Freeview is one of the best TV services we have in the UK. You get more than 100 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.
Table of Contents
What is Freeview?
Freeview, first established in 2002, is the commercial name for the United Kingdom’s digital terrestrial television platform.
The Freeview platform is managed by Everyone TV, formerly known as Digital UK (which now also operates Freesat), and DTV Services. The companies have four common shareholders – BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5 – and Sky is a shareholder in DTV Services.
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).
100+ SD Channels
19 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.
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 Freeview connected add-on of sorts, which includes 12 on-demand streaming players, and connects some of the supported over-the-air channels with their apps and on-demand broadcasts.
Freeview Play relies on broadband (in addition to the aerial connection), and only works on compatible devices. Most modern Freeview set-top boxes come with Freeview Play already built-in, and some Smart TVs do too (but be careful if you’re buying an older box or TV).
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.
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, the type of windows, whether there are 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 (or possibly in the loft), 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 satellite dish 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 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 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.
Which channels can I watch on Freeview?
The availability and number of channels you can watch via Freeview on TV depend 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, and even that is only via streaming).
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.
The list of channels you can watch via Freeview is quite vast, and includes all the BBC channels (including BBC News and CBeebies), ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Dave, Yesterday, Legend, Film4 and many more.
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.
In addition, it gives you access to the major broadcasters’ internet TV apps – BBC iPlayer, ITVX (which replaced ITV Hub), My5 and Channel 4, thus giving you direct access to over 40,000 boxsets and catch-up programmes and films.
At this point, only some TV sets have Freeview Play built-in, which means you would have to buy a separate Freeview set-top box, such as the Humax Aura (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 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 and 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 (though, in recent years, it seems YouView hasn’t been kept as up to date as much as Freeview Play).
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 (now Everyone TV) – 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 Fire TV 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.
If you want the “Full Freeview Experience” – that is, watching most of the Freeview channels, and getting access to the Electronic Programme Guide – there are unfortunately no free solutions, for now.
In 2024, Everyone TV is planning to launch “Freely” – a full Freeview platform that will be based on broadband, and will let you stream all (or most) Freeview channels via broadband – for free. But details are still scarce on that service.
If you’re willing to pay, Sky and Virgin Media both offer a Stream box – a broadband band streaming device that lets you watch most Freeview channels via the internet (on your TV), along with additional paid premium channels.
BT TV (soon to become EE TV) also offer a 4K Pro Box that includes an “Internet Channels” feature, that lets you watch many (but not all) of the Freeview channels via broadband.
However, you need a subscription to Sky TV, Virgin Media’s broadband or BT for those boxes to work, even just for the Freeview part.
Watching Freeview On Your Phone Without An Aerial
Freeview is available on your smartphone, but only in a limited fashion.
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. However, the official app mainly serves as a “bookmarking” app – as it simply sends you to the broadcasters’ streaming apps – iPlayer, ITVX, etc.
Additionally, you can always install the standalone apps for some of the big channels – BBC iPlayer, ITVX, UKTV, etc’.
My Freeview Review: Is It Any Good?
Being a cord cutter for several years now, I sometimes forget 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 overthink things too much. Sometimes I just want “someone” talking in my living room. I want to flip the channels and watch 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.
And in these times, with the cost of living going up and up – it’s hard to beat free – and you’re getting quite a lot of content without having to pay (other than the TV Licence, as usual).