Another advantage is that the PVR version of the Freesat box (inevitably called Freesat+) will be subscription-free, unlike Sky's HD PVR. The first model from Humax model is scheduled to hit shelves in November. And at some point, the service will be integrated with BBC's iPlayer, via the Ethernet connection on all Freesat boxes. And the platform promises to get even more exciting next year.
Not only will the number of hi-def and SD channels grow, more significantly the first Blu-ray recorders in the UK will arrive with Freesat as the de facto tuner option. This means you'll be able to archive hi-def (and SD) broadcasts onto your own blank Blu-ray discs – something not possible from Sky.
Disadvantages? In addition to Five and FilmFour's missing channels apart, there's no access to Channel 4 HD – this will remain exclusive to SkyHD subscribers for the foreseeable future.
If you don't currently have a satellite dish, then you'll need to have one installed for Freesat – this can be done yourself if you're of a practical bent, or carried out by the retailer who sold you the box (high-street retailers offer a package consisting of installation and the box for £130 or £230, depending on whether you require standard or hi-def).
If you already have a compatible Sky minidish or live in a home with an operational satellite TV wall-outlet, then Freesat is hassle-free and inexpensive. Just purchase the Freesat receiver from your retailer – from £50 for the standard-def version, or £120 for hi-def – and connect it to your display, audio system and dish. If everything has been installed correctly, you're away.
So who wins the Freesat vs Sky battle?
Ultimately, there's no hard and fast rule as to whether you will be better served by Sky, Freesat or even Freesat from Sky – but there are clear guidelines.
If you want a heap of channels for as little money as possible and don't care about HD, then Freesat from Sky could be your best bet. But prepare to be bugged incessantly with onscreen prompts to upgrade to full-on Sky.
On the other hand, if you want hi-def and (soon-to-arrive) integrated PVR functionality at a low price then Freesat will appeal – unless you want the ultimate in HD choice, in which case SkyHD will be your best option.
First published in Home Cinema Choice, Issue 162
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