Watching live TV on your laptop or PC is completely legal, providing you have a TV licence if you're in the UK. There are two ways to do it: via an app or your web browser, or by attaching a USB TV tuner if you don't have an internet connection.
The first way is free, but you'll have to spend some cash to buy a TV tuner. Fortunately, they can be picked up from Amazon for as little as a tenner.
Best online TV apps
If you're at home and for some reason can't watch live TV on your actual TV set, then it makes sense to use your broadband rather than spending money on a USB tuner dongle.
The quickest way to watch the core five channels is to open a web browser and type in www.tvcatchup.com and then click on the channel you want to watch. It will start streaming immediately and, because it's live TV, you'll see whatever is being broadcast currently.
Despite the name, it doesn't offer any kind of catchup service - it's live TV only. And you must be in the UK for it to work, or use a VPN.
In total TVCatchup offers around 30 channels including BBC One, Two, ITV, Channel 4, 5, BBC News, CBBC, Cbeebies, BBC4, Quest and various others.
But if you want to watch Dave, ITV 2 and other channels, TVCatchup isn't going to help you. In that case, turn to TVPlayer.com. You'll have to create a free account first, but you'll then have access to over 60 channels, completely free. But you can pay an extra £6.99 per month to get additional channels including Eurosport, Disovery, SyFy, MTV, Comedy Central and more.
This Premium subscription also lets you access the HD streams where available, removes advertising and lets you watch shows on demand.
As well as watching TV via TVPlayer in your web browser, there are also apps for your phone and tablet - and you PC and laptop if you prefer not to use a browser.
There are apps for both websites which let you access the same TV channels on your phone or tablet.
Most channels have their own app, and most of those are available for your PC, laptop, phone and tablet. Virtually all now require you to sign up for an account, but the payoff is that your activity is synced across devices - including smart TV apps - so you can see what you've already watched and which episode you're halfway through.
Here are links to some of the most popular ones, including links to their websites where you can watch in a browser:
- BBC iPlayer (All BBC channels): Android / iOS / web browser
- ITV Hub (All ITV channels): Android / iOS / web browser
- All 4 (All Channel 4 channels): Android / iOS / web browser
- My5: Android / iOS / web browser
- UKTV Play (Dave / Really etc) : Android / iOS / web browser
How to watch TV without an internet connection
The second option will cost you more initially, but could be better suited for you if you don't have an unlimited or fast broadband connection.
You will need to buy a TV tuner for your laptop or PC. These cost about £10-£30 / US$10-30 and are relatively easy to install if you opt for an USB model.
The Andoer tuner below costs just £9.97 from Amazon and comes with a remote control.
The tuner above won't let you watch in HD, but at the top end of the scale, Hauppauge's WinTV-dual HD packs in two tuners so you can record one channel while watching another. It costs £64.95 from Amazon.
The downside to watching TV on your laptop or PC this way is that you're reliant on the Freeview signal wherever you are. But if happen to be near a socket that's connected to your building's roof TV aerial, then signal shouldn't be an issue. (But we'd wonder why you didn't just turn on your TV set and watch that instead.)
USB TV tuners should come with a compact aerial, but you'll need to attach it to a metal object such as a radiator or the roof of your car to get the best possible signal.
Once you've plugged in the tuner and installed the software that came with it, you'll be prompted to scan for channels - just like a regular TV - and then you can choose a channel and start watching.
The software may also let you record TV for playing back later.
TV tuners for phones & tablets
If you want to watch live TV on your phone or tablet but not use up your monthly data allowance, it is possible to buy a TV tuner. Obviously, a USB model isn't going to work, so you need a Wi-Fi model that's compatible with your phone or tablet.
For iPhones and iPads, Elgato's EyeTV connects to a Lightning port, but is pricey at £69.99.
A cheaper option which works on both Android and iOS is August's DVB-T405. It's £39.99 from Amazon.