Surprise, Freesat and Sky users: The BBC has moved up its plan to stop Standard Definition (SD) channels on these platforms.
Instead of the original date in March 2024, the change will now happen on January 8, 2024.
This means if you’re still using older equipment that only gets SD channels, you’ll need to make some changes sooner to keep watching any of the BBC’s channels.
Earlier this year, the BBC made all its channels available in High Definition (HD), which gives a better picture quality. Now, they want to switch off the old-style SD channels – earlier than expected.
But don’t worry, if you’re affected by this change, as help is available to get you upgraded to HD.
Both Freesat and Sky have plans to help their users make this switch. They’re offering solutions like free or discounted upgrades (for some) to newer equipment that can show HD channels – see full details below.
The BBC’s Steady March Towards HD
As we previously reported, the transition from SD to HD is a part of BBC’s broader strategy to provide better picture quality and an enhanced viewing experience to its audience – on Freeview, satellite and streaming.
The initiative saw a substantial push with the incorporation of local news on BBC One HD on Freeview and Freesat.
The migration was geared towards ensuring viewers could access the full range of BBC’s offerings in HD, irrespective of their geographical location.
In the first phase, viewers with SD-only equipment were no longer able to watch local news on the BBC’s SD-channels on Freesat and Sky.
The transition process has not been without its hurdles. Support and resources were pledged to assist impacted viewers, especially those without the necessary equipment to access HD channels.
A help scheme was put in place to facilitate the transition, with measures such as eligibility checks to determine the support needed for different households (see more on that below)
Moreover, Sky offered free Sky Q upgrades to help its customers make the seamless transition to HD. This was a significant step in ensuring viewers could continue enjoying BBC’s content without any hitches.
The Early SD Shutdown: What Prompted The Change?
The BBC’s recent update sheds light on the factors influencing the revised timeline.
According to the BBC, the demand for resources and support, gauged through the uptake since the announcement in March, has been markedly lower than anticipated.
This low demand is indicative of the decreased number of homes still using SD-only satellite equipment, a positive sign that many have already transitioned to HD-enabled devices.
In September, the BBC introduced ‘lower-third-of-screen’ messaging, marking a final push to migrate the remaining SD-only satellite homes onto HD-enabled devices.
This effort seems to have expedited the transition process significantly, permitting an earlier shutdown of the SD channels.
The notification message, which can only be seen by those affected (homes still using SD-only satellite devices), currently says:
“From Monday 8th January, BBC TV and radio services will only be available on HD-enabled satellite equipment. To continue to recieve BBC services, you now need to upgrade.”
Come January 8, viewers on Freesat and Sky platforms will encounter a ‘channel closed’ message on all SD channel feeds on satellite.
This change will solely impact homes still using SD-only satellite devices at their primary positions in the electronic programme guide.
These devices will necessitate an upgrade (a new device that supports HD) to continue accessing BBC channels.
The current help scheme resources will linger for a short while post-January 8, to provide necessary support.
It’s worth noting that Freeview channels remain unaffected by this change, as SD channels will continue to work on Freeview – at least for the time being.
What Can Affected Freesat Users Do?
Determining whether you are affected by the impending cessation of BBC SD channels on Freesat and Sky platforms is crucial for uninterrupted access to BBC content.
Those with SD-only satellite equipment (that is – older Freesat devices) are the ones who will need to make adjustments before the January 8 deadline.
The change only affects older SD-Only Freesat (or Sky) devices. Freesat viewers who are not sure what type of set-top box or TV they have, can use the BBC’s checking tool, which is live on Channel 799 on Freesat.
On that channel, you will see one of two messages:
- Good News, you’re not affected and can continue to use your box as normal.
- Sorry, your satellite set-top box is not capable of receiving high-definition services. You will be affected by the satellite changes.
Also, affected viewers should be seeing the new warning message on Freesat’s BBC SD channels – if their device doesn’t support HD.
