Or Goren | Oct 22, 2018 | 0
Freeview TV is a wonderful service for UK cord cutters: you get to watch more than 80 channels, without a monthly subscription, with some relatively cheap equipment. But to make it work, you need a Freeview Receiver/Tuner – and if you don’t have one built in to your TV, you would need to buy a separate set-top box.
In this article, I take a look at the best Freeview boxes and recorders for 2018, and explain some of the things you need to consider if you’re going to watch Freeview.
Table of Contents
What Is Freeview?
Freeview, first established in 2002, is the commercial name for the United Kingdom’s digital terrestrial television platform. It is operated by a joint venture of the BBC, Sky, ITV, Channel 4 and Arqiva.
The service provides access to free-to-air TV channels and radio stations, including more than 80 standard channels and 15 HD channels – and that number keeps growing every year. The range goes from all the BBC channels (including HD), ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, The Food Network, CBS Action, QVC and many others.
The best part is that unlike pay-TV services such as Sky or BT, Freeview has no monthly cost – you buy the equipment once, and can enjoy the free programming forever. You do, however, need to pay the yearly TV licence fee in most cases – but you would have had to pay that with any type of TV service.
How To Get Freeview
In order to be able to watch the Freeview channels, you need two main components:
- A TV Aerial: Freeview channels are broadcast through the air, so you need an aerial that can intercept those signals. It can either be an outdoor aerial (on your roof), or a cheap, indoor aerial. If you need one, take a look at our guide for buying the best indoor aerials.
- A Freeview Receiver: The aerial needs to connect to a device that can translate those signals into TV channels.
What Is A Freeview Box – Do I Need One?
All TVs manufactured and sold in the UK since 2010 should already have Freeview built-in. That means that if you bought a telly in the past few years, it should already be capable of showing Freeview channels without a separate box (you would still need an aerial, though).
However, if your TV is older, you would have to get a Freeview Box.
Another reason to buy a Freeview Box is if you want better features than the ones available on your TV. For example, some TVs don’t have the full Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) that can show you the Freeview TV guide for up to 8 days in advance.
Other TVs have very slow interfaces, which can get annoying, and most TVs can’t record programmes from Freeview – so if you plan to record live TV, you would need a Freeview PVR (Personal Video Recorder.)
What Are Freeview HD, Freeview Recorder And FreeviewPlay?
When you’re in the market for a Freeview Box, the different terms can get a bit confusing – so let me explain them for you:
- Freeview HD is the basic Freeview service, and a box that supports Freeview HD will be able to show you all the available free channels – the standard ones, and the High Definition ones.
- Freeview+ / Freeview HD Record: Lets you record live programmes for later viewing, or pause and rewind live TV. Using the EPG, you can also set recordings up to eight days in advance. So if you want to record programmes, you need a Freeview Box that supports this.
- Freeview Play: A combination of over-the-air channels and programmes on-demand via the internet, giving you access to the BBC’s iPlayer, the ITV Hub, All 4 and Demand 5, all in one device. With some devices, you can also “scroll back” and watch programmes that you’ve missed up to 7 days backwards.
Alternatives To Freeview
If things weren’t confusing enough, Freeview isn’t the only service in the UK that lets you watch free TV.
What Is YouView?
A “hybrid” service that combines the regular, over-the-air Freeview channels, and catch-up TV from those same channels, streamed to you via your broadband connection.
Some YouView boxes also offer additional pay-per-view channels and programmes, but with many Freeview boxes also offering catch-up TV these days (with FreeviewPlay), the two services have become almost identical.
What Is Freesat?
Unlike Freeview, which sends its signals over-the-air via transmitters, FreeSat sends its signal via satellites. The channels selection is similar, though FreeSat offers a wider variety of channels.
For FreeSat, you would need a satellite dish on your roof, and a FreeSat receiver, either built-in to your TV or as a separate Freesat set-top box.
What Are Internet Streamers?
Streamers that connect to your TV (Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, and many others) can be used to view Freeview Channels, not through the air, but via the internet (So you might need a WiFi Range Extender in a big house).
You can either use dedicated channel apps (such as BBC iPlayer or the ITV Hub) or apps like TV Player, that stream “live” channels to you, via the internet.
As mentioned, some Freeview boxes combine these two services – they offer you direct over-the-air channels, as well as catch-up apps that use your broadband connection, saving you a box (And room… so might be time to look at a TV wall bracket).
Buying The Best Freeview Box: Things To Consider
As you will see on our chart, the range of prices between the different Freeview Boxes is pretty wide – you can get a simple box for less than £40, and a known-brand box, with almost every possible feature, for £200 and upwards. How do you choose?
First, ask yourself what you’re going to do with your Freeview Box.
If you already have a TV with Freeview, but you want more features and a faster interface, you should probably go for the higher-priced boxes, as they indeed offer more features and sometimes have more powerful processors which help with the speed.
If you’re on a budget, and just want a basic cheap box that’ll let you watch Freeview channels – one of the cheaper ones will do just fine. (So by combining a cheap box and a cheap indoor aerial, and assuming you already have a TV, you can get all these free channels for less than £50.)
Do I Need A Freeview Recorder?
The next question to ask is whether you want to be able to record live TV from the Freeview channels.
While one of the budget boxes (the August DVB415) does include a recording option, you would have to buy and connect a separate USB stick.
The higher-priced Freeview Boxes that include a PVR, will let you record into an internal hard drive, and it’s super-convenient – you choose shows to record via the Freeview Electronic Programme Guide, and they get recorded automatically at the right time.
