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Acorn TV - Streaming British TV


by Greg Bakun

Have you ever wanted to have your own TV station that ran nothing but British television? I did! For years the best way to achieve this would be through watching programs that came up on your local PBS station. There was a nice variety of programs that ventured between Comedies, Mystery or just amazing drama as seen on Masterpiece Theater. In some areas, seeing these British television gems on TV are become scarcer but luckily Acorn Media has come to the rescue!

Foyles War DVD Cover

Acorn Media just recently launched a service for streaming episodes of British television called Acorn TV that will satisfy the appetite of many of us fans of British television. I am on record as a guy who loves his physical media. I love DVDs and Blu-rays. I love looking on my shelves and see the library of rich British television that I can view at any time I want. That being said, the times are changing. Looking at the bulging shelf space available to me at home, I can see there would be a reason to maybe see what other options are available and Acorn TV offered a great solution.

Acorn TV allows viewers to connect to their service via such devices as Roku or Apple TV and they offer a set group of British television series to stream. (The first episode in every series is available for free, but you'll need the premium service to see episodes beyond that. Premium accounts cost only $2.99/month or $29.99/year and include other perks such as free shipping on Acorn DVDs and Blu-rays.) Series range from Upstairs Downstairs to I Claudius. I love this service and I realized that Acorn TV is a great way for me to look at programs that maybe I have heard of before but never chose to get watch for a number of reasons.

What fascinated me most about this process is that I am a novice to the world of streaming video. Yet, I consider myself of some advance technical skill. I am a life-long enthusiast of British television and perhaps a bit of a purist. Even though I am from the US and live in the US, I import the majority of my British television DVDs and Blu-rays from the UK. I watch them back on a TV that plays back PAL and I see it in native PAL. Remember, the PAL system is the way UK viewers watch standard definition programs and us folks from the US watch in NTSC. I have never streamed anything before and I generally hate watching stuff from my computer. I knew that to do this justice, I would need to stream it into my TV. So, I invested into a Roku. Actually, let me back this up a little further. I started with Apple TV. I was lucky enough to get an Apple TV as a gift and I started to stream Acorn TV. Now, Acorn TV is not listed as one of the channels through Apple TV but you can stream it via Apple Air. This means that you need to go through a Apple device such as an iPhone or and iPad and stream it to the Apple TV. This worked fine but the version I have of Apple TV is HD 720p and I wanted to see Acorn TV work in 1080p. The obvious solution for me was to get the Roku. Plus, Acorn TV has a channel on Roku so it is easy to get access to plus it was in 1080. Of course, the current model of Apple TV is in 1080 now but the Roku seemed to be the best option for me to get Acorn TV. Not to worry, I have many other great uses for my Apple TV.

Acorn TV

Setting up Roku and then Acorn TV was pretty simple. In no time, I was set up to start watching some programs but that's when it all got really complicated. Where do I start? I am faced with hours, and hours of British television. The selection is salivating. Going through the selection that was being offered was daunting but in a good way. The Acorn TV service, for me, is a way to look at programs I have never seen before. A lot of what Acorn TV offers is more current TV, which is great for me. My background and expertise is more on the older British television series. Much to my shame, I am not quite so up to date as I should be. Ultimately, I decided on watching an episode from a series I have been interested in checking out for a long time. Foyle's War. (Note: Acorn TV will be running all 22 feature-length episodes of Foyle's War during the month of October. It's a great way to catch this series for those who like to bing-watch their favorite shows.)

Foyle's War started on ITV in 2002. It was created by Anthony Horowitz who wrote for such series as Poirot, Robin of Sherwood, Midsomer Murders, and Injustice. Foyle's War originally takes place during World War II but, as usual, I was late to the party and I viewed one of the later episodes that takes place after the war. The episode I watched is from series 7 called The Russian House. Broadcast on ITV in 2010, it was the first episode of the season. The end of the war is still fresh with everyone. There are Russian Prisoner of War soldiers in the UK who had been rounded up to be sent back to Russia. In some cases they will be killed. There are two factions of soldiers, Red Russians and White Russians. The Red Russians are pretty easy to figure out what the stand for but the White Russians belong to the Russian Liberation Movement. The White Russians are avoiding to be sent back to the USSR. How does Foyle get involved? Well, his old commanding officer from the First World War, Brigadier Wilson, stops by to ask Foyle to help him find an escaped Russian. Unfortunately for Brigadier Wilson, Foyle is not someone who just follows orders blindly. After Foyle starts digging into the disappearance of the Russian, Foyles realizes there is a lot more to the story.


