The Great Digital TV Switchover: Freeview or Freesat?

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The UK is currently in the process of switching over from analogue broadcast to fully digital television. Essentially that means the analogue broadcasts will be turned off channel by channel and the frequencies those channels currently occupy will be replaced by digital TV channels. The reason the government are doing this is two-fold: primarily so it can auction off the frequencies that Freeview is currently broadcasting on and because moving Freeview to current analogue frequencies will allow much better reception for Freeview channels.

When do I switch?

According to Digital UK, switchover is happening region-by-region. The timetable as it currently stands:

  • Border has already started and finishes in 2009
  • West Country starts in April 2009 and finishes in September 2009
  • Granada switches in 2009
  • Wales starts in August 2009 and finishes in 2010
  • STV North switches in 2010
  • STV Central switches between 2010 and 2011
  • West switches between 2010 and 2011
  • Channel Islands switch in 2010
  • Central, Yorkshire and Anglia switch in 2011
  • Meridian switches between 2011 and 2012
  • London switches in 2012
  • Tyne Tees and Ulster switch in 2012

What are the free options?

The Office Monkey
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There are of course a huge range of  services you could choose to replace analogue TV. Most of these involve subscription; I won’t talk about these options in this post. I’m working based on the assumption that if you wanted to subscribe to a TV service, you already would be doing so.

Essentially, you’ve got three options. The first is Freeview which is the most similar to analogue TV. You recieve television through an aerial. This can cause difficulties if you’re using an indoor aerial because digital TV tends to require better reception for it to work. Enter your postcode on the Freeview website.  There is a fairly good selection of channels too and the shopping channels gradually seem to be disappearing from the service. A Freeview box costs under £20 and you can install it quickly and fairly easily. It’s also worth considering getting a Freeview+ PVR (personal video recorder) for £100 which will allow you to record programmes.

Typical Freeview cost: £20

The other two options are to recieve television through your satellite dish. Rather confusingly, there are two services called Freesat: there is Freesat from BBC/ITV (“Freesat”) and Freesat from Sky. These are much pricier options but they might be your only choice if you don’t get Freeview in your area.

Hanging out with the coloured cottons 2
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You can get a Freesat box from £50 or a high definition box from £100. If you want to record, you’ll have to fork out at least £300. On top of that, if you don’t have a satellite dish, it’s another £80 for installation. The costs are significantly higher than Freeview but it does mean you can get the most out of that new high definition TV.

Typical Freesat Cost: £130

Then there’s Freesat from Sky. Sky will charge you £150 for a box and installation. You’ll probably get spammed by Sky to take out insurance on your box (and my Sky box just after 1 year when the warranty expired). You’ll also constantly get annoyed flicking through channels displaying “please subscribe” nags. This is certainly an uncompetitive option and there is no chance of subscription-free high definition or PVR.

In fact, if you’re considering Freesat from Sky, you might as well consider the full thing. Sky’s Pay Once Watch Forever offer gives you 4 months of free Sky TV for £73. If you cancel after 4 months, it’ll revert to Freesat from Sky. Obviously, they’re counting on you staying as a subscriber.

Typical Freesat from Sky Cost: £150 + spam from Sky (or £73 if you’re willing to sign up to the full Sky and then cancel)


Expanded Perception
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By far the best and cheapest option is Freeview. For most people, this will probably be first choice. I strongly recommend Freeview+ as having a PVR changes your life 🙂

However, Freesat from BBC/ITV is worth considering if:

  • You already have a satellite mounted outside your house
  • You want high definition television
  • You can’t receive Freeview where you live

Freesat from Sky is probably not at all worth considering. I’ve had to put up with nuisance calls, letters and emails from Sky.My first Sky box broke after about a year and my current Sky+ box (which I’ve almost very nearly had for a year) looks like it might be on it’s last legs…

2 thoughts on “The Great Digital TV Switchover: Freeview or Freesat?

  1. Actually I have Freesat-from-Sky; cost me somewhere under £150 or so for dish+installation and it works very nicely.
    Your complaint about flicking through channels saying you need to subscribe is complete cobblers. Simply mark everything you can get without extra subscription as a favourite channel and use list-of-favourite-channels in the guide. PVR is more expensive, unfortunately, as DVB-S cards are few and far between; you’re left with trying to cobble together a means of changing channel (IR transmitter or serial port if you’re lucky) and use a Hauppage PVR350 card – basically for its MPEG decoder and not much else.

    By way of comparison, the most cost-effective off-the-shelf tuner+recording toy I know for Freeview is £100.

    There’s also the small matter that, even though all the supermarkets in Perth sell Freeview tuners by the bucket-load, there is currently *no* freeview signal in Perth itself.

  2. I think you sum it up very well when you say “if you’re considering Freesat from Sky, you might as well consider the full thing” – if you want to save money then Freeview is for you, if you’re going to spend a fair bit (Freesat) then just spend that bit more and have all the trimmings!

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