Digital TV Guides

High-definition TV explained

High-definition TV

By Becca Talbot -

Updated: Friday 8 April, 2011

As more high-definition channels become available from the UK’s digital TV providers, should you make the switch to HD TV? We reveal everything you need to know about high-definition…

High-definition TV, or HD TV as it is also known, is a new development in digital TV. It offers you a better viewing experience, with clearer sound and pictures. If you’re considering getting a HD TV, or already have one, we’ll help you get the most from it.

Our guide explains exactly what high-definition (HD) is, what’s available to watch in HD and which digital TV providers offer high-definition services, as well as looking at all the costs involved.

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What is high-definition television?

There are several advantages to getting a high-definition television. Most noticeably, HD programmes and films have:

  • Better picture quality - Images are brighter and clearer. HD programmes have up to five times more detail than ordinary standard definition TV.
  • Better sound quality - Programmes made with surround-sound are better in HD as sound is clearer and sharper.

HD broadcasts are particularly suited to flat TV screens (LCD and plasma).

Video: Quick guide to HD TV

What can I watch in high-definition?

If you’ve got a HD ready TV, or are thinking of getting one, there are plenty of high-definition shows to choose from on the dedicated HD channels.

A wide variety of programmes, from soaps and documentaries to films and dramas, are shown in HD, as well as some sporting events. What you’ll be able to watch in high-definition though will depend on the digital TV service you have.

Several of the larger digital TV providers offer HD channels for customers, but these come at a cost. Freesat, the free-to-view satellite TV service, and Freeview also offer content in HD, which doesn’t require a monthly subscription.

Below is more information on what is available from the various digital TV services:

  • Virgin Media - If you subscribe to a cable TV package from Virgin Media, you’ll be able to watch over 30 different HD channels, including FX HD, MTV HD, National Geographic HD, and Sky Living HD. Virgin Media also offers on-demand TV programmes in high-definition. To get HD channels from Virgin Media you need a V+HD or V HD set-top box. Visit for more information.

  • Freesat - Freesat, the subscription-free satellite TV service, currently offers BBC HD and ITV HD to its users. To get these channels you must make a one-off payment for the Freesat HD set-top box and installation. Visit for more information.

  • Freeview - Anyone who lives in an area that can receive Freeview HD should consider purchasing a Freeview HD set-top box. You’ll have access to BBC1 HD, BBC HD, ITV1 HD and Channel 4 HD, and won’t have to pay any monthly subscriptions. Use our HD postcode checker to find out whether you can receive Freeview HD - and if not, when it will become available.

Digital TV providers are adding new HD channels and content all the time, and costs do vary, so it’s important you find a high-definition package that will suit you.

What do I need to receive HD TV?

Before you can watch high-definition programmes, there are four things you must do:

  1. Get a HD ready TV - If you want to watch programmes in high-definition, you’ll need to make sure your TV is HD ready - look for the HD ready logo. If you’re considering buying a new set, visit for more information.
  2. Get a HD receiver - You will need to get some form of HD receiver. These can be integrated within TVs or can be a separate set-top box. Speak to your digital TV provider to see what it offers.
  3. Get a HDMI cable - If your HD receiver is not integrated in your HD TV, you’ll need a HDMI cable to connect between the two.
  4. Get a digital TV provider - You will need a digital TV service to provide you with HD content. Use our HD postcode checker to see which providers offer HD services in your area.

Should I get high-definition TV?

If you’re considering getting a HD TV and digital TV service, you need to think about the kinds of programmes you want to watch in high-definition. HD viewers have commented that, most noticeably, nature documentaries and sporting events are better in HD.

Check which providers are available in your area and weigh up the costs before switching to HD TV - if you only watch the news, the soaps and the odd film, at the moment there is not that much content available.

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Why does my friend who has the same TV and HDMI cables have a crisper picture ? Is it because he has a Sky box and mine is a Virgin box ? I am wondering whether I should change to Sky to get the better more crisp picture.....I also note that Virgin runs at 720Hp from its HD top box as my Tv tells me this in the top left hand corner when I switch the Virgin box on. It's clearly noticeable when I flick over to watch a movie from my Blu-ray player which runs at 1080Hp.
Are Virgin therefor slightly cheating their customers with their HD picture quality ?
Your thoughts on this matter would be greatly appreciated.
- Mar 29 2011 8:55PM
Ian Hamer, UK

could you please tell me why itv hd.1&2. bbc1&2.hd
&channel 4.hd has been taken off the schedual.
I pay for HD and i would like to find it .
Youhave put itv on 2 channels but not H D
yours sincerely A Griffths
- Mar 5 2011 3:51PM
anthony griffiths, west bromwich west midlands

The digital remote control does not work for about 10 minutes when we switch the TV on. Any suggestions Thanks - Feb 13 2011 12:19PM
Gerard Perry, Dublin Ireland

When will BT be able to offer HD Channels as SKY and VIRGIN can do at this point in time, also do you need a free Sat Box with the BT Vision Box in order to obtain HD programmes. Regards C.Martin. - Jun 7 2010 3:13PM
Mr Clifford Martin, Bradford, Westyorkshire

I have a full contract with BT vision (PC etc) and Freeview box supplied by them on installation. Do I have to get an upgrade box to watch HD ? - Apr 4 2010 7:37PM
Peter van Mann, UK

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