The UK’s digital switchover is complete, which means in most areas of the UK it’s no longer possible to watch analogue TV. Those with some older models of TV have simply had to bite the bullet and buy a new television with digital capabilities built in, but with newer models it’s possible to purchase a digital TV box so you can view all the free digital channels. It’s also possible to pay a subscription and get a box that allows you to view ‘paid for’ channels such as Sky.
This guide to digital TV boxes will talk you through how to view free digital channels with a Freeview box and the pros and cons of fitting a digital TV box to view digital channels.
What is a digital box?
A digital TV box or Freeview receiver is a small black box that’s connected to your TV and decodes the digital signal so you can view channels.
The cheapest way to get digital TV is with a Freeview set top box that will allow you to watch all the free channels through your TV. You can buy a set top box for between £25 and £75 and in most cases you can fit and tune it yourself. However, if you want access to subscription channels you will have to pay a monthly fee.
You can receive digital TV through a broadband phone line, cable, satellite or through an aerial and you’ll need a different box depending on the method you want to use.
Most Freeview set top boxes deliver standard definition TV through an aerial but high definition boxes are more expensive at around £100. However, some areas can’t get HDTV yet so use a postcode checker online to find out if your area can before you invest in one of these. You also need to ensure that you have an HD ready TV.
If you want your set top box to have recording capabilities and the ability to pause and rewind live TV then you’ll need to spend around £200.
You can also purchase BBC and ITV set top boxes that connect using a satellite dish and allow both HD and standard channels to be viewed. They cost from £50 to £150.
If you subscribe to Sky, Virgin or another digital TV provider your set top box will be installed as part of your subscription and the cost will depend on the channels and features you choose.
The pros and cons of Freeview set top boxes
Getting a Freeview set top box for your existing TV is the cheapest way to go digital, but there are drawbacks too.
Can record, pause and rewind TV
Can view HD channels
On screen TV guide provided
Small and unobtrusive
Bonus channels available without subscribing
No monthly subscriptions
No need to buy a new TV
Cheapest way to go digital
May need to buy new satellite dish or aerial
Less choice of channels
Can be more complex to use
Features to look for
When choosing a digital TV box it can be tempting to choose one with lots of complex features, but if you’re never going to use them then they’ll just make your TV more difficult to use. It’s a good idea to look at reviews online to find out whether a digital box you’re considering performs the basic functions you need. Look for one that has a clear and easy to use on screen tv guide and an easy to navigate remote control. Some other general features to look out for include:
The ‘digital tick log’ confirms that the box will work after the digital switchover.
If you don’t want to scroll through tons of unwanted channels then look for a box that allows you to set favourites or delete unwanted channels.
If you want to watch ‘paid for’ TV then look for a box with a card slot.
The environmentally conscious can choose a low energy box which will use less power to run.
Choose a box that can receive HD channels so you can use it if you buy an HDTV in the future.
Installing a Freeview set top box
Follow these instructions to correctly install a Freeview set top box yourself.
Plug the digital TV box into your TV with a SCART lead. Once you connect the SCART lead and switch on the digital box a screen should appear instructing you how to tune in the machine with the remote control. If the screen doesn’t appear you may need to change the input via your TV remote control.
If you find that your television does not have a SCART socket then look for a digital box that feeds the signal into the aerial socket of the TV. A digital box that can do this is will have a ‘modulator output’ or ‘RF modulator’. You will need a HDMI cable to connect a HDTV digital box, which will cost about £10. Your TV will need to be HD ready to view HD channels.
If you want to record channels you can either connect a DVD recorder or VCR to your digital box or choose a digital box with in-built recording capabilities.
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