ONLINE TELEVISION VIEWING

By Allan Wallis

ONLINE TELEVISION VIEWING

 

LOOK OUT FOR ALLAN’S LATEST ARTICLE IN THE WINTER 2014 P-O LIFE, LOOKING AT THE DIFFERENT WAYS OF WATCHING UK TV TODAY.

 

 

Introduction

On-line television is not new, it is HUGE! People around the world have been using it for some time to watch the television programs of their choice and it is estimated that more than 10% of television viewing is now on-line.

We have been spoilt in Southern France by the ready availability of UK television with satellite services such as Sky and Freesat. That is all changing with the launch of new satellites that focus their signals more specifically on the UK rather that all over Europe. By late 2013 it is likely that UK TV via satellite will only be available with a large dish perhaps 1.25m or more which may prove impracticable for a lot of people.

In this article I will try and explain the various ways of watching UK (or other countries’) television using the internet, rather than a satellite dish. I have divided the article into 2 parts, the first dealing with ways of watching on-line TV, the second part is about overcoming the geographical restrictions imposed by UK broadcasters.

First some caveats

  • Speed.

The faster your internet connection, the easier it is to watch on-line TV. You can check your internet speed here http://www.speedtest.net/  .If you get a download speed much less than 1.5MB then you are unlikely to be able to watch live programs. If your speed is low then it is worth reporting it to your service provider as there may be a fault on the line. Catch-up TV is generally more forgiving of a slow connection than a live broadcast.

 

  • Data

Some internet services, in particular satellite and 3G, charge for or impose a cap on the amount of data sent or received. On-line TV requires the download of a lot of data and so is not suitable to use with such systems. High definition pictures also require the transmission of even more data which is why most on-line data streams are in standard definition.

 

  • Television connection

Most TVs sold in the last 6 years have a connector known as HDMI, if your TV is not equipped with HDMI then you need to double check that it is suitable for use with whatever equipment you use.

 

  • Geographical restrictions

A lot of on-line TV services are only intended for use in their country of origin. This limitation is normally easy to overcome but there is no guarantee that broadcasters will not change their systems to thwart the work-arounds.

 

Practically all the services described below with the notable exception of Filmon require you to overcome this geographical restriction so make sure you read the second part of this document. The legal position is unclear, some companies refer to an EU ruling that says that TV programs should be available in all EU countries, and others point to copyright laws that say that the broadcaster has the right to say where the broadcast can be watched.

How to watch on-line TV

On-line TV is not only available on computers, there are many devices that you can use, and here are some of them.

With a computer

Most people realise that UK broadcasters provide catch-up services such as the BBC-iPlayer and ITV player that you can watch on a computer but in most cases a computer is not the ideal medium for family viewing. Some computers have an HDMI output that you can connect directly to a TV, you can also buy devices that transmit your computer screen to a TV but to my mind these are a waste of money as they generally cost more than a dedicated set-top box and tie up your PC while you watch television.


With a set-top boxWith a set-top box

To my mind this is the best way of doing it, you simply replace your satellite receiver with an Internet TV box and use a remote control in the traditional way to select programs. You do not need to involve a computer after you have set it up.

It is possible to buy a fully configured set top box and pay a subscription to receive UK TV channels – this is undoubtedly the simplest way but involves paying for something that would otherwise be free.

The alternative is to buy a small box that connects to the internet and to your TV and allows you to watch almost unlimited television without further cost. I’ve recently been using a G-Box Midnight for this, it cost £75 and lets me watch all the major UK channels as well as programs from around the world.

It wasn’t hard to set up but be warned, it and most similar products were designed by the Xbox generation, so don’t expect manuals or a help-line. The G-Box runs the Android operating system widely used on tablets and mobile phones and a terrific program called XBMC – this is a media player that has thousands of add-ons for watching television, downloading movies and playing music.

Once you have the hang of installing add-ons, it becomes a bit addictive – practically every TV program ever made is out there somewhere and generally not hard to find.

With a Smart TV or Blu-Ray player

A lot of new TVs are known as Smart TVs and have their own on-board computer – Samsung is probably the market leader. Most smart TVs will allow you to watch some on-line broadcasts directly. Some high end Blu-ray players have similar capabilities. The services available on Smart TVs are often determined on the country where their computer thinks you are situated so you may have to overcome geographical restrictions to get access to these services.

With an iPhone, iPad and Apple-TVWith an iPhone, iPad and Apple-TV

A wide range of on-line TV is available on IPhones and iPads and using a function called Airplay, they can transmit the broadcast to a small box called an Apple TV connected to your television. Like most things made by Apple, it just works.

