We may have just reached rock bottom for Sky Sports packages this week, but the Beeb and Sky’s positions as leaders of streaming TV on-demand are no longer looking so unassailable. All of the UK’s terrestrial channels now have online catch-up services and it’s clear that video on demand (VOD) has taken off in a big way.
With streaming services left and right chomping at the bit to offer HD broadcasts, can the big two keep their lead? Take a look at the contenders for our on-demand TV affections below, then cast your vote for our New Media Service of the Year at this year’s T3 Gadget Awards.
Best… overall: BBC iPlayer
With hi-def added to its slick interface and good catch up service, it’s good enough to view full-screen on a 27-inch screen, but does eat bandwidth. Shows can be viewed on major mobile devices and via Virgin Media, the PS3, Wii and more, and this is not only the best VOD service there is, it’s also free. Advantage Auntie.
LOVE: HD content. Very reliable. It’s also free HATE: No older shows
Best… for Sky subscribers: Sky Player
You don’t need a Sky box to use Sky Player online, but unless you’re an existing Sky customer you will have to pay extra. With viewing quality that’s comparable to Freeview and simple onscreen controls, this is a great way to get Sky in a second room without investing in a second Sky box, but the charges for renting or buying shows will mount. Also available on Xbox.
LOVE: Sky in a second room. Fantastic interface HATE: It’s far from free
Best… middle of the road viewing: ITV Player
ITV Player gives access to the last 30 days of ITV content on a PC, Mac, or via Virgin Media, as well as streaming some shows live as they air. There are ads, alas. Content is largely the brainless tat you’d expect – the top-rated shows are Coronation Street and Peter Andre: The Next Chapter. Full-screen mode is bloody awful, too.
LOVE: Simple interface HATE: No HD. Dubious quality of content
Best… range: See Saw
The ‘Dave’ of the VOD services, See Saw offers a good selection of programming from the Beeb, Channel 4, Five, and a range of US premium series. Some content is free, but you’ll be forking out up to £1.19 for most popular series. Searching is a cinch, with content divisible into both categories and ‘collections’ – programme listings sorted roughly by viewer age and gender.
LOVE: Collections feature HATE: £1.19 rentals are pretty steep
Best… archived material: 4OD
Content from Channel 4, E4 and More4. It comes in rather low-def, pixellated form and has adverts before and sometimes during each show, although less than you’d endure watching shows as they air. That said, the amount and quality of archived content is impressive. Recent shows are available for 28 days after transmission, but rights issues rule out The Simpsons among others.
LOVE: Classic content. Wide availability HATE: Poor quality stream
Best… style over content: Demand Five
As well as streaming shows from the past 30 days, replete with ads, this lets you rent or buy them in standard or (rarely) hi-def quality. With a portable download service, viewer star ratings for shows and being able to pre-order content, it’s a sharp service; the only teensy problem is that, CSI, FlashForward and The Gadget Show aside, ‘most everything that Five broadcasts is twaddle.
LOVE: Mobile versions of downloads. Some HD HATE: It’s Five…