Computer users living in the US are somewhat spoilt for choice when it comes to watching TV online, but anyone living in the UK does not have such a good deal. A few video streaming services do exist, but these will almost always involve entering a contract and paying each month.
TVCatchup – despite the arguably confusing name as this service is now concerned solely with live TV – is a web site, and now Windows 8 app, that can be used to watch dozen of free-to-air TV stations, free from subscription and charges.
A Program For Programmes
Unlike the TVCatchup website, there’s no need to sign up for an account – although I’d recommend you do so as it means you can make use of the service on computers that are running an older version of Windows – so you can start watching TV straight away.
The app interface is simply set out with a list of channels to the left, complete with a summary of what is on now and next, while the right hand side of the screen is reserved for the video window itself.
Clicking a channel logo switches to that channel, but you can also view a description of what is currently being broadcast and what’s coming up in the schedule by clicking the ‘now and next’ info to the right of the logo. You can then switch to that channel by clicking the play button at the top of the screen.
Of course, while you may well want to see what’s going to be broadcast later on in the day, you’ll probably also want to know something about the programme that’s currently on. Click the up arrow in the panel beneath the video window and a slide-out panel appears displaying a more detailed description
Working With Windows
As this is an app designed specifically for Windows 8, it is meant to be used in full screen mode. It is unlikely that you’re going to want to work with the default view outside of when you are channel surfing; it just makes sense to have the video running at full screen.
Switching between full screen and browsing mode is a simple matter of right clicking somewhere on the screen and selecting the Channel Guide or Full Screen option. For non-touchscreen devices, it would be useful if these options appeared automatically when the mouse is moved, but this is a minor complaint.
The app can serve as a perfect accompaniment to whatever else you may be using your computer for. TVCatchup can be pinned in a sidebar so you can run other apps in the remaining screen space. Just what you see in the side panel depends on how wide you make it.
At its narrowest, you have a tiny video window at the top of the sidebar and channel listings appear beneath this. If you want a larger view, expand the side bar and the video window will shift to the right and increase in size.
You probably watch one or two channels more than the others. To save you from having to launch the app and then switch to a particular channel, it is possible to pin individual channels to the Start screen for instant access.
For the most part, TVCatchup is an app that works straight out of the box. It’s a great way to brighten up a dull day of work and it also give you a way of accessing TV on systems without a TV card.
If you are using the app on your laptop or another device with a data connection, you may want to try to avoid incurring huge charges for using excess bandwidth. The app includes a couple of options that can help you out in this department, including lowering the quality of video so that less bandwidth is used.
To be certain that you’re not going to run up a massive bill, you can take the step of preventing the app from being able to use data connections.
Room For Improvement
Having a proper EPG would be a major bonus for TVCatchup. There is a decent and comprehensive channel guide available at the app website, and there’s no reason why this should not be pulled into the app.
The small number of settings is something that could be addressed in future updates. It would be helpful to be able to make adjustment to colour settings, contrast, etc, as well as having the option of adjusting sound settings for different channels or different types of programme.
This is a great alternative to installing a TV card and is vastly preferable to either battling with flaky TV card software or skipping from website to website to switch channels.
If you work in room without a TV and want to keep up with the news or your favourite programme, or you want to replace your cumbersome television with a more portable laptop, TVCatchup is great solution.