The Death Of TV Recording: Freely Signals End Of An Era

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These days, streaming and on-demand may seem like the be-all and end-all of TV, but 20+ years ago, I had not one but two VCRs connected to two separate TV tuners.

Why? Because I was a TV addict who wanted to record different shows airing at the same time, even if my lounge ended up looking like a BBC broadcasting centre.

And let’s not forget my library of 300+ films on VHS tapes, all meticulously recorded from TV and stored in my basement. Those were the days!

VHS tapes on wooden shelf

But times have changed, and the option to record TV programmes in the UK is slowly but surely disappearing from our lives.

The shift towards streaming has been the driving force behind this change, and it’s becoming increasingly apparent with each passing year.

Gone are the days when Freeview recorders with built-in hard drives were the go-to choice for TV enthusiasts.

Popular models like the Manhattan T3-R and the Humax FVP-5000T have been discontinued, and even the much-anticipated Manhattan T4-R, set to finally launch this month, feels like the swan song of the Freeview recording era.

Humax Aura recording screen

Freesat recorders, while still available, haven’t seen significant updates in recent years, and Freesat itself is slowly losing channels – further emphasizing the waning interest in old-school TV recording.

The rise of broadband-based devices like Sky Stream and Sky Glass, which aim to eventually replace Sky Q, has also contributed to the demise of recording.

These devices lack local storage and instead rely on limited cloud recording and streaming directly from broadcasters.

Therefore, if a show isn’t available in the streaming library – you’re usually out of luck. And we haven’t even mentioned ad skipping yet.

Freely: The Future of Free TV… Without Recording

One of the major developments in the UK’s TV landscape is the launch of Freely this week, a new venture from Everyone TV, the company behind Freeview and Freesat.

Freely TV guide

Freely aims to transform the way we watch free TV by merging live and on-demand content through a broadband-based platform, making aerials and satellite dishes obsolete.

Freely is still in its early stages, but it has the potential to replace Freeview and Freesat in the coming years.

The platform integrates seamlessly with smart TVs (albeit only on new models), providing viewers with a modern, user-friendly interface for accessing live channels and on-demand programming.

However, there’s one major feature missing from Freely: recording.

Unlike traditional Freeview and Freesat recorders, Freely does not offer any recording options whatsoever – not on a hard drive, not on a USB stick, not on the cloud – nothing.

All content is streamed directly from the broadcasters, but there’s a catch. If a programme isn’t available to stream, you’re out of options.

 

And even if it is available, there’s no guarantee it will remain so indefinitely.

Shows and movies come and go from streaming services all the time, and if you haven’t caught them while they’re available, they could disappear for good or move to another subscription service you don’t have.

Plus, there are older programmes that never made it to streaming and are unavailable anywhere – how many shows airing today will suffer that fate and disappear, almost for good, if we’re unable to record them?

With recording, you had the power to keep a programme “forever.” Your cherished episodes and films were safe on your hard drive or VHS tapes, ready to be rewatched whenever the mood struck.

Streaming, for all its convenience, doesn’t offer that same sense of ownership.

Video VCR VHS cassette
(Photo: Deposit Photos / Darksoul72)

Carl Pfeiffer, Everyone TV’s Chief Product Officer, told me that it’s unlikely Freely will ever add recording functionality, as they believe people are shifting away from recordings and towards streaming.

That may be the case, but maybe it’s a chicken and an egg situation – are people ditching recordings because they don’t need them anymore, or because the hardware and streaming services are slowly eliminating the option?

With Freely, viewers are entirely dependent on the availability of content in the broadcasters’ streaming libraries. If a show is removed or moved to another subscription service, viewers cannot access it through Freely.

This lack of control and ownership over content is a significant drawback compared to the freedom and flexibility offered by old-school recording methods.

Is Recording Even Possible Via Streaming?

In short: Yes. But it complicates rights issues for the streamers.

However, some devices and services in the UK have found ways to incorporate recording options via streaming, albeit with limitations.

Take Sky Stream and Sky Glass, for example. These broadband-based devices from Sky do offer a limited cloud recording feature.

Sky Stream table with apps
Sky Stream

While they don’t have built-in hard drives for local storage, they allow users to record certain content to the cloud. This means that viewers can save selected programmes and watch them later, even if they’re no longer available on the live TV guide.

However, it’s important to note that not all content can be recorded to the cloud on Sky Stream and Sky Glass, and most of it still streams directly from the broadcasters (or Sky).

The availability of cloud recording depends on Sky’s agreements with individual broadcasters and content providers.

Some programmes may be eligible for cloud recording, while others may only be available for live streaming or catch-up viewing (and unfortunately, users don’t have any direct control over this).

The playlist on Sky Stream
The Playlist on Sky Stream

Another example of recording via streaming is the BT TV Pro Box (now known as the EE TV Box). This device offers an “Internet Mode” that allows users to stream Freeview channels over broadband, eliminating the need for an aerial.

