Watch TV on your Mac: the definitive guide

The proper Apple TV isn't quite here yet, so why not watch TV on your existing Apple kit?

There's been a great deal of legal wrangling over TVCatchup. Its owners claim that it simply provides an alternative means for people who are already entitled - that is, UK TV licence holders - to watch free-to-air TV channels. Others argue that it is distributing content illegally.

Currently, there are a couple of outstanding legal proceedings due to be resolved, one in the European Court of Justice, and one in the High Court. TVCatchup says it's confident of winning those and that it's here to stay. We won't really know, however, until the cases have been resolved. In the meantime, TVCatchup continues to operate and is, to our mind, the best way to watch live Freeview TV on your Mac or iOS device. Channels are displayed clearly and clicking on one takes you directly to it.

The iOS app is equally impressive. There's only one way to find channels - a scrolling list on the left of the screen, but it works very well. There's even an AirPlay button in the Play controls so you can mirror the programme you're watching to an Apple TV: useful if the TV you've hooked it up to isn't your main telly, and either doesn't have its own tuner or has a poor signal.

On-demand video services have grown steadily in number in recent years, but they vary in both the quantity and quality of their content and in the way you pay for them. We've already seen that Channel 4 through 4oD, and Channel 5 via Demand 5, offer on-demand access to their programmes, and in the case of 4oD, the library is very impressive and the cost is no more than a few adverts.

But there are lots of other services that work on both your Mac and iOS device. Some, such as Netflix and LoveFilm, charge a flat monthly rate to watch as much as you want. Others, like Blinkbox (and of course iTunes) charge you a fee for every video.

And a third group, those provided by Sky and Virgin, require you to be a subscriber to access them. The flat rate services seem like a good deal, and they are - if you like their content and are likely to watch more than two or three hours a month. The pay-as-you-go services tend to have the most recent releases: studios are more comfortable applying traditional business models to their crown jewels.

Once they've squeezed as much revenue as they can from sales and rentals, they're added to the subscription services. Both Sky and Virgin also have pay-as-you-go on-demand services for the latest releases, but these are separate from their app or browser-based offerings.

If you're unsure whether a subscription service would suit you, both LoveFilm and Netflix offer the first month free, so you can try them out. Blinkbox is currently offering £5 credit to new customers, so you can give that a go for nothing, too.

Video on demand

What you want, when you want it. Or at least that's the promise…


Tesco's Blinkbox allows you to watch movies and TV on a pay as you go basis. It prides itself on having the latest movies before LoveFilm and Netflix, and has some recent TV content too. You can watch in a browser or via the iPad app, though you can't buy or rent from within the app. And if you have a Tesco Clubcard, you can earn points. It's one of the few places non Sky subscribers can watch the likes of Game of Thrones and Veep.


Blockbuster movies to buy or rent .
Lots of good US TV series which many won't have seen
Good iPad app