There are a lot of alternatives to cable television thanks to the Internet, and not all of them cost money or require you to register for viewing. As with any broadcast service, channel selection, picture quality, and the ability to pick and choose specific shows varies with what service you connect to.
There are a few different methods to receive free online TV service:
Streaming requires only a web browser with the Flash plugin enabled to play the available content, so long as you have the right audio and video codecs installed, which is typically built into modern operating systems. It is also recommended to have a decent connection speed so as to be able to watch without interruptions for buffering. Most of the internet TV is offered in this manner.
Streaming is offered in three ways; live streaming, specialized content streaming, and on demand streaming of available TV shows. Live streaming provides access to live television programming, and as such resembles watching TV on your television set, except you watch it over the internet, and there may be a slight delay due to network latency.
Specialized content streaming is like live streaming, but the provider selects what to stream and when, which tend to be shows that were recorded and broadcasted previously. Think of them as a pirate TV station online.
On demand streaming isn’t live, and instead you get a menu of available shows and can stream them whenever you want. The advantage of on demand TV shows is that you can watch them on your own time instead of having to tune in when the show is scheduled for broadcasting or streaming.
Download and Play
Some online TV services offer TV shows for download, either for free or (more commonly) for a price. You can then watch it from your PC or mobile devices even when offline. As with streaming, the quality of the downloaded video may vary, with high definition video offering the best viewing experience, and standard definition just being good enough. Most providers offer HD video at least as an option. Of course, HD video will take longer to download, and take up more storage space.
Some providers require you to download specialized software to gain access to their TV content. This software is usually proprietary in nature, and may be funded through ad services, registration fees, or other mechanisms commonly used to provide free services while making business sense.
Bandwidth requirements for TV over the Internet varies depending on video and audio quality, compression, video size, and streaming services. Dial-up users will probably not have a good experience watching TV over the Internet unless they cache much or most of the content before playback. Caching may not be reasonable if the TV content that is being viewed is very large, or otherwise remote. If you intend on watching online TV, expect to invest in a cable or DSL connection to the Internet. A discussion of the differences between cable and DSL connectivity can be found here.
Effects of Jitter
Jitter may cause your TV viewing to exhibit low frame rates, jumpy video, artifacts in the video image, stuttering audio, or other negative factors. Spyware or other malicious software packages on your personal computer may also cause jitter-like effects.
Effects of Reliability Issues
An unreliable Internet connection may cause your video and audio experience to halt, disconnect, restart, or otherwise disrupt viewing. This is specifically a problem if you have an improperly configured or designed wireless network, or if you have physical problems between your computer and your cable or DSL modem.
Computer Processing Power
Any new computer that has been purchased since 2003 should be able to properly decode and playback TV content online without much trouble. Things that effect playback quality are: CPU power, video card quality, audio card quality, available RAM, network connection, software used for playback, and method and particulars used during content encoding.
Streaming Video and Audio from Network Remote Locations
The geographic location of your TV content feed will have an effect on your viewing experience. Content provided through back-water networks, third world countries, home connections, throttled network feeds, and otherwise will cause video and audio issues that may make watching TV online unacceptable. If you find that the content you are viewing is not suitable to your viewing tastes, try a different provider. Unfortunately, many providers are in these locations due to the legal issues of providing this kind of content.
Most video and TV streams on the internet use the Flash plugin to play, so you’ll need to have it installed. Luckily, most people already do, and some web browsers have it built-in (like Chrome). Some streams may require other plugins such as Microsoft’s Silverlight, Windows Media Player plugin (in Chrome, Firefox), or VLC.
Legality of Providing TV Content Online
It is generally illegal in most companies for an individual or group to rebroadcast cable or satellite content over the web without getting express permission or broadcasting rights from the companies in question. Retransmitting over the air broadcasting is a grey area, as the content is broadcast over the air for anyone with the proper equipment to receive. If you intend to rebroadcast or otherwise provide TV content online, it is best for you to consult a legal authority or legal advice before doing so.
Here is a selection of online TV providers. Most are free, but some may require a paid subscription to watch. Feel free to also check out our list of online movie sources as many of those also feature TV shows in addition to movies.
|YouTube||While YouTube doesn’t technically qualify as a TV streaming service, it does offer many new media and some old media TV style shows in addition to a mind bogglingly vast collection of video content. The YouTube TV service furthermore offers a very TV like experience of YouTube content including the ability to remotely control it with a smartphone by pairing it with the service, turning YouTube into essentially an on demand TV channel.|
|Yamgo||An attractive easy to use global TV streaming service covering channels in news, sports, entertainment, music, fashion, and bollywood and bikini TV.|
|Chooseandwatch||Similar to now defunct freetube, and may be based on it. Over 250 channels to watch.|
|Channelking||Channel King allows you to watch cable channels from all over the world.|
|Streamick||Over 300 streaming TV channels, including ABC, BBC, NBC and others.|
|TV Land||Viacom’s streaming service where you can watch a number of mainly comedy TV shows.|
|The ABC Network||US based ABC network shows here.|
|ESPN Player||Online streaming of ESPN sports programming. Paid subscription is required.|
|PPStream||A mixture of everything, pick what you want to watch off of the menu, text is not english but you can find good content if you are patient.|
|PPlive||Mostly non US channels, text is not english, similar to ppstream.|
|Aereo||A novel service that offers a large selection of traditional free-to-air TV channels for streaming on PC, tablets, smartphones and TV connected devices like AppleTV and Roku.|
|WWiTV.com||A large library of links or embedded streams of TV channels across the world.|
|LiveTVChannelsFree.com||Another library of TV streams across the world in a variety of categories.|
|Verizon TV||Verizon’s streaming service with shows from over a hundred TV networks.|
|BBC iPlayer||Streaming BBC TV and radio online. TV streaming is limited to UK only.|
|Zattoo||German internet TV service providing streaming of many european TV channels.|
|Discovery Network||Discovery TV shows online.|
|TV Online Indonesia||Streams of about a dozen Indonesian TV channels.|
|Bell TV Online||TV streaming service offered by Canadian Bell carrier.|
|iTV Player||British TV streaming service offering a variety of TV shows.|
|SMH TV||Australian streaming service featuring a number of TV shows, including those from Vice and BBC.|
|4od (Channel 4 On Demand)||British Channel 4 online programming and TV shows.|
|Demand5 (Channel 5 On Demand)||British Channel 5 online.|
|Sky.com||Streaming shows from Sky TV channels.|
|TVCatchup||An attractive service offering up a library of british channels for online streaming.|
|Zapni.tv||A library of TV streams from a few mostly european TV channels. Streams generally work well, but they sometimes tune into the wrong channel (not the one you clicked on).|
|TVWeb360||Another decent TV streams library with channels from across the world.|
|Vubalu||A categorised database of links to many TV shows and streams.|