TVCatchup has made quite a splash for its excellent iPhone compatible service that allows users to watch a range of TV channels live, admittedly with a short delay. Despite some aspect ratio issues and the occasional bout of buffering, the free service has been such a hit that a few less than honest folk have tried to cash in by selling links to the service on eBay.
The browser-based version of TVCatchup is another good find. Currently 40 TV channels and 40 radio channels are available, with more promised. Users need to sign up for the service, which is free, and be based in the UK. Like many online live TV and on-demand catch-up TV services, such as the BBC's iPlayer, you'll need an UK based IP address to watch due to copyright restrictions. Compared to traditional terrestrial TV, Freeview, Virgin cable and free-to-air satellite the service is delayed slightly, anywhere between 10 and 20 seconds during our tests.
Selecting a channel means sitting through an additional 'pre-roll' ad, currently Sky HD, which looks less than impressive watching online. While dependent on your internet connection, picture quality - usually 640 Kb/s for video with 128 Kb/s MP3 audio - was a little soft even over a very fast broadband connection. On larger monitors this is most notable and the full screen option needs a decent viewing length not to look blocky or pixelated. Occasionally the picture stalls, images flash by to catch-up, but thankfully the audio remains solid and clear throughout.
By placing your mouse over the bottom of the channel being broadcast, a handy semi-transparent guide is displayed with details of the TV show being viewed, a link back to TV channels, a volume control and the ability to go full screen. Users can also change aspect ratio from 4:3 to 16:9 widescreen viewing, although this option is very hit and miss.
Channel selection appears to be a mix of Freeview and Freesat content with a few more exotic options adding to the well-known mix of flagship channels from the BBC, ITV, C4 and five. There are plenty of +1 type channels that broadcast content an hour later, which offers some flexibility for those with busy lifestyles. Radio content is a welcome plus, offering a decent selection in one place, although like the TV channels on offer, we'd love to see more regional and international content. TVCatchup claims 'high quality' and HD channels are coming soon.
The team behind TVCatchup note you will require a valid TV licence if you are using the online service in addition to owning a television. However, the company claim students do not necessarily need a licence using laptops or mobile devices to view content as long as they fit the criteria listed on the TVCatchup forum. If in doubt, it’s probably best contacting TV Licensing direct simply for peace of mind. An exhaustive TVCatchup Terms & Conditions is also provided.
TVCatchup shows great potential, with a growing database of streaming TV and radio shows attracting record online viewers and listeners. The convenience of having so much content available in one place is also a major plus for couch potatoes who don't want to stray too far across the web searching for entertainment.