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UK Digital TV Choices

If you are confused over free digital TV choices in the UK, this article will help. In it we compare the UK's main subscription-free satellite TV services "Freesat from Sky" against the competing BBC/ITV owned "Freesat" service. We also take a look at "You View", "Freeview" and "Freeview HD" (digital TV via your existing TV aerial), highlighting the features of each; in order to help you choose the right subscription-free digital TV service to suit your needs.

Freesat HD

In direct competition with Freesat from Sky and the subscription based Sky HD service, the BBC and ITV now jointly offer a Freesat HDTV service, which (as of Decenber 2013) provides 11 subscription-free high definition TV channels (HDTV) comprising BBC1 HD, BBC2 HD, ITV1 HD, Channel 4 HD, BBC News HD, CBBC HD, CBeebies HD, BBC Three HD, BBC Four HD, NHK World HD and RT HD, as well as around 150 free Standard Definition digital TV and radio channels.

Freesat HD offers the best of BBC and ITV programming in HD and is broadcast via the Astra satellite at 28.2E (the same orbital position as used by the Sky Digital platform - making it possible to use an existing Sky dish to receive the new HD service). No viewing card is needed.

To complement Freesat HD, Humax has launched a Freesat+ HD PVR which offers similar features to the Sky+ HD recorder, but without the need for a monthly subscription.

The necessary equipment to receive BBC Freesat HD or Freeview (the UK's terrestrial digital TV service via your aerial), is available online from Amazon and Currys.

UK Digital TV Comparison Table

Sky Freesat HD

  • Channels Available
    240 digital TV channels transmitted in Standard Definition (SD).
    6 HDTV channels including BBC1 HD, BBC2 HD, ITV1 HD, Ch4 HD, NHK World HD & Luxury Life HD. Also includes 85 digital radio channels.
  • Cost and Equipment Required
    Subject to a £175 one off payment for installation. Sky Freesat requires a Sky Digibox and a Sky Freesat Viewing Card, but has no monthly subscription and no contract after installation and card purchase. Contact Sky on 08442 410 595 for more information.

    Important Note: A Sky+ HD box is supplied for new Sky Freesat customers which will receive 6 HDTV channels subscription free. However to record SD or HD programmes onto the hard disk of the Sky+ HD box requires a £10 a month Sky subscription.
  • Cancel Sky TV Subscription - downgrade to Sky Freesat
    Alternatively, if you are an existing Sky customer you may be able to cancel your monthly Sky subscription (subject to contract). If you have been with Sky more than 12 months, this usually means giving 31 days notice of cancellation by calling Sky on 08442 414 141. Wait times can be long, so try the equivalent freephone number for Sky which is 0808 101 4437 - if you don't like calling chargeable non-geographic numbers. You will need to be the account holder and you will need your account number or Sky viewing card number.

    Only the account holder can request Sky cancellation, not his or her partner or spouse.

    After contract cancellation, any existing Sky viewing card will revert to being a Sky Freesat viewing card at no additional charge, with no monthly subscription payable. The card will then only receive free-to-air satellite channels. Incidentally, do not cancel your direct debit until Sky have processed any refund/s and final payments due on your account.

    Non Sky TV subscribers with an installed Sky Digibox and minidish will need to pay £25 for a Freesat card (the card last 2 - 3 years then needs replacing by Sky for a further £25 fee). Cards are available from the Freesat from Sky website.

  • Which Free UK TV Channels Need a Freesat Card?
    Channel 4 HD and Channel 5 require a Sky Freesat viewing card.
  • Reception Method
    Via satellite (Astra 28.2E) - requires minidish for UK reception.

