Freeview+ (aka Freeview Plus) has been called "Sky+ for Freeview". It's an apt description, because the Freeview Plus DVR platform combines a traditional DVB-T receiver with roomy internal storage, giving telly-watchers the ability to pause, record and rewind their digital TV.
Like any standard Freeview box, Freeview Plus offers up to 48 free-to-air digital TV channels and 24 digital radio stations. Of course, this is a 'best case' Freeview scenario.
The number of channels you'll actually receive still depends on where you live in the UK. That said, the Digital Switchover process is now well underway and continues to boost digital coverage nationwide.
Freeview Plus specification
Freeview Plus isn't new. Originally launched under the 'Freeview Playback' banner in 2007, the platform was rebranded as Freeview Plus in mid-2008. The move positioned Freeview Plus alongside its plus-badged video recording rivals – Sky+, Virgin Media's V+ system, Freesat+ and BT's Vision+ box, which acts as a Freeview/VOD combo device.
What all of these devices have in common is a built-in hard disk drive. It's mandatory in the Freeview Plus specification, giving Freeview Plus devices the ability to record any programmes listed in their 8-day Electronic Programme Guides. In fact, the HDD is constantly recording, enabling Freeview Plus systems to pause live TV for up to 30 minutes and to rewind it for personalised instant replays.
With another nod to Sky+, the latest Freeview Plus systems also feature twin TV tuners (for watching one channel, while recording another) plus a handy Series Link option for recording every episode of your favourite TV show.
An Accurate Recording mode, meanwhile, ensures that programme recordings are triggered by signals sent from the broadcaster rather than old-fashioned, VCR-style timers. This not only makes a Freeview Plus system easy to use, but enables it to delay or change any scheduled recordings if a previous programme overruns or the TV listings change.
The best Freeview Plus systems
You'll have noticed that we keep mentioning 'Freeview Plus system' rather than 'Freeview Plus box'. This is because Freeview Plus is available in a number of different form factors.
The simplest approach is to invest in a traditional set-top box like the impressive Humax PVR9300T, which boasts a massive 320GB HDD and upscaling HDMI port.
ABOVE: The Humax PVR9300T
More advanced (and expensive) options include combo DVD/HDD recorders such as the Samsung DVD-SH875M; or Freeview+ HDTVs like the 32-inch JVC LT-32DE9BJ, which features twin DVB-T tuners and 160GB-worth of storage.
ABOVE: The Samsung DVD-SH875M
ABOVE: The 32" JVC LT-32DE9BJ
And if you need something a little more cutting edge... LG has recently unveiled the HR400, a Profile 2.0 Blu-ray player with an integrated 160GB hard disk and Freeview+ cleverness. Just look out for the blood-red Freeview+ sticker.
DVRs proving popular
DVRs are fast becoming a must-have digital accessory. A recent Ofcom report has revealed that sales of digital video recorders in the UK have hit nine million. Around five million Sky customers now have Sky+, while more than 2.6 million Freeview DVRs have been sold. 600,000 Virgin Media subscribers currently use its V+ service and another 600,000 homes have invested in BT Vision and Top Up TV.
Freeview Plus easily has the most momentum in this growing market. Unlike its main rivals (bar Freesat+), the biggest selling point of a Freeview Plus system is that it's a one-off purchase with no ongoing subscription costs.
The only note of caution is this: with the prospect of Freeview HD on the horizon this year, any Freeview Plus system you buy today will be restricted to recording standard definition TV. The high-def Freeview service, due to launch in August/September, will require a whole new set-top box.
For more information about Freeview Plus, visit the Freeview website.