Freeview Play or a set-top box? Which option is best?
If you have been on the lookout for a TV package recently, you probably have seen mention of a set-top box and maybe you’re thinking what on earth is a set-top box and why do I need one? In this article we will explore some of the top set-top boxes that are currently available to try and come to a conclusion about which one is the best.
A set-top box is a hardware device which allows you to make the most of your pay-TV package by letting you watch live TV, record, pause and rewind your favourite programmes. It almost converts your TV into a user interface and allows it to receive and decode digital television broadcasts.
Most set-top boxes allow you to access your paid TV subscription service as well as other apps such as Netflix, HBO and more and allow you to stream your favourite shows, movies and series. They also have catch-up TV functions and allow you to pause, rewind and record content. Let’s have a closer look at set-top boxes and see how we can use them to watch our favourite content.
Freeview Play is one of the many TV services available today. It is the new and updated version of Freeview which allows you to watch catch up TV for BBC, ITV, Channels 4 and 5 plus UKTV. As always, this service is free.
Freeview is the group of free channels that were launched in 2002 when the BBC and Arqiva took over digital terrestrial licenses. Freeview is always a good option if you just want some standard channels. If you want more then you will have to go with a TV package and a fancier set-top box. Here, let's have a look at which set-top box might be the best one for you.
Now TV Box
The set-top box from Now is called the Now TV Smart Box. Although it’s not necessary to have the Now Box to enjoy your Now TV content, it is definitely an option if you want to get your whole TV experience from Now. However, you might want to read customer reviews first.
The Now TV Smart box price starts from £39.99 and sometimes you can get a bundled deal where you get extra channels for purchasing a Now TV Box. Always keep an eye out for deals that can save you money. Normally the Smart Box costs £45.99. Some of the features include:
- Access over 60 Freeview channels
- Stream content over the internet
- Pause and rewind live TV
That's not all - you can also access extra apps such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, YouTube and your Netflix subscription. It also has voice search and the ability to see what content is coming up. In saying this, you can get access to exactly these channels with a smaller streaming device, the Roku 3, which we will discuss later on. Although, this device is smaller it’s a little bit more expensive than the Now set-top box and it doesn’t let you record and store content like the Now option.
Humax Set-top Boxes
When looking into the best set-top boxes we weren’t really expecting to see any names apart from the big ones like Sky and BT but it turns out we were wrong. The South Korean company Humax brings two great options for set-top boxes to the mix, especially for Freeview users. These tv boxes connect to your home wifi and give you access to catch-up TV, on demand content and allow streaming of channels.
This set-top box isn’t exactly cheap with prices starting from £229. It has three options depending on the disc space you want (which will affect how much content you can record and store). The options are three different drive capacities which means that you have space for 250 hours, 500 hours and 1000 hours of recordings, respectively.
You can pause, rewind and record four programmes at the same time while watching a fifth programme. You can catch up on all the shows you have missed in the past 7 days, access over 70 Freeview channels (15 of which are HD channels) and there’s an app for watching content on your mobile phone.
The other option from Humax is much cheaper but with less features. With this one you can’t record anything so if you’re someone who likes to record shows to watch later, this won’t be a good option for you. Not having this feature drops the price right down to £99. It will however allow you access to over 200 TV and radio channels with 13 being in HD.
You can access channels such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5. If you want to record, you will have to do an extra step and get an external hard drive for recording, rewinding and pausing live TV. In terms of catch-up content, it lets you look 8 days ahead and look back at the past 7 days of content.
Sky Q Box
Sky TV is a well known subscription television service. With Sky you have the option of three set-top boxes, each one varying with the amount of storage space it has and of course, the price. The three set-top boxes with Sky are: Sky Q 1TB set-top box, Sky Q 2TB set-top box and the Sky Q Mini-box. All are a great compliment to your Sky Q viewing experience.
The three boxes have some similarities as well as some important differences. With all three boxes, you can access Netflix and put parental locks to control what your children are watching.
Please note that being able to access Netflix through a set-top box or a streaming device doesn’t mean that Netflix is free This just means it's easily accessible if you have one of these options.
The main job of the Sky Q Mini box is to allow you to watch content in multiple rooms. This feature is called multi-room viewing and apart from allowing the viewing of content in multiple rooms, it also allows viewing by multiple users. The mini box only plays HD content so even if you have the 4K compatible 2TB box, you will still only be able to watch content in HD. The mini box is not a separate product but rather it is designed to be an add-on to one of the two main set-top boxes: the 1TB and 2TB.
The 1TB is Sky’s more simple set-top box which allows you to record and store 150 hours of recordings and allows full HD. The 2TB on the other hand, has a whopping £199 set-up cost but allows you to record and store 350 hours of recordings.
You can also use two tablets and two Sky mini boxes to watch content at the same time and this content can be in 4K quality. The Sky Q boxes must be installed by a Sky engineer and this comes with fees. Set-up costs can range from 25 eu to 179 eu depending on the set-top box you choose and if you get any extra channel features or not.
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BT YouView Box
BT’s set-top box is called the YouView Box and as usual, there are a few different options depending on how much content can be recorded and stored. The three boxes can all do very similar things: record, pause and rewind content but the most basic box cannot record content.
You will receive the box that corresponds to the BT TV Package that you choose. The Standard Package comes with the Standard Mini YouView Box, the Entertainment Package comes with the YouView+ Box and the Max Package comes with the Ultra HD Box with 4K quality.
Virgin V6 Box
The V6 Box from Virgin has a whole lot of great features. Apart from being free for customers who purchase certain Virgin TV Packages, it gives you the ability to record 6 channels at the same time while watching a seventh show, store 500 hours of standard definition content and 100 hours of high definition content.
