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Cheap Freeview boxes get set for the switch

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If you want multi-channel telly without the hefty monthly subscription, you can get Freeview boxes for under £20, so you boost your channel count without a contract.

As 2012 moves on, the last analogue terrestrial TV signals will be switched off, so to continue watching TV you'll need a digital receiver. Freeview is the cheapest way to get digital TV, though it's currently only available in some areas - check you can get Freeview before you buy.

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Cheapest Freeview set-top boxes

Freeview offers both standard and HD channels via your existing TV aerial. But in order to receive it, you will need a Freeview set-top box or an integrated TV.

Premier Mini Scart Freeview receiver £17.99 online at Play.com

Not your standard set-top box, the Premier AV TV-1108V-SD is
a mini Freeview receiver that plugs straight into the scart socket on the back of your TV. It's £17.99 delivered from Play.com*.

It works in exactly the same way as a standard set-top box (ie, the rest of the deals on this page), and gives you access to all the Freeview TV and radio channels available in your area, as well as a remote control. As it plugs straight into the back of your set there's no need for a scart lead, making it small and discreet.

Plus record live TV

The receiver also lets you record Freeview programmes to a USB flash memory stick, as well as play back MP3 audio files and MPEG-2 videos. There's no memory stick included, but you can pick one up for a few quid (compare prices using the Megashopbot).

While the price on this is great, it is a bit gimmicky - and how useful the ‘recordable’ element is versus just getting a solid standard box is open to question. Users of both Play.com and Amazon have rated it a decent four stars - yet some of the individual reviews are scathing.

Yet if the product isn’t for you, you can return it within 30 days, in its original condition for a full refund or replacement - so it isn’t such an issue.

Specification

Colour: Black
Electronic programme guide: Yes
Remote control: Yes
Scart sockets: 1
Scart lead included: No - not needed
Dolby Digital: No

Dreamax DTT5211 single Scart set-top box £17 in-store at Asda

If you've a big Asda* store nearby, you can pick up a standard Freeview set-top box for £16.97 (or pay £2.95 to get it delivered).

The Dreamax DTT5211 only has one scart socket, and comes with a remote, a 7-day electronic programme guide and auto set-up (no scart lead included, you will have to buy this separately).

Specification

Colour: Black
Electronic programme guide: Yes
Remote control: Yes
Scart sockets: 1
Scart lead included: No
Dolby Digital: No

Dion ECO Freeview digital set-top box £17 in-store at Tesco

If you don't have an Asda nearby, Tesco* has this Dion ECO Freeview box. It comes with a remote control, 7-day electronic programme guide and automatic set-up, and like the Asda box, only has one scart socket.

You can pick it up in-store for £16.97, or get it delivered for £5 extra.

Specification

Colour: Black
Electronic programme guide: Yes
Remote control: Yes
Scart sockets: 1
Scart lead included: No
Dolby Digital: No

Goodmans Freeview digital set-top box £25 in-store at Sainsbury's

If you want a box from a branded manufacturer, you can pick this Goodmans GD11FVZS2 Freeview set-top box up in-store from Sainsbury's* for £24.99 (or pay £28.94 to get it delivered.

Unlike the other standard definition boxes here, this model has two scart sockets, meaning you can plug it into your TV and a surround sound system. It comes with a remote control, 7-day electronic programme guide and automatic set-up.

Specification

Colour: Black
Electronic programme guide: Yes
Remote control: Yes (including batteries)
Scart sockets: 2
Scart lead included: No
Dolby Digital: No

Alba Freeview HD set-top box £40 in-store at Argos - reduced from £100

This Alba Freeview set-top box is currently better than half price at £39.99 in-store at Argos* (usually £99.99). It's £5.95 if you want it delivered.

Unlike the other boxes here, this box is capable of receiving high-definition channels, meaning you can watch BBC1 HD, BBC HD, ITV1 HD and Channel 4 HD (if plugged into a HD TV and in an area that can receive HD channels - check on the Freeview site).

The box has a HDMI output which allows for upscaling to near HD quality, and also has two scart sockets.

Though Which? gave the box a bad review in 2010, the reviews we've read seem to suggest that the box does the job and is easy to set up and use. If however you find that the box is faulty, you have a one-year warranty with Argos and can return it for a replacement.

Specification

Colour: Black
Electronic programme guide: Yes
Remote control: Yes
Scart sockets: 2
Scart lead included: No - one HDMI cable included
Dolby Digital: No


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The digital switchover

In 2012 all UK TV channels will be delivered digitally, and all the analogue terrestrial transmitters will be switched off. In terms of choice, this is good news for most; after all, digital terrestrial's 50+ channels beat analogue's five.

The analogue signal is being turned off according to ITV region. It started with the Border and Granada regions in 2008 and ends in 2012 with the Meridian, London, Tyne Tees, Ulster regions.

You can find out which area you're in by seeing which ITV news service you receive. Once you know, here's the official list of switchover times. Most of the UK has already switched, but for those remaining areas, here's the time schedule of when you'll go digital:

  • London - Begins on 4 April 2012
  • Meridian - Begins between 8 February and 13 June 2012 (depending on area)
  • Tyne Tees - Begins on 12 September
  • Ulster - Begins on 10 October 2012

These switchover dates only correspond to the standard definition digital TV rollout - high-definition (HD) TV is being rolled out separately. Some areas already receive HD channels.

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  • Technika ECO1STBA08 Single Scart, £14.93 in-store

    The punchily-titled 'ECO1STBA08' (pictured) is the current cheapest box offered at the larger, electronics-toting Tesco Extra stores. The box itself is really basic, with only one SCART socket, a 7 day Electronic Programme Guide & Remote Control. It does have one feather in its cap though; according to the blurb it's been energy saving trust approved for low power consumption. Phone ahead to check for stock if you want one.

  • Top Deal: Clarity Digital Set Top Box, £14.95 for collection.

    Another basic box, this one boasts decent picture quality as well as the a 7 day EPG, remote control and small form factor. It's available half-price at Argos, for £14.95 if you reserve and collect. Buy online and get it delivered and the deal's not so good, since Argos wants £5.95 for postage. The feedback's excellent for this box, hence I've made it top pick.

  • For high-def tellies: Wharfedale LPDV832HDMI £29.99 for collection.

    Another box from Argos, this is the cheapest I've seen with a digital HDMI output for better picture quality on HD-Ready TVs (which don't have freeview built in already). While you still won't get a proper 'high-def' image (that's impossible on regular freeview at the moment), it'll look a far less foggy than it does through SCART. Aside from this, the box is much the same as the others, with a 7-day EPG & remote control, and power consumption's very low too.

  • Various freeview boxes from £4.99 in-store - Very Limited Stock.

    This note wouldn't be complete without a mention of stack 'em high, sell 'em cheap hi-fi retailer Richer Sounds' freeview clearance deals. Various end-of-line boxes, starting at just £4.99, are listed on the Richer Sounds Website.

    These haven't been included higher up since availability is very limited, but it's well worth checking your local branch for a bargain, just scroll to the bottom of the freeview boxes page to find the cheapies.


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