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Home entertainment guide

With the coronavirus pandemic keeping us at home much more, our home entertainment has perhaps never been so important.

From the most popular streaming services, to the latest Freeview offering and addressing lag issues for gamers, we offer our essential home entertainment guide.

With the coronavirus pandemic keeping us at home much more, our home entertainment has perhaps never been so important.

From the most popular streaming services, to the latest Freeview offering and addressing lag issues for gamers, we offer our essential home entertainment guide.

Holly Niblett
From the Digital team
12
minute read
Do you know someone who could benefit from this article?
Posted 18 JUNE 2020

A guide to streaming services in the UK

Video streaming services, sometimes known as Subscription Video-on-Demand (SVOD) services, are online platforms made for watching films and TV shows on-demand. That means you can watch them when you like. 
 
Charged either per-title or by subscription, these cloud-based internet networks offer a popular, and increasingly varied, alternative to digital TV packages
 
Video streaming accounts can be accessed on a variety of devices including smart TVs, laptops, tablets, consoles and smartphones. 

What do I need to start streaming? 

All you need is a device such as a tablet or a laptop, an SVOD account and a broadband connection suitable for streaming. It’s possible to stream video using mobile data, but you’ll have to be wary of slower speeds and far higher charges.

Streaming platforms, like YouTube, Amazon Prime and Netflix helped lighten the load on networks during the coronavirus outbreak by restricting bandwidth and reducing video quality. Now, Netflix and Apple TV+ bandwidth are being restored.

Streaming services available in the UK vary in content, accessibility and cost. It’s likely one service is better suited to you than another. Look at what titles they offer, how you can watch them and how much they cost. We’ve broken down the essentials below.

What are the UK’s most popular streaming services?

(information accurate as of June 2020)

Netflix  

  • What’s on offer?  
    Subscription online streaming service – no binding contract. There are no fees for cancelling the service, so you can start, stop and restart your account with Netflix as and when you want. 
  • How much is it? 
    Monthly plans range from Basic (£5.99) to Standard (£8.99) and Premium (£11.99).** 
  • How many devices can I watch on?  
    Standard plan viewers can watch on two different screens at the same time in HD, while the Basic package allows content to be accessed on one screen with no HD option. Premium package users can watch on up to four screens at the same time, with the ability to watch in Ultra HD when available. 
  • What can I watch?  
    Around 6,000 titles, from new TV shows to classic movies. Vintage comedy and films (for example Friends, and Four Weddings and a Funeral), meet modern hits and kids’ favourites (for example The Irishman, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle). And then there’s Netflix’s own, critically acclaimed offerings. 
  • Why use it? 
    Hard to beat for originality and choice. Netflix’s exclusive series like Stranger Things, Sex Education, BoJack Horseman, Narcos and hit comedy Orange is the New Black are already classics. 

Amazon Prime Video 

  • What is it?  
    Subscription online streaming service – no binding contract. 
  • How much is it?  
    After a 30-day free trial, users pay £7.99 per month (or £79 upfront for a year) for the full Prime package. This includes free next-day online deliveries, Prime Music and free eBooks. Also, it’s now possible to subscribe to Prime Video only, for £5.99 a month.** 
  • How many devices can I watch on?  
    Viewers can stream content on two devices at once. 
  • What can I watch?  
    Thousands of hit movies and TV programmes in HD, from Wonder Woman to Lady Bird to Outlander. Many shows are available exclusively on Amazon Video.  
  • Why use it? 
    As well as the benefits of quick, free Amazon Prime shipping and access to exclusive deals, Amazon is the only place to catch many must-see series, including Vikings, Star Trek: Picard, New Amsterdam, The Grand Tour, Mr Robot, and Carnival Row. 

