Which is the best online TV player?

Because of the availability of online TV players, as long as you have a decent broadband connection, you hardly need to watch an actual TV anymore, but we wanted to know which one was the best, so we’ve tried them all out!

They vary pretty widely in terms of ease of use and programme availability, as well as the format used to watch the content, so let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each one…

Channel 4 On Demand


CONS: The major downside to 4OD is that it requires you to download a programme which many people have found unusable because of a problem with flash which the 4OD techies don’t seem able to fix.

The other problem with it – assuming you can get it running – is that even if you’re not running it, it runs in the background and can use up your bandwidth via khost, the program used to file share, which is ultimately all 4OD is.

Another downside is that you may need to pay to watch the show you choose. You can rent shows such as documentaries and films from 99p but once they expire, you have to pay again if you want to watch it again.

Finally, there are ads built into some of the content which you can’t skip or fast forward but they are much fewer than on real-time TV.

PROS: Once you have it installed and working, there’s a massive choice of Channel 4 shows including a great selection of free shows, a catch up service and an archive section that’s mostly free.

You can also watch choose to watch streamed content or download it to watch later. Downloading can take a fair while sometimes but the streamed content is usually very smooth without glitches or buffering.

You can choose from several screen sizes from small to full screen with other sizes in between.

ITV Player

CONS: There are adverts built into the content every 15 minutes, just as there is on real time TV.

Also, there’s only two choices of screen size, very small or full screen.

The quality of the playback isn’t always high resolution and it often takes ages to buffer while using up quite a lot of processor speed.

Finally, it won’t allow fast forwarding or rewinding, except to previous or next chapter, which is usually 15 minutes back or forward. It’s quite annoying if you only want a specific scene replayed.

PROS: It’s completely free and requires no registration or login – you just play it from the website www.itv.com

There’s a good choice of shows, most especially on Catch Up so you don’t need to miss your favourite programmes.

It’s a very simple to use format that doesn’t need any downloads other than the latest versions of media player on some PCs.

BBC iPlayer

CONS: Playback quality isn’t great and can look a bit ‘pixellated’ at times, especially in full screen.

If there’s an issue with buffering, it often comes up with an error to say the content isn’t working, but that said, it does allow you to refresh and watch from where you left off, so you don’t need to watch it all over again.

There’s not much of an archive of shows but it’s ideal for catch up when you’ve missed your favourites.

PROS: It doesn’t need any registration or login and plays stand alone from the website as long as you have all the necessary media files. It’ll prompt you to download any you don’t have.

It’s all free.

Demand Five

CONS: I couldn’t get my download of the media player plugin to work so I’m afraid I can’t tell you much else about DF! That kind of says it all for me though and you have to register to use it.

Sky Player Anytime

CONS: Requires registration and download of their package which can take ages because you have to jump through a fair few hoops to get registered.

It’s still very buggy and often comes up with bizarre error messages when you try to watch content. It can also be a bit of a pain with buffering.

The biggest drawback for me is that you can only watch one on PC. If you change your laptop or PC, you have to ring customer services and get them to reset your account details, which is an unnecessary nause. It also means that if anyone else in the household wants to use it, they have to use the PC you registered with.

As with 4OD, Sky Anytime runs in the background and also uses khost so it can sap your bandwidth too.

PROS: There’s a great choice of shows, many of which are free depending upon whether or not you have a Sky package on your home TV.

So after much deliberating, I’d have to say that I think 4OD – assuming you can get it to work in the first place – is the best all rounder of the online players; it’s easy to use and gives you a number of options that the others simply don’t, and once past the faff of downloading, it’s a very simple interface to use.

To get around the problem of it running in the background, if you’re using a Windows PC or laptop, just hit ctrl, alt and del then go to ‘processes’, click on khost and then ‘end process’.

What do you think of the online players? And by the way, if you’ve found any ways around some of the problems that I’ve mentioned as cons with any of them, please do let me know!

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.