 

With a games console

The Xbox 360, the Sony PS3 and the Nintendo Wii all have some capabilities for watching on-line TV programs


 

With a Sky plus box

Sky recently launched a service called Sky Anytime that uses the internet to provide catch-up TV, so even if the box is rendered useless for satellite TV reception it still may be of use for downloaded programs. Sky’s implementation of BBC iPlayer and the ITV player is the best that I have seen anywhere.

 

 

So what can you watch:-

The main UK broadcasters all offer on-line services:-

BBC iPlayer – Live programs and Catch-Up recordings

ITV Player – Live programs and Catch-Up recordings

4OD ­–  Channel 4 catchup service

Demand 5 – Channel 5 catchup service

Sky Go  – This is a gem of a service offered by Sky, it allows most Sky channels to be watched on up to 2 different computers so if you are a Sky subscriber, or a have a friend or relative in the UK who is a Sky subscriber and is willing to let you use their account then you can connect to Sky Go (subject to you using a VPN or proxy). Using a Sky account to watch TV on the internet is not in any way detrimental to the account holder. Indeed the majority of Sky subscribers watch on their television sets not their computers. Sky Go does not work with an Apple TV box.

Filmon – This service is not geographically restricted, so you don’t need to worry about overcoming restrictions. It provides free access to standard definition broadcasts of all the main UK TV channels (but not Sky). You can pay extra for HD broadcasts, movies and other channels as well as an option to record programs.

TVCatchup – Despite its name, this service doesn’t provide catch-up TV services, it does however allow you to watch live TV from all the main UK channels. The service is intended only for UK use and they can sometimes detect that you are outside the UK – it has a great electronic program guide but may not always work.

1Channel – this is a hugely popular service that lets you watch whole series of previously shown programs.

 

Overcoming geographical restrictions

Whereas this article focusses on UK TV, the principles apply equally to TV from other countries. Some of the services described allow you to switch countries, so one minute you can appear to be in the UK and later you can be in the USA.

A bit of technology first:-

All computers on the internet have a unique address known as its iP address, for home use this is allocated by your service provider and identifies which country you are in. Lots of services deny you access if this iP address is outside their designated country.

There are basically 2 main techniques in use to overcome geographical restrictions:-

VPN – Virtual Private Network

This is where a connection is made between your equipment and a network in the UK. All of your traffic then leaves the network in the UK with a UK iP address.

You can get a free VPN service called Expat Shield http://www.expatshield.com/ but it plagues you with adverts and installs software on your computer.

A service that seems popular in this region is iPortal, http://www.iPortal.me this works well and can be installed on a wide variety of devices. Iportal charge €50 per annum or €40 to senior citizens.

Another service has the hideous name of Hide my Ass  http://www.hidemyass.com/vpn/ This is a top of the range VPN service and has the benefit that you can pretend to be in any of 54 different countries, it also works on a router allowing you to share the VPN with multiple devices.  It is priced in dollars with a year’s subscription costing the equivalent of around €60 per annum.

Most services also offer monthly pricing plans, normally at a small premium.

DNS redirection

This is a simpler system than a VPN, when you try to access one of the designated TV sites, it simply diverts your request via one of their computers in the home country of the TV service. It can be used with devices that do not support VPNs.

This is an elegant solution that you can leave in place all the time, the downside is that it will only work with those specific sites that the provider has set up, you also have to log into the site periodically (daily) to ensure continuity of service.

An example of a service like this is Unotelly  http://www.unotelly.com/unodns/

This works fine with the major UK channels and Sky Go but doesn’t work with some devices, a Sky plus box for example cannot connect to the Sky Anytime service and a Freesat box can’t connect to iPlayer or ITV player.

VPN services don’t suffer this restriction

The Connected House

If you have multiple devices in your home on which you want to watch UK TV then there are several ways of achieving this.

1               Use DNS redirection simply by changing the DNS settings on your broadband router

2               Use internet connection sharing on your PC to share a VPN connection

3               Invest in a second router, – the Linksys WRT54GL will allow you to create a wifi network in your   home with a shared VPN

Which solution is right for you?

The simple answer is there is no right or wrong solution, it all depends on what you want to watch and on what equipment.

A simple solution would be a set top box running Filmon. This will give live UK channels in standard definition with no ongoing costs. A suitable box costs around £75.

 

If you have a Sky Plus box that you want to use for catch-up TV or programs on demand and perhaps other devices on which you want to watch TV, then a router with a VPN is probably the best solution.

 

Allan is happy to answer any further  questions on our forum.

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