Freesat HD from BBC/ITV

Humax HDR-1000S

Humax HDR-1000S

Humax HDR-1000S

Freesat HD Recorder

  • Records Freesat standard definition & HDTV progammes
  • Record 2 channels at once
  • 5 Free HD channels
  • Twin digital tuners
  • 1080i HDMI Interface
  • Huge 1TB (1000GB) disk
  • Easy to use. No subscription
  • Requires Minidish at 28.2E
Best Price £227.00 Buy from Amazon
  • Channels Available
    Over 150 TV and digital radio channels are provided. Download the official Freesat channel list here.
    Most channels are transmitted in Standard Definition (SD), but Freesat HD also includes 11 High Definition (HDTV) channels - BBC1 HD, BBC2 HD, ITV HD, Channel 4 HD, BBC Three HD, BBC Four HD, BBC News HD, CBBC HD, CBeebies HD, RT HD and NHK World HD. An HD Ready TV with an HDMI connector is required to get the full benefit when watching HD programming.
  • Cost and Equipment Required
    The costs are from around £42.00 for a BUSH BFSAT02SD Satellite Freesat SD Digital Set Top Box or around £279 one-off cost for a Humax HDR-1000S Freesat+ Recorder which offers similar functionality to Sky+ HD but without the monthly subscription. Features include being able to pause live TV and record two channels at once, even whilst watching a previous recording.

    Freesat HD has no monthly subscription or contract and no viewing card is required. Homes with a correctly installed Sky Digital minidish do not require the additional cost installation, however most Freesat HD Recorders (also known as Freesat Plus boxes) require a satellite dish with two coaxial cable feeds in order to simultaneously record two channels. Most Sky dishes can be upgraded by fitting a Quad LNB which are around 7.
  • Choice of Freesat HD Equipment
    1. The popular Humax Foxsat HDR has now been superceded by the Humax HDR-1000S which (with its massive 1TB hard disk) offers around 250 hours of Freesat HD recording. The HDR-1000S provides similar functionality to Sky+ and is priced at around £279, with no subscription costs. It has pause live TV functions and advanced recording capabilities, with eleven HD channels and 150 SD channels available.
    2. Amazon offer a choice of TV's with built-in Freesat and Freeview to watch BBC and ITV HD programming without the need for an external set top box and with no monthly subscription costs.
    3. BBC Freesat retailers include Amazon, Currys and Argos.
  • Reception Method
    Via satellite (Astra 28.2E) - requires minidish for UK reception.

Sky+ HD

  • Channels Available
    Sky HD offers up to 71 HD TV Channels with Dolby Digital 5.1 Sound.
    An HD Ready TV with an HDMI connector is required (a flat screen LCD or Plasma model). Access to standard definition Sky TV services is provided with the received channel lineup appropriate to your chosen Sky TV subscription level.
  • Cost and Equipment Required
    For a limited time Sky are offering a Free Sky+ HD box subject to terms and conditions.
    Sky Plus HD is subject to a Sky monthly subscription payment. See Sky packages for details.
  • Reception Method
    Via satellite (Astra 28.2E) - requires a minidish for UK reception with a Quad LNB fitted.
     

Freeview & Freeview HD

Humax DTR-T1000

Humax DTR-T1000 YouView Digital TV Recorder

Humax DTR-T1000

YouView Digital TV Recorder

  • Pause and Rewind Live TV
  • Record two channels at once
  • Freeview HD compatible
  • Receives BBC One HD, BBC Two HD, ITV1 HD & Ch4 HD
  • Catch up TV with BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5
  • 50+ standard definition Ch's
  • Connects to your TV aerial
  • Satellite dish not required
  • Massive 500GB Disk
  • Up to 300Hrs of recording
  • Full HD 1080p upscaling HDMI Interface
Best Price £259.84 Buy from Amazon
  • Channels Available
    Freeview offers around 50 digital TV channels, up to 10 HD TV channels and 24 digital radio channels - all received via your TV aerial.

  • Freeview HD is now available in most areas of the UK, with more HD channels joining the lineup in late Spring 2014.

