Xmas is traditionally a time for some cracking television (and a few other things, of course) and if you’re going to be away over the holiday period, you can still catch your favourite programmes.

The four UK terrestrial broadcasters — BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 — all offer free smartphone apps for watching their programmes over the internet, and both Sky and Virgin TV offer something similar for their output.

Xmas is traditionally a time for some cracking television (and a few other things, of course) and if you’re going to be away over the holiday period, you can still catch your favourite programmes.

The four UK terrestrial broadcasters — BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 — all offer free smartphone apps for watching their programmes over the internet, and both Sky and Virgin TV offer something similar for their output.

The BBC has the best offering, since it ties into the excellent iPlayer service for both live and catch-up TV. BBC iPlayer is available as an iPhone-friendly web site and an Android app.

It lets you watch live broadcasts from all eight BBC channels (you must have a TV licence to watch UK TV programmes broadcast live over the internet), along with programmes from the last seven days.

Channel 4 doesn’t offer any live broadcasts on its 4OD service, but its iPhone app and Android-usable web site offers access to the last 30 days of programmes on Channel 4, E4 and More 4.

ITV doesn’t offer live TV from its ITV Player app for iPhone and Android either, and its selection of programmes from the past seven days isn’t complete — some are unavailable due to rights issues. Still, it’s a good way to catch up on soap operas and reality TV shows.

Channel 5’s Demand 5 iPhone app and Android-usable web site comes is the weakest offering for terrestrial broadcasters, with a rather limited selection of programmes from the last seven days.

The three UK commercial broadcasters may not offer their own live internet TV service, but their channels, along with many others, can still be watched online at TV Catchup.

This free site can be used both on a computer and a smartphone, and offers over 40 channels. There’s even a dedicated version of the site for iPhone viewing, too.

Sky updated its free Sky Go iPhone app at the end of November to include movies and a vast array of Anytime content, along with its sport and news channels. The app is free, but is only usable by Sky subscribers and the available channels depend on the satellite TV package subscribed to.

Virgin TV subscribers are limited to Android smartphones when it comes to tuning into its channels online, but not all programmes are free to watch and the app only works over 3G, which renders it pretty much useless.

That’s something to bear in mind for the other online internet services and apps mentioned here, too. While all will work over 3G, that’s a sure-fire way to exceed a mobile broadband data cap and incur excess charges, so they’re all best used on a Wi-Fi connection only.

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