BT TV Internet Mode official jpg
BT TV’s current ‘Internet Mode’

But here’s the kicker: the BT / EE TV Pro Box also has a built-in hard drive, enabling users to record those streamed Freeview channels locally.

This hybrid approach combines the convenience of streaming with the flexibility of local recording. 

While cloud recording and hybrid devices like the BT / EE TV Pro Box offer some hope for those who value recording functionality, they’re still far from perfect solutions.

And, as Freely demonstrates – even those options seem to be a dying breed.

Fast Forward Adverts? Forget About It

With VHS tapes and Freeview recorders, skipping ads was a breeze. Just hit the fast-forward button, or better yet – skip forward two minutes, and voila! No more pesky adverts interrupting your viewing experience.

adverts commercials on tv

But with streaming, ad-skipping is a luxury that often comes at a premium. Want to bypass the ads? Be prepared to shell out extra for a “premium” subscription.

It’s a frustrating reality for those of us who have grown accustomed to the freedom of ad-skipping.

And the same is true on Freely, where the absence of recording options means that viewers are at the mercy of adverts.

Unlike recorded content, where ad-skipping (or at least fast-forwarding) is possible, streaming through Freely will likely force viewers to sit through ad breaks even when watching on-demand content, unless you pay more for the ad-free option, on services like ITVX Premium and Channel 4+.

Watching ITVX Premium on TV

Even BT TV, which, as mentioned, offers the unique ability to record streamed Freeview channels, made changes to its ITV recordings.

As of November 2023, BT TV customers can no longer fast-forward through ad breaks on ITV channels, even when the programmes are recorded.

This move aligns with ITV’s streaming app, ITVX, but it’s a bitter pill to swallow for those who valued the convenience of ad-skipping.

So no – even cloud recording won’t necessarily save you from the necessity of watching adverts.

ITV ad skipping changes BT TV
Photo: BT

As we move further into the streaming era, it’s clear that the days of recording are numbered.

The convenience and accessibility of streaming are undeniable, but it comes at the cost of control, ownership, and the ability to curate our own personal TV libraries.

For those of us who grew up with VCRs and hard-drive recorders, it’s a bittersweet transition. We’ll miss the satisfaction of hitting record, the joy of building our own collections, and the freedom to watch on our own terms.

Then again, we no longer have to run over to Blockbuster in the pouring rain.

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24 thoughts on “The Death Of TV Recording: Freely Signals End Of An Era”

  1. Humax has been making Freeview and Freesat recorders for 20 years.

    We’re honestly saying they’re pulling out of the UK market?

    I bet they have a Freely recorder in the works.

    EE aren’t stupid. They can obviously see there’s still a market.

    You can Fast Forward through ITV provided you have a decent arial connection. The aerial let’s you record 4 Freeview channels vs two also

    Reply
  2. Whilst there isn’t a freely box yet, surely one has to be on the way, otherwise we will be seeing a LOT of electronic waste being produced, personally I only really buy a new TV if the old one breaks, I can’t be the only person that takes this approach… If a freely box does come to market, one could invest in an HDMI recorder, this would allow one to record the output from the box, of course I’m no expert on these so not sure how it would work in practice. Personally I’m hoping HDHomerun produce a network freely receiver so I can still connect it to my Plex server, that MAY allow me to record. Only time will tell of course. The fact the switch off of broadcast being pushed back does improve the chances of a STB being released with recording functionality, I can’t see Freely offering cloud recordings without it being a paid for service which kind of defeats the object of a free service.

    Reply
    • Exactly.

      Humax has been making Freeview and Freesat recorders for 20 years.

      We’re honestly saying they’re pulling out of the UK market?

      I bet they have a Freely recorder in the works.

      Reply
  3. Regarding the ads. Pi Hole or Ad guard hosted on a computer/raspberry pi can block a lot of unwanted ads from streaming services if they bother you a lot.

    Reply
  4. While I am in no doubt that the broadcasters would love to get rid of recording capability. I don’t think it will be necessarily quite so easy for them, especially now that the life of freeview has been extended a reasonable amount.

    I think the freely system was designed on the premise that terrestrial TV would end around 2030, which means realistically, they would have aimed to have everyone switched over by the second half of 2029. People would have had little choice because there wouldn’t have been time to do anything else Given the recent decision at the world telecommunications conference. Any changes that I decided upon ,won’t now take place until the end of the 2030s , that means that terrestrial TV is around until at least the end of 2034 (current Ofcom spectrum licence) But I would say it’s quite likely that it will end up being more like 2039 in the end. So if people don’t bite broadcasters have time to reconsider their plans and will have little choice but to do so. And while this isn’t a bad reflection on you Or Goren. Freely hasn’t received a positive reception in any of the articles you have done in relation to it and I think this is because people could see what was coming.

