TV Player Review
Quality of Video Stream6
Channels on Offer5
Airplay and iOS8
The UK is one of the world’s luckiest countries in regards to watching live television streams over the Internet, with so many choices and options available. Beginning this year, yet another brand new live UK streaming service offering channels such as the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and FIVE has arrived, and they may just come across with the best quality streams of all the current free services.
Think yourself as lucky in Britain when it comes to live television streams via the Internet. Not only do most of the main television broadcasters stream via their own websites (with the BBC even offering PVR style services), but there is an excellent choice of third party companies bundling channels as well, with TVCatchup, Zattoo and FilmOn being the most well known, not to forget Sky’s Now TV live channels under their sub. Take into account the number of equivalent services in other countries such as Australia, where it currently sits at zero, and the complexity and costs of similar services in the US, it is clear how well serviced British viewers really are.
So can a whole new competing service really survive in such a crowded market? If it can, it will have to stand out pretty high above the rest, which is no easy task considering the lofty heights Zattoo have recently reached.
First of all, TVPlayer is entirely free. As of the time of this publication, there are no subscription alternatives available, which means there is no way to upgrade the feature-list. The service itself is provided by Simplestream – the company behind many of the official broadcaster’s own simulcasts.
TVPlayer is also a live streaming service only. Unlike FilmOn and Zattoo which also offer the ability to record shows to the cloud, you can only watch what is currently playing live. That said, the best recording features for FilmOn or Zattoo are under their subscription service.
And as a last point on the negative side, there are a couple of channel omissions some people may have trouble dealing with. TVPlayer includes all the important live UK channels, BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, Cbeebies, CBBC, ITV 1, Channel 4 and Channel FIVE, along with a short list of channels usually found higher up on the satellite EPG, but missing are the additional channels from ITV and Channel 4. No ITV 2, 3 or 4 and no More4, E4 or Film 4.
There is nothing to suggest these channels won’t arrive in the future, and there has already been a channel upgrade since the service launched a couple of months back, but at the moment this could be a major issue.
So what on earth does TVPlayer have that could possibly compete with FilmOn or Zattoo? The short answer is video quality.
TVPlayer currently offers the best video quality I have seen under a free service. Slightly better than the BBC’s official live streams, better than FilmOn’s rather good simulcasts via iOS and considerably better than Zattoo’s free service – though a far cry still from Zattoo under a sub. This may not be so important when watching via a small mobile screen, but when airplayed to a large television, it makes all the difference.
Platform support is average and limited to web browsers, iOS devices, Android and Kindle. Sadly, TVPlayer didn’t work via the Samsung TV’s browser, nor the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 browser.
Finally, nothing really is free, so TVPlayer funds itself at least partially via advertising. There are some commercials played between channel changes, as well as on either the website or mobile apps surrounding the user interface.
TVPlayer’s website differs somewhat from other live streaming services in that it follows the catch-up format a little more closely. The Home page flips between highlighted shows to watch later in the week, along with two different ways to jump directly to live streams, either via a Now and Next guide or through highlighted live shows currently streaming. To be honest, I find this quite cool and a pleasant change from jumping straight into a channel listing or EPG.
Don’t worry, there still is a full EPG, although at the time of virtual press, it returned little more than garbled text via any of my installed browsers. I didn’t see this the last time I checked, so I suspect it is merely a short-term bug. When working, it should list a beautifully designed TV guide, that is clear and uncluttered with programme information provided when hovering over a specific listing. It is quite simply one of the most well designed web-based EPG‘s I have seen and can even be stretched to make full use of your wide screen.
This high praise is in fact a global response to almost everything I have seen from TVPlayer.com, as they have really pulled off a beautiful and well laid-out website.
The Channels tab, takes you to a basic list of channels represented by large squares, with little else to clutter the eye other than making a selection. There are no channel packs as offered via their mobile platforms, which is a little odd, so it may be worth reading that review to see exactly what the website is missing here.
Finally, Watch Now is where you end up either once a channel or programme is selected, or the tab of the same name is clicked. This is basically your main viewing window which concentrates primarily on uncluttered viewing. More information, such as programme details, quality settings and quick links to the next or previous channels are hidden by default, but made available by hovering over the playback window – as well as the button to select full-screen view.
Video quality can be adjusted between four different settings; auto, 343kbps, 1110kbps or 2029kbps. My own opinion here is that although the bitrate closely resembles that offered by Zattoo under a sub, the quality itself is no where near as good. Pixelation can be clearly seen at full-screen on a 27″ monitor whilst seated directly in front. This is of course not the most ideal way to watch television anyway, so sitting back does improve things dramatically. My own tests averaged approximately 2100kbps*.
Although video quality is quite far from Zattoo under a sub, it is still the best I have seen of any current free service, which should give it some additional credit.
- Good quality video stream for a free service.
- Fast and easy way to change channels.
- Great user interface.
- Well designed EPG.
- Not the most sofa-friendly way to watch TV.
- Can appear pixelated at full-screen.
- No channel packs.
- No Chromecast support.
(Accessing TVPlayer.com from outside of the UK may require using a good Smart DNS or VPN service)TVPlayer Web WatchNowTVPlayer Web HomeTVPlayer Web GuideTVPlayer Web FullScreenTVPlayer Web Channels
TVPlayer have also provided one of the most impressive iOS apps for live streaming television, utilizing a unique interface that quite simply does a fantastic job – whilst not directly copying the competition. The iOS app is available only from the UK app store, but is free of charge.