It also has a great search function which makes looking for your favourite shows easier, allows you to put parental controls, and makes recommendations based on your content history. You will need an HD TV to be able to use it and you can install it yourself by following these steps to connect or pay for an engineer to install it for you.
So, which set-top box?
As always when deciding between services and features for your TV package, there really is no wrong or right answer. It really depends on what you are after and on your budget. Sometimes you might not be able to get a certain set-top box as you might be missing something you need for it. For example, to have the Sky Q boxes you need to have a satellite dish and if you are getting a BT TV Box to go with your BT TV Package you must have BT Broadband.
If you want to record and store lots of content, your best options are Sky, BT and Virgin boxes and maybe even a full TV package from them might be worth considering. Sometimes the set-top box might even be included for free as part of your package or you might get a special deal with a discount on the box and the package.
If you don’t want a fancy TV package and just want to watch Freeview channels, you might like to check out one of the boxes from Humax, although they’re not a cheap option for watching channels that are normally free anyway.
- Now TV:
The Now TV Box will cost you £45.99 and has capabilities to pause and rewind content but not to record. You will have access to over 60 Freeview channels, the ability to stream content over the internet and access apps such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, YouTube and Netflix. It gets a 3.5/5 rating from Trusted Reviews.
The Humax FVP-5000T is not your budget option, costing £229. It has capabilities to rewind, pause and record and can store between 250 and 1000 hours of recordongs. Access over 70 Freeview channels and watch 15 of them in HD with the Humax FVP-5000T box. iT recieves a perfect 5/5 rating from Trusted Reviews.
The budget option from Humax HB-1100s will cost you £99 and allow you to rewind and pause content but not record. You can add this recording feature as well as the catch-up feature by getting an external hard drive. Suprisingly, this option still get a 4.5/5 rating from Trusted Reviews.
There are three Sky Q Boxes to choose from: Sky Q 1TB set-top box, Sky Q 2TB set-top box and the Sky Q Mini-box. The prices are £20, £99 and £199 respectively. You can record, pause and rewind content on all three boxes. The Mini Box is meant to be purchased as an add-on to one of the main boxes and it's main function is to allow multi-room viewing.
There are also three options to choose from with BT TV: the Mini YouView Box, YouView+ Box and the YouView Ultra HD Box. The prices are £49, £50 and £99 respectively. Each box comes with a different Sky TV Package and has different capabilities. The Mini Box cannot record content but the other two can.
The Virgin V6 Box gets a 4/5 rating on Trusted Reviews and allows you to record, pause and rewind content. This box comes free with your Now TV Package but if you want extra boxes they will cost you £99.95. Some features of the Virgin V6 Box include ability to record and store SD and HD content, search content easily, recieve recommendations and put parental locks.
Set-top Box or Streaming Devices?
If you think these set-top boxes are your only options for streaming pay-TV content, think again! Apart from these options, there are also a number of smaller, streaming devices that you should consider when completing your TV experience.
Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick is just one of these and is a new device which allows you to do everything that a set-top box does. The smaller size is an advantage as streaming devices has over a larger set-top box as this lets you easily transport this device as well as all the content that’s on it, giving you access to your favourite content anywhere.
The fire stick gives you:
- 1 GB of memory
- 8 GB of internal storage
- Optional voice support
- Dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi
- VideoCore4 GPU
- Access to Netflix, HBO Now, ESPN and Hulu (extra cost)
Amazon also has the Fire TV stick which as you can imagine is not as small or compact as the Fire Stick. Although, if you want access to 4K content, the TV will be your better option as the stick only supports up to 1080p. The FireStick also has other features such as voice control and giving you preferences on what to watch. However, we’re not sure these features are the ones that make it stand out as most other streaming devices and set-top boxes allow you to do this too. We believe it’s the small size that makes the FireStick a great option. This option will cost you £39.99.
The new Apple TV is another streaming device we can consider. Although it sounds like a type of TV, It’s not. It’s more like a set-top box that you can plug into a one, just like the other set-top boxes we discussed earlier on. So how is it different from any other set-top box?
With Apple TV, you need to have an iTunes account (which you don’t need for the other set-top boxes mentioned) so you can purchase the video content you want. You can purchase content off channels such as YouTube, Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu Plus and a few more.
You will also need the Apply remote control. Another difference is that it’s a great option for Apple lovers who already have other Apple products as with the TV’s AirPlay functions, you can display whatever you’re doing on your TV, Mac laptop or iPhone. We don’t really see the fuss about this last point but if you are a dedicated Apple user, why not?
Although Apple was calling their c54 Apple TV a “hobby” we do know that there are talks of a collaboration between the Apple TV and the upcoming streaming service, HBO Now. It seems that Apple wants to keep the availability of HBO Now only to the Apple TV. You can’t fool us, we think Apple has everything planned out already.
In saying all this, it does seem like the Apple TV has some competition. Cue the Roku 3, available as a set-top box as well as a smaller video streaming device. These Roku products do more or less the same thing as an Apple TV however you get a cheaper option as the stick version is just £40 and is said to have more features and a better picture quality.
The set-top box will cost you about £70. With Roku devices, you have access to TV channels such as BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, Sky News, Netflix and your Now TV subscription. All these TV streaming services connect to your TV through a HDMI port which most Smart TV’s have. If you want to read about a more streaming services like Amazon Prime Video you can read our streaming services guide.
As you can see, there are many television services to choose from and a lot of choice between set-top boxes and video streaming devices. And that’s only AFTER you decide if you’re going to go for a box or a smaller device. We hope this article has been useful in helping you make a decision.