Free TV face off: Freesat or Freeview?

movie watching

THE days of five channel analogue TV are long gone.

Instead, Freeview and Freesat offer a huge range of digital TV channels and radio stations all, for those willing to overlook the cost of set up, for free.

But how do we choose between the two - and once we've done that, what do we need to know about the differences between the services available on that platform?

We'll start by looking at the differences between Freeview and Freesat.

Then we'll look at the complicating factors - Youview and Freesat from Sky.

What's the difference?

Freeview and Freesat users both get access to a digital TV service without paying a monthly fee or signing up to a contract. The difference is in the delivery:

And that delivery difference has several consequences for users.

Coverage

The biggest difference is in terms of coverage.

The way Freesat is broadcast means its coverage is total. Freeview, on the other hand, may well be available to more than 98% of the UK, but those with poor signal - such as those in the 15% of households that can only receive 15 core channels - will be better off with Freesat.

Anyone who's unsure should check what services they're likely to get with Freeview should check on their site, here, using their postcode and house number.

Upfront costs

Installing a satellite dish is the more expensive option.

For those who don't already have a dish, installation starts at around £80. Expect to add at least £30 to that cost for Freesat+ or multiple box installations because of the need for extra cables and connections.

Freeview boxes
The UK's cheapest freeview box
The top five freeview boxes

People who already have a dish - such as former Sky customers - will still need to buy a new Freesat-specific box, but then it's simply a case of switching the cables across.

Basic Freesat set top boxes start at about £44.

Freesat-enabled TVs tend to be among the higher spec models out there, with price tags to match - but they'll also come with features like ultra HD.

Freeview, on the other hand, requires a traditional TV aerial, and either a Freeview enabled TV - which is the norm these days - or a set top box. Basic boxes can cost as little as £20.

Channel choice

So why pay more for Freesat?

The number of channels available on Freeview is steadily increasing: more than 70 are now widely available, with up to 12 in HD; there are more than 20 radio stations on offer on top of that.

But that pales into insignificance compared with Freesat's mighty offering of a good 200 TV and radio channels.

People who opt for the Smart version of Freesat - called Freesat with Freetime - will also get access to a full range of digital terrestrial catch-up TV services and on demand content that might otherwise only be available through a pay TV provider: Curzon Home Movies, for example, is otherwise only available to those with BT TV.

Bear in mind however, that some channels such as Sky News and those from UK TV, like Dave and Gold, are available on Freeview but not on Freesat.

High definition options

Freeview offers up to 12 HD TV channels:

BBC channels One, Two, Three, Four*, News*, CBBC, CBeebies*
ITV ITV HD
Channel 4 Channel 4, 4+1*, 4/7*
Other Al Jazeera*

Channels marked with an asterisk are available to about 70% of UK homes.

Freesat, by contrast, offers all of the above apart from Al Jazeera. Instead it offers NHK World in HD.

Bear in mind though, that while a Freeview HD box can cost as little as £40, and HD comes as standard with Freesat now, viewers will still need at least an HD-ready TV set to enjoy the boost in picture quality.

Recording programmes

For those willing to invest a little extra in their TV habit, both Freeview and Freesat offer set-top boxes with the ability to record programmes.

As with Youview and Sky, the difference is marked by a tiny change in the terminology. Boxes that can record are denoted by the addition of a "+" - so that's Freeview+, Freesat+, Youview+, Sky+ and so on.

Both provide an eight day TV guide, and they'll feature some sort of series link option, allowing users to set up automatic recordings of a whole series with just a couple of button pushes.

A decent Freeview+ HD recorder will cost from £130; Freesat + HD recorders start from £99, but around £150 is more common.

What if you want more?

Having decided on a viewing platform - Freeview or Freesat - there are a couple of other details to consider.

We've already mentioned them in passing when talking about services that allow users to record programmes: Youview and Freesat from Sky.

They're the services we've already outlined, but with a little extra:

Youview

Because it's associated with the pay TV services offered by BT, TalkTalk and Plusnet, there's a perception that Youview costs more - but it doesn't have to.

Youview and Youview+ boxes are sold on the high street just like Freeview boxes; rather than offering just BBC iPlayer and Demand 5, they provide the full range of catch-up services - just like the pay TV providers, but without the need for a monthly subscription.

The only things missing from shop-bought Youview boxes are the extra "premium" channels and provider-specific on demand content.

A basic Youview box costs more than a basic Freeview box - the most commonly available one is the Humax box offered by BT and Plusnet, which retails for £99.

