Free TV & Film Entertainment
TVs are covered in separate section.
In the UK analogue TV is slowly being switched off to free up the bandwidth for other digital services. This government initiative is due to complete before the end of 2012.
Whilst the transition from analogue to digital is underway, a lot of the digital transmitters are operating on lower power, to avoid interference. This means that Freeview reception and coverage is not as good as it could be and not all of the UK can get a decent signal. There are various postcode checking services on-line that provide guidance but, with the right equipment you can get a signal in most parts of the UK. We are in a designated 'fringe' area and have been able to get decent reception by using a high-gain aerial and a quality mast-head pre-amplifier. Typically, you will need an aerial upgrade when moving from analogue to digital TV in the UK.
Freeview provides up to 50 TV channels, with no contract and no monthly bills.
Freeview HD is a recent update to the Freeview service to support high-definition (HD) channels. At this point in time, Freeview HD coverage in the UK is patchy. You will also need new hardware in the form of a Set Top Box (STB) or TV enabled to decode the HD signals. The number of channels available is also limited for now:
- BBC One HD - As you would expect, BBC 1 but in HD
- BBC HD - the best of the BBC channels
- ITV1 HD
- Channel 4 HD will launch very soon along with an S4C channel in HD in Wales
We have been impressed with Freeview HD so far. It is a big improvement and especially so for sports and wildlife type programmes.
Freesat was set up to ensure that everyone can access the best of digital satellite TV, for free, no matter where they live in the UK. Freesat is a not-for-profit company owned by the BBC and ITV. It offers the same service as Freeview but instead of using an aerial on your roof, the transmissions are received via satellite using a satellite dish.
Freesat service provides 140 digital TV and radio channels, with no contract and no monthly bills.
YouView (previously known as Project Canvas) is a partnership between BT, the BBC, ITV, BT, Channel 4, TalkTalk, Arqiva and Five. This service was launched in July 2012 and requires a YouView compatible Set Top Box (STB). The Set Top Box (STB) will initially be available for a one-off fee (approximately £280) but, the STBs will be subsidised by some services providers, with a subscription to other services. Alan Sugar has claimed the cost of the STB will fall over time but we can't see this happening any time soon.
There is no contract or monthly subscription but, most of the boxes will be sold as part of a broadband package from an Internet Service Provider (ISP). You will also need to register and possibly subscribe with a billing account for on-demand content. At the very minimum, some form of registration will be required to receive a personalised service.
A Set Top Box (STB) will also be available from the usual high street stores but, these devices can consume a lot of data over the Internet. Without a package from an ISP, you can expect to hit your monthly usage allowance on your broadband connection, if you use the 'catch up' service a lot. With HD content, this is going to be even more likely.
The programmes are also delivered on a best endeavours basis (no QoS), so you will need a fairly fast broadband connection. The YouView website recommends more than 3Mbps. Broadband coverage is going to be an issue, just like Freeview coverage still is. Streaming of HD content will require a 5Mbps or faster connection.
Catch up TV programmes are delivered using instant streaming, so there are going to be some disappointed people trying to watch real-time and catch-up with TV programmes in the evenings, who will get a poor experience due to peak network congestion. The roll-out of YouView is only going to make this situation worse and HD content even more so.
The Set Top Box (STB) will combine Freeview and Freeview HD digital TV channels with a Personal Video Recorder (PVR) that can be connected to the Internet. Without the Internet connection it is basically just a Freeview box. The service has the capability to catch up with a subset of programmes from the last seven days, as well as a range of on-demand services and interactive features. This is an extremely useful service as it will allow you to go back through the Elecronic Programme Guide (EPG) up to 7 days, to retrospectively catch up up with missed TV programmes. You will also be able to search for programmes by genre, interest or locality. This will also include films, sports and new content from the Internet.
There are also plans to offer an applications store will give viewers new types of services and levels of interactivity with their favourite programmes but, this is missing at the launch. YouView has been designed to allow developers to create apps for the TV.
