What is Freeview?

ByKim Staples
Family watching TV

Once upon a time, a standard TV could only pick up five channels. But since the digital switchover, the number’s now jumped up to over 60 - and that’s thanks to Freeview.

What is Freeview?

It's the basic, free digital TV you can get in the UK. It doesn't require any kind of monthly subscription - just a TV set, an aerial, and a TV licence - and gives you the minimum number of channels you can get on telly. That's around 70 channels or so.

Freeview was founded in 2002, and it became the default way to receive basic TV after the digital switchover in 2012. It's what's known as DTT - digital terrestrial television.

Modern TVs have a Freeview tuner built right into them, but if you want a few more features - like recording from Freeview+, catch-up TV from Freeview Play, and apps like BBC Sport - you can get a separate, more advanced set-top box. That'll cost you anything from £25 to £200.

For anyone who just wants a bit of TV to watch every now and then, it's ideal; but serious telly fans will find it a bit lacking. There aren't any on-demand box sets, recommendations, or premium channels here, for instance. You'll only get those with a proper pay-TV package from Sky, Virgin Media, BT, or TalkTalk, even if it's just a cheap one.

Which is best: Freeview, Freesat, or YouView?

What channels can I get with Freeview?

You get somewhere between 60 and 70 channels with Freeview, depending on your location. They are…

Entertainment, lifestyle, factual BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, ITV2, BBC Four, ITV3, Pick, Dave, More4, Really, Yesterday, Drama, 5USA, ITV4, ITVBe, E4, 5STAR, Spike, Quest, Food Network, Challenge, Four7, My5, True Entertainment, CBS Action, CBS Reality, Tru TV, Horror Channel, CBS Drama, Your TV, Blaze, Community Channel
Music Chart Show TV, 4Music, Viva
International and regional Rishtey Europe, S4C, BBC Alba, TG4, RTE One, RTE 2
News and sport BBC News, BBC Parliament, Sky News, RT, Front Runner
Film Film4, Movie Mix, Movies4Men, True Movies, Talking Pictures TV
Kids CBBC, Cbeebies, CITV, Pop, Tiny Pop, Kix
Shopping QVC, Ideal World, Create and craft, Home, QVC Beauty, QVC Style, The Store, Rocks and Co, Travel Channel, Gems, The Jewellery Channel, Jewellery Maker, Shop 8-12, Hochanda, The Craft Channel
Religion TBN UK

As well as all that, you also get a few +1 versions, around 15 HD channels, various local channels (like Estuary TV and Sheffield Live), adult channels, and 30 or so digital radio stations.

So you get a decent range, but a lot of great telly is still missing. There's no Sky 1, Sky Atlantic, Comedy Central, GOLD, Discovery, Cartoon Network, or sports - you'll need to take out a full TV package for those.

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What's good about Freeview?

  • It's free
  • Widely available - 98.5% population can get it
  • Huge variety of Freeview set top boxes and TVs
  • 60+ channels means you've got all the basics and then some
  • Around 15 HD channels included
  • 7-day catch-up and recording available with certain set-top boxes

What's bad about Freeview?

  • It only offers the absolute minimum number of channels
  • Lots are missing, like Sky channels, Discovery, and GOLD
  • Can't get Sky Cinema, Sky Sports, or BT Sport
  • On-demand is very limited compared to premium packages
  • Set-top boxes aren't as good as Sky Q or Virgin Media TiVo


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