Buyer beware: Freeview HD bargains aren’t always what they seem

Freeview HD is a brand new technology and like most of those, it comes with a price tag attached; when I recently looked at set top boxes, most came in at over £100, with some costing up to £170. When you’re used to the incredibly low prices that a standard definition Freeview box can be found for, it’s not surprising that many people are hunting for bargains, or complaining that the price is too high for HD.

It’s instructional to remember that when the first Freeview (or OnDigital as it was then) boxes appeared, they cost an awful lot too, until OnDigital joined Sky in giving away free boxes with a subscription. Now a better featured receiver is much, much cheaper those those first boxes, and the same will happen with HD – probably even faster.

Not everyone can be patient, and it’s no surprise that people are turning to sites like eBay in search of bargains. And having seen questions on AVForums regarding one potential bargain, I though it prudent to remind people to check carefully what they’re spending their money on.

A quick search for ‘Freeview HD’ on eBay turns up plenty of products. Some of them are indeed what you’ll be looking for, but there are equally plenty that won’t, and that you need to be careful about.

Check the specs

First, there’s the problem of what you search for. Type in ‘Freeview HD’ and you’ll see plenty of TV sets turn up with that in the description; look more closely though and they’re ‘Brand X Freeview HD Ready TV’ – and you really need to imagine a comma between ‘Freeview’ and ‘HD Ready.’ As I’ve mentioned before, ‘HD Ready’ means that a set can display an HD picture, from an external source, and these are typically HD Ready sets, that have a Freeview tuner, which will only be standard definition, rather than a built in Freeview HD tuner.

Worse still, I found two auctions for products described as ‘Freeview HD’ which clearly are not.

One was a Philips DTR 5010 set top box, and the other was a TV tuner for in car entertainment systems. Both can indeed decode high definition pictures that use the H.264 codec. But what neither will do is tune in to the UK’s high def broadcasts in the first place, because they don’t have the DVB-T2 tuners necessary.

That, in short, is what you need to check for; the UK Freeview HD system uses brand new DVB-T2 technology, not the DVB-T that’s used for HD in other countries. If you don’t see it on the specification sheet, then it almost certainly isn’t there, and the receiver will only pick up HD channels in other European countries that use the older system.

Another thing you can check for, if you want to be sure, is the ‘QAM’ types listed on a spec sheet, which is one of the parameters of the digital broadcast; standard def services in the UK use QAM16 and QAM64; sometimes the number is listed before, like 16-QAM. Freeview HD, as part of the DVB-T2 system, uses QAM256. No mention of either DVB-T2 or QAM256 is pretty much a dead giveaway that the product you’re looking at is not capable of receiving Freeview HD, and you should walk away because it’s not the bargain that you were hoping for.

And while I have your attention, remember that there’s no such thing as an HD aerial.

5 thoughts on “Buyer beware: Freeview HD bargains aren’t always what they seem

  1. Can HD ready tv with intergrated freeview television be upgraded to HD with the use of a common interface card? Or is it just a case of purchasing another higher quality TV. If their is CI available to upgrade these TV where can they be purchased from?

    1. No, I’m afraid not. The HD signal needs a whole new tuner, and the CI slot is much later in the chain. You’d essentially have to have a whole HD box in the CI module, which would be fiddly to do in such a small size, and wouldn’t be easy to manage using the limited way that the remote control for the TV can interact with a CI module.

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