Freesat celebrated its first birthday in May and since its launch the BBC and ITV's digital satellite platform has gone from strength to strength. It has chalked up sales of over 400,000, the number channels has grown to over 145 and there's a wide range of Freesat-equipped hardware on the market catering for all budgets.
A big part of Freesat's appeal is the lack of subscription costs, but the main reason why consumers are heading towards the service in their droves is the prospect of getting high-definition channels absolutely free.
To (belatedly) celebrate its birthday, we're taking a look at the current state of Freesat; how it compares to its rivals, the various ways of getting it and what the platform has in store for the future.
Freesat offers a cost-effective way of getting digital TV to people who can't get Freeview and don't want to fork out for Sky. You can find Freesat products to fit any budget, from £150 for a standalone receiver up to £1,500 for a Freesat-equipped TV.
After paying for the equipment and installation there are no more fees or contracts to worry about, unlike Sky or Virgin Media whose subscription costs can be anywhere up to and over £50 a month - and that's after you've stumped up £50 for a Sky+ HD box or £99 for a V+ HD box.
With 98 per cent of UK households covered by satellite, Freesat is available to almost everyone. People who already have a satellite dish on their house (perhaps from a past Sky subscription) should be able to receive Freesat through it - but the dish must be pointed at the correct satellite (Astra2 at 28.2° East or Eurobird at 28.5° East). If that's the case, then simply plug the cables into your Freesat receiver and away you go.
But newcomers to satellite TV will need to pay for installation and a dish - prices start from around £80, which is on top of the cost of the Freesat receiver.
At present you get 147 TV and radio channels on Freesat, including all the main terrestrial channels and HD channels from the BBC and ITV. Freesat was the only place you could get ITV HD until Sky launched a new EPG that allowed you to add it manually.
HD content is Freesat's biggest weakness - there are only two hi-def channels, compared with 33 on Sky HD, although its HD roster is likely to grow in the future, with the possibility that Channel 4 HD and Five HD could appear on the platform.
Most Freesat receivers also allow you to receive all the free-to-view channels available on the Astra or Eurobird satellites, although they're not listed in the Freesat EPG. Simply find the manual or 'non-Freesat' tuning mode and scan for the additional channels. You get another HD channel (LuxeHD) using this method.
Panasonic was the first company to launch Freesat-equipped TVs and boasts the largest selection of sets on the market. It has four ranges - the top-end Z1 series of NeoPDP plasmas, available in 54 and 46in sizes; the V10 series NeoPDP and LCDs, ranging from 32in up to 65in; the Viera Cast-equipped G15 series, which includes 46 and 42in NeoPDP models and a 37in LCD; plus the G10 series, which boasts 600Hz technology and is available from 32in up to 50in.
LG also joined the Freesat TV brigade earlier this year with the LF7700 series, which is available in 32, 37, 42 and 47in screen sizes, with prices ranging from £500 for the 32in version to around £1,000 for the 47in set.
The eagerly-awaited FOXSAT-HDR (£250) from Humax was the first Freesat PVR to hit the market, and it didn't disappoint. Equipped with twin Freesat tuners that allow you to watch one channel and record another, it was exactly what Freesat needed to gain wider public acceptance.
Panasonic recently launched a groundbreaking range of Freesat HDD/Blu-ray recorders. The 500GB DMR-BS850 (£999) and 250GB DMR-BS750 (£899) allow you to record hi-def Freesat programmes onto the hard-disk in pristine quality and make copies on Blu-ray, copy protection permitting of course. It's joined by the 250GB DMR-XS350 (£699), which boasts similar features but lacks Blu-ray recording.
If you don't require recording functionality, there's a decent range of straight-up Freesat receivers to choose from. Most are from the Alba stable, which caters for those who have HD Ready TV and those who don't - the HD models are the Goodmans GFSAT200HD (£130), Bush BFSAT01HD (£100) and the Grundig GUFSAT01HD (£100), but there are cheaper non-HD versions of each one.
The superb Humax FOXSAT-HD (£120) is like the FOXSAT-HDR but without hard-disk recording, while French brand Metronic has launched the £130 SAT HD 100, which boasts playback of MP3 and JPEG files from USB.
The most recent entrant onto the Freesat receiver market is the £190 Technisat HDFS, the first Freesat box to boast media streaming from a PC via Wi-Fi or the Ethernet port.
So what can we expect from Freesat in the coming months? We'll certainly see more Freesat kit hitting the market from new and existing manufacturers - Sony has indicated that it will start rolling out Freesat TVs by the end of 2009, possibly providing some stiff competition for LG and Panasonic in the busy Christmas period, while Metronic's eagerly awaited Freesat PVR - originally set for a spring launch - will hopefully see the light of day. We also wouldn't be surprised if Panasonic had a few more Freesat tricks up its sleeve post-IFA.
Later this year, IPTV services like BBC iPlayer will become available on Freesat, making good use of the Ethernet ports found on all Freesat hardware, and with the number of channels increasing every month the Freesat line-up will continue to get better and better.
As for new HD channels, it's a case of wait and see - Channel 4 HD is currently tied in with an exclusive deal with Sky and Five HD has recently been awarded a slot on Freeview HD with no mention of its plans for Freesat, but we'd be surprised if both channels don't appear at some point in the near future.
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Posted: 23/06/09 08:34:01 01
I've just moved and in the process upgraded from an old - but very good 100Hz Philips CRT to a 40" 100Hz LCD Sony, Humax Foxsat HDR and a PS3 (which I got free with a phone deal and mostly use for Bluray as I don't get much time to play games unfortunately). The previous owners had Sky, so I just plugged my Foxsat in, and et voila... 10 mins later I had Freesat. It couldn't have been easier. My next step is to upgrade the dish - which I'm going to attempt myself, he says confidently.... eeek! - from a single lnb to a quad so I can make the most of the Foxsat. I can't fault either Freesat or the Foxsat. Ok, so there's not much HD content currently but this will come in time, and 145 channels with no rolling costs can't be sniffed at. It ...