1

Ways to watch TV via Internet

Now that the UK free to air TV channels have virtually disappeared in Spain, what ways can I watch TV and what should it cost?

Now that the FTA consortium has moved their channels to the new Astra 1E satellite, we cannot receive TV via satellite dish again outside the UK. Now UK TV can only come via an internet connection. I have previously written about the Intelsat 907 scam which purports to give back TV via a small satellite dish, so I won’t go over that again, suffice to say that these types of connections are likely to disappear along with your installation costs. Since the method of re-broadcasting the signal is highly illegal this will surely be closed down before too long.

The system we call Internet TV is referred to as IPTV or Internet Protocol Television. There a number of companies providing such services. I will try to describe the options, along with the benefits and problems they inherit. True IPTV is not what many consumers may be using as all the hype following the satellite switch off has confused some and they may have taken other options, such as FilmOn mentioned below.

The main and cheapest method for many is to use a web based service called FilmOn via an internet page straight from your computer. This system is just a webpage offering UK and other country based TV via that web page in a player window. This can of course be connected up to your TV from your computer using an HDMI cable. The quality of this is very poor and when stretched to a TV screen often gets worse. Really this is not true IPTV though it delivers what many are content with. Of course to use this as your main source of TV means your laptop /computer is tied up with your TV viewing and has to be near your TV. Additionally you have to make all the channel changes on the laptop. Many other web based services simply link you to the FilmOn page. Some current court cases running in the USA may force the shutdown of websites like FilmOn so it may be a short lived system anyway, particularly in Europe.

A budget system being offered is an Android based TV box. This box is really a small computer and your TV simply becomes the screen of that ‘computer’. The remote control allows you to access the pages on the internet like the one above to watch TV channels. A similar box is called Raspberry Pi. This is a credit card sized box that does much the same as above. It can therefore get TV channels via a website. However these webpage based systems do not carry high quality TV pictures and are often laced with advertising. These are just hobby media players using direct url’s (web page addresses)- being sold at high prices – underpowered – slow – usually loaded with XBMC a non-profit media system, and not easy to use. You get what you pay for.

True IPTV is a dedicated box about the size of a small paperback book. It connects to your router either by cable or wirelessly and then to your TV using an HDMI or AV cable. The remote control provides a dedicated menu to your channels in good quality format, depending on the provider, the speed of the internet and the server it connects to. These boxes are dedicated to a set number of channels specified by the provider. They connect to a set server computer so they usually work anywhere in the world from an internet connection. This is the best type of IPTV to pursue. However there are again some pitfalls.

Understand that, TV through the internet takes a lot of bandwidth. Typically from 1.5 MB upwards, and often much more than that. If you have a slow internet connection you may not be able to get a watchable picture. Additionally, if your internet provider sets a limit on your downloads then you may use up your month’s allowance in just a couple of days.

2

IPTV boxes come from just 2 or 3 main suppliers in the world. For most of us we will be buying our IPTV box through an agent. This is fine. You should know what you want before deciding on the type of box and the type of offer to go for.

Some boxes offer ‘all the channels’ including SKY Sports and Movies etc., which sounds great. Of course the SKY channels are not coming directly from SKY but from a pirate source. Therefore you do not need a SKY card to receive the channels as they come through your IPTV box. Such boxes usually have their servers in Bulgaria or Poland and the bandwidth requirement is quite high around 2MB and higher. Often those offers come with Video Club packages built in and these can take up to 4 MBPS to play. So a high internet speed/allowance is required. The emitting server is not so concerned about the issues in countries such as Spain that have poor internet speeds. They sell all over the world.

Other IPTV boxes do not carry SKY channel. These providers operate much more legally within Europe and do not want to have legal issues with SKY. Such providers may offer a lower amount of channels but more reliably and can even then reduce the bandwidth required for their channels to play better. If you already have SKY then it may best to just keep that in place and buy an IPTV box that does the FTA channels. Often these are the most reliable, cost effective boxes as they require fewer resources and cost less in cash terms. As time goes by the IPTV system will change as it’s still in its infancy, so some options will change for the better, probably more channels, more choices.

