Whether it’s Doctor Who or Downton Abbey, slouching on the sofa enjoying some great telly is part of the Christmas experience. But with family and friends around, arguments over what to watch are almost inevitable.
So, to avoid a festive dust-up over the mince pies, harness the power of catch-up TV services, including BBC iPlayer, Sky Go and All 4. Read on to find out how to get your favourite Christmas TV on demand.
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Television without the TV
Chances are you already own a device that can receive television over the internet. You can either log on to the online version through your web browser, or download a dedicated app. For example, BBC iPlayer is available on more than 10,000 different devices in the UK, including laptops, smartphones, tablets and smart TVs.
Bear in mind that the quality of video you’ll see depends on the speed and reliability of your broadband connection. You’ll need at least 1.5Mbps to stream video, but ideally a bit faster (5Mbps+) to avoid endless buffering, particularly if you want to watch shows in HD.
If you’re using a catch-up TV service on a mobile device over 3G or 4G internet, be careful not to max out your data allowance as that could lead to hefty charges.
You can live stream BBC channels on iPlayer, as well as catch up on shows up to 30 days after their festive broadcast, such as hotly anticipated new episodes of Sherlock and Luther. Useful features include Live Restart, which allows you to skip back to the beginning of a programme that’s already started. For those dull car journeys visiting relatives, passengers can also stay entertained by downloading content to watch while offline. Find out more with our in-depth BBC iPlayer guide.
Where to get BBC iPlayer
You can get BBC iPlayer through PC and Mac, most smart TVs, PVRs, Blu-ray players, Chromecast and other internet TV streaming devices, including (as of just this week) Apple TV, Nintendo Wii, Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and PS4. You can also get it through Apple iPhone and iPad, Android phones and tablets, Windows tablets and phones, Sky, Virgin Media, BT TV and TalkTalk, Freeview, YouView and Freesat boxes.
Just as with iPlayer, ITV Hub lets you both stream live channels and catch up on missed shows up to 30 days after they were broadcast. All content is arranged by the date it was broadcast, or in categories such as entertainment and drama. You’ll have to watch ads around the content, unless you pay £3.99 a month to upgrade to ITV Hub+. Find out more about ITV Hub with our expert guide.
Where to get ITV Hub
ITV Hub is available through PC and Mac, Samsung TVs, Sony YouView TVs and Panasonic Freeview Play TVs, PVRs, Blu-ray players, Chromecast and other internet TV streaming devices, Nintendo Wii, Xbox One and PS4. Plus also through Apple iPhone and iPad, Android phones and tablets, Windows devices, Sky, Virgin Media, BT TV and TalkTalk, Freeview, YouView and Freesat boxes.
Whether it’s live streaming Channel 4 channels, catching up on missed shows or bingeing on box sets of dramas and comedies, All 4 is all about helping you find things to watch. You can get personalised recommendations in the My 4 hub, and if you’re using the iOS and Android apps for smartphones and tablets, you can also download programmes to watch while you don’t have an internet connection. Learn more about all this with our All 4 guide.
Where to get All 4
Get it through PC and Mac, Samsung smart TVs, plus selected Sony and Panasonic TVs, Sky, Virgin Media and BT TV, selected Freeview, Freesat and YouView boxes, Now TV, Roku TV and other internet streamers, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PS3. Plus, Apple iPhone and iPad (iOS 7.1 and above), Android smartphones and tablets (Android 4.0.4 and above) and Windows devices.
My5 is the place to enjoy entertainment on demand from Channel 5, 5* and 5USA. You can’t stream live TV as with the other services, but you can catch up on recently broadcast programmes, such as Neighbours and Big Brother. If you’re using My5 on Sky or Virgin Media’s TV services, you can also enjoy some content in high definition (HD). Get the full lowdown with our in-depth Demand 5 guide.
Where to get My5
My5 is available through PC and Mac, most smart TVs, TV streamers such as Roku and the Amazon Fire TV stick, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3 and PS4, various Freeview, Freesat and YouView boxes, PVRs, Blu-ray players, Virgin Media, and Sky and BT TV services. Plus, Apple iPhones and iPads, Android tablets and phones and Windows devices.
Available for free to Sky subscribers, Sky Go offers live and on-demand content from Sky channels such as Sky Atlantic, Sky 1 and Sky Sports, as well as partner networks such as Fox, ITV and Dave. You can register two devices to use for watching Sky Go, or pay £5 a month for the Extra package, which lets you register four devices and also download content to watch while offline. Discover more with our in-depth Sky Go guide.
Where to get Sky Go
Get Sky Go through PC and Mac (but only using the Internet Explorer, Firefox or Apple Safari web browsers – not Chrome), Apple and Android smartphones and tablets.
Netflix, Now TV and Amazon Video
Of course, you don’t have to rely on the terrestial broadcasters’ catch-up services. There are several paid-for streaming services that offer a glut of new shows and films unavailable on catch-up, including exclusives and much newer movies than you’re likely to find on TV. Netflix, Now TV and Amazon Video are all subscription services that can be accessed through a smart TV, or one with a smart TV box attached (see our reviews).
These services cost around £6 to £8 a month, depending on your package, and all have hundreds of movies and TV shows available to watch instantly. As it’s Christmas, you’ll also find there’s plenty of festive-themed content to keep you busy while you work through the mince pies.
Pick up a tablet
If there’s too much squabbling over who wants to watch the Queen’s speech over The Great Escape, the answer could be making everyone happy with a tablet. They’re a popular Christmas gift, and a great way to watch what you want to watch on your own terms, especially if the family gathering is getting a bit heated and you need some time to yourself. We’ve reviewed over 60 tablets, and found the perfect models for watching films and TV. They don’t break the bank either, with one of our highly rated models only £40.
Read our reviews of the best tablets.