15 best online TV streaming services: which are best for you?

Enjoy the best TV, anywhere, anytime

11. iTunes

Apple is a bit like Marmite – you either love it or loathe it – and the same goes for its media-rich offspring, iTunes. The store is targeted primarily at an audience of iFans – those with iPhones, iPads and Apple TV – although Apple also caters for those that want to download the latest TV show or movie to their PC, provided they don't mind watching it in the iTunes desktop app.

As well as the latest movies and TV, iTunes has one huge advantage in that most of its content (be it TV shows or movies) is available in high definition, which puts it head and shoulders above LoveFilm's standard definition line-up. You'll have to wait for it though - there's no instant access streaming here. You have to download anything you want to watch, and with the HD stuff that's going to take some time.

best online TV streaming services

What makes iTunes a truly great service and a serious contender for the title of best on-demand provider is its ability to transfer any movies or TV shows straight to your mobile device. This means you can download a programme once and watch it wherever you are. Didn't have time to finish that movie on your desktop last night? Save it to your iPad and watch the rest of it on the way to work the following morning.

iTunes isn't perfect; it's a little bit clunky and slow at times, the newest version is slightly baffling, and Windows aficionados will baulk at the need to install Apple software just to get access to something you want to watch.

But that's the real Marmite bit of iTunes, if you want to do anything with it, it must be done through iTunes – there's no other way.

Verdict: 4/5

12. YouView

A platform for other catch-up content rather than offering anything genuinely new in itself, YouView is nevertheless something of a God-send for watch-again addicts. If you're after streaming movies, however, look away now.

It's a small black box, offered either as a standalone product from Humax or as part of BT Vision's newest offering. The brainchild of the terrestrial broadcasters in the UK, it's possible to go backwards in the electronic programme guide and watch anything you want (providing it's on the BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD or Demand Five). No Smart TV offers that, but YouView doesn't offer what those smart TVs do, either, namely Netflix or Lovefilm apps.

best online TV streaming services

What is does have is Now TV, though that's a pricey add-on. Nor does it have YouTube, which puts it at a significant disadvantage to, say, an Xbox360, which has almost everything YouView has and more, at least in terms of on-demand viewing. That said, YouView works as a traditional set-top box and can record onto its 1TB hard disk; familiar and easy to use, YouView is hardly revolutionary and it is expensive, but it is much more pleasant to use than a smart TV.

Verdict: 3.5/5

Read our full review of YouView here

13. TVCatchup

If you're after straight live TV on a portable device, TVCatchup is hard to beat, though it may have just received its death sentence. According to TV Licensing, if you're watching a programme as it happens live then you do need a licence, but if you're only watching on-demand services that show programmes after they're aired then you don't.

TVCatchup falls into the former category; despite its name, you need a TV licence because it lets you to watch TV as it happens. You can access content from over 40 different channels, including BBC One, Film 4 and Dave. Although the site states that these programs are free to watch, technically you still have to pay to watch them since you need to buy a TV licence, but it's a moot point if you already happen to own one.

best online TV streaming services

Like other streaming sites, TVCatchup lets you watch content the moment you click the 'Watch now' button. The beauty of this particular catch-up service is that because the channels are live, if you're one of the unlucky people who have opted to use Freeview to save a few quid but can only get about four channels in your area, then TVCatchup serves to fill the void.

The quality of the service is about what you'd expect from Freeview, so it's not brilliant, but good enough for casual viewing. The only slight annoyance is that when you're watching a channel, you can't flick through the other channels quickly to see what else there is.

At some point TVCatchup would do well to offer this sort of functionality on the fly. TVCatchup does offer a low quality version of its channels, making it ideal if you're on a really poor connection or you just want something smaller to watch in the corner of the screen while you're doing something else.

For mobile users there's an iOS version that lets you watch content on the move. It's browser-based, so you can use a Wi-Fi or 3G connection to watch channels.

Verdict: 3.5/5

14. Demand 5

Think waiting 20 seconds for programmes in ITV Player is bad? Then you won't like Demand 5, where the adverts are exactly 108 seconds long. Surely on-demand TV should be instantaneous?

Confusingly the website – which contains material broadcast on Channel 5, 5USA and 5* – doesn't show any adverts, and while there are a suite of basic apps for the iPhone and iPad, they only allow streaming, not downloads. What use is that when you're bored on a train and a plane?

Android users have less luck, with no app and just advice to watch in a browser, though that's only likely to work with older versions of Android that support flash-based video. Demand Five is also available on Virgin Media and Sky, and YouView, and Xbox 360. PS3 users can watch via a channel on YouTube.

best online TV streaming services

Design-wise, Demand 5 is uninspiring, though it's easy enough to navigate the thumbnail image-based interface, and there are comprehensive episode guides and plenty of integration with social media (the only reason to register, it seems, though registering its users is clearly not Demand Five's priority … yet).

As with ITV Player there's also a smattering of adverts during each show (three times during a 45-minute shows, each of 108 seconds), and they can't be skipped. Click on a programme and not only will you see the video, you'll also see a wide range of extra options related to it.

For example, the last series of Big Brother had several tabs that allowed you to check the show's Facebook page, see who's in the house and review the most memorable moments at a glance. These social tools transform the service from passive viewing to something interactive and much more compelling.

Best of all, everything is free, though it's an advert-heavy experience.

Verdict: 3/5

15. Clubcard TV

Completely free but limited to web browsers, Clubcard TV is the latest addition to online streaming services. Clubcard TV is operated by supermarket chain Tesco, but it's powered by Blinkbox, which it has an 80% stake in.

Available only to (the 16 million) holders of the Tesco loyalty card inputting their details, it provides TV and movies for free, though only via Microsoft Silverlight-compatible browsers on a PC or Mac (so forget Chrome on a Mac). All content – which ranges from catalogue movies like The Shawshank Redemption and Ocean's Eleven to entire series of The Only Way Is Essex and James May's Big Ideas – is free after two 30-second adverts, which are tailored to each viewers based on their shopping habits at Tesco.

best online TV streaming services

There's a lot to watch, but it suffers from a lack of a search function. Clearly aimed at people prepared to either watch on-demand TV either on a laptop or desktop PC or Mac (no smartphone or tablet access is possible), there's an upfront section explaining how to connect-up computers to a TV. How quaint, but, hey – it's free. Expect Clubcard TV to grow and add apps for smartphones, tablets and games consoles in due course.

Verdict: 3/5