There are even Freeview boxes that include a built-in Blu-Ray player. So yes, let’s face it, Blu-Ray (and physical media in general) is on its way out, making way for streaming media. But you still get excellent quality with Blu-Ray discs, and there are a lot of movie bargains out there. I haven’t included it in the general list, but I would recommend this Panasonic model. (If you’re in the market for a cheap, stand-alone DVD player, I reviewed the best ones here.)
How To Connect The Freeview Box
Most Freeview boxes these days connect to your TV via an HDMI port. But if your TV is particularly old, you might need a box with a SCART connection or even an old composite (red/white/yellow) connection.
If the box you get only has HDMI, you can buy a SCART/Composite converter – but that’s another purchase that you will have to make.
Freeview Reception Problems
Freeview relies on over-the-air reception. If your indoor aerial isn’t good enough, or – more commonly – if you live in an area where the Freeview signal is too weak – you won’t get a high-quality picture on your TV, or – in worst case scenarios – won’t be able to watch Freeview at all.
You can check the estimated coverage in your house with the Digital UK Postcode Checker. You put in your postcode and house number, and the site gives you some details about reception in your area. Take these numbers with a grain of salt, though, as they’re only estimates.
Because reception is such an issue with Freeview, many buyers blame their newly purchased Freeview Boxes or indoor aerials for their lack of reception – while often it’s just weak over-the-air signals that are at fault.
The bad news? There’s really no way to know for sure what reception looks like in your house until you buy the devices and give it a try. The good news? When you buy from Amazon, it’s usually very easy to return stuff if you’re having problems.
Cord Busters’ Best Freeview Boxes 2018
- Apps: BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, Demand 5, YouTube, UKTV, Netflix
- EPG: 8 Days (7 days backwards)
- Recording: Yes, 500GB/1TB/2TB Hard Drive (up to 500 HD hours)
- Connections: HDMI, Composite, S/PDIF
- Internet: Ethernet + WiFi
- Extra Features: Stream media from PC, Phone remote control app
Humax is a big name in the Freeview Box market, as they have been producing various models for years. As such, they know what they’re doing – but they charge extra for it.
This is probably the most advanced device on this list when it comes to features. The Humax FVP-5000T will give you excellent picture quality, several Smart TV apps (including Netflix), and a huge hard drive for recording your favourite programmes (There’s a 500GB version, a 1TB version, and even a 2TB version).
The feature-set is impressive – from “Smart” HD switching and recordings, to tight integration between the live TV guide and the catch-up apps. The FVP-5000T also has three tuners, so you can record up to 4(!) different programmes while watching a fifth.
The main fault we could find – other than the price – is the sluggish interface. It’s slow, and takes a second or two to perform every action. If you don’t mind that, and you’re willing to pay extra for all the bells and whistles – this is a great Freeview box, that can also serve as a streaming and Netflix box.
- Apps: None
- EPG: 8 Days forward
- Recording: Yes, 500GB Hard Drive (up to 139 HD hours)
- Connections: HDMI
- Internet: Ethernet (Mostly for firmware updates)
- Extra Features: Record two channels at once, smart HD recording and switching, a learning remote
An excellent Freeview recording box with all the bells and whistles you could ask for – except for streaming apps. While it’s not really a cheap box, it’s still cheaper than some of the competing offers, without skimping on important functionality.
The interface is beautiful and most importantly – fast. The “smart” recording features are useful, and navigating your recordings is easy. Picture quality is great, but – as always – depends a lot on your aerial reception.
If you’re in the market for an improved Freeview experience and recording(or your older telly doesn’t have Freeview at all), the T2-R ticks a lot of boxes for a decent price. Read my full Manhattan T2-R Review here.
- Apps: None
- EPG: 8 Days forward
- Recording: No
- Connections: HDMI
- Internet: Ethernet (Mostly for software updates)
If you don’t need any flashy features other than good Freeview HD reception and a fast, easy-to-use interface – this is the box to go for, as it’s also one of the cheapest ones out there.
As with the more expensive Manhattan models, the T1 has a snappy interface which makes using the Electronic Programme Guide a joy. You can see 8 days ahead, and while there’s no recording (not even via a USB stick, which is a shame), you can ask to be reminded on-screen when a future show is on.
There are no streaming/catch-up apps, and the Ethernet connection is used mostly for software updates. Note that it only has an HDMI connection, and you would need a separate kit to connect to SCART or composite – which is disappointing for a box aimed at adding Freeview to older tellies.
- Apps: None
- EPG: 7 Days forward
- Recording: Yes, via USB drive
- Connections: HDMI / SCART
- Internet: No
- Extra Features: Play video files from USB
One of the cheapest Freeview Recorders you can get, and for such a low price – it does its job well, without many bells and whistles.
Recording is done by connecting an external USB stick/drive, which means you need to buy another device. You can schedule TV recording directly from the EPG, and even pause live TV (by recording it and continuing to watch from the point you stopped.)
The ability to watch video files downloaded to your USB stick is also a nice bonus, but this won’t help with most online VOD stores, as usually you need their app to be able to watch shows/movies you’ve bought – so this is mainly good for your own personal videos.
The cheap price comes with a cost, of course – the interface (switching channels, moving around the EPG) is rather slow, picture quality degrades fast with bad reception, the remote is small with too many tightly-spaced buttons, and there’s no internet connection or apps – so no catch-up TV.
It’s not the most feature-packed, but if you’re looking for a basic Freeview Box that can also record and does the job well – this is a good choice.