Best TV apps – catch-up, plan and watch live TV
You’ve a real appetite for TV. In our recent satisfaction survey, we asked Which? members about their digital TV service; seven in ten of you said you watched more than 15 hours of TV the previous week, over 40% of of you watch catch-up services like BBC iPlayer, and over 75% watch recorded digital TV. We can watch what we want, when we want – without a VHS tape in sight.
You can view days of telly in a slick app or online, and even set program reminders. But as I still often miss what’s on, I’m all for the convenience of catch-up TV. The ever-popular BBC iPlayer has recently been joined by new versions of 4oD and ITV Player on Android and iOS. We’ve previously looked at an older version of ITV’s app which was plagued by stability issues, so when this new version was released, I rejoiced! It was mere moments before I was catching-up with the week’s TV on my Samsung Galaxy S III.
Read on for our verdict.
For more app recommendations from Which? read our app reviews.
TV24 UK – TV guide
You can view days of telly listings in this slick app and even set reminder alerts. It’s simple in concept, but done very well. It shows your regional Freeview listings by default, but you can change it to display those from Sky, Virgin, Freesat, or Topup TV. Just tap your phone’s menu button and go to Channel Settings > TV provider to change it.
The guide menus are clear; just tap a listing to view the synopsis, broadcast and running time, and tap the clock icon to set a calendar reminder. You can browse shows by genre and search listings – using name of a program or an actor, for example. If you’re a big Noel Edmonds fan, you can search and get all Deal or No Deal showings – you need never miss the bearded fella. You can also manage your alerts, rearrange the order of channels and delete them, and a share program information to social networking apps or via a text or email message.
So avoid newspaper-inked fingers or spending money on a TV guide, and download this instead. Then check out our glittering line-up of the best TV apps.
The TVCatchup app and website let you watch live TV for free over an internet or mobile 3G and wi-fi connection, and shows TV from all UK free-to-air stations, such as BBC1, ITV1, Film4, Dave, and E4.
Apps for iOS (iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch) and Android (2.2 and up) are available, and those with Blackberry, Symbian, or legacy Android (2.1) phones can use an optimised mobile site. You’ll need to create a username and sign-in to use them, but computer users can stream live TV on the full website without needing to register.
It’s great; a clear list of channels is easy to scroll through and displays the current and next program for each within one screen – a program synopsis isn’t available in the app, but is online. A downside is in-app adverts that appear when you launch the app and the guide, but they don’t pop-up while watching a show.
It lets you catch-up with shows from ITV1, ITV2, ITV3, IT4, and cITV on your mobile or tablet over both wi-fi and mobile data connections (and helpfully reminds you about data usage with the latter). The iOS version also lets you watch live TV streams from ITV1 and ITV2. Unfortunately for Android users, it’s currently only available for Samsung phones and tablets (running Android 2.3 and higher).
It’s great and a vast improvement on the last version. The old ITV logo has been ditched in favour of the shiny new logo, accompanied by a great-looking app with easy to use menus. Unfortunately there’s no escaping adverts which, like on TV, are shown at intervals before and during the show.
Gone too are the stability issues on Android, although twice when my mobile’s data connection dropping stopped a program, it failed to resume from its previous position and started again, so I had to skip ahead. If only you could skip the ads.
ITV Player is also available as an app on many internet-connected ‘smart’ TVs, or on YouView PVRs, and the Sony Playstation S3. If you have none of those, you can always use ITV Player via the website on your computer or laptop, which also gives the option to rent popular ITV programs from its archives on a pay-per-view basis.
It lets you catch-up with shows from Channel 4, E4, and More4 on your mobile or tablet. In addition to the new versions for Android and iOS devices, is a 4oD app for Windows 8 and RT which supports streaming content over mobile data and wi-fi connections. However, Android and iOS users can only stream content over a wi-fi internet connection – a bit annoying as other catch-up apps also let you use a mobile data connection.
There are some other niggles too, but once you get past these you’ll find a well-thought out app which is easy to navigate, where you can find programs by 4oD’s recommended menu, by category, collection, A-Z, or via the dedicated Catch Up section. This is laid-out nicely too, so you can browse through the programs by day and at the time they were shown on that day.
Unfortunately, like ITV’s app, there’s no escaping adverts as it’s an advertiser-funded broadcaster, and you also have to sign-in to watch a show. If you’re an iOS user, another niggle is that you can’t use HDMI or Airplay which, according to the 4oD website, is because they are restricted by their rights agreements with some US program makers.
But there are more positives. As well as catching-up with programs broadcast in the last 30 days, there’s also access to shows from the archives. And 4oD’s availability on multiple platforms is great too, as it can also be accessed via PS3 and Xbox games consoles, as well as watched online from a computer or laptop.
