With streaming TV becoming so dominant, Freeview Play is the terrestrial television’s answer to Netflix and the like: it combines Freeview’s traditional over-the-air channels with on-demand content that you get via broadband.
So you get your favourite over-the-air free channels like BBC, ITV and Channel 4 – but with the added component of an app (like BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and All4) that lets you watch the content on-demand.
The real beauty of Freeview Play lies in the integration between Freeview’s Electronic Programme Guide – which shows you each channel’s lineup for 7 days ahead and back – and the on-demand aspect. So if you see a programme that aired a few days ago, and it’s available on-demand – you can jump straight to the correct app and watch that programme there.
Table of Contents
What’s The Difference Between Freeview and Freeview Play?
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, Channel 4 and Arqiva.
The service provides access to a large number of free-to-air TV channels (including some HD channels and radio stations), with minimal equipment necessary, and no recurring subscription costs (You do, however, need to pay the yearly TV license fee in most cases).
Freeview’s interface includes an Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) – a graphical TV guide, that shows you the upcoming TV programmes on each channel for up to eight days ahead.
What Is Freeview Play?
Freeview Play, which launched in 2015, is another free layer which goes on top of the regular Freeview service: it seamlessly connects the supported over-the-air channels with their apps and on-demand broadcasts.
And while those apps are also available on other streaming devices, the integration between the EPG and the apps means that if, for example, you’re watching a live programme on a supported channel – you can re-start it from the beginning via the connected app (without the need to record anything).
In addition, you can “go back in time” on the EPG – see an interesting programme from last week? You can jump right into that channel’s app and start watching – without the need to run the app and start looking for the programme manually. On most devices, you can scroll back on the EPG up to seven days.
So, when you browse your EPG on a supported device, you will see a small “Play” icon on past programmes that are still available to watch on-demand. (Most programmes are only available for 30 days after their original broadcast – but there’s usually a longer window on BBC iPlayer).
Freeview Play also showcases its offerings on a dedicated channel – 100 – where you can see recommended on-demand programmes and channels that might interest you. In addition, you can search for specific content among, which is handy when you know what you want to watch.
What Channels Are Available On Freeview Play?
While the regular, over-the-air Freeview has more than 80 live tv channels, Freeview Play only supports these on-demand services:
- BBC iPlayer: The BBC’s streaming video app, with content from all across the BBC brand, as well as live TV channels. Most programmes are now available up to a year following their original broadcast, but some are still only available for 30 days.
- ITV Hub: Content from all of ITV’s channels, usually up to 30 days after the original broadcast (at which point some move to BritBox).
- All 4: Channel 4’s streaming video service, which new and past content from Channel 4.
- My 5: On-demand content from Channel 5, both newer content and classic programmes from the channels’ archives.
- UKTV Play: A set of channels (owned by the BBC) – Dave, Yesterday and Drama – with on-demand boxsets of entertainment and comedy shows like Taskmaster and classic episodes of Eastenders.
- CBS Catchup: On-demand programmes from CBS’ Freeview channels – CBS Drama, CBS Reality and CBS Justice.
- Horror Bites: On-demand programmes and movies from The Horror Channel.
- STV Player: The on-demand service of the popular Scottish broadcaster STV, was added (UK-wide) this year, with original programmes and US imports.
Do note that with all those channels (except the BBC) – even on their on-demand services – you’ll still have to stop for advert breaks. (Though there are still ways to watch ITV without adverts).
How Can I Get Freeview Play?
Since Freeview combines the regular Freeview live TV service with the on-demand services, you first need to make sure you can actually get the basic Freeview tier.
Freeview is an over-the-air service, so it relies on transmitters, and it will only work if you have good reception in your house.
In order to watch the regular Freeview service, you need two components:
- An aerial, either indoor or outdoor, which connects into your TV or Freeview set-top device. (See our indoor aerial recommendations here)
- A Freeview receiver – This can either be a TV that supports Freeview (all TVs sold in the UK since 2010 should support basic Freeview), or a dedicated Freeview set-top box.
Then, if you want to add the Freeview Play part, you will also need:
- A Freeview Play Receiver: This, again, can either be a TV that supports Freeview Play, or a dedicated set-top box. You don’t need TWO devices – but you do need to make sure your device supports Freeview Play, and not just Freeview. (See our recommended Freeview Play boxes)
- An internet connection: The on-demand component streams the programmes you want to watch from the internet – so you need to connect your device to your broadband, either via WiFi or with an Ethernet cable.
To better explain things, here are a few frequently asked questions that I always get regarding Freeview Play:
Do I Need An Aerial For Freeview Play?
Technically, an aerial is only needed for the over-the-air live TV part of Freeview. You could still watch the on-demand content via broadband alone, via the apps like BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, etc’.
