Freeview, Freeview HD and Freesat – An Introduction to Digital Television in the UK

Digital television is quickly dominating the United Kingdom and replacing the fuzzy analogue we once fine tuned and could never get quite right. Rather than a selection of just four or five channels, we now have access to a vast array including dedicated music, documentary, news and even radio stations. If you wish to avoid a subscription service that involves contracts, there are currently three choices to consider and here I will explain the main differences.

On many newer televisions, a plethora of brightly coloured labels advertising the usual benefits of the model appear and in addition you will also notice ones that show the TV is compatible with Freeview, Freeview HD or Freesat. Although you can purchase a set-top box that includes one of these three methods for digital television, all modern screens include internal hardware to give you the wonders of digital without the need for yet another extra box.

Eventually all televisions within your home will be forced to use Digital TV as analogue is slowly switched off and in some regions this has already begun. Unless you have a compatible set-top box or television with digital hardware built-in, you will lose the ability to watch the BBC, BBC 2, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. You can find out more information about the switchover on the Digital UK website.

So let’s first take a look at Digital TV?

What is Digital TV?

The first major advantage over the now ancient analogue signals is the number of channels that can be delivered to your television. Each Digital TV channel uses far less bandwidth, which basically means there can be many more selections available to you.

There is also no need either for traditional tuning. Remember the days of finely tweaking those wheels until you received a half decent picture and no matter how long you spent sat in front of the screen twiddling, you were still never fully satisfied by the result? Well I know I certainly do and thanks to this new technology, there is no more need to waste time wondering whether you have finally achieved perfection. Well that was actually half the problem as you never really knew with any sense of joy whether you had hit the spot and perfection was never really an achievable goal! With Digital however, the signal is either received or it isn’t. There is certainly no middle ground or even slightly less than perfect position. Therefore you know you have the same picture and indeed sound quality your neighbour is enjoying on his TV.

Another benefit is full support for 16×9, better known as widescreen. Television screens used to look quite square in appearance (known as 4:3), but now instead feature a ‘wider’ view. Digital TV makes use of this extra room and there are plenty of channels, films and shows that are broadcast in this format.

You do lose the old style teletext, but in its place a digital version with text, pictures, sound and sometimes even video are available. No doubt you have heard announcers suggesting you ‘hit the red button’ to access extra information about a programme that is currently live, especially when you are watching the news and this takes you into this digital interactivity.

Another fantastic benefit is the ‘Guide’. Here you have a 7 day listing for every channel you have available in your area, so you can find out what is on, which channel, what time and a summary of the programme. If you miss a show, there are plenty of +1 channels that repeat the schedule an hour later, which is extremely handy if you missed the first part of your favourite film or half of Coronation Street. Certainly models of televisions and set-top boxes can even include recording facilities.

What is Freeview?

Although the most basic form of digital television in terms of content, compared to the old analogue system you will love the far greater selection of channels on offer. You can enjoy up to around 50 channels and over twenty radio stations, which is a vast improvement over the paltry selections previously. A starting point should be to always make sure of the availability of Freeview in your area using the official Freeview website.

Freeview is digital television that can be received through your standard outside aerial and as long as it is in good condition and in an area with a decent reception, you shouldn’t need to purchase a replacement. If you are unsure, you can always seek advice from a professional aerial installer or retailer.

What is High Definition?

Once upon a time, television screens were small little windows into a fuzzy black and white world of entertainment. Slowly but surely, colour dazzled audiences around the UK, however for years very little changed. This became a problem, especially with screen sizes increasing every year to pretty mammoth proportions. High Definition (HD) then came along, increasing the picture resolution around four times over, presenting clarity and detail like never before. The ability to notice each drop of rain, bead of sweat and small nervous characteristics can be admired and analysed by the avid viewer.

Your television will need to be ‘HD Ready’ and you will need either a Freeview HD or Freesat HD receiver either within the television hardware or as a separate set-top box to enjoy the much higher quality HD programming, on top of the numerous standard definition channels already available.

5.1 digital surround sound can also be experienced if you have a compatible surround system and either Freeview HD or Freesat, when viewing certain programmes that make use of this feature, movies being the best example.

What is Freeview HD?

Consider Freeview HD your introduction to digital high definition TV. Freeview HD is the latest form of free Digital TV to be released, offering a few additional high definition channels to your existing standard Freeview selection.

Channels currently include BBC HD, ITV 1 HD and Channel 4 HD. If you live in Wales you can also receive S4C Clirlun.

Freeview HD is slowly appearing around the United Kingdom and you check to see when they estimate the service to be in your area by using the Freeview HD official website.

What is Freesat?

Freesat requires a satellite dish rather than using your outside aerial, although this offers a lot of advantages. Satellite television has always enjoyed a huge assortment of channels, often outstripping other methods of delivery and the same also applies here.

Freesat has over 140 digital channels, including TV, radio and interactive services. If you or a previous occupant of your home have had a satellite dish installed, you can even re-use it for receiving Freesat. This is certainly handy, although do check your warranty information if you currently use a different satellite television provider to make sure it won’t affect the terms of your cover.

If you have to start from scratch, you will obviously require a satellite dish to be fitted to receive Freesat. In this case, Freesat recommend you book an installation directly through them, although you can also choose to use a local installer.

Although offering a very similar selection of high definition programming, it is Freesat that has the potential to deliver the greatest range of HD channels in the future. Satellite delivery can transmit far more channels and this is also true of high definition content. Freesat is also available right now, so you don’t need to wait for Freeview HD to appear in your area if it hasn’t done so already.

You can find out much more at Freesat’s official website.

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James Woodcock

Freelance Journalist, Author, Blogger & Podcaster specialising in gaming and technology. Ever since he experienced the first controllable pixel movement on the television screen, he has been entranced by the possibilities and rewarding entertainment value generated from these metal and plastic boxes of delight. Writing hundreds of articles including commentary and reviews on various gaming platforms, while also interviewing well known industry figures for popular online publications.