Freesat vs. Freeview receivers and Sky dish/receiver comaptibility

Channels that can be received on Satellite without a decoder, CAM or card are known as free-to-air channels, since these channels don’t require a subscription. Recently in the UK, a new service started called Freesat, which is a line-up of free channels that can be picked up by a Freesat satellite receiver. However, while Freesat and free-to-air channels don’t require a subscription to watch, there is a significant difference between Freesat and free-to-air satellite receivers.

Freesat receivers

A Freesat receiver is a receiver specially designed to pick up the Freesat channel line-up at 28.2E, its new proprietary electronic programme guide (EPG) and interactive services such as the “Red Button”. Most Freesat receivers are capable of tuning in additional free-to-air channels, but their capabilities are very limited.

For example, some Freesat receivers require the user to individually tune in channels, which can be a very tedious process and there does not seem to be any multi-satellite or motorised dish support on any yet. Even with non Freesat free-to-air channels tuned in, it is more tedious to switch between channels than with a dedicated free-to-air receiver.

Like a Sky box, a Freesat receiver makes it easier to browse through its own programme line-up, with its detailed EPG showing TV listings up to a week ahead. Freesat PVRs can also use this EPG to make it easier to record programmes without manually setting timers. Unlike a Sky+ receiver, a Freesat PVR does not require a subscription to use its recording capabilities. However, as Freesat licenses out its EPG to Freesat receiver manufacturers, standard free-to-air receivers will unlikely get more than the now & next programme listings for Freesat channels.

Free-to-air receivers

A free-to-air satellite (FTA) receiver is a satellite receiver designed to pick up channels that are not encrypted. Most models offer multi-satellite and automatic tuning capabilities, which make it simple to watch pretty much every channel the user’s satellite dish and receiver can pick up.

As Freesat don’t encrypt their channels, these channels can be picked up on regular free-to-air receivers. This means that someone with a free-to-air receiver does not need a separate Freesat receiver to receive all the Freesat channels available on 28.2E. Another advantage is that the user can rearrange the channel numbering, making it easier to switch between Freesat and non-Freesat channels, not to mention channels on another satellite when using a multi-satellite or motorised dish set-up.

Unfortunately, free-to-air receivers do have a few disadvantages to watch out for when used on Freesat channels. Users will not be able to access its proprietary interactive services or EPG TV guide, apart from what’s on now & next. The initial setting up of the receiver can be tedious, especially if the user wants to rearrange the channels the receiver has picked up during a full scan such that the Freesat channels are grouped together for easy access. New channels require a rescan or manual tuning. Those with a free-to-air PVR need to set up timers to record upcoming programmes.

While ITV’s Freesat HD channel does not automatically tune-in on most free-to-air HD receivers, some can receive this channel by manually tuning in the channel using the channel’s parameters. See this thread for more information.

Sky dishes and receivers for Freesat

Those who already have a Sky dish on their house can generally use this dish for picking up Freesat and free-to-air channels as the Freesat channel line up and many other free-to-air channels broadcast on the same satellite as Sky’s channels. Sky dishes used with standard Sky and Sky+ receivers will also pick up high definition Freesat channels when connected to a suitable receiver. However, as with any other satellite dish, each cable coming off the dish can only be used with a single satellite receiver at a time.

Those without a dish will need to get one installed, which can cost more than the price of an entry level Freesat box with some professional installers. For those who prefer to have the dish professionally installed, one useful trick is to get Sky’s Freesat offer (which can be got for as little as £75 in the UK), which gives the user a few months of Sky’s pay TV service free as a trial, then all the user needs to do is cancel the service in sufficient time before the trial is up and optionally change the Sky receiver with a Freesat or free-to-air channel.

While a Sky receiver will pick up Freesat channels without a Sky subscription, there is no option to hide the subscription channels from the TV guide or channel numbering, which means that switching channels can be more awkward than with a Freesat or free-to-air receiver. Also, a Sky+ receiver requires a Sky+ subscription to make use of its recording features. On the other hand, a Sky receiver offers access to several encrypted subscription-free channels with its Freesat from Sky service, which are not available on free-to-air or Freesat receivers, such as Sky Three, Setanta Sports News, Fiver and a few others.

The Radio and Telly website has a nice FAQ about Freesat, such as how to go about tuning non Freesat channels on most of the popular receivers. Further information on Freesat can be found on this Wikipedia entry and on the official Freesat website.

[B]Freesat vs. FTA PVR Satellite Receivers [/B]
Advantages & drawbacks

With a wide range of Freesat and Free-to-air PVRs, some may wonder whether there is any advantage in going for a Free-to-air PVR over a Freesat+ PVR, especially when the non-Freesat one lacks the Freesat EPG.

Well, one thing in common with pretty much all Freesat PVRs at this time of writing is that they don’t support recording to external storage and any that have a network port have it reserved for future use or don’t allow remote access to its content over it. This can be a problem with Freesat HD channels, where the available recording time is greatly reduced when recording HD channels. They also have much the same limitations as outlined above for Freesat receivers. Most Freesat PVRs cannot record channels not in the EPG package.

On the other hand, most recent PVR (FTA) satellite receivers have USB ports and a LAN connection which do allow exporting of recorded content. The advantage here is that one is not limited by the internal hard drive capacity and unlike proprietary receivers which allow recordings to external drives, the recordings can generally be played back on PCs and network media players capable of playing transport stream files. Of course, they can have all the extras a traditional satellite receiver would have, including CI support for decryption, DiSEqC support and so on.

Note that “PVR Ready” satelllite receivers generally do not come with an internal HDD and either require a HDD to be fitted inside or a USB drive attached to record to.