Watch live TV without paid subscription on Mac and Windows computers with Zattoo’s streaming TV service.

Online streaming and catch-up TV services have been in the news of late with the launch of SeeSaw, TVCatchup and the continued success of BBC's iPlayer.

Zattoo, a desktop client for Mac and Windows, is a Swiss-based streaming TV service that now offers a range of British and foreign TV channels for viewers with UK IP addresses. The service runs in a standalone desktop application, although a browser-based version is also available in some countries outside the UK.

Zattoo currently claims over 4.8 million registered users. Zattoo requires you to sign up for the service, although this process proved short and sweet without insisting on any more personal details than your name and email. The license agreement does require you to agree to your personal data and viewing habits being logged, and for in-line advertising to be targeted at you.

The Zattoo service is based on peer-to-peer technology, so that the bandwidth load for video broadcasting is shared among all logged-in users. And to show on your desktop, the app relies on Adobe Flash, so expect high CPU usage. We saw 90-plus percent in Windows XP, for instance.

Program streams are protected from saving by Adobe's digital rights management (DRM) system.

Once installed Zattoo opens by default at 100 per cent. Also available are full screen, 50 per cent, and 200 per cent option. After a brief pre-roll ad, which didn't appear to want to load in our tests.

You're then greeted with channel listings to the left and small screen grabs of 'most popular channels right now' on the right in the main viewing area. A ‘lights out' option reduces screen clutter.

Zattoo includes screen grabs of all channels available, which can be clicked on to start viewing. You can also access channels by clicking the channel listings on the left, which also act as a rudimentary electronic programme guide (EPG) showing now and next listings.

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Picture quality is generally good but appears to be at the mercy of your broadband provider and the time of day or night you tune-in.

Saturday night viewing suffered from a few buffering issues, which were missing from a quick flick through the channels first thing on Sunday morning. Changing channels occasionally produces an odd aspect ratio or cropped image although changing channels again or simply waiting can often resolve this issue.

Other glitches include mono sound in only one channel, as experienced on Red Bull TV. And one installation in OS X Snow Leopard would see the user interface crash every time a programme was launched.

A small selection of channels, including BBC1, BBC2, ITV1 and C4, are offered in "HiQ," which is a step-up in quality from standard viewing.

Along with the main channels from the BBC, ITV, C4 and five, Zattoo offers regional variations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, along with BBC Alba - the Scottish Gaelic language channel - and S4/C aimed at the Welsh speaking audience.

Also included is French and English versions of the excellent France 24 news channel, Al Jazeera's Arabic service, Press TV from Iran broadcasting in English, Moscow's English-language Russia Today, SF info, a German-language Swiss television channel, and DW-TV, broadcasting in both English and German.

Zattoo claims in a legal note: "We collect all the necessary rights for the retransmission of the channels on Zattoo". The good news is Zattoo has been broadcasting since 2006 online - 2007 in the UK - without incident. A browser-based version covering 32 channels is also available although we struggled to get this to work with Safari.

It's very likely you will need a TV license to watch as the service is streaming live content. The company recommends you check with TV Licensing. Zattoo is currently available in Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the UK.

NEXT PAGE: Our expert verdict >>

Macworld UK

Zattoo 4.0: Specs

  • Mac OS X 10.4 or later, PPC or Intel
  • Windows XP or later
  • .NET framework
  • broadband Internet connection with 500kb/s or more bandwidth
  • Mac OS X 10.4 or later, PPC or Intel
  • Windows XP or later
  • .NET framework
  • broadband Internet connection with 500kb/s or more bandwidth

OUR VERDICT

Zattoo currently offers an interesting range of channels, which go beyond the usual suspects, offering UK regional variations and a selection of more exotic fare from Europe and the Middle East. During tests, picture quality and sound proved only partly reliable, with some occasional buffering spoiling the TV viewing.

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