But Youview+ boxes are much more comparable in price to their Freeview+ equivalents, starting from around £150 and offering different features and a bit of variety in the size of the hard drive.

It was this extra choice and the thought of going subscription-free that lead to many people with BT TV buying extra boxes from the high street - but in August 2014 BT clamped down on the use of boxes not bought from them.

Freesat from Sky

As Freesat uses the Sky Digital Viewing Platform, it would be easy to assume that the services offered by standard Freesat and Freesat from Sky are identical.

But as anyone who's heard it's possible to get BT Sport without a Sky or BT TV subscription will tell you, that's not the case.

Certain channels, listed below, are only available to people with Freesat from Sky. Those with standard Freesat can "upgrade" by ordering a viewing card from Sky for a one-off fee of £25.

Regional versions of BBC One and Two, Channel s 4 and 5, and ITV, STV or UTV Local TV channels 4Music
Motors TV Sony Entertainment TV / +1 Sony Movie Channel / +1

There's more on how to add BT Sport to that list in this guide.

Alternatively, those without the kit can get Freesat from Sky for £175 all in - that is, for the set top box, viewing card, dish and installation. Bear in mind, however, that the box is a basic one: it offers HD but can't record.

For that, customers will get more than 240 free-to-air channels and 85 radio stations.

And as well as allowing for monthly subscriptions to other TV services, it makes upgrading to full Sky much easier should they be tempted.

In conclusion

Since the analogue switch off began in earnest, all TVs sold have come with Freeview as standard, and converting the remaining older TVs has been made much easier by the existence of incredibly cheap Freeview boxes.

For those starting out, this makes Freeview the easier, if not necessarily more appealing, option.

The equipment alone means Freesat will undoubtedly remain the more expensive option, with entry-level Freesat and Freesat+ boxes costing around £20 more, and installation to consider.

But viewers get far more channels, and for many in areas with poor aerial reception it's the only way to get more than the old terrestrial channels, and often in better quality.

For those who already have a satellite dish, the advantages and relatively small further cost required to invest in Freesat make it seem very much worthwhile - and for the Sky-curious, Freesat from Sky is a commitment-free way to test the waters.

Comments

1
5 May 2016
Mark L

We are currently with Sky, would we still be able to use their dish to access Freesat?

12 May 2016
Dean

Yes

2
28 March 2016
Stephen Miller (formerly B.C.)

Is there some difference between the quality of the radio stations? A lot of the Freeview stations appear to be in mono. I would rather have high quality stereo. However I will use my FM tuner if it comes to it as the sound appears to be less clinical and two-dimensional than on Freeview or indeed DAB.

3
16 February 2015
spanner

Free this, free that or free the other, how much am I getting paid to watch the advertising?

27 July 2015
Caerleonite

Good shout.. Avoid the youview box; you can't fast forward the stupid commercials (but somehow they forgot to mention this).

4
3 November 2013
Sid777

I have both also and I do find that Freeview depends on your television, Samsung have a good Freeview interface.

5
4 October 2013
Poppy

If you live where I do then Freeview channels are VERY limited and so Freesat is MUCH better, so don't forget to check which channels are available in your area.

6
21 September 2013
Fred

The recommendation for Freeview assumes you already have an aerial, but if you don't or need a new one, a Freeview aerial is more expensive to install than a Freesat dish, in my opinion.

28 August 2014
yes voter

I have just erected a 35 year old aerial that I had in my loft, I connected this to a 3 way splitter box and tuned in my 3 TV sets with built in freeview, all are receiving 121 channels (inclusive of radio etc) this is despite the fact that the aerial is pointing directly into thick woodland about 10 metres from my property.

I live in the north east of Scotland and Durris is the transmitter I am receiving my signal from, a distance of 61 miles.

7
16 July 2013
frank

I have both Freeview HD and Freesat HD and prefer Freesat.

19 March 2014
Mark Gowans

Do I need any other equipment if I have a TV that has both Freeview and Freesat built in? I've been looking at one of these new 4K TVs but since they are so expensive I would rather not have any extra expense if I can avoid it.

27 July 2015
Caerleonite

I am very pleased with my John Lewis LG smart TV which has both, and all the in and outputs you would want, including USB recording to HDD. They also have 4K ones in their range: 55JL9000. Of course, consult the reviews first, but certainly my best buy...

18 June 2014
Joe

I too am looking at the new televisions with built-in Freeview and Freesat. The ones with the built-in Freesat do seem a tad pricey though.

8
28 June 2013
steve

Good info, I have Freeview HD but there are too many repeats.

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