The cheaper end of the Freeview boxes market is going to get a blow by the end of this year (or 2022 at the latest), as manufacturers will no longer be allowed to produce new Freeview HD boxes that don’t support Freeview Play, the broadband-based streaming component of Freeview.
This means that popular Freeview set-top boxes like the Manhattan T1 and T2-R, the Humax HDR-1800T and several others, will gradually disappear from the market, following a decision by Digital UK – the company that leads the development of Freeview.
In 2022, manufacturers will still be allowed to sell discontinued boxes that were manufactured in 2021 – but once those stocks are gone, we will not see those devices again – at least not with official Freeview branding.
Freeview, first established in 2002, is the United Kingdom’s digital terrestrial television platform. It is operated by a joint venture of the BBC, Sky, ITV and Channel 4, and provides more than 80 free-to-air TV channels and radio stations.
To get Freeview channels on your TV, you need a Freeview aerial (see the indoor ones we recommend), and a Freeview receiver.
All TVs manufactured and sold in the UK since 2010 should already have Freeview built-in, but if you want to be able to record, or simply want a more advanced experience – you can get a dedicated set-top Freeview box (see our recommendations) connected to the aerial and to your TV.
Manufacturers who want to display the official Freeview logo on their devices (which lets customers know the device will be 100% compatible with the Freeview service and its features), need to obtain a licence.
If you browse online stores, you will see plenty of cheap boxes that support the DVB-T2 broadcast standard, and can therefore show (and record) Freeview channels on your TV. But if you don’t see the official Freeview logo, it means these devices were not certified by Freeview, thus you will usually not see them in the big retail chains.
The prominent Freeview device manufacturers – such as Manhattan, Humax and Panasonic, all work with Freeview and are allowed to display the official logo on their devices and product boxes. Most major TV manufacturers do the same.
Freeview HD Is Going Away
In recent years, there were multiple Freeview services/logos you were likely to see on set-top boxes or TVs:
- Freeview+ / FreeviewHD: Freeview+ signified the ability to record as well as pause live programmes, while Freeview HD brought support for Full HD channels to Freeview (these days, you’re not likely to see the Plus logo – instead, the device will simply be marked as a recorder / PVR with the Freeview HD or Freeview Play logo).
- Freeview Play: A combination of over-the-air channels and programmes on-demand via the internet, giving you access to several catch-up apps such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and others, all in one device. (Also see our guide – What is Freeview Play?)
Until now, the minimum support level for a device bearing the official Freeview logo was Freeview HD – either with or without recording capabilities.
Last year, Freeview announced it will begin to phase out the Freeview HD brand – meaning all devices that want to display the official logo, would have to support Freeview Play.
The move started with TVs, and thus any TVs manufactured from 2021 onwards had to support Freeview Play, with its broadband connectivity and catch-up streaming apps (TVs manufactured before 2021 without Freeview Play support can still be sold, while stocks last).
“The decision to phase out the Freeview HD brand”, the announcement said, “follows on from the success of Freeview Play. Whilst live TV remains important for many, TV viewing habits are evolving to embrace on demand which comprises a core element of the Freeview Play offer.”
In 2022, this decision will be extended to new set-top boxes. So again, devices manufactured in 2021 can still be sold in 2022, but going forward, all Freeview boxes that bear the official logo would have to support Freeview Play.
It’s worth mentioning, however, that Freeview device manufacturing has already suffered setbacks this year, due to the pandemic and global chip shortages (the Manhattan T3 box, for example, has been suspended recently due to some of these issues).
This means that even companies that are still manufacturing Freeview HD devices in 2021, may not have the stock levels they were hoping for by the end of 2021.
No More Cheap Freeview Boxes?
The upcoming change will mostly affect people looking for cheaper Freeview boxes, who have no need for broadband connectivity or the Freeview Play catch-up apps.
Manhattan, the British manufacturer of both Freeview and Freesat set-top boxes, is currently selling two devices that will be affected by the scrapping of Freeview HD: the Manhattan T1 (check price on Amazon) and the Manhattan T2-R (see our review).
The T1 in particular is a box we often recommend for those looking for a budget Freeview player that still comes from a well-known company. At a price of £35 (as of this writing), it’s not likely to be replaced by a Freeview Play device – as those tend to cost considerably more (the T3, for example, was sold for more than £70).
However, Manhattan told us that since “Digital UK allow Freeview HD set-top boxes manufactured in 2021 to be sold through to the end of 2022, the T1 and T2-R will be around a good while yet”.
Humax, the long-running set-top boxes manufacturer, is still selling one model that doesn’t support Freeview Play – the HDR-1800T PVR.
James Sandison, Head of Retail for Humax UK, told Cord Busters: “We’re aware of the changes with Freeview HD. Our HDR-1800T PVR is the only remaining model in our Freeview HD range, which will be available while stocks last. We’ll be continuing to support the Freeview Play platform with our current and future products.”
Panasonic also has some remaining models that don’t support Freeview Play: the DMR-EX97EB and the DMR-HWT130. Argos is also currently selling a £40 Freeview HD box, which is part of their Bush line.
With the cheaper Freeview HD models on their way out, that part of the market will be left to the manufacturers that sell cheap non-branded Freeview receivers.
It remains to be seen whether the bigger manufacturers like Humax and Manhattan will be able to compete on the budget-end of the market, with new – cheaper – devices, though that will be harder with the mandatory support for Freeview Play.
Freeview and Digital UK were unavailable for further comment.