There are a number of ways you can watch live TV online these days. With broadband getting faster and online streaming services getting better all the time, it's probably simpler than you think. And what you might not realise is there are many ways to do this for free.
Of course you should make sure you have a fast internet connection with ideally unlimited data otherwise your overall experience may not be the best.
Whether you're watching catch-up or live TV online, they both consume a large amount of data so if you don't have unlimited data then you'll need to keep an eye on your usage.
We'd recommend a minimum of about 5.0 Mbps but ideally you want around 10 Mbps for good quality video that doesn't buffer every few seconds.
How can I watch live TV online?
There are actually a number of options with subtle differences between the various streaming services which I'll go through below.
It's worth noting that all these started out as catch-up TV services and even today many people don't realise you can actually watch live TV on them as well.
Here is my pick of the best TV streaming sites.
Probably the most obvious and popular service is the BBC iPlayer. The beauty of the iPlayer is that it's so mature now and works flawlessly on most platforms and devices.
The simplest option is simply to go to BBC iPlayer, select a channel and click on whatever programme is currently on.
It will be fairly easy to find as it says "Watch Live" next to it. You can literally be up and running in about 10 seconds! No sign-up or forms to fill in, just a couple of clicks and you're away.
Just bear in mind that whilst the service itself is free, you do still need have a TV License to watch live BBC channels online.
BBC iPlayer covers the following terrestrial channels:
- BBC one
- BBC TWO
- BBC three
- BBC FOUR
- BBC NEWS
- BBC Parliament
- BBC ALBA
- Radio 1
Now TV offers a way to watch live Sky TV online. Although Now TV isn't free it probably isn't as expensive as you might think.
There are 3 packages when it comes to Now TV, or passes as they like to call them. The Entertainment Pass, the Sky Movies Pass and the Sky Sports Pass.
|The Entertainment Pass costs £6.99 a month||Try it FREE for 14-days here|
|The Sky Movies Pass costs £9.99 a month||Try it FREE for 14-days here|
|The Sky Sports Pass comes in three flavours:
- A Day Pass that costs £6.99
- A Week Pass that costs £10.99
- A Month Pass that costs £31.99
|Get your Sky Sports Pass here|
|The Now TV Box costs £14.99||£14.99 (one off payment)|
The best part is, unlike Sky you're not tied into any contract with Now TV and you're free to cancel whenever you like.
I know what you're thinking, I thought you said it wasn't expensive? Well consider this...
A TV License costs £145.50 a year which is £12.13 a month. You don't actually need a TV License for catch-up TV so you can still use the iPlayer and watch BBC programmes on catch-up.
You can ditch your TV License, sign up to the Now TV Entertainment Pass (£83.88 for a year), get 4 months' worth of Sky Movies (£39.96) and the odd Sky Sports Day or Week Pass and be paying roughly the same, if not less than you do for a TV License!
You can still watch BBC programmes on catch-up and still watch live TV from all the non-BBC terrestrial channels.
Not bad eh?
iPlayer 'loophole' to close on 1st September 2016
The government have recently announced that a change in the law means you'll now need a TV License for watching the BBC iPlayer from the 1st September 2016.
Each Pass gives you access to a number of Sky channels.
- Sky 1
- Sky Living
- Sky Atlantic
- Comedy Central
- Sky Arts 1
- ITV Encore
- Discovery Channel
- Disney Channel
- abc studios
- Nat Geo Wild
Sky Movies Pass (categories)
- Action & Adventure
- Crime & Thriller
- Sci Fi & Horror
Sky Sport Pass
- Sky Sports 1
- Sky Sports 2
- Sky Sports 3
- Sky Sports 4
- Sky Sports 5
- Sky Sports F1
- Sky Sports News HQ
Still not convinced by Now TV? Check out our in depth Now TV review
ITV Hub works in much the same way as the iPlayer and can be accessed here ITV Hub. However if you go to their website you are required to register first before you can access any of their content.
Thankfully it's extremely simple as it just asks for your name, postcode, date of birth, email and a password. So even though there's a little extra setup involved, it's very straight forward.
Interestingly you don't have to register if you use the ITV Hub app. All you are required to do in this case is enter your postcode and then you are free to watch whatever you like.
Being a commercial service watching content on the ITV Hub is completely free, you just get served ads in the same way you would do if you were watching on normal TV.
I've used ITV Hub many times in the past and it's especially useful for watching things like a live football stream when you don't have access to a TV.
ITV Hub covers the following terrestrial channels:
All 4 or 4OD (4 On Demand) as it used to be called is Channel 4's offering.
Unlike ITV Hub, All 4 requires you to register whether you want to watch from their website or app. All 4 can be accessed here All 4 (scroll down to the "Watch Live" section).
The first thing you'll need to do is register but thankfully this is very straight forward. They just ask for basic information, very similar to ITV. You'll have to verify your email address by clicking on the link they send you but that's it.
As with ITV Hub, All 4 is completely free as it's a commercial service so once you're signed up, you're free to use it as much as you want.
All 4 covers the following terrestrial channels:
- Channel 4
- More 4
- Four Seven
- Film 4
- 4 Music
The last of our terrestrial offerings is Demand 5 from Channel 5 which can be accessed here Demand 5 but there's a slight snag. Technically you can't watch live TV. As the name (Demand 5) suggests, this is still an on-demand service (probably why 4OD changed its name to All 4).
However it's not far off being live. I checked their website at about 21:15 and I was able to watch programmes that were currently on (e.g. had started at 21:00). Any programmes you select will start from the beginning again reinforcing the fact that this is a catch-up service not a live one.
On the plus side, there is no account setup or registration and the service is completely free.
Demand 5 covers the following terrestrial channels:
- Channel 5
- 5 USA
- 5 Star
Do you know of any other or even better streaming sites that are worth a mention? Tell us what you think in the comments sections below: