Watching TV in the Howard House

Chromecast - the best bit of kit on our television
Chromecast – the best bit of kit on our television

Like many households in the UK, our TV viewing habits have changed in the last few years, and continue to change.

To set the scene, we have four kids, ranging from 9 to 14 years old (plus Mrs H and I).

Our TV package consists of the following, each of which I’ll then describe:

  • Sky TV
  • Netflix
  • BT Sport
  • Now TV
  • YouTube
  • Google Play
  • And recently… an Amazon Prime Trial

Where we watch TV

In our house most the majority of TV is still watched on our main television in the living room. There are several reasons for this:

  1. We only have one tablet in the house, and that belongs to our youngest child. A recent survey showed that most young people watch TV on a phone, tablet or laptop, and although the older kids each have phones, they don’t have easy access to tablets or laptops at home.
  2. The main television has Chromecast, which allows all the Internet TV services listed below to be watched on the television. Chromecast has changed our TV viewing habits more than any other TV device or service in the house.
  3. I like to think we’re a sociable family.

Keeping TV legal

I’m strict at home that we only watch TV and listen to music legally – i.e. we don’t download music illegally from torrents (or other sites), watch sport from illegal servers and so on. I know there are set top boxes and websites which allow people to watch almost all the services below, for free, but I disagree with the morality of these services.

I wouldn’t like someone to steal my work, or any of my co-workers’ work, and therefore wouldn’t do it to someone else.

Sky TV

This is the main staple of our television package. We have a rather basic, Family pack, mainly so that we can watch Sky One and HD channels. Stereotypically, it’s mainly Mrs H and I who watch Sky channels. Half of the TV we watch is “downloaded” on our Sky set top box rather than watched live or recorded.

Netflix

Just as Sky TV is the default way of how Mrs H and I watch TV, Netflix is the default way for the kids to watch TV. They will often sit in the living room, open Netflix on one of their phones and connect to Chromecast. Netflix has some excellent features, such as each of the kids has their own “account”, the streaming quality is superb (HD), and the overall user interface is great.

BT Sport

We have BT broadband at home, so we receive BT Sport as part of the package. As Arsenal supporters, we get to watch a few games a year on BT Sport (Champions League and FA Cup) as part of their package. I also get to watch MotoGP on BT Sport. The app connects to Chromecast, which means the streaming is HD quality, though not as good as Netflix.

As part of the package BT sent us a free set-top box, which my son uses on the television in his bedroom.

Now TV

We used to have a Sky Sports subscription until I realised for the thirty quid a month, there were often months when we wouldn’t watch any sport on TV. I stopped the subscription and said to my son (the only other person in the house apart from me who used Sky Sports) when he wanted to watch it, we’d buy a daily “ticket” from Now TV.

Now TV has all the seven Sky Sports channels, and for £6.99, allows you to watch them for either 24 hours, a week (£10.99) or a month (£31.99), without a subscription. Even when Arsenal have been on TV several times a month, we’ve never bought more than three daily tickets in that month.

The only two downsides with Now TV compared to Sky Sports on a Sky box is that there’s no recording feature, so you can’t pause or skip back – this isn’t a problem for us because we’re solely watching live football. The second issue is that you need to buy a ticket on a desktop computer – you can’t do it through the app or a mobile browser. But you can buy a ticket well in advance and activate it from the mobile app.

We used the Sky Movies trial on Now TV over the recent Christmas break – mainly to watch all the Star Wars movies with the kids. Sky Movies is a tenner a month and isn’t as comprehensive as Netflix or easy to use as Netflix which costs half that.

Amazon Prime

As a regular Amazon customer I am bombarded with Amazon Prime trial promotions and earlier this year I tried it for a month. There are three main benefits of Amazon Prime – free delivery on most items, their movie streaming service, and their music library.

For the movie streaming I bought an Amazon Fire Stick – Amazon’s equivalent to Chromecast. The set up was fantastic – preconfigured for my Amazon account, but once we started using it, we found several flaws. The most annoying one was the menu shows a combination of pay per view movies on Amazon, and Amazon Prime ‘free’ or included movies. This kept annoying the kids who were searching for movies, and discovering how many were pay per view.

Also, to block certified-15 films from my youngest daughter, we set a PIN number on the service. The problem was this then blocked all certified movies on the service. Netflix handles this much better – and by each account (so my son can be blocked from certified 18 and my youngest daughter from certified-12+).

When the end of the trial approached I offered the family to switch from Netflix to Amazon Prime. The answer was unanimous to stay on Netflix. It was all about the user interface, not the content choice.

YouTube

The kids watch a lot of YouTube videos, from watching other gamers (mostly FIFA), to crafts and official sports “channels” (WWE and athletics). The kids tend to use our two desktop computers to watch YouTube. If I’m watching something on YouTube, I use Chromecast.

Google Play

To watch the latest movie releases, we’ve tried several pay per view providers and our preferred one is Google Play. The HD quality when connecting to Chromecast is excellent, it’s the cheapest of the legal PPV providers, and the availability of newly released movies is as good as Sky Box Office or any other providers.

Summary

We have six different providers to watch television – that seems a lot. Ten years ago, UK homes had one main provider from either an aerial, cable or satellite.

We need an EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) to cover all six providers. It’s annoying when we want to watch a specific film, and can’t search across all our subscriptions to find out where we can legally watch it. I tried this recently with “Touching the void” – it took a short while to search each service to realise none of them had the film (even pay per view).

My last port of call was a Google search, and it was frustrating to see the results showing dozens of illegal streaming sites showing the film, but with six legal services at home, I was still unable to watch it. The film has also been uploaded several times to YouTube (illegally) – which makes legal streaming behaviour even harder.

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