In addition, most of the channels also let you watch their “live” broadcasts via their apps – so even if your aerial is down, or reception is bad – you can still watch the live BBC channels, for example, via the BBC iPlayer app on your Freeview Play box.
However, without an aerial, you won’t be getting the full Freeview Play experience which uses the EPG to combine live programming with on-demand content. (Plus, you won’t be able to watch the Freeview channels that don’t have a Freeview Play layer – those are only available live, via the aerial).
Which Freeview Play Box Do I Need?
In the Freeview world, there are four different types of Freeview set-top boxes:
- Regular Freeview Players: Basic receivers that connect to your TV (or are built-into your TV) that only let you watch LIVE channels, as they’re being broadcast.
- Regular Freeview Recorders: These boxes add a hard drive that lets you record content from over-the-air channels, and watch it later.
- Freeview Play Players: These boxes let you watch both the regular Freeview over-the-air channels, and the internet-based Freeview Play streaming content.
- Freeview Play Recorders: These top-of-the-line devices combine the ability to record content from over-the-air channels, as well as watch on-demand Freeview Play content (But you can’t record streaming content – only the live Freeview channels can be recorded).
First, you need to decide whether you want to be able to record live programmes. Remember – most Freeview channels are NOT available on-demand, so if you want more flexibility, you should consider a Freeview Play recorder.
You can see our list of the best Freeview Boxes here (of all types), but to save you some time, our current Editor’s Choice for the Best Freeview Play Recorder is the Manhattan T3-R, and our recommended Freeview Play box (without recording) is the Manhattan T3.
Alternatively, you can get a TV that has Freeview Play support built-in. There aren’t a lot of those, but you can find a few models from LG, Sony, Toshiba and others – see the current selection on Amazon.
Can I Get Freeview Play On A Smart TV?
If your Smart TV doesn’t specifically support Freeview Play – then the answer is no.
People get confused, however, because many smart TVs support some of the apps that are part of Freeview Play – usually BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5.
So, you can watch on-demand content from these channels on your Smart TV – but you won’t get the integration between Freeview’s EPG and the relevant apps, as you would on a set-top box.
Is There A Freeview Play App?
Yes. Back in 2019, Freeview released a smartphone app which curates and aggregates content from Freeview Play’s channels into one place.
The app is a bit of a disappointment, since it doesn’t do a lot on its own – you still need to install all the separate apps from each of the supported channels (so BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, etc’), and when you try to play something on the Freeview app – it simply kicks you out and into the broadcaster’s own app.
That behaviour is similar to how Freeview Play actually works on your TV – but we’re still hoping to get a standalone Freeview Play app that can stream video without relying on other apps.
Can I Get Netflix On Freeview Play?
For example, the Humax FVP-5000t (see our review) has the Netflix app, along with the regular Freeview Play apps. (You would, of course, need a paid Netflix subscription for it to work).
But most Freeview Play boxes don’t support Netflix or any of the other non-Freeview streaming services, so you would need a Smart TV or a dedicated streaming device (like the Amazon Fire TV Stick) for those.
What’s The Difference Between Freeview Play and YouView?
Youview is very similar to Freeview Play – but it launched earlier, back in 2012.
Just like Freeview Play, YouView is a “hybrid” service that combines the regular, over-the-air Freeview channels, and catch-up TV from the same selection of supported channels, streamed to you via your broadband connection.
Some YouView boxes (which are not the same as Freeview boxes) also offer additional pay-per-view channels and programmes, which aren’t available on Freeview Play.
If that all sounds a lot like Freeview Play – you’re correct. YouView was created to combine over-the-air channels with streaming catch-up services, but ever since Freeview Play came along in 2015, the two services have become almost identical.
It’s up to you to decide whether you want to go with a YouView box or a Freeview Play box – but do keep in mind that Freeview Play is, at least from a tech point of view, more widely supported these days.
Bottom Line: Is Freeview Play Any Good?
The basic, over-the-air tier of Freeview is a wonderful service, especially for cord cutters, which lets you watch most of the main UK channels without paying a subscription. But should you bother adding Freeview Play?
If you already have a capable Smart TV, or a dedicated streaming device, there’s probably no point in shelling out for a Freeview Play box – you will already have most of the Freeview Play channels as apps on your TV/streaming device (except for CBS Catchup).
However, the way Freeview integrates its EPG with Freeview Play’s on-demand content, letting you scroll back up to seven days, is very convenient – especially if you tend to watch a lot of Freeview channels, and regularly use the EPG.
So if you’re already in the market for a new Freeview Box, adding the Freeview Play component is a nice addition.
But Freeview Play becomes even more important for the elderly, or people who do not feel technically comfortable operating a streaming device: they get the EPG they know and love, and can use it seamlessly to “roll back” in time and watch streaming on-demand content without even realising they’re doing it.
So as a first step into the streaming world – Freeview Play can be a good choice for some.