The subscription-free alternatives
Then, of course, there’s the huge quantity of online video content not tied to an existing television broadcaster. Internet TV has been a buzz phrase for years now, and to a certain extent it’s possible to watch entertaining content that exists solely online. There are many popular YouTube channels, many in Full HD, along with shows that arrive on all manner of websites in regular slots. As traditional TV companies continue to grow their online output, the internet is already becoming a new home for TV – just not quite in the manner many originally predicted.
A good example of this is in the world of games consoles. Most family households these days have at least one sitting under the TV, and they’re becoming increasingly powerful entertainment hubs. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 both offer streaming content from BBC iPlayer and 4oD, with the Xbox also offering Demand 5 and the PlayStation 3 offering ITV Player. Both consoles have Lovefilm and Netflix apps for streaming movies, as well as some of their own on-demand movies and TV shows.
It’s a major coup for Microsoft, essentially turning your Xbox into a second Sky box
They each have their exclusives. While the PlayStation 3 offers a selection of Sky shows for purchase in its PlayStation Store, the Xbox has a full Sky Go app with which you can either stream the channels in your subscription, or pay as you go. It’s a major coup for Microsoft, essentially turning your Xbox into a second Sky box.
The PlayStation 3 can’t quite match that, but it does have its own offerings. VidZone streams music videos in an array of styles and genres – much like the music channels on Sky, but here you get to choose what song plays next. The Xbox has the similar Vevo. The excellent Mubi, on the PlayStation 3, offers a selection of independent and classic films.
There’s one other factor to take into account: everything on the PlayStation 3 is available for free; to get anything beyond iPlayer on the Xbox you’ll need a Gold subscription, which costs around £30 a year.
It isn’t only about the living room: the popularity of smartphones means that big TV companies now have their own apps. BBC’s iPlayer is available on iOS, Android and BlackBerry, and Sky has a range of apps to complement its TV offering. ITV has iOS and Android versions of its ITV Player, but Channel 4’s 4oD is available only on iOS. Channel 5’s on-demand service, Demand 5, is also available on iOS, with an Android version slated for a summer release.
Then there are the streaming services. Netflix’s iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7 apps allow direct streaming of movies as part of your subscription, as does Lovefilm’s iPad app. Alas, the Lovefilm apps for iOS, Android and Nokia smartphones only let you browse titles and watch trailers. TVCatchup has free, ad-supported streaming from a variety of channels on iPhone and iPad. Popular American service Hulu has made noises about launching in the UK, too, but its service and app – which works on both iPhone and iPad – hasn’t yet landed on these shores.
It’s also possible to buy TV shows and movies from Apple and Google themselves. Apple’s iTunes serves up the broadest catalogue, with Google Play currently offering only movies, but the firm has registered domains such as www.googleplaytv.com, which could indicate a desire to offer TV shows too.
There are other apps that, while not affiliated with particular streaming services or TV networks, can give your TV viewing a tech injection. IMDb is primarily a movie site, but its seemingly endless database also catalogues the stars, crew and writers of most of the world’s TV. Dozens of apps offer TV listings, news and reviews of current shows, and innovative software such as Zeebox attempts to tap into the current growth in second-screen viewing by linking up with social networks, including Facebook and Twitter.
Finally, it’s possible to use your smartphone in conjunction with media-streaming boxes. Slingbox’s SlingPlayer software is available for iOS devices, Android tablets, Windows Phone 7 devices and BlackBerry handsets, and iOS devices can control Apple TV direct from the smartphone or tablet.