The Home screen offers two ways to access your live stream. First, along the bottom of the screen are direct links to all of the channels currently available – on the iPad, the first 10 are visible, whilst the iPhone can only fit in the first 4. Simply scroll the list horizontally to reveal all available channels to view, offering quick and direct access to the streams.
However, the majority of the Home screen is taken up by various channel packs. These are really just filters that will list only channels based on certain genres. Tap Music, and all the music channels pop up, News for a list of current affairs channels, etc. It’s probably not terribly necessary, since the channel list is not exactly large right now, but it may come in handy in the future. In any case, you can preview all channels in a basic EPG by clicking on the On Now button via the iPad or Channels button on an iPhone – why this differs between devices, I am not entirely sure, but perhaps this will be changed to one or the other in the near future.
Alternatively, there is a TV Guide option also available on the iPad app which offers a much more detailed EPG that extends up to 7 days. It is also possible via this view, to watch a small windowed live stream of selected shows, but probably the most useful feature here would be the reminders that can be set for future programmes. These reminders will pop up even when the app is not currently in use or even closed.
Video playback only offers dynamic bitrates based on your bandwidth, so there are no manual settings that can be adjusted. That said, the video quality I experienced was very good for a free package, and looked more than acceptable when airplay to my 40″ TV when sitting back on the sofa.
My own tests also averaged around 2140kbps*, which closely resembles the highest bitrate offered via the manual browser settings on a computer.
Airplay support is also very good, without the need of mirroring and direct access from the playback screen, but sadly there is no multitasking support, so your iOS device will need to be dedicated to the task at hand.
That said, there are a few additional playback second-screen features that are really nice…
Tap the circled i button on the screen and you have the current or next programme information, but my favourite is the channel button. This allows for an almost true-couch-potato channel hopping experience… Well, almost, as you still need to eyeball the iPad or iPhone to switch channels.
- Best video quality for FREE UK Television service tested so far.
- Excellent UI on both the larger iPad or smaller iPhone.
- 7 day EPG with reminder setting on the iPad app.
- Quick and easy to change channels.
- Good AirPlay support.
- Channel packs for genre filtering.
- Commercials when changing channels do not appear when airplaying.
- iPad or iPhone become second-screen devices during AirPlay with info and channel changing possible.
- Ads on the iPad app.
- Commercials when changing channels often require manual closing to start the next channel playing.
- AirPlay doesn’t support multitasking.
- No Chromecast support.
- TV Guide only available on iPad (not on iPhone or iPod Touch)
(Accessing TVPlayer from outside of the UK may require using a good Smart DNS or VPN service)TVPlayer iPad SelectionsTVPlayer iPad TVGuideTVPlayer iPad OnNowTVPlayer iPad HomeTVPlayer iPad FullScreenTVPlayer iPad FullScreen InfoTVPlayer iPad Channels
TVPlayer arrives on the crowded UK live streaming scene missing a few rather important channels and no PVR or cloud recording features, two omissions that may dissuade many television viewers from using their services.
But that would be an unfair summary of this otherwise impressive free, live television streaming service, and that is the key to remember here. If you want to watch live UK television, and you want to do so for free, then TVPlayer is possibly the best of the various options available. The video quality, especially via iOS and airplayed to a reasonably sized television, is actually quite impressive for a free service – even the ads between channel changes don’t seem to appear during AirPlay viewing.
Take also into account the rather excellent user interface, and we have the base for a very competitive service.
It should be pointed out here that TVPlayer is very new, with its launch date only in January this year, making it quite impressive for what this service has already achieved in such a short period of time. TVPlayer already plans to add more channels and increased platform support, which includes Chromecast in April, so who knows what other features they may add over time.
On the other hand, if you want higher quality streams, cloud recording features and a full 7 day back-catalogue, Zattoo’s subscription service, when combined with a good Smart DNS, is probably still the best out there – and great value to boot.
Remember, TVPlayer is officially only available to those with a UK IP address, so if you wish to have such a thing, you will either need a good VPN, or even better, a good Smart DNS service – especially if you also want to airplay.
- The best video quality tested for a FREE UK live streaming service.
- Fantastic user interface.
- Most of the main UK channels are available.
- Good AirPlay support.
- Missing some popular channels.
- Commercials between channel swaps.
- No ability to subscribe for higher quality streams.
- No HD streams.
- No ability to change regions.
- No Recording or PVR features.
- No Chromecast support.
- Available via web, iOS, Android and Kindle devices.
- Chromecast support scheduled for 2014.
- Three video quality settings up to 2029kbps. (tested at 2100kbps*)
- Channels include: BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, Cbeebies, CBBC, ITV 1,, Channel 4, Channel 5, 4Music, Food Network, Food Network +1, Travel Channel, Travel Channel +1, Heat, The Box, SH, Kiss, Magic, K!, heart, Capital TV, Clubland, Planet Pop, AKA, Now That’s What I Call Music, Sony SAB, S4C, Colors, Rishtey, BBC Alba, Fashion TV, BBC News, Bloomberg, Al Jazeera, France 24, RT, R, QVC, QVC Beauty, QVC Style, QVC, Extra.
- Channels to arrive soon: Quest, Viva, Movies 4 Men, More Movies, B4U Music.
05.02.2014: Published: Score 6.2 – Best Free Service.
26.02.2014: Added bitrate tests.
19.06.2014: New channel details added & bitrate tests updated.
*video quality results are averaged from multiple tests and may be affected by geographic location as well as available bandwidth.
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