How to Watch TV On Your iPad

Turn your iPad into a portable television

What to Know

  • The easiest way to watch TV on an iPad is using a cable or network TV app.
  • Next easiest is with a cable over internet service.

This article explains several ways to watch TV on an iPad.

Cable TV / Network Apps

Let's start with the easiest way to watch TV on the iPad: Apps. Not only do most of the major providers like Spectrum, Fios, Xfinity, and DirectTV offer apps for the iPad that will allow you to stream channels to your iPad, most of the actual channels offer apps. This includes the major broadcast channels like ABC or NBC and cable channels like SyFy or FX. 

These apps work by signing into your cable provider to verify your subscription and offer DVR-like streaming options for the last few episodes of their most popular shows, and in some cases, the live broadcast. You can also access premium content via apps. HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz all have apps that work with most providers.  

Even better, the iPad includes a TV app that brings all of this together into a single interface. It will even curate Hulu TV to include alongside the broadcast, cable, and premium channels. The iPad can even store your cable credentials, so you can add additional channel apps without the need to put in your cable provider's username and password each time.

Person lying on couch looking at tablet.
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Cable Over Internet

Traditional cable is dead; It just doesn't quite know it yet. The future of television is over the Internet. And the future is here. The two biggest benefits of streaming cable over the Internet are (1) no need for any additional wires or expensive cable boxes beyond those required for Internet access and (2) the ease of streaming content to devices like the iPad. Many of these services also include a cloud DVR that allows you to save your favorite shows until you are ready to watch them.

These services are basically the same as traditional cable. Still, they tend to be slightly cheaper with skinnier bundles, and they don't have the two-year commitments popular with traditional cable.

  • PlayStation Vue. While it includes PlayStation in the name, you don't actually need a PlayStation to watch it. Vue is available on the iPad, Apple TV, and Roku devices, among many others.
  • DirecTV Now. DirectTV is the first major provider to jump into the future. What's DirecTV Now like? It's basically like DirecTV without the satellite dish.
  • Sling TV. If you are looking to save money, Sling TV is among the cheapest alternatives to traditional cable, with a free tier and paid options starting at $40/month.

TiVo Stream

If you aren't interested in cutting the cord and want full access to all of your channels, including your DVR, TiVo may be the best overall solution. TiVo offers boxes like the Roamio Plus that include streaming to tablets or phones and TiVo Stream, which adds the streaming service for those who have a TiVo box that doesn't support streaming.

TiVo can be expensive to set up because you are buying the equipment. It also requires a subscription to keep going. But if you are paying $30 or more a month to rent HD and DVR boxes from your cable provider, TiVo may be able to save you money over the long term.

Slingbox Slingplayer

Not to be confused with Sling TV, Slingbox's SlingPlayer works by intercepting the television signal from your cable box and then "slinging" it across your home network. The SlingPlayer software turns your system into a host that allows you to stream the television signal to your iPad across both Wi-Fi or your iPad's 4G data connection. With the SlingPlayer app, you can tune in, change channels and watch any TV show that you could watch at home. You can even access your DVR and watch recorded shows.

Beyond being a good way to watch remotely, Slingplayer is also a good solution for those who want access to the TV in any room in the house without wiring cable outlets everywhere or springing for multiple televisions. One downside is that the iPad app must be purchased separately and adds to the device's overall price.

...And More Apps

Beyond official apps from your cable provider or premium channels, there are several great apps for streaming movies and TV. The top two most popular choices are Netflix, which offers a nice selection of movies and TV for a relatively low subscription price, and Hulu Plus, which doesn't have quite the same movie collection but offers some television shows' current seasons.

Crackle is also a great option for streaming movies and doesn't require any subscription fees.

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