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Freeview Play: What is it and what do you need to know?

What is Freeview Play and how can you get it? Here’s how the UK’s free smart TV platform brings Sky-like connectivity to the masses

In 2015, Freeview rebranded its popular subscription-free TV service to Freeview Play – but it was much more than just giving it a lick of paint and a fancy new logo.

In December 2018 it was reported that the number of Freeview Play devices sold had exceeded five million, with the service available on over half of smart HD TV sales in the market. Along with that, the number of channels and features has grown in concert with that huge user base.

So, here’s the lowdown on what it is and what you can get out of it.

What is Freeview Play?

Put simply, Freeview Play is Freeview but connected.

Freeview is the free-to-access broadcast service that launched in 2002, enabling the switch from a few analogue channels to tens of digital channels for anyone with a Freeview box. Freeview Play is now home to 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 and YouView in integrating online catch-up TV services into its regular digital TV offering.

And with the integration of BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, Demand 5, UKTV Play, Horror Bites, and CBS Catch up Channels UK, Freeview Play users get live TV, catch-up TV and on-demand TV all rolled into one seamless service via an internet connection. And Freeview Play is constantly updated with support for the latest video specifications including 4K and HLG HDR.

Related: Hybrid-Log Gamma – Everything you need to know

Freeview Explore

Introduced since launch are 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 now gained access to Channel 100. This offers extra means of discovering shows through the service’s exhaustive library.

Freeview Play also marks the first time the UK’s largest TV platform has integrated on-demand content into the linear TV guide, making the entire breadth of content available in one place.

So, for example, rather than having to access BBC’s iPlayer as a separate app, you can simply dip into the service by selecting a missed programme from the past seven days in the Freeview TV schedule.

Channel 100 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 is a curated selection of recommended shows, which can be filtered by 10 categories or genres, including one ‘wildcard’ category that is often seasonal or related to a particular event, such as Hallowe’en or Eurovision.

Channel 100 has also been given the benefit of suggestive search, so type 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 to help you get where you need to quicker.

Last, but not least, is the Help and Alerts area that features instructional videos and info on updates to the service.

What about Netflix and other streaming apps?

Unsurprisingly, Freeview Play does not integrate other streaming services such as Netflix into its electronic programmer guide (EPG), as is the case with rival offerings like Virgin Media’s Tivo box or Sky Q. 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) through a stand-alone app. It’s only intended for the catch-up services (such as iPlayer and ITV Hub) provided by the free-to-view channels that operate on Freeview.

Related: Sky Q review

How do you get Freeview Play?

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

Of the big names in tellies, Panasonic and LG are the ones that have thrown their weight behind Freeview Play, but there are also options out there from the likes of Sony, Hisense and Finlux. Just look for the words ‘Freeview Play’ in the features list of any models you’re considering.

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. The 500GB model appears to be unavailable and but the 1TB version costs £149.

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 under £100.

Related: Freeview Play vs YouView

What about the Freeview app?

At the beginning of 2019, Freeview launched a new mobile app for iOS devices (an Android version is still in the works) bringing the Freeview Play model to mobile devices.

The app is separated into five sections – What’s On, On Demand, Guide, Search and My Freeview – which are fairly self-explanatory and if you’ve ever used the app on other devices, it works in a similar manner. Download it, select which region you live in and then download the various catch-up apps for access to content and voilà, you’re ready to go.

Designed to be easy to use, you shouldn’t be more than three swipes from accessing content, making for a super-fast way of enjoying content when you’re out and about.

Related: Freeview is now available on mobile devices

Can you upgrade from Freeview to Freeview Play?

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 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 another black box.

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