What’s the difference between Freeview and Freesat? What's YouView all about? And which is best? broadbandchoices puts subscription-free digital TV services to the test...
In this guide:Freeview+ HD
Freesat+ with freetime
Verdict: Which is best?
Chances are you've used Freeview before. Most TVs now come with tuners built in, and Freeview set-top boxes are now ubiquitous.
Freeview+ takes all the features and channels of a standard Freeview box and combines them with the ability to pause and rewind live TV and access web-based catch-up TV services.
Why it's good
- 50 channels and 24 radio stations: Freeview gives you up to 50 channels, including the main BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 channels, and other stations like Dave, Food Network and Challenge. It also gives you 24 radio stations
- Subscription-free: Freeview is subscription-free, which is great for those who don't want to be locked into monthly payments or a long-term contract. After the initial outlay, you can watch Freeview without having to pay anything more.
- Pause and rewind live TV: A Freeview+ set-top box enables you to pause and rewind live TV, which means you'll never have to miss a moment of what you're watching. If, for example, you're interrupted by a phone call, or you need a toilet break, while watching Eastenders, you can easily stop the action, or rewind it back to where you left off upon your return.
- Record TV: A Freeview+ box also enables you to record live TV, and it's possible to record either an individual episode or an entire series with just a few button presses. Some Freeview+ boxes even let you record one channel while watching another.
Why it's not so good
- Limited channel selection: Freeview offers the smallest selection of channels of all the digital TV services. Admittedly, many of the biggest channels in the UK are available - the ones you wouldn't want to do without, like BBC One, ITV and Channel 4 - but other services offer content that can't be accessed with Freeview.
- Complicated: Picking a Freeview box is also a little more complicated than with its rivals. There are lots of Freeview set-top boxes on the market, and you have to make sure the one you pick does everything you want it to. For example, while some boxes might offer catch-up TV, on-demand video and the ability to record TV, not all of them do, so check before you spend your hard-earned cash.
- Prices vary: The price of Freeview boxes also varies, but you should expect to pay a higher amount for the more fully-featured devices.
Freesat is satellite TV service, delivered in much the same way Sky (www.Sky.com) is. Unlike Sky, however, it's subscription-free. Freesat+ set-top boxes offer the ability to pause, rewind and record hours of live TV, as well as access a range of online services, such as catch-up TV.
Why it's good
- More than 150 TV and radio stations: Freesat gives you more than 150 TV and radio channels - much more than you'd get with Freeview. You still get many of the same channels, but you also get some extra entertainment, music, news, children's and lifestyle channels, including CBS channels and CNN.
- Subscription-free: Once you've paid for the box, you can watch Freesat as much as you like without having to sign a contract or pay a monthly fee.
- Good picture quality: Because Freesat is a satellite TV service, it offers a strong, consistent signal, and thus excellent picture quality, across the whole of the UK. For people who can't get all the Freeview channels due to signal problems and don't want to pay for a subscription TV service, Freesat could be the solution.
- freetime guide: Freesat offers a pretty snazzy electronic programme guide (EPG) called freetime. This lets you scroll back in the guide to find programmes you've missed and watch them on demand. It also highlights some of the best content currently available on its 'Showcase' page - a great way to find what to watch. Freetime boxes also include all four major catch-up services - BBC iPlayer, 4od, Demand 5 and ITV Player.
- Pause and rewind live TV: A Freesat+ box gives you complete control while watching live TV. Pausing and rewinding is easy, so you can watch TV at your own pace.
- Record TV: A Freesat+ box lets you easily set programmes or series to record from freetime.
Why it's not so good
- Requires specialist equipment: The important thing to remember about Freesat is that you need a satellite dish to receive it. If you already have the equipment, then you'll be able to get the service straight away, otherwise you'll have to shell out for the receiving equipment, making Freesat a much more expensive option.
