39 new apps and sites that will change your life

The sites, apps and tools to change the way you work, rest and play

Let's start with some of the main content sources. Unfortunately, about 80 per cent of commercial video remains region-locked. Companies like Hulu don't have the rights to stream their libraries outside of the US (and sometimes Canada), and even services like Netflix that offer international access typically only have licenses for a tiny selection of content.

Luckily for them, it's impossible to pretend that your PC is elsewhere through some kind of VPN. So definitely don't try that.

Small screen films

Of the UK providers, Lovefilm has by far the best recent movie content, with Netflix edging it with its TV programmes. Both work superbly on devices like the iPad and PlayStation 3, though Netflix easily takes the prize if you plan to watch content on your PC directly. Both cost around £5 to access, though Lovefilm throws online streaming in for free with its DVD/Blu-ray rental service.

Other sites have smaller selections, but often good ones. iPlayer and 4OD offer catch-up services, with 4OD also boasting a healthy back-catalogue of ad-supported programmes. Other free sources include Blinkbox and YouTube - not in the main video collection, but accessible at the top of the front page behind links to 'TV Shows' and 'Movies'.

In most cases, the free TV will be fine, if not exactly cutting edge, while free movies are a hunt for gems among piles of slurry with names like Android Apocalypse and Nude on the Moon.

Getting videos from one format to another remains problematic. At the moment, that leaves an actual disc the best way to play movies on PC and TV legally, distantly followed by an Apple TV and iPad using AirPlay. Should you hypothetically have lots of unencumbered video files though, you can't beat a NAS for storing them and beaming them around the house.

The best ones, like Synology's can transcode on the fly, making their original format irrelevant. Assuming you're going to rely on fresh content though, the obvious problem is working out what to watch.

For movies, you can't beat IMDB. TV shows are trickier, but of the social options, Trakt can still be useful, and YourNextFilm at least tries to offer a wider perspective.

You'll also increasingly find collections like Popular on Facebook on services like Netflix, which might at least point you to high-profile arrivals and cult favourites you might otherwise have missed out on.

If all else fails though, you'll rarely go wrong by just browsing. You never know when you'll find your new favourite movie or show. Just make sure the site or service your using isn't going to auto-broadcast everything to Facebook or similar, in case you feel the urge to sit down with something trashy.

21. Film Rental

Lovefilm
www.lovefilm.com

Lovefilm

The best way to fill your life with entertainment on the cheap. LoveFilm's digital service isn't very good on PC, but its console and iPad versions are a different story - a solid selection of movies, mixed with a few TV shows. Its DVD/Blu-Ray collection is immense, with incredibly fast turnaround. You might not get your fix in the exact order you requested it, but you can get almost anything that's on the shelves.

22. Region Unblocking

Unblock US
www.unblock-us.com

Unblock US

Absolutely not just a way to tap into American video services. Should you need to pretend that you're in the US for legitimate reasons, it's a handy way to do it - not least because it uses DNS trickery rather than a VPN to avoid data going via a third party. Free to try, with a modest monthly subscription. Just remember only to use it for good.

23. TV Guide

TV Guide
www.tvguide.co.uk

TV Guide

The best UK-focused guide, with an excellent timeline view and instant access to catch-up services when browsing older programs. These links don't go straight to the player, simply doing a search on the target site, but that still only leaves you a click or two away. If it's on in the UK, you'll find it listed here, along with a list of new series starting each week.

24. Media Server

PS3 Media Server
www.ps3mediaserver.org

PS3 Media Server

DLNA compliant media server that's ideal for sending movies and other media around your house. It works with other devices too, and is capable of transcoding almost any file you throw at it into whatever your destination device requires. Incredibly easy to set up - just pair it with a good network connection and you're ready to go.

25. Video Conversion

Handbrake
www.handbrake.fr

Handbrake

Your one-stop, open-source tool for converting video and ripping your non-commercial DVDs. The number of options might look intimidating to begin with, but you can safely ignore them in favour of picking a preset and sitting back to let Handbrake do its thing. There's a full user manual available online if you need it though, along with a wiki full of extra hints and tips for dealing with more complicated ripping.

25. Live TV Streaming

TV Catchup
www.tvcatchup.com

TV Catchup

Not what it sounds like, unfortunately. TVCatchup is all about live streaming, with over 40 channels available. All major free-to-air channels are covered, including Freeview favourites like Dave, with the option to watch directly on your TV or tablet device. You do have to register to watch, but it's a completely free service. Just give the stream 30 seconds to get going - it plays an advert before starting properly.

Apps for entertainment

26. OPlayerHD - £1.99/£2.99

Download from iTunes

Replace your iPhone or iPad's highly restricted video player app with one that can handle just about any format you throw at it. Not great at handling at high definition content on the original iPad, but works a treat on more recent ones.

27. Flipboard - Free

Download from iTunes

Download from Google Play

Your favourite RSS feeds, now in the form of the world's most stylish digital magazine. Create sections, flip through pages and generally avoid having to sift through every last story in your RSS feeds to find something interesting.

28. Zeebox - Free

Download from iTunes

Download from Google Play

A social take on watching television. Zeebox lets you chat with friends while you watch programmes together, and have instant access to relevant websites and tags from the comfort of your sofa. For iOS, Android and the web.

29. IMDB - Free

Download from iTunes

Download from Google Play

The ultimate solution to any movie question. IMDB is available on everything, giving you instant access to a wealth of trivia, reviews, recommendations and the answer to that classic question: "Wait, where do I know that guy from?"