Best streaming sites to watch movies and TV in the UK

Streaming services have changed the way we watch TV and movies forever. With a world of entertainment at your fingertips, you can watch anytime and almost anywhere. All you need is a reliable broadband connection and a screen. The hardest part is choosing what to subscribe to, so here’s our guide to help you out.

Streaming services have changed the way we watch TV and movies forever. With a world of entertainment at your fingertips, you can watch anytime and almost anywhere. All you need is a reliable broadband connection and a screen. The hardest part is choosing what to subscribe to, so here’s our guide to help you out.

Holly Niblett
From the Digital team
4
minute read
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Posted 1 JULY 2021

What is online streaming?

Streaming is when you watch TV and films online without having to download them to view later. You can play content instantly on your device over a broadband connection, whether you’re using a laptop, tablet, smart TV, streaming stick or games console. More than 17.5 million households subscribe to at least one streaming service like Netflix, Amazon Prime or Disney Plus, according to the latest data from the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB).

While you can access a vast array of movies, TV series and sports events, the choice can be overwhelming. So, when you sign up to a TV streaming site, you need to be sure it’s something you’ll watch regularly, otherwise it could be a waste of money. Some providers offer free trials so you can try before you buy.

Streaming needs a relatively fast broadband connection to give you a smooth experience, without the frustration of constant buffering. The streaming service that's right for you will depend on what you want to watch, how you want to watch it and how much you’re willing to pay.

What are some of the best free streaming sites?

Not all TV and movie streaming sites cost you money. Many of the major UK broadcasters offer free services, with both new and old content widely available.

BBC iPlayer

The BBC’s streaming platform offers a huge library of TV and movies to watch at your leisure. From recently broadcast programmes that are only available for a limited time, to classic cinema and shows from the BBC archives, there’s something for everyone. You’ll need a valid UK TV licence to use iPlayer, so technically it’s not completely free. But there are no subscription fees to pay.

Get cosy with box sets of modern classics including Line of Duty, Killing Eve, Sherlock and I May Destroy You, or older favourites like Absolutely Fabulous and Spooks.

How to watch iPlayer: Go to the iPlayer website to watch online or download the iPlayer app to watch on a smartphone or tablet. It’s also available on smart TVs, games consoles, set-top boxes and platforms including Freesat, Sky, Virgin Media and YouView.

All 4

Catch up with shows from Channel 4, E4 and More4, and dip into the archives to watch older series. Channel 4’s online TV service has box sets available for free, which you don’t need a TV licence to watch. They range from classic comedies like Father Ted and Green Wing, to popular dramas like Shameless and Skins. There are also hit US shows like ER and Justified, and the best in foreign drama from Walter Presents.

Programmes come with adverts, but if you’d prefer to go ad-free for the vast majority of All 4 shows you watch, you can pay a monthly fee for the All 4+ service.

How to watch All 4: Access All 4 online with a laptop or PC. It’s also integrated into digital TV services and offered as an app on most TVs, games consoles and set-top boxes, including PS4, Xbox One, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, NOW, Freeview Play and YouView.

What are some of the best subscription streaming services?

If you’re looking for more bingeworthy entertainment than you can shake a streaming stick at, you can pay for a TV and movie streaming service. For your money, you’ll get exciting new drama and in many cases some of the latest movie releases, not to mention a library of classics you can dip into as and when you want.

Please remember that streaming services are very competitive and while we aim to keep this page up to date, they may change their latest pricing offers. If you want something in particular, check what’s available before you sign up, or take advantage of a free trial to make sure you’ve chosen the best option for you.

Disney+

It’s one of the newer kids on the block, having launched in 2019, but Disney+ is already making big strides in streaming circles. It offers a huge library of entertainment, including the entire Star Wars saga, Marvel films and every episode of The Simpsons. That’s alongside Disney and Pixar classics including Frozen and Toy Story, making it one of the top movie streaming sites around.

Not only that, it offers Disney originals like Star Wars spin-off The Mandalorian and now provides TV and movies for an older audience thanks to the addition of Star, Disney’s grown-up content hub.

How to watch Disney+: Watch movies and TV online on laptops and PCs, or through an app on your smartphone or tablet. Other compatible devices include most Samsung and LG smart TVs, PS4 and Xbox One games consoles, and streaming devices including Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast and Roku. Sky Q customers can get Disney+ as a bolt-on to their TV package.

Netflix

t’s starting to face stiffer competition from rival platforms, but Netflix still rules the roost when it comes to online streaming sites – it’s the number one streaming site by numbers, with more than 200 million subscribers worldwide.

The big attraction is its vast range of content. When you subscribe, you get access to thousands of films and TV shows, so you’re never short of something to watch. Binge on Netflix originals like Bridgerton, Stranger Things and The Queen’s Gambit, as well as documentaries, blockbuster movies, foreign dramas and every episode of Friends.

How to watch Netflix: Watch online on laptops and PCs, or via the Netflix app on your smartphone or tablet. It’s also accessible through most smart TVs and Blu-ray players, Xbox One, PS4, Chromecast, Roku and Apple TV. If you have a TV subscription with BT, Virgin Media, Sky or TalkTalk, you can add Netflix to your bundle.

What are some of the best streaming services for sports?

Most of the big sports events in the UK can only be accessed through paid TV or streaming services. So, if you’re into football, rugby, boxing, golf or motorsports, here are a couple of good options to find the best action:

BT Sport app

BT Sport holds the rights to show some of the biggest competitions in the world, making it one of the major players in sports broadcasting in the UK. The BT Sport app allows you to stream live Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup matches, as well as boxing, MotoGP, UFC and Premiership rugby.

