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17 Great Apps For Watching TV on the iPhone

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You may have heard that in other countries, it's fairly common for people to watch TV on their mobile phones wherever they go. That's now available to iPhone users in the U.S. thanks to apps from cable companies, TV networks, and online video providers like Hulu and Netflix. These apps run the gamut from free to subscription to requiring you to have a certain cable company, but one way or another, you now have a lot of options for getting TV to your phone.

One important warning, though: Streaming video is a data-intensive task and now that unlimited data plans are mostly gone, streaming too much TV over 3G could mean going over your monthly limit and paying overage charges. With that in mind, here are 16 apps for watching TV on the iPhone.

1. AT&T U-verse Live TV

AT&T U-verse Live TV
image copyright AT&T
Even though U-verse is a broadband TV and Internet-access offering from AT&T, this app is open to anyone, not just U-verse customers (that's different from some other apps from cable companies, as we'll see). This subscription-based app lets you both watch live TV and shows on demand. Channel offerings include ESPN, Fox Sports, MTV, Disney Channel, Comedy Central, and more. Users can watch shows over 3G/4G or Wi-Fi. Free app (but US$11.99/month subscription is required)

2. Cartoon Network

Cartoon Network app
image copyright Cartoon Network
If you're hankering for some of the delightful weirdness or high adventure available in the line-up of shows on the Cartoon Network, you'll love this app. It's chock full of episodes of Ben 10, ThunderCats, The Looney Tunes Show, and much more. But it's not all happy happy joy joy: in order to watch full episodes with this one, you need to be a cable subscriber and log in using your cable account username and password. Only if your cable company has a deal with Cartoon Network, will you be able to watch shows. Free (requires cable subscription with participating company)

3. HBO GO

HBO GO app
image copyright Home Box Office
A large part of the reason many people subscribe to HBO is for the great original shows like Boardwalk Empire, The Sopranos, or (my personal favorite) The Wire. Thanks to this app, you don't need to be near your home cable box to watch these shows on your iPhone. As long as you're an HBO subscriber and have this app, and your cable company has a deal with HBO to allow it, you can watch full episodes over 3G or Wi-Fi. No support for AirPlay Mirroring, though. Free (requires HBO and cable subscriptions, and participating cable company)

4. Hulu Plus

Hulu Plus
image copyright Hulu
Probably the number one site that springs to mind when you think about watching TV over the Internet, Hulu has been offering tons of great free TV shows since 2007. Unfortunately for iPhone and iPod touch users, though, the free part of that last sentence doesn't apply to you; on the iOS, you're limited to the paid Hulu Plus service. The upside of Hulu Plus, is that it offers substantially more episodes, and full-season runs, of more shows than the free Hulu. Both 3G/4G and Wi-Fi are supported. Free app (but requires a $7.99/month subscription)

5. NBC

NBC app
image copyright NBCUniversal
Keep up to date with your favorite NBC shows like The Office, Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, and The Tonight Show with this app. In addition to episodes, it offers video clips, photo galleries, trivia, and more. There are a lot of complaints on the App Store about shaky reliability and limited content choices, so if you're really jonesing for NBC shows, you might do better at Netflix or Hulu. Free

6. Netflix

Netflix app
image copyright Netflix
The other major name in online video, Netflix, offers a robust library of TV shows (and movies!) available for streaming over 3G/4G and Wi-Fi. While the library of shows available for streaming to this app is just a fraction of those available on DVD/Blu-ray, there's always something on, which makes Netflix an excellent way to watch TV on the iPhone. Free app (requires Netflix subscription, starting at $7.99/month)

7. netTV

netTV
image copyright Chestnut Soft
netTV is a less well-known option, but if you want to keep up with live TV--especially international TV--it may be a great choice. Instead of striking streaming deals with TV networks and production companies, netTV scours the web for free, live video feeds from TV channels and aggregates them in its app. As of this writing, the app boasts over 400 channels, but that number fluctuates as networks end or move their web streams. Watching over 3G is limited to 10 minutes; Wi-Fi is unlimited. Free lite app or $2.99

8. PBS

PBS app
image copyright Public Broadcasting System
If your idea of watching TV on an iPhone involves slightly more refined topics and series than you've encountered so far in this list, rejoice at the appearance of the PBS app. In this app, you'll find full-length episodes of Antiques Roadshow, Frontline, Masterpiece, Nova, and other series created by PBS (which means no BBC series; sorry Downton Abbey fans!). Unlike some other network apps, no log-in to your local cable company is required, which is definitely a bonus. Free

9. Showtime Anytime

Showtime Anytime app
image copyright Showtime Networks
Just like with HBO GO, if you subscribe to the other major premium pay-TV channel, Showtime, you can catch up on your favorite original series via your iPhone. Also just like HBO, this app requires that you be a Showtime subscriber with a participating cable company. If you meet those criteria, you'll get access to Showtime series like Dexter, Homeland, Weeds, and Californication. Free (requires subscription through participating cable company)

10. Sprint TV

Sprint TV
image copyright Sprint
iPhone users who have Sprint as their phone carrier are in luck: they get access to Sprint TV free as part of their monthly service plan. This app offers 15+ channels of live news and sports, and on-demand access to popular shows from networks like CBS, NBC, USA, MTV, and more. Upgrade packages are available that add more channels for $4.99-$9.99/month. Shows are available over 3G/4G and Wi-Fi. Free app (requires Sprint monthly phone plan)
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