UK TV on Demand – the ultimate guide

TV on demand, video on demand, or VoD – whatever you want to call it, the range of programmes and services now available to pipe from your PC is

TV on demand, video on demand, or VoD – whatever you want to call it, the range of programmes and services now available to pipe from your PC is growing at a dizzying rate. Here’s our guide to the best UK TV on demand services:

 

FREE OR PART-FREE

BBC iPlayer

The undisputed queen of British video on demand service, BBC iPlayer lets you catch up on the vast majority of the Beeb's TV and radio content.

iPlayer has spread from downloads and streaming on your desktop to colonise the iPhone, iPod Touch, numerous Nokia, several Sony Ericsson handsets and the consoles.

Pick of the progs

Psychoville – dark, depraved and downright brilliant

Taking The Flak – satirical comedy about war correspondents

Top Gear - madder than ever

4oD, Channel 4's on demand service can be accessed online and via Virgin Media, Tiscali TV and BT Vision. It also includes content from More 4, E4 and 4,000 hours from broadcaster's archives as well as films from Film Four and content from FX and the National Geographic Channel.

If you're running Windows, Mac OS X or Linux and have Adobe Flash Player, 4oD will work for you. The catch-up service offer shows free for 30 days after broadcast and archived content remains free. Other content including films cost between £0.99 and £1.99. Downloaded video remains playable for 48 hours after you first play it or a month if you don't get round to that.

Pick of the progs

The Big Bang Theory – ultra-geeky US comedy

The Inbetweeners – cringetastically realistic, beats Skins any day

Escape From Colditz – the true story of a seriously improbable WW2 escape

Five's TV on demand service requires you to register, but lets you catch up on your favourite shows and pre-order episodes to download. You can play, buy or rent episodes. Rental starts at £0.99 for standard-def with HD shows at £1.99.

Pick of the progs

The Gadget Show – televised gadget goodness

CSI: Miami – fun with forensics

Neighbours – Antipodean antics still trundling on after all these years

ITV player uses Microsoft Silverlight rather than Flash so some PowerPC Macs don't like it. Everyone else (besides Linux lovers) should be fine. It offers a catch-up  for programmes from its channels plus live ITV1 transmissions.

Pick of the progs

Coronation Street – a perennial, cobblestoned favourite

Midsomer Murders – so many murders in one little village, the property prices are through the floor

All Star Mr & Mrs – ITV, home of the guilty pleasure

MSN Video Player

Microsoft's free TV service. Click the link above for details.

THE FUTURE

Unlike the iPlayer which is publicly funded and can't charge for content, Kangaroo was a commercial TV on demand project developed by ITV, BBC Worldwide, ITV and Channel 4.

Kangaroo fell apart when the Competition Commission ruled that a service owned by Channel 4, ITV and the BBC would be "too powerful".

The technology will now come to fruition in the hands of Arqiva, a private firm, who plan to to launch the service with a library of shows from the leading broadcasters and independent production companies by 2010.

Project Canvas

As much as we love the channels’ players they're all PC-based solutions. Since the bitrate is fairly low, piping them through to an HD TV screen won't deliver a great picture.

The solution could be an IPTV service to deliver that content via the web to a set-top box that'll play nice with your HD TV. Project Canvas aims to do that. It's a partnership between the BBC, ITV and BT with Five just joining the gang today.

The plan with Canvas is to allow any broadcaster that wants to take part. If the plan takes off, Canvas could take over from Freeview and Freesat as the dominant platform for digital TV. If Channel 4 sign up, all the traditional British TV big beasts will be involved.

Hulu is the frustrating fantastic TV streaming service that offers so many brilliant American TV shows but isn't available in the UK yet. But talks to offer a UK version are at an advanced stage with rumours that the site will launch in September.

Reports earlier this year suggested that Hulu UK will launch 3,000 hours of American content mixed with shows from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. It's likely to use the same model as its US site – offering ad supported shows the night after broadcast and leaving them active for 30 days.

Negotiations are reportedly stalled over how the advertising model will work. Hulu wants to sell the ads itself, as it does in the US, while British broadcasters want to keep control themselves. Sort it out folks, we'd like a Hulu of our own.

 

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