- More expensive than Freeview: Even if youhave the satellite equipment Freesat+ with freetime is generally a pricier prospect than Freeview+. In our research, we also found typical prices started slightly below that of a standalone YouView box.
- Missing Freeview channels: It's worth noting that not all Freeview channels are available on Freesat. Dave, for example, isn't available on the satellite TV service, although the total number of channels available on Freesat greatly exceeds the number available via Freeview.
Inconsistent catch-up options: While the four biggest UK catch-up TV services are available on Freesat with freetime boxes, older models may not have access to everything. Make sure you check before picking a box.
The result of collaboration between a who's who of British telecom and TV companies, including, BT and TalkTalk, YouView is the newest service on this list. Designed as a 'smart' set-top box, it provides Freeview TV, the ability to pause, rewind and record TV, and easy access to a wide range of online services, including on-demand TV.
You can buy a YouView box from most major electronics retailers, including John Lewis, Curry's and Argos. You can also get one from many online retailers.
Why it's good
- 50 TV channels: YouView gives you access to all Freeview channels - from major stations from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 to niche channels like the quizzy fun of Challenge.
- Subscription-free: Buying a YouView box from a retailer, as opposed to from BT or TalkTalk, means you can watch without having to sign ongoing long-term contract.
- Extensive catch-up TV: BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4od and Demand 5 are all available through YouView. Being able to access all these services through one device is very convenient - if you miss your favourite show chances are you'll be able to watch it before the initial live broadcast is over.
- Easy-to-access catch-up: Unlikesome otherset-top boxes, YouView lets you access catch-up TV from the EPG. Simply select the show you missed, and the relevant catch-up service will automatically launch.
- Pause and rewind live TV: As with the other services, YouView gives you control over live TV. The ability to pause and rewind changes the way you watch TV - interruptions and breaks are no longer an inconvenience.
- Record TV: YouView lets you store hours of TV at a time. The easy-to-use interface makes recording individual episodes or entire series records a doddle.
Why it's not so good
- Expensive: YouView retails for £299 RRP, though you can find it for substantially less if you shop round. Even so, it's one of the more expensive Freeview TV options around. You can reduce upfront costs by subscribing via TalkTalk and BT, but these require an ongoing subscription.
- Slow: Although YouView is very easy to use, it's not the speediest service in our experience. Apps can take a long time to load, so if you're impatient you may find yourself becoming irritated.
- Less to watch than BT or TalkTalk YouView: BT and TalkTalk both offer on-demand TV, films and more via YouView. Unfortunately, these extras are unavailable when you buy the box standalone - you have to sign up to get access.
YouView is available when you sign up for a TalkTalk Plus TV package. TalkTalk supplies the set-top box at no additional cost, but you will have to pay if you want an engineer to install it.
You get Freeview channels as standard, and you can buy additional channels, including Sky One, Sky Arts and Sky Sports, as part of what TalkTalk calls 'Boosts'.
TalkTalk also provides a range of exclusive on-demand content through its TalkTalk Player app, including full TV series and films.
Why it's good
- Free YouView box: If you sign up for TalkTalk's TV package, the company will give you the box for no extra cost. However, you may need to pay a fee if you'd like an engineer to install it for you.
- 69 extra channels through Boosts: As well as all the standard Freeview channels, you can buy 'Boosts', which add more. The cheapest entertainment Boost, for example, gives you Sky1, Sky2, Sky Arts and Sky Living, while other Boosts give you channels like Fox, Alibi, MTV and Cartoon Network.
- Sky Sports: Here's a big draw for sports fans - signing up withTalkTalk is the only way to get Sky Sports via YouView. The Sky Sports Boost gives you Sky Sports 1, 2, 3 and 4 as well as Sky Sports F1.
- On-demand TV and films: TalkTalk lets users stream on-demand TV content through its TalkTalk Player app, including box sets of shows like Peppa Pig and Dirt. On-demand movies are also available from LOVEFiLM Box Office and Picturebox.
