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What is Freesat? The alternative to Sky explained

When it comes to getting live programming and on-demand content, there are several ways of getting it to your home: from cable, to the Internet with OTT video and satellite.

Freesat is similar in approach to Freeview Play, offering customers free-to-access content through a satellite connection. Formed in 2007 as a joint venture between the BBC and ITV, its ties to Freeview have become stronger over the years after it was acquired by Digital UK (now Everyone TV, who manage Freeview); sitting as one of two platforms to offer free content to the UK population.

We’ll explain the difference between it and Freeview Play, how to get it and what you get from choosing Freesat.

What is Freesat?

Freesat is a free-to-air satellite TV service that sends programming to people’s homes over a satellite connection rather than aerial or via cable.

Transmission over satellite has its advantages, as we’ll get to later, but what you can expect from Freesat is 170 channels with 100% coverage. The service is technically free, much like Freeview Play, but there are costs involved, namely if you decide to purchase a TV box to access content. The service itself is subscription free.

Freesat was originally a joint venture between the BBC and ITV to provide a digital satellite alternative to Freeview that would offer more coverage and a larger number of channels. It officially launched in August 2008 with channels from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, although only one channel was made available in HD (BBC HD).

It’s since gone on to add programming from Channel 5, children’s programming and radio stations, as well as on-demand content in the form of streaming video apps such as Netflix, Prime Video and the STV Player, some of which brings 4K content to the Freesat platform.

What’s the difference between Freesat and Freeview Play?

The obvious difference is how the signals are transmitted. Freesat is via a satellite connection, while Freeview is through aerial. The advantage of satellite is that it is less affected by weather, ensuring that it can be reached by households in more remote areas that Freeview can’t pierce through.

Freesat 4K TV Box (Non-recordable) hero
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

Both use an EPG (electronic programming guide), but the programming list on both does differ. Freesat offers more channels than Freeview and a wider variety of radio stations, however All4 is missing from the Freesat line-up where it is available on Freeview.

There’s also the cost involved. If you choose to add a Freeview set-top box to your setup, they’re usually a lot less expensive than Freesat’s boxes, which incur a much higher upfront fee. Once bought, you won’t have to worry about subscriptions as both platforms are free-to-watch, though that excludes SVOD apps such as Netflix and BritBox that require a sub to access.

How do I get Freesat?

To watch Freesat you will need a satellite dish. If you don’t have one it will need to be installed (for rented properties you will need to check with the landlord if one can be installed). If there already is an existing installation in your property/accommodation, then that can be activated to get Freesat into the home.

You can connect the satellite cable straight to your TV if it has the necessary tuner, but if it doesn’t, then another method of setting satellite coverage is to buy a set-top box. Freesat has produced a couple of its own boxes, including a recordable version, and there are a few other boxes, notably from Humax and Manhattan.

What do I get with Freesat?

Freesat, much like Freeview Play, comes with an electronic programme guide that can go back seven days to catch up on content you may have missed.

Freesat 4K TV Recorder Step Back In Time
You can scroll backwards as well as forwards through the programme guide

As we’ve mentioned previously, there’s access to 170+ channels with 100% coverage, so there’s no reason to retune after the initial tuning has been carried out.

If you have the ability to record, then how many channels you can record can depend on the type of dish that is installed. With an WLNB dish, four programmes can be recorded simultaneously. If you just have an LNB dish, then only two channels can be recorded at the same time. Purchase the 2TB Freesat box and you can record up to 1000 hours in standard definition or 500 hours in high definition.

Freesat 4K TV Box (Non-recordable) apps

There’s support for SVOD or streaming video on-demand apps such as Netflix, Prime Video, BBC iPlayer and ITVX. SVOD apps are also the only method of getting 4K HDR content on the platform by subscribing to likes Prime Video or viewing on YouTube. The Rakuten TV app is only available on Humax-made Freesat boxes.

There’s a Recommendations section where Freesat’s telly experts alert users to shows and films available to watch, and the Showcase highlights content that is coming to the service within the next five days or so. The Reminders function helps to remember shows to watch, while there’s app support (Android and iOS) to record remotely and act as a remote to control a Freesat set-top box.

Does Freesat support multi-room?

There is the possibility of creating a multi-room set-up within the Freesat ecosystem. To get Freesat in each room, you’ll need a TV or set-top box capable of accessing the service, which can all attach to a single satellite dish.

That does, however, depend on whether the dish can accommodate multiple connections. If not, you’d need to consult your local satellite installer for advice.

What can I watch on Freesat?

There is content from the on-demand apps mentioned earlier, so anything on Netflix, Prime Video, YouTube and the UK catch-up apps apart from All4, which currently doesn’t appear on any Freesat boxes.

And to clarify, YouTube Kids, Prime Video, ITVX, BBC Sounds and BritBox are only available to watch on the set-top boxes.

Otherwise there’s content from the 170+ channels on the service to watch, with BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky News, CNBC and Al Jazeera English carried by the platform.

Can I switch from Sky to Freesat?

It is possible to switch from Sky Q to Freesat if you no longer want to subscribe to Sky channels. In fact, you won’t even need to change the dish you currently have, as it’s a simple case of connecting the equipment you have to the existing satellite connection.

Is Freesat worth it?

If you’re in an area where reception for Freeview is poor, then Freesat is the next best alternative. It doesn’t come with as many on-demand apps as it is missing All4, but the difference isn’t too stark in terms of what’s available. You also get a wider selection of channels than Freeview can muster.

The upfront cost of Freesat is much more expensive than Freeview, and it should be noted that not all TVs have a satellite tuner/input, so if you want access to satellite you may find yourself having to purchase a set-top box.

With Ultra HD support, recording functionality and, of course, subscription free viewing, Freesat is much the equal of Freeview and is worth considering for those who want to save money and switch from Sky, or don’t have great access to Freeview.

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