What is Freeview Play? We explain how the connected TV platform will bring Sky TV-like connectivity to the masses
Earlier this year, Freeview recently announced a rebranding of its popular TV service. It's called Freeview Play, but it is so much more than just a fancy new logo.
Some 10.5 million people in the UK use Freeview as their TV source. If Freeview Play proves anything like as popular, it will end up reaching a large portion of the UK's TV-watching population..
Fortunately, Freeview Play looks to be a strong and much needed overhaul of the free-to-access TV service.
Here's the lowdown on what's new
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 more than 60 digital TV channels for anyone with a Freeview box.
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 agreements in place with the UK's major terrestrial channels - starting with the BBC, ITV, and Channel 4 - Freeview Play users will see live TV, catch-up TV, and on-demand TV all rolled into one relatively seamless service via a customer's broadband connection.
So, for example, the BBC's iPlayer will no longer need to be accessed as a separate app, but will be accessible simply by selecting a missed programme from the past seven days from the Freeview TV schedule.
ITV Player, 4oD, and now Demand 5 have also signed up, and you can bet that more smaller free channels will follow.
What about Netflix and other streaming apps?
Freeview Play won't integrate other TV-streaming services like Netflix into its electronic programmer guide (EPG), as is the case with rival offerings like Virgin Media's Tivo box.
Rather, it will be 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.
When and how will Freeview Play launch?
Like the original Freeview service, Freeview Play will eventually be ubiquitous. The company is in talks with manufacturers of Smart TV sets and set-top-boxes to incorporate the new standard.
Freeview has announced Panasonic as its first manufacturer partner. The Japanese TV maker will make Freeview Play available in its new 2015 Viera line-up - that's the CX680, CX700, CR730, CX802 and CR852 series of TVs. Even if Freeview Play isn't widely available when you buy the set, they'll be updatable later. Which is nice.
Humax, known for its vast array of Freeview boxes, has also announced its first Freeview Play boxes. Which also happens to be the first one available in the UK. It'll come in two varieties – 500GB and 1TB – pack three tuners, WiFi and an ethernet port of to get you set up. Pricing starts at £199 for the 500GB model, and £229.99 for the 1TB version.
Can you upgrade?
Sadly, you won't be able to upgrade your existing Freeview device to run the new Freeview Play provision. It will require completely new gear that's been designed to run the new service.
Of course, with set-top-boxes likely to be 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.