How to watch catch-up TV, video on demand and movies online

From Netflix to iPlayer, if you have a relatively new TV, or perhaps a set top box, Blu-ray player or games console, there’s a strong likelihood that one of them will offer a lot of the most popular on-demand and catch-up services built in – but if you’ve got slightly older kit, the good news is you don’t have to miss out on all the streaming goodness.

There are now a number of devices that will help you upgrade your system, in the shape of a very small box or stick, all packed full of services to get you up to date. But before you buy, you'll want to ask yourself a few questions to make sure what you buy will work for you.

READ: Roku 3 review

What services do you want?

The obvious one, really - make sure all the services you want are on board before you buy, because availability varies from device to device.

Do you need access to every streaming and catch up TV service available? If not, you might be able to save some cash by looking at cheaper options that don’t have the full roster. iPlayer and YouTube are more widely available than Amazon Instant Video and Netflix, for example.

How do you want to stream?

Do you just want to stream content solely online, or stream your own content as well? Some options, like Apple’s Apple TV, are much more restrictive when it comes to streaming your own videos from devices like a tablet or laptop, so you’ll want to think about that before diving in.

What experience do you want?

Some devices specialise in “casting” content from apps on your phone or tablet to your TV, while others will come with a remote and offer an on-screen interface to navigate. Some offer both. What suits you will be down to personal opinion.

Check your internet connection

Some of the smaller, stick-shaped devices rely on wi-fi connection only, so if you struggle to get a stable connection on other devices, this will affect your playback quality here too. Other options will offer an ethernet port for a surer connection, and if you can, we'd always recommend you use it.

Do you want Full HD?

Some devices offer content in Full HD and others are restricted to 720p. The latter will be easier on a wi-fi connection, but if you want the best in picture quality, you’ll want to make sure the device you choose is capable.

Now you have a clearer idea of what you need, we’ve picked five of the biggest devices on the market to review. Watch the video below for our thoughts on each one, and some top tips on things you should be looking out for.

Verity Burns

Verity is a freelance technology journalist and former Multimedia Editor at What Hi-Fi?. 

Having chalked up more than 15 years in the industry, she has covered the highs and lows across the breadth of consumer tech, sometimes travelling to the other side of the world to do so. With a specialism in audio and TV, however, it means she's managed to spend a lot of time watching films and listening to music in the name of "work".

You'll occasionally catch her on BBC Radio commenting on the latest tech news stories, and always find her in the living room, tweaking terrible TV settings at parties.