The case eventually leads Foyle to London where he finds out there is a place where the "White" Russians go for sanctuary. On the other side of these developments, there is the Brigadier. Once he realizes that Foyle is getting more information than the Brigadier wants him to have, he now has to start moving Foyle away from the case.

This is not a fast moving series. That is also a very good thing. It is a series that unfolds at a pace that kept me interested in what was going on. As I mentioned earlier, I had no idea what was going on in the series. I only knew that Michael Kitchen played Foyle and that was about it. I had no idea that characters I had seen through out this episode were actually main characters to the series. In a way that was nice. The story held up very well without me knowing their back-story. In fact for the characters, much was new for them too. The war was over and many of these characters that had close bonds with Foyle moved on with their lives in new directions. Samantha Stewart used to be Foyle's driver but now was working for a well-known artist. Her story and Foyles story crosses over each other as the artist is killed but the mystery is not only who killed him but what happened to the young Russian man living there. Then there is Milner. Milner recently became Detective Inspector after spending years being mentored by Foyle. Unfortunately, things become strained almost from the start between Foyle and Milner as Milner wants to make a name for himself and is frustrated when he sees Foyle on the scene of his first big case. This is all the more unfortunate as Foyle was there for a completely different reason. Milner assumed that Foyle would butt in but that was not the case.

From a directional standpoint this episode is gorgeous. As previously mentioned, this episode takes place after the war. When Foyle goes up to London, there is bomb-damage from the nightly blitzing all over the place. Buildings are bombed out. This is clearly all done in post-production but looks authentic. It is a nice touch that is kept mostly in the background. These bombed out buildings are not the set piece of the scenes; they are in the background as a constant reminder of what a costly horrible war it was for everybody.

Michael Kitchen plays Foyle. Everything I have seen him in has been understated. Another favorite role for me that he has played was the King in To Be The King. In Foyle's War, when Foyle means business, you see it. Like Brigadier Wilson, it probably is very easy to think, based on Foyle's demeanor, that he is quiet and easily guided. That is not the case at all and that is why he is so good. It is worth watching these episodes just for that.

Watching this episode has made me a convert of this series. I am going to actively seek out this series and watch more episodes. Watching it through Acorn TV is good. When watching the first few minutes, I noticed a lot of artifacts or blocks on the scenes. I was worried this would stick out through out the whole episode but no, that was not the case. As soon as I got into the episode, I didn't notice it anymore.

AcornTV is a very affordable and great way to watch programs you have not seen before or watch your favorite programs anywhere you have an Internet connection and computer. I love British television and am thrilled to find an outlet online completely dedicated to these amazing programs.

Remember, if you are a member of Acorn TV, it's not a matter of watching whatever you want when you want, the schedule changes monthly. For every series below, you have an opportunity to watch one episode for free to try it out.

Here is the current schedule for Acorn TV:

Demob - Episodes 1-6 (ends 10/28/12)

Murder in Suburbia - Episodes 1-6 (ends 10/28/12)

The Grand Series -  1 Episodes 1-8/Series 2 Episodes 1-10 (ends 10/28/12)

Midsomer Murders - Sets 6-9 (ends 9/30/12)

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes Series 2 (ends 9/30/12)

Blue Murder - Series 1 (ends 10/21/12)

Murdoch Mysteries - Series 1 (ends 10/21/12)

Vera - Series 2 (ends 10/14/12)

Poirot - Series 1 (ends 10/14/12)

Reggie Perrin - Series 1 & 2 (ends 10/14/12)

Marple - Series 1 (ends 10/7/12)

Pie in the Sky - Series 4 (ends 10/7/12)

Poldark - Series 1 (ends 10/7/12)

Thomas & Sarah - (ends 9/30/12)

George Gently - Series 2 (ends 9/30/12)

A Fine Romance - Series 1 (ends 9/30/12)

Vexed - Series 1 (ends 9/23/12)

Single-Handed - Series 2 (ends 9/23/12)

Touching Evil  - Series 2 (ends 9/23/12)

Coming Soon:

Trial & Retribution - (starts 9/24/12)

The Making of the President - (starts 9/24/12)

Upstairs Downstairs - (starts 9/24/12)

Foyle's War - (starts 10/1/12 - all 22-episodes will be running through the month of October)

Rosemary & Thyme - (starts 10/1/12)

Cadfael - (starts 10/1/12)

The Last Detective - (starts 10/8/12)

Island at War - (starts 10/8/12)