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Best iPad apps for watching TV

The new iPad 3 is the ideal companion for TV, whether you’re checking programme listings while you watch, or you want to watch while you’re away from the big screen.

Recombu Digital has rounded up the choicest apps to go square-eyed with your fondleslab.

Catch-up TV

Catching up on shows you’ve missed is by far the most popular iPad TV application, and iTunes has free catch-up apps from the big five UK broadcasters: BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand Five.

BBC iPlayer’s the best of the bunch, especially with its near-HD quality streams, 3G streaming and Airplay to your TV via Apple TV. The seven-day catch-up window is frequently extended for whole series, which stay on until the last episode airs. You can also stream any of the BBC’s channels live to your iPad.

The ITV Player, 4oD and Demand Five iPad apps all have up to 30-day catch-up but only stream over Wi-Fi, and ITV’s video streams aren’t as high quality as the others.

BBC iPlayer for iPad

Sky and Virgin

Sky has made a huge effort to put viewing and remote control in its customers’ hands, resulting in three key apps: Sky+, Sky Go and Sky Sports.

Sky+ lets you browse the complete channel schedule for up to a week ahead and set up recordings by remote – with series links. We’re expecting a major upgrade this year which will turn it into a super-remote control if your Sky+ is connected to a local network.

Sky Go is the app to beat for internet TV. It mixes catch-up from Sky channels with pay-per-view and live streaming, and works over both Wi-Fi and 3G. Depending on your subscription, you can watch up to 23 live streaming channels, browse a large part of the Anytime+ on-demand library and stream up 500 films. You can have Sky Go on up to two devices, including PCs and games consoles.

Sky Go for iPad

The Sky Sports for iPad app has been relaunched and now features live video streaming from Sky Sports 1-4 and F1, video news and interviews, with live streaming of other sports expected over the coming months.

Anyone can download the app, with news and recorded video content for £4.99/month, but the full live streaming experience is only available to Sky Sports subscribers (and HD subscribers for F1).

If you’ve got Virgin’s TiVo box then you could download the Virgin Media TV Guide iPhone app. As with Sky+ you can browse the week ahead and set recordings with Season Pass, but the interface is basic on an iPhone and frankly a bit of a dog on the iPad. Virgin’s long overdue to deliver its new TiVo remote control app [story link], and it can’t come soon enough.

TV guides

There are plenty of free TV guides on offer, from the Freeview HD TV Guide app, which includes personalised recommendations and highlights, favourite channels and reminders. It also downloads listings so you can browse what’s on even if you don’t have a connection. Advances in Freeview HD technology mean that it will also be able to offer remote recording setup for the next generation of Freeview HD boxes and TVs.

If you can handle the adverts, the TV Guide for iPad is one of the best apps out there, and it’s free. It can be fully customised to show your favourite channels, and downloads listings for offline browsing. You can set reminders for favourite shows and it can deliver remote record commands to both Sky+ and Virgin TiVo boxes – and it also claims to work as a remote control for both Virgin TiVo and Samsung Smart TVs over Wi-Fi.

Live TV

One of the cheekiest apps out there is FilmOn FreeTV, which streams all of the Freeview TV channels over both 3G and wireless, as well as dozens fo international TV channels.

A monthly subscription of £14.95 also opens up an on-demand film library (it’s not exactly up-to-date, though) and there are dozens of a la carte specialist TV channels from as little as £1.95/month. An annual subscription of £149.95 also gets you the Tivizen, a portable Freeview tuner that rebroadcasts over WiFi to your iPad (or connects via USB).

A cousin to the Tivizen is the EyeTV Mobile, a tiny £99.95 Freeview tuner which plugs into the bottom of your iPad and lets you watch, pause, rewind and record live TV. It has a seven-day programme guide and a built-in browser so you can watch TV and surf the net at the same time.

If you want to watch Freeview, Freesat, Sky or Virgin anywhere in the world, then you can pair up your iPad with a Slingbox and the Slingplayer software. The Slingbox plugs into your set-top box and streams direct to your iPad (or any other device running Slingplayer software). A built-in remote control IR blaster sends your commands back to the device and Slingplayer gives you a fair imitation of your remote control handset, whether it’s a Sky+, TiVo or many others.

The £129.99 Slingbox Solo just takes one input, but the £219.99 Slingbox PRO-HD can take two inputs plus a Freeview signal. Slingplayer software is free for PC and Mac but costs £20.99 for the iPad.

Slingplayer for iPad


If you’re the kind of person who’s constantly posting on Twitter and Facebook while you’re watching TV, then Zeebox could double your enjoyment.

It’s an online community which pulls in information, apps, downloads and chatter around your favourite TV shows through a single interface. It also acts as a Wi-Fi remote control for Sony, Panasonic and Samsung smart TVs, and Virgin TiVo boxes. 

Zeebox has been bought by Sky, so its social features are likely to feature heavily in the next edition of the Sky+ remote control app.

Zeebox for iPad


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