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Guide to "going digital" in the UK

Updated on September 15, 2014

DVB, Freeview, Freesat....what does it mean for me?

The question most people who don't understand all the jargon want answering is simply this;

Will my TV still work after we've "gone digital" ?

And the simple answer is, "Yes, it will."

The silightly less welcome, but more complete, answer is "Yes it will, but you may need to spend a bit of money."

The reason for this is that while your TV will still work, if it is non-digital (ie. analogue only), all you will see after the existing analogue transmissions close down is "snow", and all you will hear (if anything) is hiss. You will need to buy a small "box" of electronics to convert the digital transmissions to a form your existing TV can display. These are often known as "set top boxes". You may also need to buy a new aerial.

Digital transmissions can be delivered in many ways - through the internet, through a cable service such as Virgin, by digital terrestrial transmitters (land based) or via satellite. This short guide will focus on digital terrestrial (DTT) and satellite.


DTT (Digital terrestrial television) boxes can be purchased in many high street shops and can be found for as little as around £20.00. The service is now ofter referred to as "Freeview". Your existing aerial simply plugs into the box, and a lead goes from the box to your TV. The unit plugs into the mains.


Except.....your existing aerial may not be able to pick up the digital signals, as they may be on slightly different frequencies to the analogue channels you currently receive, and / or they may be transmitting using lower power. This may mean you receiving only some, or none, of the digital channels on your box. In some cases, the transmitter you currently receive may not even be transmitting digital signals at all. A new aerial may solve the problem, but do check on the internet or with a reputable retailer before spending any money on your new box.

There is no monthly subscription payable to receive any of the Freeview channels. However, there is a service called Top Up TV which requires a subscription. This transmits over the DTT network and does require a subscription. Not all boxes are capable of receiving this service. If you think you might be interested in this, it would be worth looking into it before spending any money.

Digital Satellite

Digital satellite boxes can also be found in the High Street, prices generally starting at a little higher than DTT boxes. The choices are a little more complicated than for DTT. The basic service is known as Freesat. To receive this, you will need not only a set top box, but also a completely new aerial (usually a dish) with its associated electronics mounted on it.

As with Freeview, there is no monthly subscription payable to receive any of the Freesat channels, and the amount of channels receivable on Freesat is far greater than with Freeview. However, there are subscription based channels and packages available, which the basic Freesat receivers cannot receive - most notably the Sky TV subscription packages. As with Freeview, if you think you might be interested in receiving these, it would be worth looking into before spending any money.


Many new recording devices are available to replace video cassette recorders, which have Freeview or Freesat receivers built into them. If you think you might be in the market to replace your existing VCR, do look into them. They mainly record directly on to hard drive or DVD, and so do away with tapes entirely.

High Definition (HD) transmissions are now available which the basic Freeview and Freesat receivers won't receive, so if you think you might be interested in've got it;

It would be worth looking into before spending any money!

I hope you find this short guide useful, and that it gives you some idea of what to look for and ask about before venturing in to the shops.

Satellite Dish


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