Freeview and Freesat users both get access to a digital TV service without paying a monthly fee or signing up to a contract. The difference is in the delivery:
Freeview: delivered through an aerial and a set top box.
Freesat: delivered through a minidish and a set top box.
And that delivery difference has several consequences for users.
The biggest difference is in terms of coverage.
The way Freesat is broadcast means its coverage is total. Freeview, on the other hand, may well be available to more than 98% of the UK, but those with poor signal – such as those in the 15% of households that can only receive 15 core channels – will be better off with Freesat.
Anyone who’s unsure should check what services they’re likely to get with Freeview should check on their site, here, using their postcode and house number.
Installing a satellite dish is the more expensive option.
For those who don’t already have a dish, installation starts at around £80. Expect to add at least £30 to that cost for Freesat+ or multiple box installations because of the need for extra cables and connections.
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People who already have a dish – such as former Sky customers – will still need to buy a new Freesat-specific box, but then it’s simply a case of switching the cables across.
Basic Freesat set top boxes start at about £44.
Freesat-enabled TVs tend to be among the higher spec models out there, with price tags to match – but they’ll also come with features like ultra HD.
Freeview, on the other hand, requires a traditional TV aerial, and either a Freeview enabled TV – which is the norm these days – or a set top box. Basic boxes can cost as little as £20.
So why pay more for Freesat?
The number of channels available on Freeview is steadily increasing: more than 70 are now widely available, with up to 12 in HD; there are more than 20 radio stations on offer on top of that.
But that pales into insignificance compared with Freesat’s mighty offering of a good 200 TV and radio channels.
People who opt for the Smart version of Freesat – called Freesat with Freetime – will also get access to a full range of digital terrestrial catch-up TV services and on demand content that might otherwise only be available through a pay TV provider: Curzon Home Movies, for example, is otherwise only available to those with BT TV.
Bear in mind however, that some channels such as Sky News and those from UK TV, like Dave and Gold, are available on Freeview but not on Freesat.
High definition options
Freeview offers up to 12 HD TV channels:
BBC channels One, Two, Three, Four*, News*, CBBC, CBeebies*
ITV ITV HD
Channel 4 Channel 4, 4+1*, 4/7*
Other Al Jazeera*
Channels marked with an asterisk are available to about 70% of UK homes.
Freesat, by contrast, offers all of the above apart from Al Jazeera. Instead it offers NHK World in HD.
Bear in mind though, that while a Freeview HD box can cost as little as £40, and HD comes as standard with Freesat now, viewers will still need at least an HD-ready TV set to enjoy the boost in picture quality.
For those willing to invest a little extra in their TV habit, both Freeview and Freesat offer set-top boxes with the ability to record programmes.
As with Youview and Sky, the difference is marked by a tiny change in the terminology. Boxes that can record are denoted by the addition of a “+” – so that’s Freeview+, Freesat+, Youview+, Sky+ and so on.
Both provide an eight day TV guide, and they’ll feature some sort of series link option, allowing users to set up automatic recordings of a whole series with just a couple of button pushes.
A decent Freeview+ HD recorder will cost from £130; Freesat + HD recorders start from £99, but around £150 is more common.
What if you want more?
Having decided on a viewing platform – Freeview or Freesat – there are a couple of other details to consider.
We’ve already mentioned them in passing when talking about services that allow users to record programmes: Youview and Freesat from Sky.
They’re the services we’ve already outlined, but with a little extra:
Youview: Like Freeview, but with more catch-up services as standard; the basis for digital terrestrial pay TV services.
Freesat from Sky: delivered like Freesat, but with equipment or a viewing card from Sky
Because it’s associated with the pay TV services offered by BT, TalkTalk and Plusnet, there’s a perception that Youview costs more – but it doesn’t have to.
Youview and Youview+ boxes are sold on the high street just like Freeview boxes; rather than offering just BBC iPlayer and Demand 5, they provide the full range of catch-up services – just like the pay TV providers, but without the need for a monthly subscription.
The only things missing from shop-bought Youview boxes are the extra “premium” channels and provider-specific on demand content.
A basic Youview box costs more than a basic Freeview box – the most commonly available one is the Humax box offered by BT and Plusnet, which retails for £99.
But Youview+ boxes are much more comparable in price to their Freeview+ equivalents, starting from around £150 and offering different features and a bit of variety in the size of the hard drive.
It was this extra choice and the thought of going subscription-free that lead to many people with BT TV buying extra boxes from the high street – but in August 2014 BT clamped down on the use of boxes not bought from them.
Freesat from Sky
As Freesat uses the Sky Digital Viewing Platform, it would be easy to assume that the services offered by standard Freesat and Freesat from Sky are identical.
But as anyone who’s heard it’s possible to get BT Sport without a Sky or BT TV subscription will tell you, that’s not the case.
Certain channels, listed below, are only available to people with Freesat from Sky. Those with standard Freesat can “upgrade” by ordering a viewing card from Sky for a one-off fee of £25.
Regional versions of BBC One and Two, Channel s 4 and 5, and ITV, STV or UTV Local TV channels 4Music
Motors TV Sony Entertainment TV / +1 Sony Movie Channel / +1
There’s more on how to add BT Sport to that list in this guide.
Alternatively, those without the kit can get Freesat from Sky for £175 all in – that is, for the set top box, viewing card, dish and installation. Bear in mind, however, that the box is a basic one: it offers HD but can’t record.
For that, customers will get more than 240 free-to-air channels and 85 radio stations.
And as well as allowing for monthly subscriptions to other TV services, it makes upgrading to full Sky much easier should they be tempted.
Since the analogue switch off began in earnest, all TVs sold have come with Freeview as standard, and converting the remaining older TVs has been made much easier by the existence of incredibly cheap Freeview boxes.
For those starting out, this makes Freeview the easier, if not necessarily more appealing, option.
The equipment alone means Freesat will undoubtedly remain the more expensive option, with entry-level Freesat and Freesat+ boxes costing around £20 more, and installation to consider.
But viewers get far more channels, and for many in areas with poor aerial reception it’s the only way to get more than the old terrestrial channels, and often in better quality.
For those who already have a satellite dish, the advantages and relatively small further cost required to invest in Freesat make it seem very much worthwhile – and for the Sky-curious, Freesat from Sky is a commitment-free way to test the waters.
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