BY NOW, you may already have experienced the annual disappointment of flicking through the double issue of Radio Times to discover that there’s virtually nothing worth watching on any of the dozens of channels you can now receive. So it’s exactly the right time to explore the world beyond your aerial or Sky dish.
Catch-up and on-demand services are no longer the future of television; they’re the present. If you have a smart TV, you can already receive most of them - and if not, you can upgrade your existing set for far less than the price of a Christmas meal out.
All of these services are delivered over the internet, so as long as there is a broadband router in your house, you’re good to go. A steaming device like Google’s Chromecast or Sky’s Now TV box will turn any TV with a spare HDMI socket into a smart set - so all you have to do is decide which service to watch.
The two main paid-for contenders are Netflix and Amazon Prime, both of which offer free trials before you commit to a monthly fee. The price varies according to how many devices you want to watch on, and in what quality - but around £8 a month is typical.
You should treat the free trial as a test for your hardware, because much depends on the speed of your internet connection and the way your equipment processes the signal it receives. In the case of Amazon Prime particularly, I’ve found the audio is not always in sync with the picture - not an acceptable state of affairs if you’re sending them a monthly cheque.
Both Amazon and Netflix commission their own programmes now, so they are as much mainstream broadcasters as ITV or the BBC. Amazon’s main UK-oriented offering at the moment is The Grand Tour, Jeremy Clarkson’s follow-up to Top Gear, which boasts higher production values than anything he did at the BBC. Netflix is the purveyor of House of Cards, the Kevin Spacey remake of the BBC’s 1990 drama of political intrigue, and much else besides. You can also view movies on both these services - many in ultra high definition, if your TV supports it and your broadband is fast enough.
You don’t need to pay anything at all to bring the convenience of catch-up services like the BBC iPlayer and its ITV, Channel 4 and 5 equivalents to your big screen. The iPlayer in particular is so slick now that it’s hardly worth the bother of taping Christmas shows in advance; you can simply browse the schedules retrospectively. The commercial services are less sprightly in not letting you, understandably, skip through the adverts.
Don’t overlook YouTube as a source for Christmas entertainment, either, especially if you enjoy TV shows of yore. You’ll be surprised at what people have uploaded, and once it’s on your TV instead of your computer, it’s a TV channel like any other.
But smart TVs are not limited to video. Music streaming services like Spotify, Deezer, and, in some cases, Apple Music, are available on many smart boxes - and you don’t necessarily have to buy a subscription to them.
With a bit of imaginative cabling, or a Bluetooth connection, you can feed the sound from these services to your best hi-fi speakers - ideal for festive parties. When people talk of Christmas streamers in the future, this is what they’ll mean.