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So. Freeview - not convinced yet? Let me try to enlighten you a bit!!
DIGITAL versus ANALOGUE =======================
Firstly, let’s go right back to basics. Traditionally, television has been broadcast in an analogue format. Freeview is different, as it is a digital TV service. On a digital TV system, TV signals are converted into a digital format by the broadcaster, transmitted, and then decoded again back into pictures and sound by your receiver. It’s a bit like the difference between a vinyl record (analogue, using a physical groove on the disc that mirrors the original soundwave) and a CD (where sound has been converted and stored as digital data).
Digital TV has a number of potential benefits. Firstly, it allows space to be used more efficiently resulting in the ability to broadcast more television channels. Secondly, it can produce a better quality picture. It is also combined with extra features such as interactive features and on-screen programme information. You can get digital TV services using a satellite dish, or a cable television company. Freeview, however, offers a digital TV service through traditional TV aerials.
THE BASIC PREMISE ================= What is Freeview’s core offering? Simply, I would say that it offers a selection of extra channels and enhanced TV features with the benefits of a reasonably simple installation and no subscription fee.
FREEVIEW’S CHANNELS ===================
The Freeview offering is not for the serious TV junkie. It doesn’t (and will never be able to) offer as many channels as satellite or cable. In addition, it is a free service, so you can’t expect the same programming as on expensive subscription packages. That said, there is a fairly solid offering on Freeview, you can get some of the popular pay channels if you like, and of course, many of those hundreds of Sky channels are pretty useless!
So, what do you get?
BBC ONE http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcone/ Well, I'm sure we're all used to this! It's as on normal telly.
BBC TWO http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctwo/ http://www.bbc.co.uk/2w/ BBC Two is mostly as on analogue TV, with regional variations. Outside England, there are more regional programmes - for example, Wales has BBC 2W which replaces BBC Two for a few hours each evening.
BBC THREE http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/ This is aimed at 25-34 year olds, with new comedy and drama (a bit like lots of BBC Two used to be like) and a 10pm repeat of Eastenders. It's where series like Little Britain and Nighty Night started out.
BBC FOUR http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/ The more higbrow offering from the Beeb, with arts programmes, concerts and films from 7pm nightly. Quite a few hidden gems in there.
ITV 1 http://www.itv.com/ The usual ITV service for your region.
ITV 2 http://www.itv2.co.uk/ A few extra programmes complementary to those on ITV1 (such as more X Factor!), and imported editions of The Late Show. Occasionally a good film too. Also repeats from ITV1.
ITV 3 http://www.itv3.com/itv3/ ITV's new channel focusing on dramas and movies. You know the kind of thing - Frost, Midsomer Murders, Cadfael, Jeeves & Wooster, plus theme nights and specials.
CHANNEL 4 http://www.channel4.com/ Exactly as you are used to it. Welsh viewers rejoice - you can now receive Channel 4 in Wales and not just S4C!
FIVE http://www.five.tv/ As on analogue. Seems to have improved a bit in recent months, content-wise.
UK BRIGHT IDEAS http://www.ukbrightideas.tv/ Daytime channel, specialising in home and gardening programmes, makeovers, health and food.
UK HISTORY http://www.ukhistory.tv/ British-made factual history programmes, with themed weeks focussing on major topics or World history events.
FTN http://www.ftn.tv Now starts at about 8pm. Mainstream mixture of gameshows, lightweight documentaries, lifestyle programmes and comedies mostly from Bravo, Trouble and Living TV channels.
TMF Non-stop music channel from MTV. Not a bad mix, with older hits making an appearance at times as well as new music.
THE HITS Non-stop music channel, this time only current pop music and set up as a kind of video jukebox where you call a premium rate number to vote for what songs you want played.
SKY TRAVEL http://www.skytravel.co.uk A mixture of factual travel shows, documentaries and holiday sales. They seem to be forever showing episodes of Airline.
CBBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbbc/ Children's programmes from 7am till 7pm. The usual children's output from the BBC, but more of it!
CBEEBIES http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/ The BBC children's channel aimed at younger children (and probably us big kids) with Teletubbies, Bob the Builder and Balamory with its very catchy tune!
BBC NEWS 24 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news24/ The BBC's continuous news channel.
ITV NEWS CHANNEL http://www.itn.co.uk/company/channels/newschannel.shtml Tends to have a stronger UK emphasis than BBC.
SKY NEWS http://www.skynews.co.uk Quite an impressive offering, good at up-to-the-minute news.
SKY SPORTS NEWS http://www.skysports.com Does exactly what it says on the tin! Sports news - but no live matches.
QVC http://www.qvcuk.com Yes, the diamonique specialist is available on Freeview. Now available in Wales too!
BID-UP.TV and PRICE-DROP.TV http://www.bid-up.tv http://www.price-drop.tv TV shopping channels.
BBC PARLIAMENT http://www.bbc.co.uk/parliament/ Coverage of the goings on in the Houses of Parliament and regional assemblies.
TEACHERS' TV http://www.teachers.tv Available from midnight till 6am only.
S4C DIGITAL http://www.s4c.co.uk/ Only available in Wales. Differs from analogue S4C by being entirely S4C output and no Channel 4 programmes squashed into the schedule at odd hours.
S4C2 http://www.s4c.co.uk/ Live coverage of the Welsh Assembly. Sometimes. Not riveting. (Wales only.)
TELE-G http://www.teleg.co.uk/ Gaelic programming for Scotland. (Scotland only.)
THE COMMUNITY CHANNEL http://www.communitychannel.co.uk Apparently "inspiring people to do more with their lives".
RADIO SERVICES ==============
Most of us don’t bother to get a high-quality radio tuner for our hi-fi. If you buy a Freeview box, not only can you listen to radio channels through your telly, you can also feed high-quality sound through your stereo system and get great radio reception as a bonus.
- Radio 1 - BBC Radio 2 - BBC Radio 3 - BBC Radio 4 (FM) - Five Live - Five Live Extra (sports events) - 6 Music - BBC 7 - 1 Xtra - BBC Asian Network - BBC World Service - Kerrang - Smash Hits - Kiss - Jazz FM - OneWord - The Hits Radio - Q Music - Magic - Heat - The Hits Radio - Mojo - 3C
- The BBC's regional radio stations for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, within these areas.
PAY CHANNELS ==============
Although not technically part of the Freeview consortium, you can also get some extra pay TV channels through digital terrestrial TV. This complements the free channels and offers you a little bit extra using the same equipment as for Freeview.
The line-up includes E4, TCM, Discovery and UK Gold among others, for a total price of £7.99 a month. It's available to anybody receiving Freeview either with a new box with card slot specifically desigend for the service (Argos have one) or an old ITV Digital / On Digital box.
More details from www.topuptv.com or see the promo on channel 36 where Alice Beer will talk you through it! (If you don't have channel 36, you might need to do an "add channels" action on your box to make it pick up the addition)
OTHER ENHANCEMENTS ==================
Freeview also offers:
WIDESCREEN Increasing numbers of TV programmes (especially on BBC) are available in widescreen.
DIGITAL TELETEXT Services from the BBC, Channel 4 and Teletext are available and look a fair bit nicer than blocky old text (though I do love good old Ceefax!) Subtitles are available and are very clear.
NOW AND NEXT Extremely useful! Pressing the right button on your receiver's remote will tell you what programme is showing now, and what's coming up next. You can also watch one channel and cycle through the information to see what's showing on the other channels.
PICTURE AND SOUND QUALITY =========================
This is swings and roundabouts. Sound quality is fine. As for the picture, it's a matter of opinion. Certainly, you won't get 'ghosting', 'snow' or a fuzzy picture any more. Indeed, you're likely to get quite a crisp, clear picture. Think again of CDs. Either the signal gets through and is reproduced correctly, or a scratch or something makes part of the disc totally unplayable. With digital TV, you either get a good picture which doesn't need tweaking, or you get nothing (or constant break-ups of the picture, at least).
