With their lookalike roll-back programme guides and seamless catch-up, these no-cost TV services appear much the same. So how do they actually compare?
At first glance, Freeview Play and YouView appear to be cut from the same cloth. Both mix free-to-air terrestrial TV, delivered by a conventional aerial, and catch-up TV streamed via your broadband connection.
They offer essentially the same free-to-air TV channels and TV channel players, and both conform to the DTG (Digital Television Group) D-book of technical standards and interoperability. Neither require you to subscribe or request ongoing payment to use.
So is there any value in choosing one over the other? And just how do they differ?
What is YouView?
YouView is the granddaddy of advanced TV platforms. It was the first to integrate terrestrial TV with IP-delivered channels and catch-up content, a prescient innovation when the core technical specification was published in 2011.
Launched under the chairmanship of Lord Alan Sugar, YouView was backed enthusiastically by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Arqiva, BT and TalkTalk. Lord Sugar, brought in to “steer the ship,” described the YouView launch as “a great moment in British television.” The project cost a whopping £70m to develop, with £10m coming directly from the licence fee purse.
It had suffered countless delays when under development as Project Canvas. But its eventual arrival created a new template for TV as we know it now.
YouView may have been conceived as a universal TV platform for tomorrow, but things didn’t play out quite as planned.
YouView is available on PVRs and receivers, the Humax DTR-T2000 (available in 500GB or 1TB drive versions) being the most recent, as well as subscription TV services from BT, TalkTalk and Plusnet.
Youview – Features and benefits
YouView is now the OS behind the BT TV, TalkTalk and Plusnet set-top boxes. It’s also on retail PVR set-top boxes from Humax. It’s available as a tuner app for Sony’s connected 4K Android TVs, too. In total, there are currently more than three million YouView devices in use.
The platform itself is built around a programme guide that both looks ahead seven days, and rolls back. This integrates all key mainstream catch-up TV services (BBC iPlayer, ITVHub, Demand 5, All4) to simplify playback.
A universal search function helps to discover content across linear channels, catch-up and on-demand players. The retail version of YouView also boasts self-explanatory Discover and Watchlist functions.
Sony is the only TV brand to offer YouView on a TV. It co-developed the YouView app to counter the lack of UK TV channel catch-up available natively to the Android TV OS. When Sony UHD TV buyers first set up their set, they’re prompted to install YouView as the default channel guide.
On ISP platforms, YouView’s free channels are augmented by pay channels, dependant on your individual subscription to that service, as well as streaming providers.
All YouView boxes (ISP and retail) feature Netflix and Now TV Movies.
YouView – What’s going to happen in the future?
BT has pretty much taken over the driving seat of YouView, leading the way when it comes to product development and third-party partnerships. It recently confirmed a deal to bring Amazon Prime Video to the platform.
However, the company is no longer pushing general firmware updates to all its boxes, and is instead producing ISP-specific upgrades. Increasingly, you can expect to see different features, depending on the supplier of your YouView box.
What is Freeview Play?
Freeview Play is an evolution of Freeview, the ubiquitous subscription-free TV service. It succeeds Freeview and Freeview HD, which in turn have been de facto TV platforms since the UK’s digital transition from analogue TV broadcasts.
Launched in late 2015, Freeview Play – like YouView – is a mash-up of live terrestrial TV, internet-delivered IP channels, video on demand and catch-up TV (BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, Demand 5 and UKTV Play).
In what seems like no time at all, Freeview Play tuners have become standard issue on all major brand TV sets (with a single exception – that being Samsung). As of December 2018, over five million Freeview Play devices have been sold since launch. Most of us will end up using Freeview Play simply because it will be the default tuner option on our next TV purchase.
While Freeview Play is essentially a TV platform, it can also be used via Freeview Player set-top boxes and PVRs. There’s a wide variety of Freeview Play hard drive recorders available, from Humax, Panasonic, Samsung, Bush and Manhattan. TV support includes LG, Panasonic, Philips, Sony, LG, JVC, Hisense and Hitachi.
You can also get Freeview Play on mobile with the launch of the iOS app early in 2019 with an Android version set to follow some time in 2019.
Freeview Play – Features and benefits
Terrestrial TV and IP-delivered catch-up can be accessed via a roll-back programme guide that not only lets you look forward seven days, but also check back to see what you might have missed over the past week. Channels offering catch-up allow you to select the programme from this scroll-back guide.
The roll-back guide isn’t the only convenient way to access catch-up on the platform. There’s also a selection of curated content on channel 100, as well as a universal search function and Freeview Explore – a curated content guide.
The Freeview Play bouquet consists of 70 SD channels and 15 HD channels, plus 25 radio channels. Unlike YouView, the user experience is largely uniform across devices.
In January 2019, Freeview expanded to mobile devices with the launch of its iOS app (an Android version is due sometime in 2019).
It shares the same design language as the TV version, divided into five sections – What’s On, On Demand, Guide, Search and My Freeview – and it works in pretty much the same manner as the full fat version.
Freeview Play – What’s going to happen in the future?
Freeview Play is future-ready. All current Freeview Play TVs have mandatory HEVC codec support, which theoretically opens the door to UHD broadcasts over broadband (so watch this space). The technical development of Freeview Play is led by Digital UK, which is owned by the BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Arqiva.
Related: Best TV
So which is better – YouView or Freeview Play?
The user experience offered by these two services is subtly different – but to be honest, there isn’t a lot between them. YouView, with its blue livery and extensive search and catch-up functionality, is intuitive but all over the place when it comes to features, depending on your viewing platform.
Freeview Play is less flamboyant, but far more consistent. It has the widest choice of TV and set-top box support, at least in the non-subscription market.
Ultimately, a choice between the two boils down to devices. Freeview Play is the standard for connected TVs, and YouView isn’t going to challenge it. However, YouView has the lead in the ISP TV set-top boxes, and is being aggressively developed by BT.
Freeview Play, then, is our TV platform to watch. But YouView comes a close second.