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Freeview buying guide

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Freeview guide - An introduction

The term 'Freeview' refers to the free to air television services in the UK which are provided on the Digital Terrestrial Television platform. It is run jointly by its five shareholders: the BBC, Channel 4, ITV, Sky, and Arquiva. Freeview HD refers to the expanding roster of HD channels, both current and upcoming. Freeview does not actually provide any television channels; it just promotes the services provided by its shareholders. To receive these television services, you just need a set top box or a newer television that already has an integrated digital tuner. You can also get a DTT card for your computer that will let you view these channels.

Freeview broadcasts free television channels, as well as broadcasting radio stations and interactive services from the public service broadcasters. In addition to the channels from the BBC, Channel 4, and ITV, it includes their digital services and channels from UKTV, Virgin TV, and Sky. There are also text services through Teletext and various radio stations such as BBC and Bauer.

For an extra subscription fee, you can also receive pay television services from ESPN, and there are plans for other subscription services in the future. These channels are usually listed in the on screen programme guides with the Freeview channels; however, some of the set top boxes are not able to receive encrypted channels, so they may not include them in the guide.

If you are shopping for new Freeview equipment, such as a receiver or recorder, Price Inspector can help make it easy. Our buying guide gives you information about different brands and models, answers questions you have about the options, and then brings you the best prices. We compare prices at the UK shops to make sure you always get cheap prices.

Receiver and Recorder Features

To receive Freeview broadcasts, most people need a Set Top Box, although some homes can receive Freeview using internal and external antennae. If you need a set top box, also known as a receiver, you can buy one for as little as £20 or as much as £200. This will depend on which features and style you want for your receiver.

When you are choosing your receiver, there are a few considerations:

  • SCART connections: All receivers will have one SCART socket for connecting to TV or video. You can upgrade to a model with two SCART sockets if you want to connect to both TV and video. If your TV or video doesn’t have a SCART socket, you will need to buy a receiver that offers a modulated output. This means you can transmit the TV signals to a special channel, then tune your TV to that channel.
  • Card Slot: If you want the option of subscription services in the future, choose a box that offers a card slot. Currently, ESPN is the only subscription service available, although there were other options in the past and there should be options in the future.
  • Optional Features: There are a number of optional features you can choose from, if you’re willing to pay a little extra for the receiver. Choices include on-screen programme guides, programme timers, built-in games, and subtitles. At the upper end of pricing, you can find boxes that include CD players, DVD players, hard disk recorders, or DVD recorders.

Some boxes offer a Freeview Recorder option. Keep in mind, however, that most Freeview receivers are only capable of receiving one signal at a time, so you would not be able to watch one programme while recording another. A Freeview Twin Tuner would be required to record two shows simultaneously or record and watch different shows.

Another option includes Freeview Receiver. Freesat offers free digital satellite TV to anyone in the UK. With Freesat, you’ll get 140 digital TV and radio channels, plus up to 70 hours of HD programming a week. You simply need to buy a Freesat receiver for a one-time payment, and then there are no future subscription fees.

Popular Freeview Brands

When choosing your receiver, there are many brands to choose from. Some of the most popular for aerial reception include:

  • Humax offers several different models, including the Humax PVR9300T. This model runs around £145, and it’s a good product. It’s easy to use, the remote control handles well, and the TV guide is easy to navigate. Features include the ability to record programmes and a slot for Pay TV channels. However, there is background noise whenever the receiver is on.
  • Other options for aerial reception include the Tvonics DTRZ500, priced around £150. The remote control is a good size, easy to use, and has well-contrasted labels. The on-screen guide is versatile, but it’s hard to read due to low colour contrast.
  • The Digihome DTR160 will cost about £65. This basic model is intuitive to use, with logical on-screen menus and navigation.
  • The Topfield TF5800 offers 40 hours of recording time, an electronic programme guide, and one SCART connector. It’s quiet, and it’s been compared favourably to the more expensive Humax models.
  • Digfusion receives, however, have not been well reviewed, with many owners experiencing problems with their receivers. Although Digifusion may fix these problems in the future, at the moment there are better models in the same price range.
If you want a Freesat receiver, consider these options:
  • The Humax Foxsat is a Humax Freesat recorder, which should cost about £300. It can record and store as much as 200 hours of standard TV or up to 80 hours of HD TV. The hard disk can also store MP3 and jpeg files. Simply use the USB port on front of the box, then you can access the files using your remote control.
  • A good model is the Goodmans GFSDTR320, also about £300. As with the Humax Foxsat, it has twin tuners and you can pause live TV.

Some Useful tips when looking for freeview products

  • Decide which options you are willing to pay for. Card slots, additional SCART connections, and other features can quickly increase the cost of the box. For example, a hard disk recorder will let you record your favourite Freeview programmes directly onto the receiver’s built-in hard disk—no more searching for tapes or disks before recording your show.
  • If you buy the cheapest box available, usually an unknown brand, you may experience problems in weak signal areas, especially if you’re using the UHF modulation connection. If you buy a cheap box, it’s better to connect with a SCART cable. Of you can skip the problems and buy a reputable brand in the first place.
  • Freeview boxes are compatible with an older 4:3 TV configuration; however, there are disadvantages. You’ll either need to view in letterbox mode, where you have black margins at the top and bottom of the picture or the picture will be modified to fit the screen, which means about 20 per cent of the sides of the picture being cut off. This can be a problem if you’re using screen captions.
  • If you want to view your Freeview channels in more than one TV in your house, you’ll need to buy a receiver than includes a uhf modulator. You’ll also want a loft box distribution amplifier. This will help boost the signal from the UHF modulator on the box to the TV in another room.
  • You may also need an external antennae upgrade in some areas of the UK. If your TV aerial is an older model, it may not be designed to receive the multiple channels and frequencies offered by Freeview TV, returning poor or no reception for some channels.

Freeview Jargon Explained

Analogue TVEven with your Freeview box, you’ll still be able to receive the five analogue stations like you normally would. Just make sure to connect your aerial to your TV through your Freeview box, and you won’t experience any interruption in those channels. Of course, the UK plans to phase out analogue TV by 2012, so this won’t be a consideration after the phase-out.
Digital TV setsIf you own a Digital TV Set, you most likely have a built-in Freeview receiver, which means you won’t need a separate box. If you are considering buying a new TV, this is a good option to consider, so you won’t have to purchase two separate items, and you won’t have to worry about hooking anything up.
Encrypted channelsThe broadcaster 'scrambles' the picture using a formula that can only be translated by sets that have the correct code, such as subscribers to a pay television service.
SCARTThis connection standard, also known as Euroconnector, makes it easy to connect TV sets, satellite receivers, or audiovisual equipment. If your set top box has two SCART connections, this makes it easier to connect your TV, receiver, and other devices such as a DVD player.
Twin TunersWith twin tuners, you actually have two receivers in one box. This will allow your set top box to receive two different channels at the same time. With this option, you can watch one show while you record another, or you can record two shows at once. This gives you more flexibility when you’re faced with a scheduling conflict on the programming. Without twin tuners, you can only receive one channel at a time.
4:3 TVsThis is the traditional ‘square’ analogue TV shape, regardless of size. It refers to an image that is 4 units wide for every 3 units high. Most analogue programming is broadcast in 4:3 ratio; however, Freeview is broadcast in 16:9 aspect ratio, which is much wider than it is tall. If you have a 4:3 TV, you will either have to watch in a smaller letterbox format or lose a percentage of the picture at the sides.
Buying Guide to Freeview
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