Depending on the service, some shows are available for seven days after broadcast, while others can be seen up to a month later. There are some apps that even provide gems from the past, all free of charge. In this guide we’ll look at the main services, looking at how you can access them from your laptop or Android device wherever you are. Happy watching.
1. BBC iPlayer
The BBC’s iPlayer allows you to catch up on the majority of its output, both TV and radio. Of course, you can just watch it through your web browser, but the desktop app allows you to download programmes to watch offline for up to 30 days. Head to the iPlayer website and click BBC iPlayer Downloads for Windows and follow the set-up wizard.
Once the app is installed, head back to the iPlayer website and search for your favourite shows. You can also find programmes by scrolling down and clicking on the various categories such as ‘Entertainment’ or ‘Comedy’ or simply entering the name of a series or actor in the search bar. When you’ve found an episode you fancy, click it and select Download. It will now download to your computer for you to watch whenever you want, even when you’re not connected to the internet. Just remember, it will disappear after 30 days.
2. ITV Player
Of course, it’s not just the British Broadcasting Corporation that allows you to catch up on its schedule. The ITV player service doesn’t have its own dedicated app, but it does allow you to watch online. Head to the website and search by hitting the By Day, A-Z or Categories buttons. You’ll also find a large selection of ITV’s back-catalogue available to view.
When you’ve found an episode, hit Watch. The website will then ask you if it’s OK to track your physical location. This is so ITV can confirm that the material you want to watch is available to view in your area. If you’re happy for them to continue, either click Allow Once or Always Allow. You can also enter your postcode to allow the website to identity where you’re located.
There will be one more check if you’ve selected something that was originally broadcast post-watershed. The website will display a window in which you declare that you are over 18. If this is the case, tick the ‘I am over 18 years of age’ box and click Allow restricted content. If you have children and want to restrict what they can watch, you can also add a PIN code during this step that will have to be entered every time restricted content is selected.
3. 4OD and Demand Five
The other main terrestrial channels offer similar services. 4OD is an advertiser-funded service that lets you catch up on the month’s TV plus much of the broadcaster’s 30-year history. Either watch in a window or click the full-screen button in the right-hand corner to get that widescreen experience. Plus, if you want to watch shows offline you can opt for the dedicated Windows 8 app.
Demand 5 gives you the chance to catch up with shows from the Five group of channels, with episodes usually available for seven days. There’s no sign-up process – just find your shows and hit play. Again a Windows 8 app is available, although access to Wi-Fi is recommended for the best experience.
4. Subscription services
Many subscription services also provide options to catch-up on your PC. Virgin TV Anywhere allows subscribers to watch live TV from its channels and explore many of the last week’s schedules. Search by channel, genre or name to find what you want to see and click watch. You’ll then be prompted to sign into your My Virgin Account to access the programmes.
5. Android Apps
Most of these services also support dedicated apps on your Android tablet, available for free via GooglePlay. Some apps, such as BBC iPlayer and ITV Player, even support downloads so that you can save programmes to watch when you’re not near a Wi-Fi hub, ideal for travelling on the train, for instance.
Sometimes you might actually be sitting down when a programme is broadcast live. If you want to avoid having to switch from one catch-up service to another head to tvcatchup.com. From here you can watch live streams of over 50 free-to-view channels, just like normal telly. You can also download a dedicated Android app to watch on your mobile devices as long as you have Wi-Fi or 3G to hand.