Online streaming and catch-up TV services have been in the news of late with the launch of See Saw, TVCatchup and the continued success of BBC's iPlayer. Zattoo, a desktop client for both Mac and PC has been around a while, offering a range of TV channels from the UK and beyond. The service runs in a standalone desktop application, although a browser-based version is available in some countries. Zattoo requires you to sign up for the service although this proved short and sweet without offering out the kind of information that is likely to result in rivers of spam. Zattoo currently claims over 4.8 million registered users.
Once installed Zattoo opens by default at 100 per cent, roughly half the size of our monitor. 50 per cent, 200 per cent and full screen options are also available although the latter requires you to sit a good distance away from your screen to avoid images looking blocky and pixelated. After a brief pre-roll ad, which didn't appear to want to load, you’re greeted with channel listings to the left and small screen grabs of 'most popular channels right now' on the right in the main viewing area. Zattoo includes screen grabs of all channels available, which can be clicked on to start viewing. You can also access channels by clicking the channel listings on the left, which also act as a rudimentary electronic programme guide (EPG) showing now and next listings.
Picture quality is generally good but appears to be at the mercy of your broadband provider and the time of day or night you tune-in. Saturday night viewing suffered from a few buffering issues, which were missing from a quick flick through the channels first thing on Sunday morning. Changing channels occasionally produces an odd aspect ratio or cropped image although changing channels again or simply waiting can often resolve this issue. A small selection of channels, including BBC1, BBC2, ITV1 and C4, are offered in "HiQ," which is a step up in quality from standard viewing.
Along with the main channels from the BBC, ITV, C4 and five, Zattoo offers regional variations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, along with BBC Alba, the Scottish Gaelic language channel and S4/C aimed at a Welsh speaking audience. Also included is French and English versions of the excellent France 24 news channel, Al Jazeera's Arabic service, Press TV from Iran broadcasting in English, Russia Today also in English, SF info a German language Swiss television channel and DW-TV broadcasting in both English and German.
Some buffering issues spoilt the viewing experience.
Zattoo claims in a legal note: "We collect all the necessary rights for the retransmission of the channels on Zattoo," although this is hard to quantify. The good news is Zattoo has been broadcasting since 2006 online - 2007 in the UJ - without incident. A browser-based version covering 32 channels is also available although we struggled to get this to work with Safari. It's very likely you will need a TV license to watch as the service is streaming live content. The company recommends you check with TV Licensing. Zattoo is currently available in Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the UK.
Zattoo offers a good range of channels, which go beyond the usual suspects, offering UK regional variations and a selection of more exotic fare from Europe and the Middle East. During tests, picture quality and sound proved reliable with only some occasional buffering spoiling the TV viewing.