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By on April 20, 2012 at 11:42 AM

Introduction to Freesat

Freesat is a digital satellite TV service created by the BBC and ITV. It covers 98 per cent of the country and offers over 140 TV and radio channels for a one-off fee.

New channels are constantly being added to the Freesat service. Categories available include entertainment, music, lifestyle, children's and news.

Freesat does not, however, provide pay TV channels such as UK Gold, Hallmark, Disney Channel, Nick JR, Discovery, Living, MTV, Paramount Comedy, FX, Sci-Fi, TCM or premium channels such as Sky Sports or Sky Movies.

The provider is currently the only way to get HD content without paying a monthly subscription - although at present the HD channels are limited to only a few.

How to get Freesat up and running

You'll need a Freesat digital box, plus a satellite dish. There's a one-off payment for the digital box itself, plus you may also have to pay for the installation of the satellite dish. It's worth noting that if your home already has a satellite dish (if you've previously had Sky, for example) then you may be able to use this.

A basic Freesat box, without HD, is available for under a hundred pounds. If you want Freesat with HD then boxes cost a bit more.

Freesat history

Owing to concerns that Freesat's content was available to viewers outside the UK, the BBC moved most of its channels from the Astra 2A satellite to Astra 2D in 2003. Astra 2D has a footprint which focused much more tightly on the UK. This allowed the BBC to make the decision to stop encrypting its digitally broadcasted content without fearing it would not be meetings the contractual arrangements it has in place with content providers.

As an evolution of this move in September 2005 the BBC and ITV announced that they would launch a free-to-air satellite service to work alongside Freeview. At the end of 2005 ITV removed the encryption on their content which was being broadcast on Astra 2D - effectively allowing Freesat to become a broad content service.

The free-to-air "Freesat" channels can be received using any generic digital satellite (DVB-S) receiver. However, the Freesat brand aims to provide a richer service with an Electronic Programme Guide and interactive features similar to the Freeview service launched three years earlier. Unlike Freeview, however, these features would only be available to approved receivers manufactured under licence from Freesat.

The initial project plan saw the launch of the service to take place in Q1 2006. This was postponed to Autumn 2007 when news the BBC Trust would review the project was announced. The service was further delayed and went live on May, the 6th 2008.


At the launch of the service, there were two types of Freesat receivers available - standard definition-only receivers and high definition-capable receivers. As of June 2008 there are only four companies licensed to produce Freesat boxes. Humax launched a Freesat recorder (Freesat+) which was available to the public on 22 November 2008. In the first months of the product being released, there were large stock shortages. However, the product is not available in many high street stores.

Following the initial launch, Panasonic introduced three plasma televisions with integrated HD Freesat receivers. LG has also entered the market with its first Freesat LCD TV.

The service makes use of the same fleet of satellites as the popular subscription satellite service Sky Digital, Astra and Eurobird 1. This means that any satellite dish which has been used to receive this service should be capable of receiving Freesat, with the addition of a receiver.

For users who do not currently have a satellite dish, an installation service is available which is made available through retailers and which is advertised in a leaflet included with Freesat receivers. It is also possible to buy a satellite dish and install it yourself.

Technical details

As mentioned before, Freesat broadcasts from the same fleet of satellites (Astra 28.2°E and Eurobird 1) as Sky Digital. Channels are broadcast using DVB-S. The Freesat electronic programme guide is broadcast from the Eurobird 1 satellite situated at 28.5° east. Freesat's role is not broadcasting or availability of channels (although the BBC and ITV are substantial broadcasters in their own right) but instead providing a platform for receiving the channels and the EPG.

All the channels broadcasting to date are broadcasting using DVB-S. Standard definition channels are broadcast using MPEG-2, while high definition channels are broadcast using MPEG-4. Currently, BBC HD uses DVB-S rather than DVB-S2 since the channel shares a transponder with several SD channels. Since the channels are broadcast in-the-clear, they can also be received by non-Freesat receivers and, most commonly, Sky Digiboxes.

Interactive television is done using MPEG-5 rather than the proprietary OpenTV platform used by Sky.

The specification for Freesat boxes includes having an Ethernet socket on the back. This is to allow future on demand programmes provided by the BBC to be viewed directly on the customer's television.

Freesat is the perfect digital TV solution if you're looking to expand your choice of TV channels at home, without paying a monthly subscription.

You can get over 140 TV and radio stations and, if you pay a bit more for your set top box, you can receive HD content if you have a HD-ready TV.

Is Freesat right for you

As mentioned before, Freesat is perfect if you want to increase your viewing choices but don't want to be locked into a subscription based service such as Sky or Virgin Media.

With over 140 TV and radio channels it's hard to think there won't be something on the box for you to watch.

As well as the wide array of channels, Freesat also gives you the choice to pause and record TV if you have a compatible set top box. This way you can decide what you want to watch and when.

Why it may not be right for you

Freesat does not currently offer the Sky Sports so, if you want to watch the Barclays Premier League or the SPL at home you are better off selecting a TV package from Sky or Virgin Media.

Sky Movies is not an option with Freesat so, if you're partial to a lazy Sunday on the sofa watching movies at home then Freesat will only have a limited choice compared to that of Sky, BT or Virgin Media.

Although Freesat offers a wide range of channels, it doesn't offer all of them. Channels such as UK Gold, Hallmark, Discovery, Nickelodeon and more aren't available on Freesat so, if your favourite shows aren't on Freesat's list, it's probably not worth getting.

Freesat is perfect if you don't want to be tied down in lengthy contracts and don't want to spend money on channels that you may not necessarily watch.

Some of the channels Freesat has to offer (plus many more):

- BBC - All BBC channels including BBC News and BBC HD
- ITV - All ITV channels
- Channel 4
- Five
- E4
- More4
- Zone Romantica
- Zone Reality
- Zone Thriller
- Zone Horror
- Al Jazeera Eng
- Euronews
- Bloomberg Television
- Film4
- True Movies
- Movies4Men
- CBBC Channel
- CBeebies
Many of the channels above include a '+1' service where you can watch a show an hour after it was first screened - perfect if your late home from work.

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