What is Freeview Play? Connected TV platform explained

What is Freeview Play? Here’s how the smart TV platform brings Sky TV-like connectivity to the masses…

In 2015, Freeview announced a rebranding of its popular TV service to Freeview Play – but it was so much more than just a fancy new logo.

There have now been over two million Freeview Play devices sold, and the number of channels and features has grown along with that enormous user base.

Here’s the lowdown on what Freeview Play can offer you…

Related: Netflix vs Amazon Prime Instant Video
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It’s Freeview but smarter

Put simply, Freeview Play is Freeview connected. Freeview is the free-to-access broadcast service that launched back in 2002, enabling the switch from a few analogue channels to tens of digital channels for anyone with a Freeview box. Freeview Play now offers more than 70 digital TV channels, as well as 15 HD channels and 25 radio stations.

But more than that, Freeview Play emulates rival paid services such as Sky TV and YouView in integrating online catch-up TV services into its regular digital TV provision.
With integration of BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, Demand 5 and UKTV Play, Freeview Play users get live TV, catch-up TV and on-demand TV all rolled into one relatively seamless service via a broadband connection.

So, for example, the BBC’s iPlayer doesn’t need to be accessed as a separate app, but is accessible simply by selecting a missed programme from the past seven days from the Freeview TV schedule.

Introduced in 2017 were search and recommendation functions to make the Freeview Play platform even more powerful and keep it functionally competitive with paid-for services from Sky and Virgin. TVs or set-top boxes which support Freeview Play have gained access to Freeview Explore from the apps page. This offers extra means of discovering shows from the almost 20,000 pieces of content now available through the free TV service.

Freeview Explore

Freeview Explore gives quick access to all of the various players, including BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub, from a carousel across the top of the UI. Below that is a curated selection of recommended shows, which can be filtered by 10 categories, including one ‘wildcard’ category that will be seasonal or maybe related to a particular event, such as Hallowe’en.

Freeview Explore has also been given the benefit of suggestive search, so start typing something into the search box and you’ll immediately be offered 10 suggestions of what you might be searching for, which refine as you continue typing.

Last but not least is a Help and Alerts area that will soon be populated with instructional videos and info on updates to the service.

What about Netflix and other streaming apps?

Freeview Play doesn’t integrate other TV-streaming services such as Netflix into its electronic programmer guide (EPG), as is the case with rival offerings like Virgin Media’s Tivo box.

Rather, it’s up to the individual TV and set-top-box manufacturers to strike such deals separately.

In other words, you’ll need to continue accessing Netflix (and any other subscription service, like Amazon Instant Video) through a stand-alone app if you opt to go with Freeview Play. It’s only intended for the catch-up services provided by the free-to-view channels that operate on Freeview.

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How do you get Freeview Play?

Like the original Freeview service, Freeview Play is being built directly into many TV models being sold in the UK.

Of the big names in tellies, Panasonic and LG are the ones that have thrown their support behind Freeview Play, but there are also options out there from the likes of JVC, Hisense and Finlux. Just look for the words ‘Freeview Play’ in the features list of any models you’re considering.
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Humax, known for its vast array of Freeview boxes, also makes a Freeview Play box with recording capabilities, the FVP-4000T. It comes in three choices of recording storage – 500GB, 1TB or 2TB – pack three tuners, Wi-Fi and an ethernet port. Pricing starts at £199 for the 500GB model, then £229 for the 1TB version and £299 for the 2TB.

Humax even makes a secondary box, the H3, that enables you to stream recordings from the FVP-4000T to another room, enabling sort of a Sky Q Fluid Viewing scenario without the hefty monthly subscription.

If you’re not bothered about recording straight to a set-top box at all, though, you can get a non-recording Freeview Play box from just £80.

Can you upgrade from Freeview?

Sadly, you can’t upgrade an existing Freeview device to run the Freeview Play platform. It requires completely new gear that’s been designed to run the newer service.

Of course, with set-top boxes being a cheap and effective way to access the service, this shouldn’t be a major bind – provided you have the space under your TV for yet another black box.

Thinking of ditching a paid-for service to try Freeview Play? Let us know in the comments below.