney Plus, the latest streaming service to be launched in the UK, contains much of the company’s back catalogue and can be viewed on most of the same devices as Netflix. It costs £6 a month and you can download films to watch in the garden, even if the wi-fi won’t reach there.
Britbox, which comprises programmes from the ITV and BBC archives but little original content, is £6 a month.
None of these services restricts you to watching on your main TV, so they’re ideal for private viewing on a phone or tablet. And none requires a long-term commitment. You pay by the month and you can cancel when normal service is resumed, then restart as and when you please.