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Freeview Guide: How To Get Free UK Digital Channels On Your TV

Freeview TV – The perfect, free add-on for cord cutters: Even the most avid cord cutter, might occasionally want to watch some live programming on his telly. Might be the news, or some renovation program, or – yes – even some home shopping channels.

Or maybe you just want to be able to sit on your sofa and flip the channels, without thinking too much. Sometimes we just want moving images in front of us, without having to pick a film or a binge-worthy programme on Netflix.

The good news? Not only can you do all that, but you can do it for FREE (mostly) – with the Freeview service.

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 a large number of free-to-air TV channels (including HD channels and radio stations), with minimal equipment necessary, and no monthly subscription costs (You do, however, need to pay the yearly TV license fee in most cases).

Standard Channels

HD Channels

Radio Stations

Along with the channels, compatible devices will also show you the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) – a graphical TV guide, that shows you the upcoming TV programmes on each channel for up to eight days ahead. Freeview Electronic Programme Guide EPG on TV screen Freeview offers two more services that, depending on your device, can enhance what you’re getting:

  • Freeview HD Recorder logo150Freeview+ / FreeviewHD 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.
  • Freeview Play logoFreeview 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.

How do I get Freeview on my TV?

To get over-the-air Freeview channels on your TV (as opposed to watching Freeview channels online – which is a different matter), you need these things:

1. Good Freeview Reception: All the devices in the world won’t help if there’s no good reception in your area. For good reception, you need a transmitter close enough to your address.

Quick Tip: Want to check reception in your area? Start with the Freeview Postcode Check. It will show you the channels you are likely to be able to receive, and your closest transmitter. Be aware, however, that actual reception can vary greatly depending on your specific house or flat – the type of walls and insulation you have, type of windows, are there other flats surrounding yours’, etc’. So take the postcode results as a guide, but with a grain of salt.

2. An aerial: Providing your area has decent reception, you now need an aerial that plugs into your TV or set-top box. Depending on reception levels, an indoor aerial is sometimes enough (See our review of the best indoor aerials). Otherwise, you would need an external aerial, usually on your roof, with cables running through your walls.

Rooftop Aerial Tip: Many houses and buildings still have outdoor aerials on the roof, with cabling inside the house and a coaxial aerial socket in your living room. If you have, or used to have, cable TV in your house (such as Sky or Virgin), the aerial socket might be located near your cable sockets. Look for something like this:     TV Aerial socket If your rooftop aerial is a remnant from the olden days, it might be broken or malfunctioning. A new roof aerial should typically cost around £150, depending on your installation conditions. In these cases, always try an indoor aerial first, as these are quite cheaper and might be enough.

3. Freeview Receiver: Finally, you need a device that connects to your aerial, and can translate those over-the-air signal into the actual TV channels.

All TVs manufactured and sold in the UK since 2010 should already have Freeview built-in. If your TV is older, or from abroad, you would need a separate set-top box (See our review of the Best Freeview Boxes and Recorders), and of course, you might need some more room on your TV stand.

What features you get with your Freeview would depend on your TV/device – not all of them support Freeview HD, and not all of them support recording of programmes. Once you have everything, you simply connect your aerial cable to your TV/Set-Top box, tell the device to scan for channels, and – providing you have good reception – that’s it. You’re ready to start flipping channels.

Woman watching old tv outside

Which channels can I watch on Freeview?

The availability and number of channels you can watch via Freeview on TV depends on the reception in your area. In addition, to watch HD channels, you will need a compatible HD TV, and an HD-capable receiver.

And, again, for HD channels a decent reception is crucial. (Note, however, that you DON’T need a “special” aerial for HD channels – all outdoor and indoor aerials are “compatible” with Freeview HD – but it IS a matter of good coverage) Some of the major channels you can get via Freeview are:

Freeview Channels Sample

HD ChannelsBBC One-Two-Four HD, BBC News HD, ITV HD, Channel 4 and 4+1 and 4-7HD, Channel 5 HD, AlJazeera HD, QVC HD, QVC Beauty HD, Russia Today HD, CBBC HD, CBeebies HD
EntertainmetBBC One - Two - Four, ITV, ITV2, ITV3, ITV4, Channel 4, Channel 5, Pick, Dave, Really, Yesterday, Drama, 5USA, E4, 5STAR, Food Network, CBS Action, CBS Reality,CBS Drama, TruTV, Horror Channel,
FilmFilm4, Sony Movie Channel, Movies4Men, True Movies, Talking Pictures TV
NewsBBC News, BBC Parliamnet, Sky News, Russia Today
ChildrenCBBC, CBeebies, CITV, POP, Tiny Pop, Kix
LifestyleQVC, Ideal World, Create and Craft, Home, Travel Channel, Gems TV, Community Channel

For the complete list, see the Official Freeview Website.

Freeview – My Personal Review: Being a cord cutter for several years now, I almost forgot what live TV looks like. In most cases, when I want to watch a programme or a film, I decide what I’m going to watch even before I sit down on the couch.

But sometimes, with TV, I don’t want to over think things too much. Sometimes I just want “someone” talking in my living room. I want to flip the channels and see Die Hard right from the middle for the 100th time. I want to hear some news. Heck, I even want to see a commercial or two so I can make fun of them.

That’s what Freeview is good for, even for cord cutters. Oh, I’ll never use it to actually WATCH a specific programme, but I will use it to browse – and it works great for that. Picture quality will depend on your reception. I’m lucky enough to have good reception with an indoor antenna.

The HD channels do NOT have the same picture quality as on my Amazon Fire TV (or any other good TV streamer), but they’re decent enough for that channel flipping. All in all, with such a low barrier of entry (providing you have good reception) – it’s a no-brainer, even (or maybe especially) for cord cutters.

What is Freeview Play, how can I get it – and do I need it?

Freeview Play is a service that connects to both your aerial AND the internet and turns your regular Electronic Programme Guide into a catch-up service. You can then scroll back (on selected channels), up to seven days, and watch shows you’ve missed.

Freeview Play EPG

The Freeview Play EPG

In addition, it gives you access to the major broadcasters’ internet TV apps – BBC iPlayer, the ITV Hub, Demand 5 and All 4.

At this point, only a handful of TV sets have Freeview Play built-in, which means you would have to buy a separate Freeview set-top box (Another similar alternative is the YouView service – see my review here).

While not a bad idea (and using the electronic guide for catching up can be convenient), if you’re already a cord cutter (or are about to become one), chances are you already have a good TV streamer (Amazon Fire TV, Roku, NOW TV box, etc’), and Freeview built into your TV – so buying ANOTHER box, just for Freeview Play, would be overkill.

Writer and news editor based in London, I cut the TV cord back in 2014 and never looked back. I watch A LOT of TV, and thankfully I can choose whatever I want to watch without depending on archaic channels.

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