FREE British TV online, Anytime, Anywhere: A Basic Guide to TVCatchup (Beta)
Off on holiday and missing a good dose of British Television? Try TVCatchup, a UK based video streaming website relaunched last week after being in hiatus for the past 8 months.
TVCatchup (TVC) allows its registered users to view a selection of UK Freeview channels, for absolutely free. Channels include BBC1, ITV, 4, and Five. It is currently still in beta testing.
Since its relaunch last week, new channels added include FiveUS, ITV2 and BBC3. TVC's administrator Daniel announced last Friday: "If you like those channels, you'll love what is planned. Stay tuned, we'll use the weekend to recover from a nail biting and sleepless first week, and next week should be interesting." Rumour is that new channels along with an unofficial downloadable application is also currently under development.
The questions you most likely have regarding TVC right now probably include: 1. How's the quality of the video stream like? 2. Will I get all 15 channels? 3. Is this really legal? 4. If I have a TV license at my residential address, can I use this legally anywhere? 5. Does this work for everyone?
This guide will aim to tackle all these questions.
1. How's the quality like?
Full screen capture screenshot of TVCatchup (photo courtesy of TVCatchup)
The quality on the website is, in one word, excellent. The interface is simple, usage is intuitive and friendly. Controls are easy to understand and use. Videos are of great quality, at 640 pixels wide.
You'll need a minimum 1 MB broadband connection (8MB is recommended) to view programmes without pausing for buffering. The videos stream at 640 kbps, so should not be a problem for most people. Non-updated versions of IE 6 don't show things properly, and those using Flash 7 are also incompatable with the H.264 codec, so make sure you got the right plugins and updates.
2. Why are only 12 channels available when it said there are 15?
According to TVCatchup's administator, Daniel, "the service is capable of offering all free-to-air channels currently provided on digital (about 50), however, as the service is in BETA we only have 15 channels setup in the web player, not all of which are accessible to all members.... the remaining channels being enabled over the coming month. We are working with numerous third parties and hope to further offer additional channels other than those on freeview." There you go.
In the mean time, entertain yourself by right clicking on the videos to get a full screen view option. Great for those with their HDTVs hooked up to the laptop.
3. Is this really legal?
The owner of Media Resources Limited, David Taylor, sides with TVC, stating, "I am delighted that after eight months of delays and misunderstandings, the website is finally able to resume operations; providing high quality television on the internet, legally and for free. We further look forward to adding more channels to our existing line-up and the release of a mobile version."
Mr. Taylor was referring to the initial launch of the website in January this year with 5,000 test users. According to The Guardian, the site was subsequently suspended without warning in February, after apparently receiving complaints from the BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Channel Five for its recording functions. The TVC legal team is however challenging the truth of this publication, as according to TVC head administor Mason, there were misinformed quotes in the article by people not even employed by the company, and that the site was only taken down for maintenence purposes.
Adam Smith, the founder of TVCatchup, had also previously argued that the site is legal because it is covered by time-shifting exemptions in copyright law. But John Enser, media partner at legal firm Olswang, questioned whether the 1988 exemption covered TVCatchup's service.
"The time-shifting exception only applies to a recording made in domestic premises," he said. "TVCatchup allows recordings to be made wherever their servers are, which is unlikely to be in a private house. It is difficult to see how they can claim the service is legal."
These functions, however, have since been disabled, and as the website currently only offers live streaming, TVC also states on their website that as it does not use illegal P2P technology, everything is absolutely legal. "All services provided by this website have been scrutinised by some of the foremost copyright experts in the country, and have been unequivocally endorsed as being completely legal."
From a viewer's perspective, it is most likely that TVC is correct in this case. Why not check out the site and try it for yourself? But first, make sure you do have a TV license...
4. If you have a TV license, can you legally view TVCatchup from any location?
According to Daniel, you must own a UK Television License in order to use the site. Beyond that, Daniel also kindly answers the aspect of viewing TVCatchup from various locations:
"Going just from distant memory, your domestic TV licence covers you if you are temporarily away from your home address (maximum of 28 days, but worth checking) or if you use a receiving apparatus which runs from it's own internal batteries (such as a laptop or mobile) to view any broadcast as it is being transmitted (as on this site). Whilst the TV licensing authority (who act on behalf of the BBC) claim to have the right to know immediately you move address, we understand that they cannot enforce this if the change of address is temporary (e.g. less than 28 days). Generally speaking I would think you would be covered under this provision, if only as a defence."
Further information can be found on the TV Licensing website here.
5. Does this work for everyone?
TVCatchup seems to still be limited to certain ISPs only right now. Surfers on Virgin Media, Plusnet, and O2 have found it to work in general. It does not seem to currently support Tiscali, Sky, Orange, due to free peering connection problems with them. TVCatchup suggest you to contact your ISP and provide them full details of the steps they need to perform, which will allow you to watch the full selection of television channels online. It however apparently works in certain countries abroad, like the USA, where free peering connections are the norm.
For those that still can't access TVCatchup, there are alternatives. Consider UK View, or downloadable program Zattoo, which unfortunately suffers from a lower quality of video streams. For those that can't do without some good ole' American TV and the latest episode of Heroes, download Hot Spot Shield to catch up via Hulu. I, however, am off to watch Neighbours in full screen glory.