by Jonathan Weinberg, Spring Chicken Technology Editor
When John Logie Baird made the first British television broadcast in September 1929, he could never have imagined how TV would change in less than 100 years.
We’ve gone from one channel to hundreds, black and white to high definition cinema quality in your front room and from television sets that would take up the whole corner to a thin flat screen that sits neatly on the wall.
And now thanks to the wonders of the internet, we can watch pretty much anything… anytime and anywhere.
You may have heard of the terms ‘catch-up’ or ‘on-demand’ TV. These are references to how you can watch programmes over the internet (a process known as ‘streaming’) at different times to when they were originally broadcast.
But you don’t need to be a computer whizz to do it. Here’s six easy steps to getting yourself set up for watch TV online free.
Step 1 – Check your internet speeds and deals
To watch TV over the internet, you need a steady internet connection of around 2Mb or more. Those with Virgin Media will have this as standard, and generally such speeds are achieved in most locations nowadays, unless you are in a rural area. You can check your speed at http://www.speedtest.net/ - just click the ‘Begin Test’ button and it will automatically start and show the download speed you currently have. Watching TV online also uses up part of your monthly internet data allowance from your internet service provider. It’s a bit like when you make a call on a Pay As You Go mobile phone. With that, each time you make a call, you use a bit more of the money that’s been set aside. With broadband, instead of a monetary allowance, there’s a data allowance and often this is capped on how much you can use each month. While many providers do offer unlimited usage, it is worth checking whether yours is currently capped as going over this can add money to your bill. Generally though, if you’re just watching for just a few hours a week, you current provision should be fine.
Step 2 – Use your existing computer or tablet
These days television isn’t just watched on a TV set in the living room. You can access a plethora of TV content as long as you have an internet connection and a computer or tablet. And if you’re reading this article on the Spring Chicken website, then it’s likely you do. You don’t need anything else. You just need to move on to Step 3.
Step 3 – Use a catch-up website
All the main TV channels have websites filled with programmes to watch on your computer. For example, you may have heard of iPlayer [http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer] from the BBC. Here you will find most of the past 30 days of programmes shown on BBC1, BBC2, BBC3 and BBC4. And it couldn’t be simpler to watch. At the top right there’s a search box to type in the name of the show you missed. Or the handy boxes on the main screen show some of the most popular and most recent selections. Just click the programme you want, then click the play button in the middle of the box on screen and away you go. The other main channel catch-up websites are ITV Player [https://www.itv.com/itvplayer/], On Demand from Channel 4 [http://www.channel4.com/] and Demand 5 [http://www.channel5.com/demand5].
Step 4 – Use an app on your mobile phone or tablet
If you are using a portable computing device then it’s likely there’s a catch-up TV app. You just need to search for the names of the ones we listed above to find the dedicated channel app to download. This works in a very similar way to the website and because you are likely to be using a touchscreen, it is very intuitive to select the programmes you want. You could also try an app called TV Player. This gives you access to a selection of live TV channels to watch using your tablet, phone or computer [http://tvplayer.com/]. It’s free to use and has a large choice beyond the traditional five stations including Yesterday and Drama.
Step 5 – Use your existing TV provider
Sky, Virgin Media, BT and TalkTalk all offer catch-up and on-demand TV as part of your subscription with them. For example, with the YouView box that BT and TalkTalk provide, you can scroll back through the channel guide and pick a programme aired in the last seven days and it will automatically start playing over the internet. You’ll need to ensure your TV box is connected to broadband using what is called an Ethernet cable. If you have Virgin Media, it would have been connected to the internet already and Sky’s newer boxes have wireless technology like your phone, tablet or laptop use. In both of their menus, you’ll find sections for catch-up viewing and Sky especially makes available thousands of hours of shows to watch including box sets of whole series if you fancy settling down and working your way through as much as you can in one sitting.
Step 6 – Sign up for an online subscription
TV today is not just made for the television. Many programme makers are creating online-only shows that are broadcast from companies called Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video. These are online on-demand services that require a monthly subscription. However, for that payment you get access to original shows, old series and loads of movies, all available to watch when you want via the internet. It’s worth checking out their catalogues online to see which one may suit you best. One useful gadget that makes this easy to watch through your existing TV is the Amazon Fire Stick available from amazon.co.uk for £25. It plugs into your TV and comes with a little remote control. Once connected to your Wi-Fi, it allows you to watch Amazon and Netflix shows and also gives access to BBC iPlayer. You can even search through its entertainment guide simply using your voice, by saying what you want to see.
Do you already watch TV online? What shows do you enjoy? Do you have any tips for other Spring Chicken users? Let us know…