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Which digital TV service should I choose?

Which digital TV service should I choose?

Dear Jon, my local council has told me that I will need to ‘switch to digital’ before the end of next month, as the analogue signal is being turned off. I’m not sure which digital TV options are available to me, and which I should choose? Any tips or advice?

Rory Alley, Skegness, via email, Updated: Friday 21 January, 2011

Our digital TV expert says...

Dear Rory, there are a couple of decisions you need to make first to ensure you pick the right service for you. If you haven’t read it already, I suggest you read our beginners’ guide to digital TV for some basic information on digital TV and the digital switchover.

Below are some useful hints and tips on choosing a digital TV package to suit your household’s needs…

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Choosing the right digital TV service for you

If you’re new to the world of digital TV, there’s no reason to be confused about the choice out there. Before choosing a package or signing up to a digital TV provider, you need to ask yourself these questions:

  • What services are available in my area? - Some services are only available in certain areas. Put your address into the postcode checker here and you will be given a list of services available in your area.
  • What can I afford? - There are subscription-free services such as Freeview or Freesat, or pay monthly services like Sky or Virgin Media with more channels and features. Put your postcode into our comparison calculator for information on the best deals.
  • What do I want? - If you’re a sports or film lover, channels such as Sky Sports or Sky Movies are available with some services for an extra monthly cost.
  • Will I have to pay an installation cost? - Some providers charge for installation, while others offer it for free.
  • Would it benefit to bundle? - Taking more than one service from the same supplier, such as home phone or broadband, as well as digital TV, can help reduce your bills overall.

After you’ve considered these questions, you need to think about what kind of service would best suit you. Below is a brief overview of each kind of service on offer: Subscription-free, satellite, TV over broadband and cable. For more information, please read the in-depth guides.

Subscription-free digital TV

If you’re looking for a basic digital TV service and don’t want to have to sign-up to a contract or pay a monthly subscription, then you have two choices:

  1. Freeview
  2. Freesat

Subscription-free services Freeview and Freesat are the cheapest way to watch digital TV after the switchover, as you’ll only have to pay a one-off fee for your set-top digibox.

While Freesat, which requires a satellite dish to receive the digital signal, has over 120 channels, Freeview has a lot less. However, if you’re just looking for a basic digital TV service (all the BBC channels, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 plus a few extras, such as Dave and ABC), either Freesat or Freeview will be ideal.

Read our guide for more information about free-to-view digital TV.

Satellite digital TV

If you’re looking for the widest variety of channels, choosing a satellite provider like Sky is probably your best option. Sky currently offers the largest number of digital TV channels, and is available to 98% of the UK - more homes than can receive Freeview or cable TV.

To get Sky in your home, you’ll need to have a satellite dish installed on the outside of your house and you'll be provided with a special digital set-top box.

The monthly charge and installation cost will depend on they type of package you sign up to, and the hardware you choose. Package prices start from just £19.50 a month, and you have the option to bundle your home phone and broadband service with Sky as well.

Read our guide for more information about Sky.

Digital TV over broadband (IPTV)

TV over broadband - sometimes known as internet protocol TV (IPTV) - sends a digital signal over your broadband connection to your TV set. There are two main providers of IPTV:

  1. BT Vision
  2. TalkTalk TV

Both providers’ TV services are only available if you take your home phone and broadband services with them as well. In addition, TalkTalk TV is only available in a certain areas - so it’s important you do a postcode check before signing up to it.

Broadband digital TV services like these are good for on-demand content, such as sit-com series and music, but sports channels and film channels aren’t usually included, so you will have to pay extra for these.

The cost of each service will depend on the type of package you go for.

Read our guides for more information about BT Vision and TalkTalk TV.

Cable digital TV

If you live in a cable area, then cable digital television from Virgin Media is another option. Virgin Media covers just over 50% of the UK.

Cable television is delivered to your TV via a fibre optic cable. The signal is then unscrambled with a set-top box allowing you to watch all the Freeview channels, all the channels within your subscription package and a host of free and paid-for on-demand programmes and films.

The monthly cost and installation cost will depend on which package and hardware you choose. Prices start from £6.50 a month for the M+ TV package (if you take a Virgin Media phone line), and go up to up to £80.16 a month for the Virgin Media VIP package, plus monthly line rental.

To find out more, read our guide on cable TV.

I hope you find this overview useful Rory, and for more information, please read our guide to digital TV providers.

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