TVPlayer: the free app for live, no-aerial TV on your Xbox One

Call me old fashioned – go ahead, really, I’ve been called much worse – but I prefer to watch TV programmes on, well… a TV. Same goes for movies. I know that in this brave new world of streaming, everybody is supposedly enjoying “content” for the most part on their tablets, laptops and phones; but the introduction of an app for consoles surely played a significant part in the fact that Netflix’s revenue apparently increased fourfold from 2010 to 2016. So ubiquitous is media streaming, you’d think that somebody would pull the terrestrial channels together for viewing with an internet connection, no aerial required.

Well, at least one somebody has.

TVPlayer is available to use via the website, or via an app for smart devices. It’s also available as an Xbox One app, though, and that’s what I’m going to talk about. Watching TV programmes on a TV. Crazy, right?

The basic idea is great. Pulling together a load of free channels (including some you probably haven’t heard of), this app gives you a wide choice of programming to watch through your Xbox One, over the interwebs, without handing over any pennies. As well as channels such as BBC1, BBC2 and ITV (don’t forget you need a TV Licence for a right to the BBC channels), you get many others such as Spike, Quest Red, Sony Entertainment Channel, CITV, The Box, and Chilled.

There’s no TV guide as such, and navigating from channel to channel is a little clunky. Most irritating of all is the colour that’s been chosen for highlighting icons; a very light, barely-visible blue that will often have you squinting at the screen as you try to work out which box is selected. Still, it’s convenient to have all these channels in one place, including a selection of global news (such as BBC, CNN, and NHK World – but no Sky News for obvious reasons). The picture is reassuringly normal TV quality, but don’t expect ultra HD or 4K options.

As you browse channels, you’ll see that some have a little pink box in the corner of their icon saying “PLUS”. These are the premium channels that fall under the optional paid add-on. Like Netflix, you pay on a month-by-month basis with no contract. At £5.99 per month it’s cheaper than most similar options, but whether or not it’s worth your money depends entirely on your TV-watching habits.

The subscription includes an element of on-demand catch-up TV, but make no mistake: TVPlayer is, in this respect, absolutely decimated by pretty much any other service you can think of. The programmes and episodes available almost seem to be assigned at random; forget about virtual “box sets” or a comprehensive, searchable library. The appeal of premium channels is definitely dependent on your watching live broadcasts (which, disappointingly, you can not pause, rewind, fast-forward, or record).

The most closely comparable service, on-demand aside, is NowTV. On the surface, TVPlayer actually fights its corner here very well. TVP offers more channels (many, many more when you add in the free ones) and, of course, it’s slightly cheaper. Interestingly, NowTV requires you to pay just under £10 a month if you want the kids’ channels as well as the general entertainment ones (they’re two separate subscriptions). For your £5.99, TVPlayer will give you extra channels for both big kids and little kids including (but not limited to) Comedy Central, Cartoon Network, Nick Jr, History, Eurosport, and Baby TV.

Unfortunately, TVP suffers two major blows to its appeal on a regular basis.

Firstly, for copyright-related reasons that are not entirely clear, certain programmes and movies are forbidden for TVP users. Want to use this app to watch The Simpsons on Channel 4, for example? Forget it. Much more damaging to the experience is the simple fact that TVP doesn’t always work as it should (or, indeed, at all). Roughly 80% of the time, things are just fine and dandy. Sometimes, though, you’ll go to watch a channel only to be faced with a “The video could not be played” error. Exiting and reloading the channel will sometimes, but not always, fix this. I don’t think that I’ve ever managed to get Animal Planet working at all.

If you want live TV but for whatever reason can’t use an aerial, TVPlayer is a great option. There’s no harm in downloading the app (though you may need to search “TVPlayer” specifically to find it) and you can even get a free trial of Plus to try for yourself. Just bear in mind its limitations and, if it’s on-demand streaming you’re after, this definitely isn’t what you’re looking for.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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