Disney+  

  • What is it?  
    Subscription online streaming service – no binding contract.  
  • How much is it?  
    Disney+ currently offers a 7-day free trial, after which users pay £5.99 per month (or £59.99 upfront for a year).** 
  • How many devices can I watch on?  
    Viewers can stream on up to four devices, in Ultra-HD. 
  • What can I watch?  
    This new kid on the streaming block has already shaken up the streaming landscape with its library of Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the Disney Channel with pretty much every Disney film you could think of, Pixar and Fox content. With exclusive rights to The Simpsons’ back catalogue and original Star Wars show The Mandalorian, the force is strong with this one.  
  • Why use it? 
    While you shouldn’t expect to find anything too risqué here due to its family-friendly commitment, this may well be a dream for families with kids of all ages to keep entertained. And it could be what millions of adults want if they’re craving comforting, classic Disney movies. 

Apple TV+ 

  • What is it?  
    Subscription online streaming service – no binding contract.
  • How much is it? 
    Get Apple TV+ free for one year with a new iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV or Mac bought from Apple or an Apple authorised reseller. You just have to make sure you sign up for Apple TV within three months of buying and registering the new device. It’s £4.99 a month** otherwise after a free 7-day trial.
  • How many devices can I watch on?  
    One subscription allows you to enjoy six simultaneous streams. 
  • What can I watch? 
    A relatively new entrant to the world of streaming services, the Apple TV+ offering currently pales in comparison to that of its more established rivals. Expect that to change. Current favourites with Apple TV+ viewers include The Morning Show starring Jennifer Aniston, Snoopy in Space, Servant starring Rupert Grint and SEE starring Jason Momoa. 
  • Why use it? 
    Apple’s streaming product can be considered modestly priced despite already producing a handful of up-and-coming classics. For those who are not yet an Apple customer, the potential to access a free year of content (if they buy a new Apple device) could be very attractive.  

NOW TV  

  • What is it?  
    A pay-per-pass, alternative viewing service from Sky, tailored to the things you may want to watch.  
  • How much is it? 
    An Entertainment pass is £8.99 per month, Sky Sports £9.99 per day; £14.99 per week; £33.99 per month), Sky Cinema (£11.99 per month); Kids pass (£3.99 per month) and the Hayu pass – for all your reality TV needs (£3.99 per month). You can get a seven-day free trial for the Entertainment, Sky Cinema, Kids and Hayu passes. You pay an extra £3 a month for Now TV Boost, which gives you HD.**
  • How many devices can I watch on? 
    Add up to six devices, and watch on two at the same time. 
  • What can I watch? 
    Anything that’s available on Sky Sports, Sky Movies, and Sky’s entertainment and kids channels – from Premier League football to Game of Thrones. Currently, there’s likely to be a reduced amount of live global sport due to the coronavirus pandemic, although some live sport is beginning to start up again.
  • Why use it? 
    No subscription and a flexible range of passes. 

MUBI 

  • What is it?  
    On-demand movie streaming service. 
  • How much is it? 
    MUBI is currently offering a seven-day free trial. After that, it’s £9.99 a month or £95.88 a year and you can cancel any time.**
  • How many devices can I watch on? 
    Watch on up to five devices, with two screens playing at the same time. 
  • What can I watch? 
    According to Mubi, “Cult, classic, independent and award-winning films from around the world”. Featuring classics like Oldboy, Army of Shadows and Autumn Sonata, it’s a treasure trove for world cinema enthusiasts. 
  • Why use it? 
    This is a film-lovers’ streaming site, with expertly authored content and categories put together by fellow film buffs. Excellent access to lesser-known and potentially must-see movies. 

Rakuten TV 

  • What is it?  
    Online movie and TV show rental and digital purchase store. 
  • How much is it? 
    Titles are available to stream at varying prices from £3.49 (SD rental) to £13.99 (HD purchase). Some titles are available to watch completely free if you don’t mind the ads.** 
  • How many devices can I watch on?  
    Register up to five, watching on one at a time. 
  • What can I watch? 
    Recent films, current TV shows and classic box sets can all be bought per title. New releases, from Frozen II to Terminator: Dark Fate, are usually added every month. 
  • Why use it? 
    A large, competitively-priced selection including the very latest releases. Good if you want to pay per title. 

**Please note, all prices on this page are correct at the time of publishing on 18 June 2020

Are there any free streaming services?

The UK’s major terrestrial TV channels offer online catch-up services for programmes you may have missed – with ITV Hub, All 4 and My5 all offering free catch-up streaming. BBC iPlayer users must pay for a TV licence to watch or download its on-demand offering. 
 
