WE BRITS don't attach the same gravitas to the term 'cord cutter' as our friends across the pond. After all, we don't have huge cable monopolies controlling triple-play broadband, phone and TV in the UK.
Well, OK, maybe we do a bit.
Nevertheless, there are a lot of options for people who want to get their TV via IP, and it's becoming more and more affordable. Here's The INQUIRER guide to some of the ways you can be entertained without Sky or Virgin.
Amazon Fire TV
Unlike Android TV (see below), the Amazon's Fire platform crosses over from tablet to telly, which means that many of the games are available on the screen alongside services from most of the big players. There are several notable omissions, though, including Channel 4's All4, Now TV and TalkTalk TV (Blinkbox as was).
Making up for this, however, is native 4K support and, more importantly, some award-winning programmes to watch, including Mr Robot, Transparent and The Man in the High Castle. Another thing we love is that you can seamlessly control services from your TV remote thanks to the correct use of HDMI-CEC.
Be wary, however, as it's not always clear what films are included in your Amazon Prime subscription and which attract an extra rental charge.
Biggest plus: Native 4K
Biggest bust: Lack of some key services
We are yet to get our hands on the newer 4K-sporting Roku 4 in the UK, but the Roku 3 doesn't leave much else to wish for. Alongside every service you can imagine - the one platform offering Netflix, Amazon and all the major networks' catch-up services - there are thousands of weird and wonderful specialist channels to cater for just about every audience.
There are live streams of goats for humans and specially made programming for dogs. You can even watch your Google film library. The remote is great, and includes headphones for late night viewing, which is good as this doesn't have HDMI-CEC. It's a small quibble, though.
Biggest plus: The most complete option available by a country mile
Biggest bust: No 4K version yet and no CEC, but that's about it
Now TV (set-top box)
Now TV, aka Sky over IP (aka the common sense option), is actually a pared down version of the Roku 2 box with dedicated firmware. This means access to all the main catch-up services, Netflix, YouTube and, of course, Now TV itself, with no bells and whistles save for Sky Store for on-demand films. You may find this a bit restrictive or you may find the no-frills approach liberating.
It's also the only way to watch Sky Atlantic without getting Sky proper. Watching live TV is a bit of a faff, however, as it is targeted towards the extensive 'box-set' library, but this could become a real contender with a new box expected later in the year which will more than likely include some version of the Freeview line-up.
A useful tip: watch out during the sales. Often it's cheaper to buy a new box with a free subscription than to pay the £6.99 charge.
Biggest plus: Sky One, Sky Atlantic, Sky Living, Fox and a huge VoD library
Biggest bust: Fiddly to watch the live channels and there's no HD
Unlike the other items on this list, HDHomeRun doesn't live under your telly and is actually of very little use on its own. But it can be a very powerful ally in conjunction with your computer or one of the other items on the list.
HDHomeRun connects to your TV aerial and turns your Freeview signal into IP channels that can be watched on any device on the same WiFi network. There are apps for PC, Android, iOS and more, and it integrates beautifully with Android TV, or at least it does now they've fixed the software.
It supports HD signals and several people can watch at the same time. Cunning use of a hard drive means that one of those 'viewers' can be the disk recording a show for later, making it a PVR (like Sky+) as well. It is, of course, only as good as your roof aerial signal and, unlike older products like Slingbox, you can't watch your channel line up from elsewhere (place-shifting). There are ways around that, though.
Biggest plus: It's so brilliantly simple it's a wonder no-one thought of it before
Biggest bust: It's no use without a good signal to start with
£149.99 to buy outright or deals through BT, Plusnet and TalkTalk
The lengthy genesis of YouView would take a whole article in itself, but the result has been a platform that offers the Freeview canon and a bunch of on-demand services. If you take the service via your ISP, it may have a deal on some premium channels too. Watch out, because these do vary from provider to provider. TalkTalk, for example, offers the Sky line-up, whereas Plusnet does not.
