Welcome to our Freeview box buyer's guide. Freeview boxes allow you to receive the Freeview digital TV transmission, and the best news is that once you have bought a Freeview box, you get a large number of digital TV channels for free, as there is no subscription charge. Below you will find Freeview FAQs to help you to buy the best Freeview box.
Freeview is a Digital Terrestrial Television service, i.e. it is broadcast from the national network of television transmitters. Freeview digital TV first became available in October 2002. When launched, Freeview gave viewers access to many new free digital television channels such as BBC3, BBC4 and ITV2, and allowed them to receive the existing TV channels such as BBC1 in digital quality, as well as numerous digital radio stations.
The government will be switching off the existing analogue TV signal completely by 2012, when you will have to have a way to receive digital TV. To switch off the existing analogue TV service, a phased approach by TV region is being taken. You can find out when your own TV region will switch to only digital TV at the Digital UK site.
Take a look at our list of the best Freeview boxes. If you want to record Freeview programmes as well, then you may like to consider a Freeview PVR, which is similar to a Freeview box, but also contains a hard drive onto which you can record programmes in digital quality.
A Freeview box is just a decoder which can translate the digital TV transmission signal into pictures. You can often pick up the digital TV transmission signal on your existing rooftop TV aerial (although in some cases it may need upgrading).
You plug your rooftop aerial lead into the RF In socket on the back of the Freeview box. The Freeview box connects to the television via a SCART lead.
If the TV does not have a SCART socket, make sure that you buy a Freeview box with a UHF modulator, which converts the signal so that it can be piped to the TV using a traditional aerial lead. Alternatively, you can buy an external modulator, which accepts the SCART lead from the Freeview box, and then connects to the RF In on the TV with an aerial lead.
If you are going to buy a new TV, you won't need a separate Freeview box because the TV will already have a digital receiver inside.
When digital TVs first came out, the DVB (Digital Video Broadcasting) kitemark which showed the TV was ready to receive Digital broadcasts from Digital Terrestrial (Freeview), Digital Satellite, or Digital Cable.
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Modern TVs will have a SCART socket which you can plug your Freeview box into. Either the TV will automatically detect it, or you have to switch the TV to the SCART source (normally there's a button on the remote to switch to a particular SCART input).
For old TV which only has an aerial in socket, your Freeview box will need to have an RF modulator (or you can buy an external modulator). Once connected to the aerial in, you then tune the TV in to it just like you tune the TV in to existing TV channels or your video. If your TV is so old that it doesn't have a SCART socket, it may be time to think about upgrading to a nice new flatscreen TV instead.
See our list of Freeview channels.
- Two SCART sockets on the back; one to connect the box to the TV, and the other to connect the box to your video. This will allow you to record the digital channel you are watching. (Note that you won't be able to record a different digital TV channel from that which you are watching unless you buy a digital set top box which contains two digital decoders, so that the TV can receive one digital channel whilst the video can receive another. These are available but they are more expensive.)
- A UHF modulator, vital for sending pictures to an older TV which does not have a SCART socket. A UHF modulator means you can connect your Freeview box from its RF Out socket via an RF (aerial) cable to the RF In socket on the TV. (Note it is not enough for the Freeview box to just have 'RF/analogue loop through' which just means the old analogue signal that your aerial picks up can be transferred through the box, but without being changed to allow viewing of digital pictures.)
- The Freeview box needs to be equipped with inbuilt software known as MHEG-5 in order to be able to run the 'computer programmes' that are required to show text pages, interactive pages, and some games programmes. Most digital receivers are currently MHEG ready, but it is worth checking. It is also best if the software on the box is updateable by some means (e.g. by connecting to your PC), so that you can benefit from updates when these are made available (for example, Freeview is launching a seven day Electronic Programme Guide, for which you may need a software update).