Catch-up streaming services are also available free of charge to paying customers of satellite or cable providers, including Sky Go and BT TV. Viewers lose access to these services if they cancel their TV subscription. 

Do I need a TV licence to use streaming services? 

You don’t need a TV licence to watch or download on-demand TV programmes or films via online streaming sites, other than the BBC iPlayer. You do, however, need a TV licence to watch or record TV being broadcast live via any streaming service. 

Freeview channels list

Long gone are the days when you could only tune into five channels. Thanks to the move to digital in 2012, there are now over 70 to choose from, for free. 

What is Freeview? 

Freeview is a free digital TV service available in 98.5% of the UK. Currently Freeview offers over 70 SD digital channels, seven on-demand players and 15 HD channels.
 
There’s no need for a subscription. All you need to watch Freeview is a TV aerial. All TVs made since 2010 are Freeview compatible, so you can access the SD channels without any special equipment.  
 
To access Freeview HD channels you’ll need a TV with a built-in Freeview HD tuner or a Freeview HD recorder or Freeview Play box. Freeview Play allows you to record, play back, pause live TV and watch catch-up and on-demand TV through online apps, including the BBC iPlayer.  
Freeview + Pay TV 
Although Freeview offers 70+ channels, it may not be enough to satisfy more demanding viewers. Pay TV packages give you Freeview channels plus access to sports, movies and exclusive TV shows that aren’t usually available on digital terrestrial TV.  
 
The three main providers of pay TV packages in the UK are:

BT, Sky and Virgin Media all offer combined broadband and TV packages, which could give you a lot more choice, should you want it. 

How to fix lag issues while gaming

Lagging can be a pain when playing online games, but there are some quick and medium-term fixes you can try.  
 
Read on to find out what lagging is, why you might be experiencing slight delays when playing online games such as Fortnite, and what you can do to optimise your broadband for gaming.

What is lagging when playing online games?

Lagging refers to a noticeable delay in performance while playing online games. There is some lagging with all gaming, particularly fast-action games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. It can be really frustrating when lagging happens at a crucial point in gameplay. 
 
Typically, lagging issues are caused by: 

  • your internet connection 
  • your computer 
  • a combination of the above 

(Lagging is sometimes referred to as latency.) 

What is the best broadband for a lag-free experience? 

Fibre broadband is usually considered better for gaming than ADSL broadband, based on its speed and it tends to be more reliable. It also means you’re less likely to be affected by contention issues - the number of households using the same broadband connection. We recommend a speed of at least 30Mb (megabits per second) for gaming, so if you’re not getting this, you might want to think about upgrading or switching your broadband. Fibre broadband isn’t available in all areas yet, so check your postcode area if you compare broadband.  
 
If you want to choose a broadband package with reducing lagging in mind, look for one with high bandwidth. This tends to mean faster broadband and a better chance of a lag-free gaming experience. 
 
Another tip is to use Ethernet wires rather than WiFi for a stronger connection. If you must use WiFi, consider where your router is placed. Moving it to a central, high up location may help.

How can I improve lagging issues? 

First, check the requirements for the game you’re playing as these can vary. Next, check there are no unnecessary programmes running on your machine by going into Task Manager. You may be surprised at how many programmes are set to start up automatically when you turn on your machine – and they all use bandwidth.  
 
If there are too many people in your house using the internet at the same time, it’s possible this is causing lagging. Try playing at an off-peak time to see if that makes a difference. You might need to consider a rota if your family or housemates like to stream TV shows or music at peak times (usually in the late afternoon and evening).  
 
If you’re using torrents or peer-to-peer file sharing, then that can also put a strain on your broadband. 

Extra tips for a lag-free experience 

Using the fastest broadband you can access is a popular way to avoid gaming lag. And you may wish to:  

  • upgrade your graphics card 
  • lower your graphics settings 
  • upgrade your router  
  • turn off your sound (if you don’t need it for the game) 
  • upgrade your RAM (memory) on your PC 
  • run your anti-virus software regularly  
  • check your computer fan is running correctly and is not getting too hot.
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