The big problem with YouView is it has been stuck exactly where it is for years. Now TV has a portal, but for technical reasons it will play only on-demand films. There's no Amazon, and the reception of the IP channels is quite often a disaster area. And remember: the reception is only as good as your standard digital aerial. It's not an alternative.
We've not tried Freeview Play yet, which offers a similar deal, but we imagine YouView is very worried.
Biggest plus: You might be able to get it free
Biggest bust: It feels like they've given up on it
NVIDIA SHIELD TV
The NVIDIA Shield TV makes a very good case for being the central part of your home entertainment hub.
It runs Android TV. Check. It's compatible with HD Homerun. Check. It has 4K aboard. Check. It has a massive library of games, with a mixture of regular Android titles, augmented Nvidia versions, and a huge subscription library of games from the cloud. On paper it's really quite hard to beat.
The problem is that Android TV is still devoid of many of the most important apps. All4? Forget it. Amazon? Nah. Now TV? No way.
All of these are available via Chromecast, which is built into the device, which also supports Miracast, but it's no substitute for being able to use your remote, or controller (both are available as well as smartphone control).
What we do like though is that many of the apps can be treated as channels, so in addition to your Freeview channels from the HD Homerun, Google will give channel numbers to anything else it finds, making a genuine IP alternative to the big players.
In short, so much potential, but it really needs more support. Biggest Plus: There's so much to love about the Shield it could be the perfect solution
Biggest Bust: More providers need to get behind Android TV
[Note: Both the HD Homerun and Aurora TV apps, which both provide an excellent way of configuring your Shield's TV capabilities have pretty big bugs in the 'stable' versions at time of writing. We were given access to the beta versions though, and they pretty much fix everything. So there.]
QNAP TAS-268 NAS with Android
This should offer the best of both worlds, in theory. All your pre-recorded stuff on your NAS, with the ability to plug it into your telly and use Android. And let's make no bones about it: this is a great NAS as QNAPs generally are. The problem is that the firm has used Android for phones as an operating system, not Android TV. Android isn't designed to be used with a remote control, and executing even the simplest task is almost impossible as a result.
The Android player side is effectively bolted on to the existing (and very good) NAS interface, so you're left with two gadgets, neither or which adds up to the sum of its parts. This really is one to avoid unless you've got a lot of time, a lot of patience as well as a lot of money (remember that the price we've quoted doesn't include the two 3.5in disks you'll need).
Biggest plus: It's a great idea
Biggest bust: It just hasn't been thought through at all well
If you end up buying all these gadgets, you'll probably run out of space. After all, we've not even talked about games consoles yet. One solution is an HDMI splitter. These needn't be expensive, but there are a few things to watch out for. Firstly, assuming your box and cables do, does it support 4K and 3D? If it don't say it do, it probably don't. Secondly, the remote. You know those horrible little remotes with the slightly raised bubble buttons that are about the size of a Garibaldi? Yeah, them. They happen a lot.
We found a great one on Amazon by Nestling (no us neither). For £15 it adds four inputs and, as well as supporting 3D and 4K, it has the added treat of picture-in-picture, so you can watch two things at once. If you really want to. We got around the Garibaldi issue as well ...
Logitech Harmony all-in-one remote
We could sit and do a compare and contrast on the merits of universal remotes, but it wouldn't be very interesting. But have a think about ease of set-up and what else it can do. The newest Logitech Harmony remotes can set up entire activities, meaning you can turn on the TV, turn off the lights and switch straight to Netflix at the push of a button. And it gets rid of the Garibaldi problem.
This is far from exhaustive, but it'll give you an idea of some of the alternatives to signing up to the usual suspects. A final word on HDMI cables. Yes, it's true, any HDMI cable will work (if it works properly) whether it's from Poundland or Richer Sounds. There is no difference.
But there's more to consider when you start looking deeper. Ideally, look for HDMI 2.0 cables as they don't have to be expensive. If not, the lowest we'd recommend is HDMI 1.4. At this point things like CEC, Ethernet and Audio Return Channel are all well augmented, so there are no cloying compatibility issues . µ
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