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Should I get Freeview or BT Vision?

Should I get Freeview or BT Vision?

Hi Jon, I'm thinking of switching to digital TV and don’t want to spend a lot of money. I was going to get a Freeview set-top box but someone suggested BT Vision as I am a BT broadband customer. Which provider should I choose?

Derek Mortimer, Redditch, via email, Thursday 21 October, 2010

Dear Mark, Hi Derek, thanks for your query. BT Vision ( and Freeview are both great digital TV options if you want to keep your costs to a minimum. Below is a bit more information about each of the services, to help you make a decision…

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Hardware costs

If you want to keep your digital TV costs to a minimum, then Freeview ( is the cheapest way to go. Simply buy a set-top box, which are available from all good electrical retailers and start from less than £20, and you’ll be ready to sit back and enjoy within minutes.

Once you’ve got your set-top box, all you have to do is hook it up to your TV and your rooftop aerial, tune it in and you’ll be able to watch all the Freeview channels available in your area.

Obviously, the cost of setting up Freeview depends on the set-top box that you choose. Top of the range models that allow you to record television shows or watch high-definition (HD) channels will cost you more.

Like Freeview, BT Vision can be a free service - though you do have the option to add monthly packages or pay-per-view programmes. If you're not taking one of its Value Packs, you will have to pay £90 for your Vision+ box. If you do sign-up for its Bronze, Silver or Gold viewing pack you'll get the box for free.


Depending on where you live, Freeview currently offers up to 50 digital TV channels, as well as 24 digital radio stations. However, if you want to take your TV even further, you can add Top Up TV.

For a monthly subscription, Top Up TV allows you to watch over 700 shows whenever you like from £10 a month or films from £5 a month. Sports fans can also add Sky Sports 1 and 2 from £19.99 a month or ESPN for £9.99.

BT Vision has a far wider range of channels, and its packages operate on a rolling one-month basis. So you could just sign-up for the Sports pack during the football season, or the Kids pack during the school holidays.

Even if you don’t take a package from BT Vision, and so don’t pay a monthly subscription, you can still watch sport from 49p, or music and kids programmes from 39p.


From 3 November 2010, Freeview will offer five high-definition TV channels, covering BBC1 HD, BBC HD, ITV1 HD, C4 HD and Welsh channel S4C HD.

These are only available to customers living in a Freeview HD enabled area - though 55% of homes can already access the free-to-view HD channels. You will also need a Freeview HD set-top box and a HD ready television - or a TV with a built-in Freeview HD tuner - in order to watch programmes in high-definition.

Although BT Vision customers can watch Freeview channels even on its basic service, it doesn’t actually offer any specific HD channels. However, you can watch on-demand HD programmes. Again, you'll need the right hardware; a Vision+ box connected to a HD ready TV using a HDMI cable.

Your set-top box

You can upgrade your Freeview set-top box to a Freeview+ model that allows you to pause, rewind or record “live” TV, or a Freeview HD box to watch high-definition channels if you also have a HD ready TV. You can even get a Freeview+HD box that rolls everything into one, allowing you to watch and record HD and standard definition channels.

All BT Vision customers now get a Vision+ set-top when they sign-up. However, depending on the package you subscribe to, you might have to pay for your box. The Vision+ box is HD ready and allows you to record, rewind and pause “live” TV.


Freeview coverage depends on the area where you live and the “transmitter group” that you receive your channels from. The government began the digital switchover in 2008, with analogue signals being switched off and replaced with digital Freeview.

This process will not be complete until 2012, so you need to check when you're going to switch.

The following list shows when each television region will switch, but you should bear in mind that there are different “transmitter groups” within each region that will also have their own switchover date. Also, these dates are for the standard definition digital switchover. Some areas will switch to Freeveiw HD at the same time, while others will have a separate high-definition schedule.

  • Border - 2008/09
  • Granada - 2009
  • West Country - 2009
  • Wales - 2009/10
  • Scottish TV North - 2010
  • West - 2010
  • Scottish TV Central - 2010/11
  • Anglia - 2011
  • Central - 2011
  • Yorkshire - 2011
  • London - 2012
  • Meridian - 2012
  • Tyne Tees - 2012
  • Ulster - 2012.

Although all BT broadband customers receiving at least a 2Mb download speed can sign-up to BT Vision, you will need to be in a Freeview area in order to watch Freeview channels. If Freeview hasn’t yet been switched on where you live, then you'll only be able to watch the on-demand and pay-per-view content.

If you don’t live in a Freeview area and want access to more digital TV channels, you should consider Sky ( or Virgin Media (

BT Vision or Freeview - which should I choose?

The digital TV service you choose should depend on a number of things, including:

  • Which services are available in your area
  • The number of channels you want
  • The kinds of programmes you want to watch
  • How much you’re willing to pay for your service.

Use the information above to help you decide, and then do a postcode search using to sign-up to a service that suits you.

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Hi, being film lovers and also wanting kids channels for my 12 yr old daughter im trying to find out how much it will cost me to watch films ect with bt vision? thanks for you time,claire - Aug 13 2011 1:52PM
claire hone, birmingham

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