Why it's not so good
- Only available alongside TalkTalk broadband and phone packages: To get the benefits of TalkTalk's YouView, you have to also be a TalkTalk broadband customer. If you're looking to switch packages, it's an attractive option, but if you're happy with your existing broadband provider, or locked into a contract, you'll have to look at alternatives to TalkTalk Plus TV.
- Cancel early and pay for the box: Choosing a TalkTalk Plus TV package locks you into a 18-month contract if you're a new customer, and 24 months if you upgrade from an existing TalkTalk package.If you want to switch before that time, you may have to pay back the cost of the YouView box.
- Extra channels cost extra cash: The additional channels available through TalkTalk Boosts require an extra monthly payment. The Boosts you have determine how much extra you'll have to pay, with Sky Sports the most expensive.
BT YouView is available alongside BT's Unlimited and Infinity Unlimited broadband packages. There are two basic options for the TV service - TV Essential and TV Unlimited.
TV Essential is the cheaper choice. It gives you a YouView box, with all the associated features, and access to BT Vision content on a pay-to-view basis.
TV Unlimited also gives you the YouView box, but also gives you access to all BT Vision content, except Box Office movies, at no extra cost.
Why it's good
- No upfront YouView cost: BT doesn't make its TV customers pay for cost of the YouView box - it's included as part of the BT broadband and phone package. It's a much lower cost of entry compared to standalone YouView - something that's sure to appeal to customers that don't want to shell out hundreds of pounds in one go.
- BT Vision on-demand TV and films: BT has a wide range of on-demand content available on YouView through its exclusive BT Vision app. This includes TV shows, films, music, kids TV and more.
- Flexible pricing for on-demand content: There are two basic pricing options available when choosing YouView from BT - TV Essential and TV Unlimited. For those who don't think they'll get much use from BT Vision content, TV Essential gives them a YouView box, with all its associated features, with BT Vision programmes and films available on a pay-per-view basis. Conversely, if you do want unrestricted access to BT Vision on-demand, TV Unlimited gives it to you for an extra monthly fee.
Why it's not so good:
- Only available alongside a BT broadband and phone package: BT YouView is only available alongside BT broadband and home phone packages. While that's potentially great for anyone looking to switch broadband, those who are happy with their provider, or have yet to complete their contract, won't be able to get it.
- Confusing: BT TV packages can be a bit of a head-scratcher. The company offers two set-top boxes - YouView and BT Vision+, and there are key differences between the two. For example, like TalkTalk, BT Vision+ lets you add some extra channels, including Comedy Central, National Geographic and FOX, but these are not available on BT YouView. The biggest different between them, however is...
- No Sky Sports on YouView: BT offers Sky Sports packages to customers, but these are currently only available via the BT Vision+ box. In addition, BT Sport - which has exclusive live rights to 38 Premier League football matches per season - is also coming through the BT Vision+ box.
- Activation and delivery fee for YouView: Although BT won't make you pay for the YouView box upfront, there are some associated costs you'll have to pay when signing up - namely a £49 activation fee and a £6.95 delivery charge
- Termination charges - while BT gives you the YouView box upfront, you may have to pay for it if you terminate your contract early.
Your circumstances dictate what the best TV service is for you. If you're on a tight budget, Freeview+ is the obvious choice. If you already have satellite TV equipment, or get a bad digital TV signal where you live, Freesat is well worth a look.
Alternatively, if you're also in the market for a new broadband package, YouView stands out. Of the two providers offering it, we found that TalkTalk has the edge over BT - albeit a very slight edge. TalkTalk Boosts offer some good channels - FOX for example - and the ability to get Sky Sports is particularly appealing for sports nuts.
Of course, BT's sports offering is pretty strong too, with exclusive rights to key Premier League games, so check what's on offer before making a decision.
Whichever you choose, make sure you compare packages, so you can get the best package for you at the best possible price.