Freeview is the UK’s free-to-air digital terrestrial television service. Launched in 2002, it is supported by all major UK free-to-air broadcasters. In recent years, a new hybrid service – Freeview Play – has been developed to combine traditional linear TV with on-demand and catch-up TV.
What does Freeview do?
Freeview provides access to the main UK free-to-air broadcasters via a traditional TV aerial. It’s free in the sense that the signals are broadcast unencrypted, you don’t have to register a viewing card and you don’t have to pay a subscription to another service (e.g broadband) in order to access it. (As with all TV platforms, viewers need to be covered by a TV licence.)
What’s the difference between Freeview and Freeview Play?
Freeview is just the standard, traditional linear TV service.
Freeview Play combines linear TV via your TV aerial with on-demand and catch-up TV from BBC, ITV, C4, C5, CBS and UKTV on Smart TVs and boxes, plus from late 2019, the new BritBox service via your internet connection. Catch-up TV is integrated into the Electronic Programme Guide allowing viewers to scroll back and watch programmes that have been broadcast in the last seven days on channels that support the service.
You can tell if the device you’re using is a standard Freeview device or a Freeview Play device by going to Freeview channel 100. If you can see a plain text screen, with black background, you’ve got the older Freeview service. If you can see a portal to Freeview Play with all the different catch-up services, you’re on the next generation service.
How do I get Freeview?
You need a working TV aerial and either a Freeview box or TV with Freeview built-in. Freeview Play contains the most up-to-date specifications for receiving Freeview going forward. Older Freeview receivers may not be able to receive the full set of Freeview channels and on-demand services.
Which channels can I receive on Freeview?
The number of channels available on Freeview depends on where you live and which TV transmitter you are receiving your signals from. Relay transmitters may typically only carry around 20 channels, while the main transmitters offer additional channels.
Visit the Freeview website for a prognosis of which channels should be available:
You may need to consult a local aerial specialist if you find you can’t receive all the channels listed at the above site.
Is Freeview available on Samsung TVs?
Newer Samsung TVs no longer specifically mention Freeview support or carry the Freeview logo, which has made some consumers wonder if the TVs can receive Freeview. Subject to local reception and suitable TV aerial, they can receive the Freeview TV service, including HD channels (where available). Look for mentions of DVB-T/T2 in the specifications area found under each TV model listing on the Samsung UK website.
In order to show the latest version of the Freeview logo on packaging and marketing, TV manufacturers have to demonstrate conformance to a number of specifications that have in recent years been amended to go beyond standard TV reception. While Samsung TVs sold for the UK market are suitable for the reception of Freeview channels, Samsung has so far been developing and enhancing its own Smart TV platform (TV PLUS) instead of adopting Freeview Play.
Freeview requires a normal TV aerial. For optimal reception, the aerial needs to be installed on the roof – although in
strong signal areas, an indoor aerial may work – but could be more prone to interference.
You will also need a TV aerial for Freeview Play: it relies on a combination of TV signals via your aerial and content from the internet.
You cannot receive Freeview with a satellite dish. If you want to use a satellite dish to receive free-to-air television, try Freesat instead.
Connected Freeview devices that can access services such as the BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, My5 and more, require a broadband connection. At the very least 2.5Mbps is needed, but some devices require at least 10Mbps. The faster your broadband connection, the more likely you’ll be able to stream content in HD or even 4K UHD, where available.
Freeview channel numbering is governed by Digital UK, the manager of digital terrestrial TV services in the UK, under a series of complex channel listing rules.
Individual broadcasters may from time-to-time embark on a reshuffle of their Freeview channels, including removing services and adding new ones. Some channel numbers in the Freeview channel list will be blank, because they’re only being used in some areas, or they carry channels that can only be received on newer devices.
Certain channels, such as shopping channels, may appear in unexpected places on the Freeview channel list, as result of historic allocations of channel numbers. Some of these allocations dated back to before Freeview was launched and there has been repeated resistance by shopping channel operators at attempts to create a separate area for them. In 2011, the issue even reached the Houses of Parliament.
Due to changes to the way frequencies are allocated in the UK, Freeview is undergoing a region-by-region frequency change exercise between 2017 and mid-2020, which will trigger the need to retune. In some regions, multiple retunes are required. Visit www.freeview.co.uk/tvchanges for more information.
If you have a Freeview Play device, you won’t need to retune for most minor changes to the Freeview channel list, but you will need to retune if there’s a frequency change event.
To receive Freeview HD channels, you need a device with a DVB-T2 tuner. All newer devices with the Freeview Play logo have DVB-T2 support built in.
All viewers with compatible devices can receive the main 5 channels in HD on channels 101-105. Additional HD channels are subject to local coverage.
There are currently no 4K UHD channels on Freeview, although on-demand content in UHD is supported on newer devices.
Freeview broadcasts alongside mobile phone services that use frequencies previously allocated to TV services (the so-called 800MHz frequency band). A small number of viewers may need to install a 4G filter to reduce unwanted interference. Please visit www.at800.tv for more information.
Until the end of August 2017, when the last set of figures were published, there were just over 22,000 cases of 4G interference to Freeview.
Image: An example of a promotion for Freeview Play.