Should you buy FreeviewHD this Christmas?

With Christmas fast approaching, together with a line-up of televisual treats, like Doctor Who in high definition, a lot of people are probably considering buying a new TV set, or a recorder, and making the move to FreeviewHD for Christmas.

But is that the right thing to do? Will it be cheaper in the new year, will there be better boxes and TVs? Are the current ones any good? That’s the question I’m going to try to answer for you.

What sort of person are you?

Really, there’s no simple answer to this question – it really depends on what sort of person you are, what you enjoy watching on TV, and what you envisage doing in the future – if you’re the sort of person who’s likely to change the way they watch TV, thanks to new technology, like iPlayer.

First, let’s look at what you get on Freeview HD. There are four HD channels; BBC One HD, ITV 1 HD, and Channel 4HD all show exactly the same as their standard-def counterpart, but with a better quality picture – either real HD when the programme’s made that way, or a standard quality picture, electronically improved to give ‘upscaled’ HD. The fourth HD channel is BBC HD, which is a channel that shows only HD programmes, and most of its content is selected from the other three BBC TV channels, with a few repeats from BBC One.

You’ll notice there’s no Channel 5 – so if you’re hoping for CSI and shows like that in HD, then Freeview HD is not for you. It’s possible Channel 5 might appear around 2012, but not certain.

So, first question – do those channels that are on Freeview HD show the sort of things you watch. If they don’t, then you probably won’t benefit from it that much, and due to space considerations, channels from other broadcasters won’t appear for some time, and you’ll be better off waiting until later.

Where do you live?

Next, where do you live? If you live in an area that’s already gone through digital switchover (where the old analogue signals are turned off) then you should get Freeview HD already, or very soon. If you live in some other areas, it may be available to you – you can check on the Freevew HD web site, and more areas will get it next year. But if you’re in the south east of the UK, for example, and outside London, then you probably won’t get a Freeview HD signal until 2012.

Any Freeview HD equipment will also receive the standard definition channels, of course, so you could buy it now and wait until HD starts in your area. But unless you absolutely have to buy new equipment right now, you’re probably best off waiting.

If you do have to buy something right now, then read on and find out whether or not buying Freeview HD is the right thing to do.

Why wait?

Why do I advise some people to wait? Freeview HD only launched a year ago, and equipment didn’t get to the shops until the spring. There’s more and more kit becoming available, and prices are dropping. Kit that comes out next year will have some nice new features, and improvements over some of the first products, and basic products will be cheaper.

So, if you can’t get Freeview HD at the moment in your area, but want to go digital (for example, to get extra channels), then you might be better off just getting a cheap standard def box now, and buying Freeview HD next year, when there will be a wider range of kit, some of it at lower prices, rather than buying a piece of kit right now, which will cost more and won’t give you HD anyway, until sometime next year.

Do you just watch TV?

To decide whether it’s worth buying now or waiting until next year, you need to know a bit about what’s happening with Freeview HD next year, but before I explain that, it’s also worth considering what sort of person you are.

Do you just watch TV, by which I mean, is it just something that’s there, in the corner of the room, maybe with a video recorder, or DVD player, but essentially something you turn on, watch TV through its built in speakers, and that’s it?

Or are you more sophisticated? Do you have the TV sound hooked up to extra speakers, so you can listen to surround sound when you watch DVDs? Do you already use a digital TV recorder, or have the TV connected up so you can watch movies that are stored on the computer? Do you use iPlayer on the computer? Or think that if it was built in to the TV, you’d probably use it to catch up on things that you’ve missed?

If you fall into any of the categories described in that last paragraph, then I think there are probably good reasons to wait until next year before buying Freeview HD. On the other hand, if you don’t, and you are one of the people who ‘just’ watches TV, then go ahead – treat yourself this Christmas.

That said, if you’re buying a new TV, but you also think some of those other things are important, then why not buy a Freeview HD TV now, and add a separate recorder next year, with some of the new features?

Technical improvements

So, just what are those improvements for next year, and who’s going to be interested in them?

Regular readers of this site will know that one of the issues with Freeview HD is that a lot of the equipment on sale now does not handle surround sound very well. Now, there aren’t that many programmes made with surround sound, but some dramas, films, and music shows have it. And it’s a shame if you can’t get surround sound out of your equipment.

The good news is that most FreeviewHD TV sets can feed a surround sound signal to your AV system, if you have one; when it comes to set top boxes, though, far fewer can – I’ve got a partial list here.

The FreeviewHD test requirements are changing, and from next April, supporting surround sound properly will be a mandatory requirement. So, if that’s important to you, your choice is to buy one of the bits of kit now that handles surround sound properly, or wait until next year’s models are released.

Also coming next year, Freeview HD kit will have to support some extensions that will make it possible to deliver extra services, like iPlayer, via the red button (much as they are on Freesat). Again, next year’s models should all support that.

And, finally, next year will also see the launch of YouView. This will be a set of boxes that will support Freeview HD and also have access to catch-up services from all the broadcasters, so you can go backwards in the programme guide and find shows you’ve missed, then watch them via the internet, through the same box. It will also offer some extra pay services too – though it’s worth noting that some boxes out there already offer iPlayer, or will do very soon.

If any of these things is important to you, or you think you might find them useful, then you should probably wait until next year to buy a Freeview HD box. And if you’re after a bargain, when the new kit becomes available, you may find lots of this year’s models discounted – but remember that they may not offer surround sound, or access to online TV.

Summing up

It’s hard to give a definitive answer for everyone. If you have to buy a TV this Christmas, I’d say it’s almost certainly worth buying a Freeview HD one, if you already have the service in your area. If you don’t really need a new TV, or there’s no HD coverage where you are, save your money for now.

If you’re thinking of buying a set top box, I’d suggest waiting until next year, if you want to take advantage of lower prices, or newer features that you think you will use.

If you absolutely want to get HD for Christmas, I’d personally recommend the Humax set top box or PVR right now, as they will give you surround sound, and should get iPlayer too, in the New Year. But if you just enjoy a bit of TV and aren’t too fussed about those things, there are some bargains to be had, like the Vestel Freeview HD boxes.

2 thoughts on “Should you buy FreeviewHD this Christmas?

  1. Wow – an unbiased envangelist of new technology that admits when now might be the right time to defer a purchase. This kind of blog is pure gold when it comes to finding out the reality about digital TV. Most other websites are so similar to each other, basically repeating official messages, that are obviously “on-message” or “conservative” or “overly-enthusiastic about shouting about surround sound without giving you the details.

    This kind of blog increases my faith as a consumer in UK digital TV by showing (a) there is a plan, and (b) there are people involved that really do understand what is being rolled out. It’s kind of like the difference between someone showing you a Powerpoint of a topic, compared to you having a meaningful conversation about the topic. The former makes you feel like you’ve learned something when what really matters is the details that were (intentionally?) avoided. The latter makes you feel truly confident that you understand because you can get a much better idea of whether the person is glossing over details.

  2. Many thanks for this article.I was seriously considering buying a Freeview HD recorder for xmas,but after reading the article I will consider it for next christmas!

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