Content providers can also add their programmes to the guide, so the service could extend quite rapidly. In this respect it is going to be real competition for the likes of Google TV and Boxee. It is also going to seriously upset Sky and Virgin.
We currently have a Humax YouView STB and we have written a review of the service.
Set Top Box (STB)
A Set Top Box is basically a box of electronics that receives and decodes transmitted television signals and then feeds them into your TV. The STB may also provide other services and features such as video recording and playback, or access to on-line services.
These are covered on another page.
Personal Video Recorder (PVR)
With the above free sources of video and film it is very handy to be able to record them, to allow them to be watched at a later time. This 'time shifted' TV is achieved by using a recording device called a PVR. As well as recording programmes that you would otherwise have missed, this approach allows you to rapidly skip through intros, credits and advertising. In our home, pretty much all TV is time shifted in this way.
Another advantage of Personal Video Recorder (PVR) functionality is the ability to schedule series recordings for your favourite programmes, to make sure you never miss and episode. Some also allow you to view the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) on your Smartphone whilst away from home to remotely schedule programme and series recordings.
With these type Personal Video Recorder (PVR) devices there are some limitations. A Personal Video Recorder (PVR) usually has a limited number of decoders within it, two being typical. This means that you can only record a maximum of two channels simultaneously, or record one whilst watching another.
Few Personal Video Recorder (PVR) devices allow you to connect them to your local network, to access the recordings. It is rarely possible to be able to remove the recordings made and put them on another device such as a portable media player. The main reason for this is the formats and Digital Rights Management (DRM) used to prevent it. We have set ourselves a challenge to resolve this issue one way or another.
Electronic Programme Guide (EPG)
There are many TV guides available on-line but these are a few of the main ones:
TV GuideTV Guide started out as a web site providing a TV guide tailored to your personal channel selections but it not also comes as a Smartphone app and is available on Android devices and as an iPhone app.
Free Online TV & Film Services
Most of the UK channels also provide programmes online via 'catch up' TV services. These allow you to download or stream programmes to your computer, games console and Smartphones. Each channel provides its own set of methods and seems to support a different set of devices.
Some also offer the ability to watch 'live' TV on-line. This also often includes radio stations.
The BBC make a subset of their TV and radio programmes available via the BBC iPlayer service.
- Apple iPhone
- In March 2008, the BBC iPlayer became available on Apple iPhone and the Apple iPod Touch. BBC iPlayer is accessed through the Safari web browser and it requires a wi-fi connection to handle video playback.
- BT Vision
- The BBC iPlayer service itself is not yet available on a BT Vision set-top box but is likely to be soon. Some of the BBC's recent TV shows are available from BT Vision's On Demand service but it is not a full iPlayer experience.
- BBC iPlayer became available on Freesat in December 2009. The bit rate is quite high (1500-2000Kbps), resulting in a good quality experience.
Games consoles are covered in more detail in a separate section.
- Nintendo Wii
- In April 2008, BBC iPlayer became available on the Nintendo Wii games console, via the Wii's Opera browser. From November 2009, the BBC iPlayer got its own channel on the Nintendo Wii.
- Sony Playstation 3
- At the end of 2008, BBC iPlayer became available on Sony's PS3 console. In September 2009, a link was added to the PS3's XMB menu, linking straight to the iPlayer site. The PS3 accounts for a sizable amount of iPlayer usage now, mainly because it uses a 1500Kbps stream for a high quality picture
TV Catchup is an unusual service and it is only available here in the UK. It offers a web based interface (registration required) to nearly all the free channels available here in the UK. The delivery of the service is slightly controversial and organisations like the BBC have tried to stop it transmitting their programmes in the past.
TV Catchup provides streamed TV to computers, games consoles and Smartphones. The iPhone and iPad have interfaces and streams designed specifically for them.
Chargeable TV & Film Services
There are a whole range of services that fall into this category, from DVD rental services, to set-top box based services and then there are cloud based services. These are covered in a separate section.
Online Music Services
These are covered in a separate section.