Review: TVCatchup – Streaming live TV to your browser

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TVCatchup is a UK-only VoD site with a difference. When the site launched in late 2007, TVCatchup offered live streams of UK Freeview TV channels, along with the ability to record programmes. Unfortunately, copyright concerns saw TVCatchup withdraw their site, until relaunching, sans PVR functionality, in late 2008 (Source).

In its current form, TVCatchup is very simple, offering only live streams of almost all UK Freeview (free to-air) channels. The website gives a list of all available channels which can be clicked on to view. Better still, there is a TV/PVR like programme guide, showing a horizontal timeline of what’s on currently, and allows you to go forward (and back) in time to see what’s coming up. It also allows users to drag and drop TV channels into any order they like. However, there’s no EPG data available. Along with the channel list, there is a tab giving access to UK Freeview radio stations, this is in a testing phase, and during this review the audio player loaded but didn’t stream any audio. We’re sure this will be fixed soon though.

Viewers need to have a UK TV license and be located in the UK to legally view TVCatchup. Viewers also have to be logged in to view content. However, just creating an account with a UK IP address is no-longer a loop hole for viewing out side of the UK. TVCatchup are actively monitoring connections at all times and are even blacklisting known VPN services.

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Playback on TVCatchup works very well, considering the computational task of encoding live signals on the fly and sending to thousands of viewers at once. The player is flash based, and has controls for full screen toggle, aspect ratio, volume, and channel list. TVCatchup recommend a minimum connection speed of 800kbps to view their streams, although in our testing we had satisfactory video quality coming through at an average 100kbps, during peak time no less. As with all the other VoD sites we’ve reviewed, TVCatchup also has unskippable pre-roll adverts (Ed. perhaps exploiting a legal loophole, not dissimilar to Zattoo). This is reasonable enough, although if you happen to tune in to a commercial channel during their own adverts, there could end up being up to four or five minutes of adverts before the desired programme begins!

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In addition to streaming to the desktop, TVCatchup also caters for iPhone users. Unfortunately, we didn’t have an iPhone to hand for testing in this review. The iPhone version of TVCatchup can be found at http://iphone.tvcatchup.com.

As mentioned above, TVCatchup lost its catch-up ability in 2008. Although, it was revealed in a recent interview (by yours truly) with TVCatchup’s Adam Smith, that TVCatchup has now resolved the legal hurdles to recording TV programmes via the internet and intends to restore PVR functionality to TVCatchup later this year. That’s not all, their site is showing HD channels as being on the way, and we also know that premium content is coming to TVCatchup. We’ll be sure to report any updates as and when they happen.

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last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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