The Best Legal Online TV Services

Braun HF 1, Germany, 1959I’ve wrote a couple of times about my Online TV watching, and not so long ago I wrote about zattoo. However one thing I always find when looking for decent TV online, is there is no guide to help you out.

So here goes, I’m going to share some of the tools and software I used for watching television online.

For years there has been video online, sites such as Youtube providing user generated content, and in the beginning these use to include shows too, but then with all the copywrite actions that took place much of this has calmed down now, and content makers are now slowly starting to adopt to the digital / computer age.

In China and the Far East, a lot of Youtube clones are knocking about, that carry a lot of content that shouldn’t really be there and are in breach of copywrite of some form of another, an example of these is Youku which has lots of TV shows and films if you know how to find them, given the website is in Chinese – I’m not going to go into detail on how to find this content, as I assume most of you know to use a decent search engine, and queries such as “Film Online” will often result in a site that agitates the videos available, and displays what’s on offer in English.

There is then obviously torrent sites, which are currently the subject of much of the legal fights that are happening around the Western World.

We then come to legal services, such as iPlayer in the UK and Hulu in the US are changing the way we watch TV, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if in the next decade or so, terrestrial Television is no more or is reserved for Local Channels, and that most content is viewed online via vast catalogues of content, and streaming channels are all pumped through a PC or Set top box, similar to the BT Vision offering which I love so much, although the content needs to increase and I still feel the cost of a film for a 24 hour rent is high.

Apple TV at the Macworld 2007Unfortunately, the utopian TV age isn’t here yet, and I don’t think the UK could support utopian TV without better a better broadband network, for example last night I was unable to watch streaming Television as my supposable 8Meg BT Broadband connection didn’t want it, and in addition to that the iPlayer v.s. Broadband Company’s arguments continue, with Broadband Suppliers asking content companies to stump up cash for better quality connections.

But less of the problems online TV faces, here comes a list of some of the best Online TV Resources available online at the moment. And my views on how they’ll evolve.

iPlayer

BBC iPlayerI don’t think, being an English blogger, I could have started to list decent TV software, without starting with the iPlayer.

I was an early user of the iPlayer, and sulked from day one, I have Tivo to record everything on there that I want to watch, so there was little chance of me missing something, and then issues with the software which included the nasty Kontiki software really put me off. However come Christmas 2007, and a dramatic new launch alongside the Dr Who Christmas Special with Kylie, the iPlayer had upped its game, and started embedding videos directly in the webpage. This was a good choice to make, and it worked. The iPlayer took off.

The content is the BBC’s own output, and doesn’t include any films or shows such as Heroes which is unfortunate, however that said I can get my Heroes fix on Hulu – where come September I’ll be settling down to series 3.

I find that I often visit the site, and end up leaving without seeing a single video, I suppose the reason for this being that it only has a 7 day catch up. I think if the BBC want to really build a platform to be rivaled they should include the back catalogue of content they own, and then it will be something truly exceptional. I suppose a lot of this comes down to the fact that the BBC is one of the few broadcasters in the UK, and I’ll watch it first live on TV, and a 7 day catch up doesn’t work for me.

The way I view iPlayer is that it is still in its infancy, and needs to grow up to become something bigger. The new joint venture that the Beeb is building with the other traditional broadcast channels, ITV and Channel 4 over here sounds promising, and I cant wait to see what they come up with – perhaps a new online / digital broadcast platform to rival that of Sky now that would be something?

The BBC could use this opportunity, to develop, build and maintain a new content delivery platform, mixing live TV broadcasts with catalogues of content – I’m thinking iTunes on speed. The BBC Trust should also approve of the spending, and development, because they could open up the platform, allow other channels to come onboard – eventually creating a platform for broadcasters to get there content out.

I’d say this is something with potential, however it needs to improve on content in my opinion.

 

ITV : Catch Up

ITV Catch UpThis goes to show how quickly the online TV market is changing, I started writing this post several weeks ago, and ITV Catchup has changed.

I have to say, I was going to be very negative about ITV, and moan about how slow and cumbersome it was.

However, they have since upgraded the platform they use, and by using Microsoft Silverlight, I have to agree they are now offering a good service, especially when it comes to content.

I would still like to see a better interface, and possibly some removal from the ITV.com website, as at present the catch up service doesn’t seem to have an identity.

4OD

This one recently got a saving grace, however not going to fully save the platform in my opinion.

My issue with this one is, and has always been the 4OD delivery manager, or Kontiki software which it is built on (this is the same software used for the iPlayer, however the with the BBC you don’t need to download the software and can watch all their shows online). The Channel 4 programmers have managed to make it worse, as its very very sloooooooooowwwwww, even on my machines which are both very nippy and fast computers, even if I do say so myself.

Again, there are issues with finding content, if you want to download a series, then you have to go to the homepage, find the show, select the episode, download the episode, confirm your old enough to watch it, and then start again from the home page… Not too bad if your talking 1 or 2 episodes, a nightmare you want to catch a series you missed

On the plus side for this one, they do have a good catalogue of content, and there is plenty to watch provided you don’t mind downloading the afore-mentioned 4OD delivery manager.

As I said, there was recently a saving grace with this one, and that is they have followed the BBC’s move, and made some content available directly online without the need to download software. although, problem being, you only get the 7 day catch up online, which is pretty lame given the problems that currently face Channel 4 (namely lack of funding, and its BB Summer which means no channel 4 for 6 months).

I Just Love Hulu, and I shouldn’t even have it in the UK! There are ways to obviously get to the content, you just need to know what to do.

Basically the easiest way to watch Hulu in the UK is to set up a VPN which in really simple terms, creates a pipe for your broadband to wherever the VPN company operate, you then access the site. This is also a good way to protect yourself when downloading from torrent sites, as your visible IP address and location are that of the VPN company.

Back to Hulu, its got a great catalogue of content, a nice browse and search function, and the quality is decent, with no software to download. Their is also a HD trial being run at the moment.

Hulu are apparently, trying to open to site up to the UK and other countrys, but the process is painfully slow due to copywrite laws etc (a little like why the iPlayer cant be viewed in the UK).

I know there are lots of other services out there, if you know of a good site, let me know in the comments and I’ll have a look and maybe review it.