  • Freeview HD currently offers BBC1 HD, BBC2 HD, ITV1 HD, CBBC HD, BBC Three HD and Channel 4 HD. Viewers in London, receiving a good signal from the Crystal Palace transmitter may also be able to receive additional HD channels on the new Com7 multiplex, which can be found on UHF channel 33: CBeebies HD, BBC Four HD, BBC News HD and Al Jazeera HD. A set top box compatible with Freeview HD is required - like the Humax HD Fox T2.
  • Cost and Equipment Required
    The costs are from around £27 - for an Icecrypt T5000 Freeview Receiver with Twin SCART and RF Modulator (receives Standard Definition Freeview programmes only).
  • Freeview Digital TV recorders (or PVR's) are available from around £100.
    Your TV needs to have a Scart connector to connect the Freeview set top box equipment. Very old TV's may require an external UHF Modulator.
    Freeview HD set top boxes are available from Amazon and Currys.
  • No monthly subscription and no contract applies to any Freeview TV services.

  • You View
    "You View" combines a Freeview HD recorder with the ability to watch Catch-Up TV via the Internet. It connects to an existing TV aerial, but also requires an Ethernet cable connection to your Broadband router. 3MBp/s minimum download speed required. Available contract-free from £197.99 or through BT (from 22 per month) or Talk Talk under contract (from £5 per month).
  • Reception Method
    Reception is via your existing TV aerial (although an aerial upgrade may be needed in some UK locations at additional cost).
     

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Compare Free Digital TV Services

To clarify things let's compare the UK's free digital TV services:

Freeview is subscription free digital TV via your aerial requiring a Set Top Box or IDTV (Integrated Digital TV) whereas, by comparison, Sky Freesat and Freesat HD both offer free digital TV channels via a satellite dish. As explained earlier, Sky's Freesat service requires a Sky Digibox and viewing card, whereas Freesat HD requires a Freesat HD box or PVR. Both services provide free-to-air digital satellite TV to UK viewers.

To compare Freesat services, Freesat from Sky still offers more free digital TV and radio channels than Freeview or the BBC / ITV run Freesat service - although it doesn't currently offer any HD TV channels - so you'll have to purchase the subscription based Sky HD service in order to gain access to Sky's 50+ HD channels or consider Freesat HD which is the free to view ITV/BBC run service now offering 11 HD channels without a monthly subscription - independent of Sky.

So how do the satellite based digital TV services compare to Freeview which is received via your aerial? Well, in comparison, Freeview channel density is limited by the number of available UHF channels for broadcasting the terrestrial digital TV service - so not surprisingly Freeview via your aerial will offer significantly fewer TV channels for the forseeable future, compared to satellite.

"Freesat from Sky" and the separate BBC run Freesat HD service, by contrast have access to multiple Astra satellite transponders and are able to offer more channels. Sky Freesat now features around 240 free digital TV channels to your home delivered via a satellite dish. This compares to around 50 free digital TV channels on the DVB-T Freeview TV service via an aerial.

Freeview terrestrial digital TV reception is currently only possible in around 80% of the UK via an conventional aerial, due to the lower power of the digital terrestrial TV service. The new Freeview HD service is also becoming available in more parts of the UK.

Whereas digital TV reception via satellite (including the Sky HD subscription service, Sky Freesat and BBC Freesat) is possible in around 98% of the UK. Around 2% of UK locations, particularly homes in deep valleys or surrounded by tall trees to the south east obstructing the view of the Astra 28.2 satellite, will not be able to receive Sky TV. Visit our Sky TV reception problem page for more help and advice.

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Installation Options For Sky Freesat

If you don't have Sky TV already, for a one-off fee you can purchase a Sky Freesat installation for £175 to receive a good choice of free to air digital TV channels, without paying a monthly subscription. Alternatively as an existing Sky TV subscriber, you could cancel your monthly subscription, subject to the conditions of your Sky contract - in which case your existing viewing card will usually be downgraded to a Freesat card at no additional cost. See cancelling your Sky subscription above for help on this topic.

