Freeview, Freesat, and YouView… they all sound a bit similar, and they all offer a set top box that delivers dozens of free-to-air TV channels without a subscription fee. So what’s the real difference between the three? And which is the best choice for you?
Good old Freeview comes in a few different forms, from a set top box, to a dinky little thing that barely even qualifies as a box, to a telly that already has it built in. Loads of electronics manufacturers make them so you have plenty of choice. All it needs is to be hooked up to your aerial - and broadband, if you want to use Smart TV services - and you're good to go.
Freesat was set up as a way of getting a lot of TV at a super low cost, and it does that via satellite. So as well as a box, you'll also need a satellite dish installed. That can be a bit of a hassle - and is more expensive - but it's a good choice if you have bad digital TV signal in your area.
YouView works with just a box, available from various retailers. Or, you can get one free with a BT TV or TalkTalk TV subscription, each of which offer various extras like entertainment channels, movies, and sports.
Let's take a closer look at how they all compare.
Prices for Freeview boxes vary pretty widely, since so many manufacturers make them. A good quality Freeview+ box with decent storage space for recordings can set you back a couple hundred pounds - though you can also pick up a basic one for less than twenty quid.
Freesat boxes have a slightly higher base price, but otherwise the range is similar to that of Freeview. You will, however, have an extra expense if you don't have a satellite dish - essential for receiving Freesat.
Verdict: Freeview wins, if you're not concerned about getting a name-brand box.
Your TV experience all comes down to the channels you get. Freeview holds the baseline here, with 70+ channels of TV and radio. YouView offers the same - though as part of a BT TV package, you can have up to 39 extra, and even more if you add Bolt-ons. Similarly, a TalkTalk TV package gets you seven extra with the option to add 'Boosts' for more. But if it's just the standalone box we're looking at, Freesat takes the lead. With a whopping 200 channels of TV and radio, you'll never run out of things to watch.
Verdict: Freesat wins with flying colours.
Sure enough, all three services recognise that we want to put our HD-ready TVs to good use and watch our favourite shows in stunning high definition. Phew. Freesat has 11 HD channels, Freeview has 12… and YouView has 14, plus even more if you get BT Bolt-ons or TalkTalk Boosts. Oh, and you can get an Ultra HD 4K-ready YouView box with BT's Total Entertainment package. The winner here is clear.
Good news - all three services offer a box that can record TV. And all three offer boxes that can record up to either 500GB of programmes, or 1TB.
Verdict: It's a big old tie.
There's no point having a set top box if you can't figure out how to use it. How do the three compare on the usability scale?
YouView prides itself on its user-friendly, accessible features - catch up is integrated into the TV guide, and it's easy to switch on subtitles or audio descriptions. Plus the guide is designed to work with screen reader apps and you can zoom in to read it better. The downside is that the box is annoyingly slow to start up.
Freesat have developed an intuitive TV guide - called Freetime - that makes it super easy to use. You can scroll back in time to catch up on shows you missed, search for the right programme, and neatly organise your recordings. However, it doesn't come as standard - make sure the box you choose supports Freetime.
Different manufacturers and TVs have different interfaces for Freeview, so it's difficult to make a blanket statement about how usable it is. What we can say is that it's very easy to set up… once you've fought through the complicated process of choosing the right box in the first place.
Verdict: YouView wins for its dedication to accessibility.
It's not just TV series we want to watch - each of the services has something to offer movie buffs too.
Freeview has nothing movie-wise on its own, but itiscompatible with Smart TV services - meaning that all you need is the right telly and a broadband connection, and you can access apps for Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Now TV, and more.
Freesat has the fewest movie services, offering only a Curzon Home Cinema subscription - though this is a super cheap way of getting Curzon on your TV.
Once again, however, YouView blows the others out of the water. A standalone box lets you use Netflix, Now TV, and the Sky Store to buy and rent movies. With BT TV, you'll get all those plus BT Box Office, as well as Sky Cinema and Curzon Home Cinema Bolt-ons. Or with TalkTalk TV, you can add the Sky Cinema Boost and the PictureBox Boost, and access the TalkTalk Store.
For sports fans who are counting pennies, this one's obvious. Freeview offers… no sports channels. And Freesat offers… no sports channels. But YouView? Yep. As part of a BT TV package, you'll get BT Sport included free, and the Sky Sports Bolt-on can be added (and removed) at any point. Or if you prefer TalkTalk, you can add the Sky Sports Boost to your package in the same way.
Freesat may offer the most channels, and Freeview is perfect if you don't want to dip into your savings, but it's pretty clear that YouView is the overall winner here. With its easy-to-use interface and lovely range of HD channels, you're bound to get a great TV experience - and that's not even counting the hours of on demand extras you'll get with a BT TV or TalkTalk TV package.