    I think that because freely represents a loss of a lot of features that have been considered basic for the last 20 years. I think there will be quite a lot of people that will be very resistant to adopting it. Which means the broadcasters may have to re-evaluate their plans in order to ensure adoption. This will mean as much as the broadcasters don’t want to. They may very well have to introduce things like recording.

    It is also very telling that other than hisense and vestel none of the major TV manufacturers have introduced Freely into their 2024 TVs which suggests they know their customers aren’t going to want to touch it with a barge pole

    All people need to do is vote with their wallets and not buy it. And hey presto, the broadcasters will very quickly reconsider their plans. I personally think they’re going to have their work cut out.

    Reply
  5. While I don’t generally keep recordings once I have watched them, every Saturday I peruse the upcoming week’s tv offerings and program everything that I want to watch to be recorded. Even though most (but not all!) my choices would be available on the broadcaster’s streaming site, it is much more convenient to simply have a selection of all my recordings on a menu for selection rather than having to remember them and then find them on the various site apps. Being able to skip ads is essential to me, so, since my ancient but trusty Humax FOXSAT HDR doesn’t receive ITVx, I subscribe to premium to be able to stream shows there. I used to also stream Prime but have abandoned it, as I am unwilling to take on another paid membership to watch there. Being in my late golden years I have hope that I will expire before either Freesat or my Foxsat does.

    Reply
    • Exactly how I do it, it’s nice to set everything in advance so you don’t forget or miss something, know everything is going to be available in one place, no worries about buffering or quality, no problem skipping the breaks.

      I will miss the HDDs when they’re gone.

      Reply
    • I totally agree. As a Freesat user I treasure the ability to record what I want and skip through intrusive ads. I’m currently trying hard to evaluate other recording devices to provide the freedom of choice options which are currently on the way out.

      Reply
  6. Streaming may be all the rage, but this may well be a fake dawning. I have Sky Stream along with Sky Sport. I don’t watch many live TV programmes at all – only maybe sports. Everything else I watch is streamed either from Apps on Sky Stream or Apps on my Samsung TV or Firestick.

    The Sky ad-skipping service is sh***. Nothing like the one they operate on Now TV. And it’s all going back when my contract expires next month.

    And now many people will buy a new Hisense TV, thinking that this Freely service will solve all their problems, only to find they can’t record a single programme? How many will be sending these TV’s back? My guess is a pretty large number.

    This is all a subject of the making of the TV companies in conjunction with the TV and set top box manufacturers. The only ones not consulted about this carve up is the viewing public.

    Will Ofcom have anything to say about it all? I doubt it.

    Reply
  7. Your article mentions the new upcoming Manhattan T4r TV recorder, if you look on the argos Web site for freeview recorders it shows this recorder as coming soon and gives technical data about said item and staff and public are answering queries about it

    Reply
  8. You know what would be nice? the facility to choose, the facility to choose if I want to stream the facility to buy a TV recorder the facility to watch TV the way I want too not the way some grey suit says I have too.

    Reply
  9. The reality is that all these changes mentioned in the article are due to draconian copyright laws in the UK where any type of broadcast of an audio/visual material needs its own permission! As a result the move to streaming is catastrophic for viewers since broadcasters would have full control of pushing certain shows to their streaming services and others only as live broadcast. This is already happening on C5 where live morning shows (Jeremy Vine) are not on My5.
    Another aspect of this change is censorship! Basically at anytime when a broadcaster thinks a certain show or live event is not politically correct, for whatever reason, they can never be seen again!
    Luckily, this approach to eliminating recording is not widely popular in other parts of the world. In the US the term DVR is still very popular albeit on the cloud rather than on a local HDD. In Europe there are many Recording-friendly providers offering cloud-based DVR solutions.

    Reply
  10. When ever I’m looking for an old TV programme or film that isn’t available anywhere I normally go over to YouTube, that’s normally got something.

    I suppose it’s the modern way now – more choice accessible anywhere, any time, but with less personal freedom to choose how you watch it. The cynic in me is thinking that they don’t want you to have personal copies of media just in case they have to “delete” or change certain facts which don’t align with current “trends”.

    What I’ve noticed with most people now when watching TV is that they aren’t giving what they are watching their full attention, they are always looking at their phones, so perhaps the head of Freely Carl Pfeiffer is correct, people are shifting away from recordings and towards streaming because they just look at their phones when the adverts are on?

    Reply
  11. You haven’t mentioned DVD at all did it skip you by from VHS tapes I still have a large collection of both pre recorded and discs I have recorded for personal use only. I love your site and the information that you produce I am still awaiting of the Manharron 4R. I am still using the old my Humax boxes. Keep up your excellent work.

    Reply
  12. You haven’t mentioned DVD at all did it skip you by from VHS tapes I still have a large collection of both pre recorded and discs I have recorded for personal use only.

    Reply

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