Or Goren | Jul 16, 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.
|Rank||Freeview Box||Our Rating||Price|
|1||Humax HDR-1800T||⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐||CHECK PRICES|
|2||August DVB415 Recorder||⭐⭐⭐⭐||CHECK PRICES|
|3||Panasonic HWT150EB||⭐⭐⭐⭐||CHECK PRICES|
|4||Humax FVP-5000T||⭐⭐⭐⭐||CHECK PRICES|
|5||Manhattan Plaza HD-T2||⭐⭐⭐||CHECK PRICES|
What Is Freeview, And What Do I Need To Make It Work?
Freeview, first established on 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.
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.
Do I Need A Freeview Box?
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.
The second reason for buying 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.)
Freeview HD, Freeview Recorder, FreeviewPlay – What Are All These Different Names?
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.
The Other Guys: YouView, FreeSat, Internet Streamers
If things aren’t confusing enough, Freeview isn’t the only service in the UK that lets you watch free TV:
- 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.
- FreeSat: Unlike Freeview, which sends its signals on-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.
- Internet Streamers: Streamers that connect to your TV (Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, and many others) can be used to view Freeview Channels, but not through the air, but via the internet. You can either use separate 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 £50, 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.)
The next question to ask is whether you want to be able to record live TV off the Freeview channels. While one of the cheap 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.
Some recorders also offer dual Freeview tuners – and then you can record one show and watch another channel at the same time (or record two shows on two different channels.)
There are also 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, so if you’re still a Blu-Ray watcher, a box that combines both services would be great for you – 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.)
Connections: 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.
Don’t Forget The Reception Issue
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 good quality 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 is that 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 is that when you buy from Amazon, it’s usually very easy to return stuff if you’re having problems.
- Excellent picture quality
- Can be used to stream media from PC
- Multiple connection options
- Can record two simultaneous channels
- Not cheap
- Only a few streaming apps (No Netflix/Amazon)
- Slow interface
Apps: BBC iPlayer, BBC News, YouTube,
EPG: 7 Days
Recording: Yes, 320GB Hard Drive (up to 80 HD hours)
TV Connections: HDMI / Scart / Composite
Internet: Ethernet (WiFi via optional dongle)
Extra Features: Remote control app, Home media hub
Humax is one of the most well-known names in the set-top box business, and for good reason – their boxes are full of features, they provide excellent picture quality, and – for the most part – are pretty reliable.
The HDR-1800T Freeview recorder is no exception – While it’s a bit of a basic Freeview recorder (look at #4 for the more feature-rich model – which also costs more), it ticks most of the right boxes – The ability to record up to 80 HD hours, a lot of flexibility with the connections (so HDMI as well as Scart and RCA), and an easy to use interface – although it’s pretty slow, as is often the case with these types of boxes.
The main disappointment is the low number of streaming apps – mostly the BBC ones, and YouTube. So if you’re in the market for a full-featured TV streaming box, this isn’t the one – it’s first and foremost a Freeview player and recorder, with some streaming added on top.
All in all the HDR-1800T Freeview box presents the best balance between good features and a reasonable price – and should be your first choice, unless you’re really on a tight budget, or specifically looking for some extra features.
- Good picture quality
- Recording capabilities, including Pause Live TV
- SCART Connection for old TVs
- Very Cheap
- Recording via USB (Need additional stick/drive)
- Small and confusing remote
- Average build quality
- No internet connection/Apps
EPG: 7 Days
Recording: Yes, Via USB Drive
TV Connections: HDMI / SCART / Antenna
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 video online 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.
- Excellent picture quality
- FreeviewPlay – catch-up shows up to 7 days backward
- All the major Streaming TV apps
- Lots of extra features
- Looks good
- Unattractive interface
- Only HDMI
Apps: BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Netflix, Amazon Video and more
EPG: 8 Days forward, 7 days backward
Recording: Yes, 500GB Hard Drive (up to 129 HD hours) + USB
TV Connections: HDMI
Internet: WiFi + Ethernet
Extra Features: FreeviewPlay lets you catch-up on shows from up to 7 days ago, 4K Video Playback via USB, dual tuners, stream media from PC
One of the best Freeview Boxes you can get for your money – but it’s definitely more expensive than the basic boxes out there. Then again, it’s from Panasonic – a very reliable brand.
For the extra pounds, though, you get all the bells and whistles you can think of – it has FreeviewPlay, which is like a 24/7 recorder, letting you watch programmes you’ve missed up to 7 days backwards (via your internet connection.) It also has dual tuners for multiple channel recordings, it works as a media streamer from your PC, and has most of the major Smart TV apps, so you won’t need to buy an extra streamer.
As with most Freeview boxes, it’s a bit under-powered, and therefore the interface is annoyingly slow – and kind of ugly. Panasonic also offers a media app, that enables you to record – and watch – shows from home via your phone – but the app is a bit sketchy.
If you can spare the extra cash, this box will give you everything you could ask for from a Freeview PVR.
- Excellent picture quality
- Record up to 4 simultaneous programmes
- Can be used as media hub
- Lots of features
- Slow interface
- Confusing remote
Apps: BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Netflix, YouTube and more
EPG: 8 Days
Recording: Yes, 1TB Hard Drive (up to 250 HD hours) + USB
TV Connections: HDMI, Composite, S/PDIF
Internet: Ethernet + WiFi
Extra Features: Stream media from PC, Phone remote control app
Humax are a big name in the Freeview Box market, and 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 1TB drive for recording your favourite programmes (there’s even a 2TB version if you somehow need more.) And in order to use all that space, the box uses multiple tuners, letting you record up to 4(!) different programmes, while watching a fifth.
One fault we could find is, as usual with Freeview boxes, the speed – the interface is rather slow for such a device, and therefore the EPG is not very smooth. Plus, the remote control has lots and lots of buttons, but it’s all that easy to use, especially in the dark.
The main reason this device isn’t at the top of our list is its expensive price – but you do get a LOT for your money.
- Good Picture quality (IF you have good reception)
- Basic Smart TV Apps
- A lot of TV connections (such as SCART), good for old TVs
- Quality downgrades quickly with dodgy reception
- Build feels a bit flimsy
- No Recording
- No WiFi
Apps: BBC iPlayer, YouTube
EPG: 7 Days
TV Connections: HDMI / SCART / COMPOSITE / Antenna / S/PDIF
Internet: Ethernet (No WiFi)
One of the cheapest Freeview Boxes you can find, but despite the low price, it has a few nifty features usually found in higher-priced models, and picture quality is decent. The fact that it has a lot of ways to connect a TV is also a plus, especially if you have an old telly.
If you connect it to the internet (via an Ethernet cable – there’s no WiFi), you get two Smart TV apps – BBC iPlayer and a YouTube app (which even has a dedicated remote button.) The EPG is also good, showing 7 days ahead.
However, this box doesn’t come with recording capabilities, the interface is slow (as expected for a low-powered device), and it’s particularly sensitive to bad reception – picture quality will probably degrade faster than with more expensive Freeview Boxes given the same aerial.