Turn your iPad into a great portable TV with these apps and services

Smarter TV
There are plenty of iOS apps that help you make more of your TV viewing time

Rumours continue to circulate that Apple will launch a television set, the Apple iTV. There's plenty of speculation about what technology would be in it, what services it would offer and how you'd control it.

But these rumours tend to ignore the fact that Apple has already helped to revolutionise the TV industry with the iPhone and iPad. They're great for watching on, thanks to their brilliant image quality and, in the case of the iPhone 5 and fifth-generation iPod touch, wide screens - but developers have also pushed forward how you find and interact with the shows you love.

Between on-demand services, live-streaming channels, dedicated apps, 3G and 4G coverage and social networking, the idea of watching television has changed. What was once a passive pastime - where you had to hope there was something interesting on - has become an engaged activity where you can seek out the shows you love most, keep up with live broadcasts and chat to your friends about it while you're watching. You can find things to watch that you might never have considered, and catch up with things you missed.

Whether Apple ends up producing an actual TV set or not, this kind of flexibility is surely the future of television. In this feature, we'll look at the best ways to watch TV live, no matter who your provider is, as well as all the on-demand options you need to either catch up with TV you've missed, or find something from the past.

We'll also look at how your iPhone or iPad can be a companion to a full-size TV, and pick out the accessories that make the viewing experience that much better. Your iPad could become the best TV you've ever used - and you just need the App Store to get started!

Watching live TV


Though there are ways to watch Freeview live TV directly from the airwaves as it's broadcast - using something like the Elgato EyeTV or equinux tizi+, which we'll go into later - the easiest way to watch shows as they happen is generally to stream them over the internet.

If you're on a Wi-Fi network, any iOS device can connect and stream video, while the iPhone and Cellular iPad models can use 3G and 4G mobile broadband connections.

Many TV channels can be streamed with an app from the owner, but the best one-stop shop for watching just about anything live is the TVCatchup app. It offers over 50 channels to watch for free, including the bulk of Freeview channels and all the big free channels from the major UK broadcasters. It's a free download, and the Universal app supports iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, so you can watch on any of them.

On the iPad, you can see a channel list with a now-and-next guide alongside a small video window, or easily expand the video to fit the screen fully. On the iPhone, you still get the guide, but it fills the screen, as does the video when you tap on a channel.

The quality of the video streams is really solid and reliable, though the level of detail isn't all that high, and the app's adverts never get in the way. TVCatchup really does an amazing job of turning your iOS device into a TV - it's so good, in fact that Tap! readers voted it the Best App Ever last year, beating the likes of Tweetbot and Hero Academy.


Giving you much less in the way of selection but keeping it simple, the BBC iPlayer app and ITV Player app both let you watch their respective channels directly through the apps, and in the case of iPlayer, you get a much better guide to what's on that through the minimal but effective interface of TVCatchup.