Freeview Guide: How To Watch Free TV In The UK

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Freeview is one of the best TV services we have in the UK. You get more than 80 channels, some of which are in HD, along with a graphical electronic programme guide – and it’s all for free, without a monthly subscription.

For TV cord cutters, Freeview is the perfect starting point – you get high-quality programming from the BBC, ITV and the other big UK broadcasters, as well as American movies and TV shows on some of the other channels. Hey, you even get QVC shopping if that’s what you like…

But in order to be able to watch Freeview WITHOUT a cable/satellite subscription (such as Sky, BT or Virgin Media), there are a few things you need. In this guide, I’ll explain how to watch Freeview on your TV and other devices, what you need, and how to make it all work.

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 and Channel 4 (Somewhat confusingly, Freeview’s development is done by another company – Digital UK – which is owned by the BBC, ITV and Channel 4).

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).

80+ Standard Channels

15 HD Channels

30+ 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

If you use a Freeview recorder box (more on that below), you can 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.

Then there’s Freeview Play – A combination of over-the-air channels and programmes on-demand via the internet, that gives you access to the BBC’s iPlayer, the ITV Hub, All 4 and a few more catch-up apps.

Freeview Play channel 100
Freeview Play

Freeview Play relies on broadband (in addition to the aerial connection), and only works on compatible devices – for more on that, see our guide – What is Freeview Play?

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 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.

TV Aerial socket

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/sat TV in your house (such as Sky or Virgin), the aerial socket might be located near your cable sockets.

If your rooftop aerial is a remnant from the olden days, it might be broken or malfunctioning. A new outdoor 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 signals 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.

Another reason to buy a dedicated Freeview Box is when you want more features than the ones available on your TV. For example, some TVs don’t have the full Electronic Programme Guide, and most TVs can’t record. A good Freeview recorder will let you set recordings up to 8 days in advance, and some can even record episodes of an ongoing series automatically.

The Freeview features you get depend on your TV/device – not all of them support Freeview HD, not all of them support the recording of programmes, and not all support Freeview Play with its broadband-based catch-up apps.

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. (There are even 4K Freeview boxes, like the Manhattan T3-R – but for now, the only Freeview 4K content you can get is on BBC iPlayer’s UHD trial)

Manhattan T3-R near TV 1200
Manhattan T3-R

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.

What Is Freeview Play And How Can I Get 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 some of the shows you’ve missed by streaming them via the internet.

Freeview Play EPG
The Freeview Play EPG

In addition, it gives you access to the major broadcasters’ internet TV apps – BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, My5 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, such as the Humax FVP-5000T. (Another similar alternative is the YouView service – see my review here).

Humax FVP-5000T in the box
Humax FVP-5000T

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 streaming device (Amazon Fire TV, Roku devices, etc.), and Freeview built into your TV – so buying ANOTHER box, just for Freeview Play, might be overkill.

Another option to consider is the Humax Aura box – which combines a Freeview Play recorder along with an Android TV / Chromecast streaming device, all built into one device. Check our Humax Aura review here.

Freeview Alternatives: Freesat And YouView

Freeview isn’t the only service in the UK that lets you watch free TV channels. 

YouView is 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.

If all that sounds a lot like Freeview Play – you’re correct. With “Play” around, the two services have become almost identical, and it’s up to you to decide whether you want to go with a YouView box or a Freeview Play box.

Freesat is a service that sends its signal via satellites, and it might be a good alternative in cases where regular aerial reception around your house is bad. 

For Freesat, you would need a satellite dish on your roof or on an outside wall, and a Freesat receiver, either built-in to your TV or as a separate Freesat set-top box.

The channel selection is similar, though Freesat offers a wider variety of channels.

Interestingly, Freesat, which was originally a joint venture between the BBC and ITV, was acquired by Digital UK – the company that leads the development of Freeview – therefore Freesat and Freeview are now one company.

Can I Watch Freeview Without An Aerial?

That’s one of the questions I get most often. Some people have bad reception around their home, and aerials are not an option. And Freesat can also be a complicated solution, having to install a satellite dish.

The short answer is Yes, you can watch SOME Freeview channels without an aerial – via the internet. But making it work depends on where exactly you want to watch – and the channels you want to watch.

Watching Freeview On TV Without An Aerial

Because you’re going to stream the Freeview channels to your TV via the internet, you need a streaming device. This can either be a Smart TV, or a standalone streamer like the Amazon FireTV Stick

If you only want to watch the major public broadcasters – such as the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 – you would then install their apps on your streamer, and jump from app to app depending on the channel you want to watch.

BBC iPlayer homescreen
BBC iPlayer

If you want the “Full Freeview Experience” – that is, watching most of the Freeview channels, and getting access to the Electronic Programme Guide – you would need a Freeview streaming app, such as TVPlayer. Their basic Freeview tier is free to use – and you can add a few “premium” channels by paying.

Their app is available on the Amazon Fire TV, as well as some of the other streamers, and several models of Smart TVs. It’s far from perfect, however – with many Freeview channels missing from their service – including ITV and Channel 4.

Watching Freeview On Your Phone Without An Aerial

Freeview is available on your smartphone in one of two ways:

  • The Official Freeview App (iOS Version / Android Version) – Freeview’s official app lets you see the weekly TV guide – and watch a small selection of Freeview channels live, on your phone. The official app mainly serves as a “bookmarking” app – as it simply sends you to the broadcasters’ streaming apps – iPlayer, ITV Hub, etc.
  • TVPlayer AppThe free tier lets you watch some of the basic Freeview channels live on your phone. But some channels are missing, and many are only available on the premium, paid tier.

Additionally, you can always install the standalone apps for some of the big channels – BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, UKTV, etc’.

My Freeview Review: Is It Any Good?

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 sofa.

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 an advert or two so I can make fun of them.

That’s what Freeview is good for, even for cord cutters. Plus, by having a Freeview Recorder, it’s possible to record shows and watch them on demand – while skipping adverts – so I do use it for actually watching stuff. Occasionally.

But I mostly use Freeview 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 aerial.

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 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.

man watchin streaming tv on tablet

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