And it’s not just the live action that makes it a major player. It also offers fun features like split screens and multiple camera angles.

How to watch BT Sport: To get the app and use it to stream live content, you can either be a BT broadband customer (and in some cases a BT mobile or EE customer) and add it to your package, or you can opt for the Monthly Pass which gives you 30 days of BT Sport without a contract – but it’s typically a bit more expensive this way. Download it direct to your Apple TV, Android TV, Xbox, NOW TV device, Amazon Fire TV devices, Roku players or Samsung smart TV. Or you can attach a Chromecast device to your standard TV.

You can also watch on your phone or tablet if you’re out and about. But this will eat into your data allowances, so you need to be aware that you could potentially run up charges, depending on your package.

NOW

Sky’s streaming service NOW is a good way to access Sky Sports if you don’t want to be locked into a contract. It offers sports membership passes that can give you access to live Premier League, Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) and English Football League (EFL) matches, plus F1 races, golf majors and Ashes cricket. In fact, most sports are covered here.

It’s ideal if you just want to watch a particular event. You can pay either for a day to watch a big live event or for a month – with the day price costing you around a third of the monthly price, but with some mobile membership thrown in for free. The monthly pass will automatically roll over to the next month unless you cancel it.

But NOW isn’t just about sport, there are also film and entertainment channels, like Sky One, Comedy Central and Sky Atlantic, box sets and kids TV too for an extra cost.

How to watch NOW: Watch online on laptops and PCs, or via an app on your smartphone or tablet. You can also access it through NOW plug-in devices, the BT TV box and most smart TVs, plus games consoles including Xbox One and PS4, and streaming devices including Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast.

What are some of the best streaming services to buy movies and box sets?

There are some sites that offer pay-per-view content, allowing you to buy or rent one-off movies and TV box sets without paying a monthly subscription.

Apple TV app

Better known as iTunes, Apple TV offers thousands of movies and TV box sets, including the likes of Spectre from the James Bond franchise, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Office and The X-Files. You'll need to set up an account to get your hands on them, but it’s free to do this. You’ll only pay for the content you want to watch, which is available for a variety of prices.

You can rent or buy movies, which are typically all in HD. If you rent a movie, you'll need to watch it within 30 days and, once you start playing it, you'll only have access for 48 hours.

How to watch Apple TV: Watch on any Apple device via the Apple TV app, Apple TV or iTunes on PC. Plus, you can watch Apple TV using most Samsung, Sony and LG smart TVs, Xbox and PlayStation games consoles and compatible streaming devices including Amazon Fire TV and Roku.

Sky Store

Even if you don’t subscribe to Sky, you can still take your pick of what’s on offer in the Sky Store, although you’ll have to sign up for it. Choose from thousands of movies to rent or buy, plus TV box sets of hit US shows like The Undoing and Succession. New movies are regularly added to the store, including some of the most recent Hollywood blockbusters, and there are weekly offers to get films and TV at a discount. Rented movies are available for 48 hours once you start watching them. If you buy a movie to keep, you can also pay for a copy of the DVD or Blu-ray to be sent to you in the post.

If you want to watch a few movies a month, especially new releases, a Sky subscription or NOW Cinema pass could give you better value for money.

How to access Sky Store: Buy, watch and keep movies and TV shows on your laptop or PC, or on the Sky Store app downloaded to your smartphone or tablet. You can also watch through NOW, Roku, most LG smart TVs and Chromecast. If you have Sky TV, you can watch pay-per-view movies and TV through your set-top box.

Amazon Prime Video

Amazon has started creating its own ‘Amazon Originals’ programmes and adding exclusive movies and TV shows, including The Grand Tour. There are thousands of shows and movies that you can rent or buy, plus the subscription service that offers lots more programmes and movies that you can watch as part of your membership. You can change or cancel your membership at any time – so you’re not tied into a contract.

How to access Amazon Prime Video: Watch on Amazon Fire TV, smart TVs, game consoles, mobile phones, selected tablets, laptops, and other compatible streaming devices.

But please note, we don’t currently offer comparison for Amazon Prime deals.

Which services offer free trials?

The best way to find your favourite streaming service is to opt for a free trial period. Some of the biggest specialist streaming platforms offer them, including:

  • Acorn TV
  • All 4+
  • Amazon Prime Video
  • BritBox
  • Discovery +Mubi
  • NOW
  • Shudder

This means that, for a limited time, you can watch movies or entire TV box sets completely free of charge. If you don’t want to start paying, you’ll need to remember to cancel your subscription before the trial period runs out.

Is streaming legal?

Yes, online streaming is perfectly legal, as long as it’s done using a legal site. There are plenty of reputable sites that offer safe and secure content. That said, there are also many websites that operate illegally, and could make your laptop or streaming device vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

Just to say – all the streaming sites mentioned in this guide are legal.

What is a good broadband speed for streaming?

Broadband for streaming needs to be relatively fast, but how fast exactly will depend on the type of media you’re consuming. A good broadband speed is at least 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps) for TV services like BBC iPlayer and All 4 for standard streaming, or at least 2.8Mbps for HD quality. For Netflix, you’ll need the minimum speed to be about 3Mbps for standard streaming and 5Mbps for HD. For Ultra HD and 4K content, you typically need 15-25Mbps if you want to avoid annoying buffering.

Test your internet connection by using our free broadband speed checker.

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