- If you wish to pipe the digital audio received by the Freeview box to your hi-fi, it will have to have the appropriate audio outputs on the Freeview Box. It's useful to have analog Left and Right stereo audio (phono) RCA outputs so that you can connect the Freeview box to the Left and Right audio Ins of your hi-fi amplifier. If you have up to date digital hi-fi equipment, it may be worth checking the Freeview box has an S/PDIF digital audio output (stands for Sony/Philips Digital Interface) which allows you to send digital audio signals direct from the Freeview Box to the hi-fi without it being degraded by first being converted to an analog signal, so you will be able to enjoy the enhanced quality of Dolby Digital streams.
To view digital television on other TVs around the house, you will have to distribute the signal using RF leads (i.e. traditional aerial coaxial cables). If you want to do this then you must buy a Freeview box with a UHF modulator so that the signal can be piped on RF leads. A problem with this set up is that as you have only one Freeview box, you can only receive one digital channel at once, so all TVs will have to view the same digital channel. The alternative is to buy separate Freeview boxes for each TV, so that each TV receives the digital signal independently, and each TV can watch any channel.
In some parts of the country Freeview signals use a different frequency or transmitter to the one you currently use for your analogue TV reception. The digital TV signal can also be weaker and therefore you will need a more powerful aerial to pick it up.
If you are in an area of low digital TV signal quality, then your Freeview box will have to deal with a large number of errors in the digital TV transmission. This makes your reception susceptible to interference from both inside and outside the home. Interference sources such as cars going past or hairdryers and electric lawnmowers being used, can corrupt the digital signal data, and cause a temporary drop in reception. The solution would be to get a better signal by using a higher gain or more directional aerial. Choosing a Freeview box with a better digital tuner may also improve matters.
The best way is to buy a Personal Video Recorder (PVR). These are Freeview boxes that incorporate hard disk drives, which allow you to record digital TV programmes directly onto the hard disk drive without the need for a video cassette. See our page about PVRs for more.
Yes you can. Buy a Freeview box with two SCART sockets (one goes to the television, and the other to your VCR).
Note because the digital transmission signal is being received and decoded by the Freeview box, you can only record the Freeview channel that you are watching. If you want to be able to watch a different channel from the one you are recording, you can buy Freeview boxes that contain twin decoders, so that one decoder can send one channel to the TV, and the other can send a different channel to the video (or you could just buy two Freeview boxes, one for the TV and one for the video).
Be aware that some Freeview boxes now incorporate Macrovision copy protection which can interfere with recording to the VCR. If possible, buy a Freeview box without Macrovision, although it can often be difficult to find out whether Macrovision is fitted or not.
Top Up TV is a paid subscription service which provides additional digital TV channels for a monthly fee. Currently there are ten Top Up TV channels, including E4, the Discovery Channel, the Cartoon Network and Bloomberg Television. There is also an adult channel called Television X, but this requires an additional monthly subscription payment.
As Top Up TV is a subscription service, a viewing card (a bit like a phonecard) is required, and this goes into a viewing card slot in the Freeview box. As Top Up TV was only introduced in March 2004, Freeview boxes with viewing card slots are only just coming onto the market, so if you are interested in receiving Top Up TV, make sure you check that the Freeview box has one.
Some existing Freeview boxes (e.g. Nokia 221T) have a Common Interface Slot, into which you can plug a Conditional Access Module which accepts the Top Up TV card.
Yes, you can buy a wireless AV sender. This consists of an AV transmitter which plugs into the Scart socket on the Freeview box, and a wireless AV receiver, which plugs into the destination TV. Some of these products will also allow you to use the remote with the destination TV, by transmitting the channel change message back to the source.
YouView is a new digital TV box which should be released early in 2012. It will offer Freeview, catch-up TV, High Definition and Personal Video Recorder fucntionality allowing you to pause, rewind and record live TV.
If you know some useful information about Freeview boxes that you think should appear in our FAQs above, then let us know. Our editors will consider your suggestion for inclusion.
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