Product Type: other TV channels
Newest Review: ... is the price so if like me you found the monthly payments a bit excessive then Freeview is definatley worth considering. I love my Sci-Fi... more
Wait - Now is not the time
Member Name: grahamt
Date: 07/12/09, updated on 07/12/09 (116 review reads)
Advantages: Access to high quality TV and far moore channels as well
Disadvantages: No acces to HD broadcasts without new TV equipment
We've had our TV service delivered by Virgin Media and its predecessors (Cabletel, :ntl...) for over 10 years now so you might be wondering why I should be bothering about writing a review of Freeview since I can clearly get all the Freeview channels and more with our cable service! Well, let's say that in the past, and even occasionally today, the cable service has proved less than reliable. Don't get me wrong, the service we get from Virgin Media is an order of magnitude better than either of the previous companies but, still, there are times when the picture freezes for no apparent reason and it's then that we swap over to Freeview.
We started off with Freeview set-top converter boxes attached to our old TVs, all but one of which were the old "square" screen models. These boxes were cheap but mostly did the job. I've reviewed most of them here on Dooyoo. About a year ago I bought a flat-screen TV with a built-in Freeview tuner and that is what we mostly use today, connected to a VirginMedia V+ box. The service that they provide is satisfactory but even on the old TVs it was evident that the quality of the picture received via Freeview is not up to that of the equivalent provided via cable.
This is nothing to do with the quality of the set-top boxes but everything to do with the way that the picture and sound are digitally encoded for transmission. From the start, Freeview encoded the signal using a now very out-of-date algorithm whereas Virgin uses a much more recent and far higher quality algorithm for the signal which it sends down its fibre-optics. The old algorithm is not only inferior in quality but it takes up far more room in the frequency spectrum, and I'll come back to why this is important later.
All TV free-to-air services are going digital by 2012 at the latest and by then all analogue TV broadcasts will be switched off. This may already have happened in the area in which you live. Analogue TV broadcasts only BBC1 and 2, ITV and Channels 4 and 5 plus the local regional variants such as S4C. It also doesn't broadcast a wide-screen signal so if you've got a wide-screen TV, the analogue picture will not fill the screen area. It will also be noticeably poorer in quality.
Switch over to the digital Freeview tuner though and immediately you see the improvement. The picture is much better and so is the sound. What's more, you get loads more channels to watch than just those mentioned above. You get three more BBC channels (3, 4 and News24), three more ITV channels (2, 3 and 4) plus such oddities as Dave, Dave ja vu, Viva and Quest, a whole bunch of shopping channels, our elected representatives (MPs) in the Houses of Parliament, broadcast live and much more besides. You also get a whole load of radio stations, many of which might otherwise be outside of your reception area. Whether or not you consider this an improvement is a matter of taste; at least you get the choice.
Other things you get with Freeview is things like on-screen TV guides with the ability to pre-set automatic switches of channels when programmes start on channels other than the one you are currently watching. Many Freeview set-top boxes and even some Freeview enabled TVs also have the ability to digitally record TV programmes for later viewing, using a hard drive identical to the sort found in your computer. Some can even record more than one programme at a time, whilst at the same time watching yet another channel.
What you don't get is any High Definition (HD) channels and this is the reason for this review. Yes, there are Freeview set-top boxes that up-scale the signal to HD standards but that doesn't give you any extra channels and even this is not as good as the genuine HD programme broadcasts. But, all that is just about to change, which is why I caution you to hesitate if you are considering buying a new set-top box or a new wide-screen TV for Christmas. You could be about to make a big mistake if you buy now. However, if you are prepared to buy what will very shortly become an obsolete model, you could get yourself a hell of a bargain.
A couple of months ago the TV broadcasters started shuffling the digital TV channels around. You may remember that you were told to retune your Freeview receivers because some of the channels would no longer be available where they used to be. The reason that they were doing this was to free up the frequency spectrum for the new Freeview HD services. These new channels are to start to be broadcast this month and will be rolled out nation-wide with total coverage by the time of the start of the 2012 Olympics.
That's the good news. The bad news is that because the new HD channels will be broadcast encoded using the same high quality algorithm that Virgin Media uses for its cable TV service, none of the existing Freeview set-top boxes or TVs with built-in Freeview receivers, even HD TVs, will receive the new HD channels, nor will they be upgradeable to do so either. You will require either a new set-top box which is Freeview HD enabled or a TV similarly provided.
If this is not a big issue then the good news is that all the existing set-top boxes and TVs will continue to receive all of the existing Freeview TV channels. That's why the channels were shuffled around, so as to ensure that that would be the case. So, you do not have to go out and buy any new equipment if you don't want to. You can wait until next year when the initial premium you will undoubtedly have to pay for Freeview HD enabled equipment comes down to more reasonable prices.
So, there you have it. Freeview is a definite step up from the "traditional" TV that we've had since the end of WWII. The new Freeview HD service is yet another advance and one to be welcomed. Fortunately, those who decide how these advances will be rolled out have not rendered everyone's TV equipment obsolete overnight, which is to be applauded.
However, the benefits to the broadcasters that the new transmission algorithm offers will almost certainly eventually be extended to the existing channels as the pressure to broadcast even more channels builds up. Currently the frequency spectrum is pretty well full. Rolling out the new algorithm across the board will free up much more space. At that time, all existing digital TV equipment will also become obsolete, just as with all existing analogue TV.
So, you have been warned. The decision is yours.
Summary: The future of free-to-air TV
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