New Sky Installation

To get Freesat from Sky if there is no existing Sky TV box or satellite dish (minidish) installed at your UK address, you will need to buy a new Sky Freesat installation, by calling 08442 410 595. A trained Sky engineer will then fully install a Sky box and minidish at your property and provide a Freesat viewing card for a one time payment (currently 175). After this one off payment, there is currently no monthly Sky subscription for Freesat.

Save Money by Installing Your Own Sky Box

Alternatively, you can buy a second hand Sky box on Amazon (or buy one new) and install it yourself using a suitable satellite alignment meter or get a friend or local Sky installer to install it, then all you need to pay Sky is a one-off payment of 25 for a Sky Freesat card, including service activation.

Note: You may also need to buy a cheap satellite dish alignment meter.

The one off 25 fee for a Sky Freesat card applies even if you have no current Sky subscription at your premises. After this one off payment, you can enjoy the benefits of subscription free digital TV by satellite, whilst saving money on the 146.81 installation charge. And, as previously stated, all Sky Freesat customers pay no monthly subscription!

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Sky Freesat Channels

For an up to date list of channels on Freesat from Sky click here.

Sky Freesat has many of the same free digital TV channels as Freeview, including popular general entertainment channels: BBC1, BBC2, BBC THREE, BBC FOUR, ITV1, ITV2, ITV3, ITV4, C4 and five. Unfortunately, many of the additional free TV channels on Freesat (which are not available on Freeview) are "special interest channels" many of which feature sales presentations of products and services rather than general entertainment.

When I compare the channels offered, Freeview has more quality music TV channels with HITS and TMF, whereas Freesat from Sky offers CNN (currently unavailable on Freeview) and a much better selection of digital radio channels. Unfortunately having more free digital TV channels than Freeview doesn't necessarily mean higher quality programming!

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Free to Air TV Channels

You will need a viewing card to view certain channels on Sky. Currently these include Channel 4, Five, Five Life, Five US and Sky Three - but the list may vary in the future.

BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, BBC4 and ITV1, ITV2, ITV3 and ITV4 are all free to air channels and can be watched without a viewing card (with a Sky Digibox and a correctly aligned satellite dish of the recommended size). Please refer to our article Sky Digital reception in Europe for more information.

BBC Freesat HD TV Service

The BBC and ITV have joined together to offer the UK's first HD TV service via digital satellite. To see what's on visit the BBC TV Guide and ITV1 TV Guide for more details.

To receive Freesat HD TV you'll need an Freesat HD digital set top box which you'll need to connect to your existing Sky TV dish (as the HDTV service uses the same satellite). If you haven't got a Sky dish on your property, you'll need to get a local CAI installer to fit one at a cost of around £80 or buy a satellite dish alignment meter to undertake installation yourself.

It's worth noting that by changing the LNB on your existing Sky dish you can still enjoy subscription channels from Sky Digital as well as having access to Freesat HD TV. A Quad LNB allows up to 4 digital receivers (whether they are Sky Digital or Freesat) to be fed from one dish via separate coaxial cables. An LNB upgrade may mean your dish needs re-aligning slightly as quad LNB's are slightly heavier than single LNB so the dish elevation can be affected.

You can buy a Freesat HD box from Amazon, Currys and Argos online. Prices start from around £120 for the HDTV compatible set top boxes, with standard definition (SD) boxes from £40. For around £230 the Humax Foxsat HDR allows the recording of Freesat HD programmes as well as standard definition services as well as the ability to pause live TV.

To make the BBC Freesat HD service even more attractive, Panasonic manufactures the an integrated Freesat HDTV (the Panasonic Viera PZ81 IDTV series) making HDTV reception possible via satellite without the use of an external digital set top box.

More information on the BBC Freesat HD TV service is available on the official Freesat HDTV website.

Disclaimer

All information on this page to compare Freeview HD, Sky HD, Sky Freesat and BBC Freesat HD TV is provided in good faith and all help and advice is provided to the best of our ability. Digital TV channels, packages and services are all subject to continual amendment and hence we offer no guarantee concerning the accuracy of information contained in this guide.

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