To warn the purists, some of the channels are a compressed to fit into the available broadcast space, with occasional slight distortion on complex images. For example, on BBC Three, the annoying logo in the top corner of the screen may get slightly fuzzy round the edges. Five seems to be badly affected at times, with a slightly blocky picture. It's most noticeable on very large tv screens, but isn't a huge problem and happens on Sky too. It is more than compensated for by the overall improved quality of the picture.
Extremely difficult to advise on this one! Sky works for almost everybody, because it is professionally installed with the right kit pointing in the right direction. Likewise, if you have a professionally-installed TV aerial, digital terrestrial (i.e. Freeview) reception should be possible. However, unlike the uniform Sky dishes, your aerial might be a perfect professional job, an old setup designed with only analogue TV in mind or a cable that's reached the end of its useful life, a cheap DIY job, or a set-top aerial. (By the way, although some houses may need a new aerial there isn't really such a thing as a "Digital TV aerial" - so don't be conned into paying extra just because an aerial's labelled as such!)
If you have a rooftop or loft aerial the odds for picking up Freeview are in your favour usually. The postcode-checker at http://www.freeview.co.uk/ is handy for predicting whether your area should be covered or not, although it's not infallible.
If you're using a set-top aerial, or your analogue picture is bad, you are quite unlikely to pick up the Freeview signal easily. I manage with a shabby set top aerial, but admittedly this is in a second floor flat with the transmitter only a couple of miles away.
Best advice is either to borrow a digital receiver from somebody and try it out if you can.
Of course, if you are in an area which is covered but your aerial is a bit too rickety, it's well worth considering having it sorted out.
In some areas with a weak signal, digital TV may well give you a better picture. However, if the signal is too bad, you are likely to have the picture "break up" or go blocky on you. Incidentally, this is slightly more likely to happen on a couple of the channels not directly run by the Freeview partners of BBC, Sky and Crown Castle. These include ITV, Channel 4 and Five, all of which use a less robust transmission method than, say, BBC channels. So if you borrow a box to try out, do check the picture on ITV and C4 before deciding to purchase!
Most people will buy a simple adapter (or "digibox"), which I am sure are reviewed elsewhere on Ciao. They've now got even cheaper and you can pick them up for £30 if you're lucky! These are available from all the usual places, such as Argos and Dixons and some of the supermarkets. It's also possible to get televisions with built-in digital capability, though these tend to be more expensive. Bear in mind that, as with a satellite or cable box, most adapters don't let you record one digital channel while watching another digital one.
You can now get hard-disc recorders like the Pace Twin which allow you to do fancy things like pause live TV as well as record Freeview programmes. There's also now a video recorder with a built-in Freeview and Sony have brought out a DVD recorder with built in Freeview reciever.
For the most part, yes. This is an inexpensive way to add to your TV channel line-up and get a few extra features. It doesn't have blockbuster movie channels or premium sports events, but then again it is a very different product to Sky or cable. Even if you have satellite or cable, you may well like to use Freeview to increase the choice on a television set other than your main one.
ESPECIALLY GOOD FOR: ====================
- Getting more TV when you can't get cable or put up a satellite dish - Getting real Channel 4 cheaply and easily in Wales - Improving your TV picture in areas with a weakish (but not too weak!) signal - Accessing national radio services clearly and in stereo
Right. Back to the telly....
I guess i'm in a fringe area sometimes my picture blocks up. Good and interesting review
Flash-Hammer 20.11.2005 00:42
I bought a Freeview box over a year ago, I had to buy an Ariel booster as well so I could view some of the channels in bad weather...It can be a fiddly process to get a good picture some days but a god send as I can't get channel 5 or 4 without it -Flash-