If you are affected by this change – that is, your current Freesat box only supports SD – you will need to get a new box (assuming you want to continue watching Freesat).
You have to get the new box before January 8, 2024 – otherwise, you will lose access to all the BBC channels on your TV.
If you’re on Freesat, you can buy one of the newer 4K Freesat boxes, that also have streaming apps like BBC iPlayer and ITVX.
There’s also a cheaper, more basic, Freesat box – the Manhattan SX – which doesn’t have recording capabilities or any streaming apps. It typically costs £69.
The BBC’s Support Scheme
Some vulnerable viewers – those aged over 75 and/or those in receipt of one of a small number of particular benefits – are eligible for assistance.
If eligible, they will be able to get a £40 voucher (via e-mail) to use towards the purchase of a new Freesat box – either the 4K box, or the Manhattan SX.
Subject to a financial hardship test, some viewers may be eligible for a voucher to cover the full cost of a replacement Freesat box to enable continued reception of BBC channels – but this voucher can only be redeemed on the cheaper Manhattan SX device.
Furthermore, vulnerable viewers who are not able to install the box by themselves, may be eligible for a Home Visit.
It’s important to note that these home visits are only meant to help with the installation of the Freesat box inside the house – the BBC does not offer help with installing (or fixing) the satellite dishes themselves, as viewers are expected to already have those.
Those who are eligible for further help through the HD Satellite Upgrade scheme will need to meet the following requirements:
- Watching services on the primary television in their home via an SD-only satellite set-top box
- Are over 75 or are in receipt of one of the following benefits: Personal Independence Payments (PIPs); Attendance Allowance, or War Pensioner’s Mobility Support.
The BBC says that exceptions to the eligibility criteria may be made: for example, “where a viewer with mobility issues relies on a secondary set”.
These will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
To check whether you’re eligible – you can answer simple questions on the BBC’s “Eligibility Checker“.
What Can Affected Sky Users Do?
To check if your Sky Box is SD-only and won’t be able to show the BBC’s HD version, Sky suggests you:
- Select Channel 105 on your remote.
- If you see Channel 5 HD, you’re not affected. If you see Channel 5 in SD, you are, and you’ll need to upgrade your Sky box.
(Note that Channel 5 isn’t affected by these changes – it’s just a way to check whether your box is currently capable of showing HD channels).
Alternatively, you can:
- Press Services on your Sky remote
- Press 4 ,then 5
- Check your box’s version number, as seen here:
The affected Sky boxes are:
- 4F01 to 4F06 (Amstrad)
- 4E01 to 4E05 (Grundig)
- 9F01 to 9F08 and 9F0A (Pace)
- 0F01 to 0F05 (Panasonic)
- 4E06 to 4E08 (Thomson)
- 4F2001 to 4F2006 (Amstrad)
- 4F2101 to 4F2118 and 9F2101 to 9F2137 (Amstrad or Pace)
- 9F2001 to 9F2024, PVR2, 9F2201 to 9F2235, 9F2301 to 9F2339 (Pace)
- 4E2101 to 4E2141 (Thomson)
If you have one of the affected, older Sky SD-only boxes, you can upgrade to Sky Q at no extra cost.
Importantly, Sky says there’ll be no change to your Sky TV package or pricing.
This is important, as usually customers who wish to upgrade their Sky equipment are also asked to upgrade their plans and contracts – and that won’t be the case here (see our guide on Sky’s HD pricing changes).
Once you sign up, the new Sky Q box will be installed by one of Sky’s engineers on a date that suits you.
At that point, you’ll be able to watch all the BBC channels in HD – including all local programmes.
In order to start the upgrade process, Sky customers can call 0333 759 5121, or upgrade online via this link.
Sky has also setup a dedicated help page for this issue.
It’s important to note again that people who don’t upgrade to HD-enabled satellite equipment by January 8 – will lose access to all BBC TV and radio channels on Sky and Freesat.
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