Not only are programs available from across the BBC channel line-up, including BBC1, BBC2, BBC Three, and BBC News, you can also watch films that have been aired too. A recent update adds the option to tune into some live TV shows and catch-up on radio broadcasts – Android users can access radio within the app, whereas iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch users have a separate iPlayer Radio app. Meanwhile, Blackberry users can only use the BBC iPlayer website, but can a download from BlackBerry World will let them open it quickly from using on-screen shortcut.
It’s slick, looks great, and features options to add favourites, link to a series, browse by category (e.g. Drama, Films), and even check what’s expiring to prioritise your viewing.
Tip: Watching over wi-fi not only keeps your data usage in check, it also improves the quality of streamed video (I use it on Android). Android users can also install the BBC Media Player app which is currently only integrated with BBC iPlayer, but will work with other BBC websites and apps to playback video and audio.
You can also watch online via the BBC iPlayer website using a computer or laptop, and a mobile version of the website is also available which supports many phone and tablets that don’t have a dedicated app – a list is here.
Channel 5′s catch-up TV service has been available on its website for a long time, but we’ve not seen much in the way of apps for mobile devices, TVs or games consoles. The app is currently only available on iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad and the version 2.3.0, released in February 2013, adds support for the iPhone 5′s larger screen.
The Demand 5 app lets you catch-up with shows shown over the last 7 days on Channel 5, 5* and 5USA. Annoyingly, the iOS app only allows users to stream content over a wi-fi connection, and not using a mobile data connection. Like the 4oD app, there is no support for Airplay and there are rights restrictions mean it can only be used within the UK.
The menus are cleanly laid out, and you can search for a show by name and browse for a show using the A to Z section. But compared to some of the other apps, it is a little lacking in its contents and you may find some popular shows, such as CSI, aren’t available. You’ll see the odd bit of advertising, too. Although, if you’d like to tell people what you’re watching, there is a Facebook share link as with other catch-up apps.
An Android version of the app may emerge within the next few months. Alternatively, the catch-up service is also available via the Channel 5 website for computers and laptops, but Android or users of other mobile platforms can attempt to use (it requires Flash 10 to play video).
Virgin TV Anywhere
Virgin’s new and free TV Anywhere service lets Virgin Media customers watch live TV and on-demand video through the Virgin website. Customers need to sign-in using their Virgin Media details to view the channels available on their subscription, and can also search for and schedule recordings on their TiVo box – so if you’ve gone away and forgot to schedule your recordings, you won’t be faced with the realisation that you’ll miss the season finale of your favourite TV program.
A TV Anywhere app is available for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch – an Android app is expected in early 2013. The app lets TiVo box owners connect to wi-fi (not 3G) and use a smartphone or tablet to watch TV from anywhere, outside and inside the home, access their box to manage recordings, and search or browse for programs. The app also has a ’TiVo Remote Control’ which you can use at home to control the box.
There’s already a Sky+ app, Sky+ for Android and Sky+, to see what’s on for the next seven days, use your phone or tablet as a remote control, and for those with a Sky+ HD box, download shows from the on-demand library to it. Best of all, you can schedule recordings on at home and when you’re out and about.
The Sky Go app goes a step further and lets Sky TV customers view live TV and on-demand Sky content from 43 live channels including Sky Sports and Sky Movies for free in UK and Ireland. It supports streaming to Android and iOS tablets and smartphones over a 3G or wi-fi connection. The Sky Go website service also makes it possible to watch live TV online. It’s primarily for Sky TV customers, but non-subscribers can get a monthly Sky Go pass for £15.
While there’s support for Android 4.2 and some of the latest devices like Google and LG Nexus 4 phones, the app’s download page (v.3.0) warns of an issue with Motorola RAZR, and that users who upgrade their Android OS to v4.2.2 will not be able to stream content through the Sky Go app for the time being.
It’s a nice app, with a good program guide and controls and also integrates with the Sky Movies app. It also has support for the Sky Go Extra service, which for a monthly fee lets subscribers download shows to store on their device for offline viewing later – read more about Sky Go Extra. A whole suite of Sky apps are available too, including Sky News and Sky Movies.
It’s a bit more film than TV, but it’s a cracker. Not only can you view tons of movies and TV shows for free, it’s licensed by Sony Pictures too. There’s a good mix of action, comedy, drama, and horror films that are old-ish, older, and not-so-old. While you won’t find the latest Hollywood blockbuster, there’s a good number of well-known titles (and faces) from the vaults rather than just a bunch of ‘B’ movies. We found Gothika, 13 Ghosts, Blind Date, Single White Female, and The Wild One.
It’s a great alternative to those apps that offer movies and TV shows to buy or rent on a pay-per-view or monthly subscription basis, like Google Movies & TV or Netflix, and did I mention it’s free? You just have to create a username, then you can sign-in and stream movies to a supported Android device or iPhone, iPad or iPod touch over a 3G or wi-fi connection. You can also watch online via the Crackle website, using a computer or laptop for example.
Used these apps? Let us know your thoughts after the jump.
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