Usually IPTV boxes that offer true IPTV carry a subscription -monthly or yearly. This is because the companies that provide the services are maintaining the channel emission, the maintenance on their servers to carry out the system and provide catch up services.

3

VPN Router system

Some companies are offering a VPN router which is basically a router that has a fixed address in the UK so it appears that you are in a UK location. This allows a smart TV to think it’s in the UK. This router plugs into your normal router for its internet. —Therein lays the issues that can occur. If your internet connection speed dips below a certain level, often 1 MB the VPN service in the router will ‘drop off’ or stop working until the speed builds up again. This can be very inconvenient as, once that service drops off, you will appear in your normal geographical location again. This may result in messages such as ‘not available in your area’. Also in most cases using VPN router will simply let you connect to TV players such as iPlayer and ITV player etc., allowing you watch TV via the catch-up service. This is mostly not live TV and you have access only to the program episodes those provide. Of course whatever method you use to connect to the TV program you watch, your internet speed is critical. If you have VDSL or Fibre Optic lines then you should have few problems.

The VPN router system can also used in conjunction with a SKY box. There are some suppliers advertising to sell the router system whereby you connect your existing SKY HD box. This allows you to continue watching the FTA channels via your SKY dish. How so? Some HD channels are still on the old SKY satellite so they can be picked up by your current system. However the HD channels are slated to either follow the FTA channels across to the new satellite putting them beyond our reach in Spain. Or they may become subscription based and stay put, it not finalised yet. In any case, this system is time limited. If you go out and buy a SKY HD box especially you may be wasting your money.

If you currently do not stay in one location all year round then a Pay As You Go system is useful. Most providers offer this option. This is done using a credit card or PayPal. Check where the website you are paying though is based, best not to use those based in Eastern Europe for obvious reasons.

Dave

Catch-up

One of the best options on good IPTV boxes is that of the catch-up services. This allows you watch programs you have missed without having to record anything yourself. Depending on the supplier you may get 7 days or 14 days on some or all channels. The catch-up can be useful if your internet is not at its fastest when the program is transmitted but at least you can watch it later. Good catch –up services often sell the box since it’s a great feature when presented well, with the catch-up being offered from the main menu of the TV box.

There are of course a few variations on the above but mostly these are the systems being touted for ex pats living abroad. If you have any specific queries I am usually happy to respond. The boxes I supply are not hosted in Eastern Europe and the channels are managed by the provider here is Spain.

You can check your internet speed more accurately using www.testmy.ne Your ping speed is also important as the time it takes between your router and the exchange can vary. If your ping speed is constant and does not change erratically you will get less flickering on your TV.

Benefits and Problems

The table below summarises the benefits and problems of each system. Once you have understood the various options you can make an informed choice of what to invest in.

FilmOn via PC

Cheap.
Can download to watch later.
Poor quality.
Ties up your computer.
Channels changed via computer.
A court case running in the US may close this website down soon.

Android TV Boxes

Cheap.
May allow recording.
Poor quality as they only link to websites like FilmOn.
Basic, hobby boxes.
Slow.

Raspberry Pi

Cheap.
Poor quality as they only link to websites like FilmOn.
Basic, hobby boxes.
Slow.

IPTV boxes – with SKY channels.

True IPTV quality.
More channels.
Can Record.
Can offer catch up.
High cost.
Year subscription usually paid up front.
May require high bandwidth.
May be hosted on Eastern Europe servers.
Great if you have high bandwidth.

Some are from unknown sources so be careful.

IPTV boxes – with mainly FTA channels – from professional suppliers.

True IPTV quality.
May allow Record.
Can offer catch up.
Can be PAYG.
Better on slower connections. Usually have regional channel variations (BBC Scotland etc.).
Less channels.

Probably the best value option with a reliable system.

May have some SKY channels as an add-on package.

VPN Routers

Less costly.
Require higher internet speeds.
The VPN service carries a yearly subscription.
Only really for catch-up TV.