Freeview Play is the new connected TV service from Freeview, combining live and catch-up TV and set to take on YouView following Freeview's rebrand at the start of the year. It offers up to 60 Freeview channels, including 12 HD channels, as well as access to catch-up services such as BBC iPlayer.
With a sea of TV services already on the market, from Freeview to Freesat to YouView, Sky to Virgin Media, not to mention 'over the top' (OTT) services such as Amazon Fire TV, Roku and Apple TV, you may wonder - what's so different about Freeview Play? Allow us to explain...
What is Freeview Play?
Freeview Play is the new connected TV platform from Freeview. It's due to be released in the UK in October, with a small number of manufacturers supporting it from launch. First out of the blocks is the Humax FVP-400T.
Freeview Play differs from Freeview in that it adds the extra 'connected' element to TV viewing. The Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) can not only be used to view programmes that are showing live, but also both the previous seven days of programmes and the next seven days of programmes.
Programmes you've missed that are available on a TV catch-up service can then be watched with a simple click of a button. BBC iPlayer, ITV Player and All 4 are available at launch, with Demand 5 being added at a later date.
All four services can also, slightly confusingly (albeit ultimately usefully) be accessed on Freeview Play via their respective, dedicated catch-up apps. But the idea of Freeview Play is to save people from going into those catch-up apps and having to search for programmes to watch; instead it's all accessible via the EPG.
You will also be able to access certain other streaming music and video apps on Freeview Play, with the likes of Netflix and Spotify said to be in the pipeline.
If this all sounds familiar, it could be because it's not dissimilar to what's on offer from Freesat Freetime and also YouView, which is also a connected Freeview platform. More on that comparison later.
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How can I get Freeview Play?
As a fledgling format, there are only a limited number of ways to get Freeview Play at the moment. It's not a service that can be brought to legacy equipment, you'll have to buy either a new set-top box or a new TV (though some 2015 TVs will be getting it as a software update, see below).
Humax is the first to market, with the FVP-4000T set-top box. It has three tuners, which Humax says allow you to record up to four programmes at the same time, while watching a fifth. It’s available in 500GB (£199), 1TB (£230) and 2TB (£299) storage options, as well as three colour choices.
The other way you can get Freeview Play in the UK is on Panasonic’s 2015 TV range. Panasonic TVs with Freeview Play are as follows: CX680; CX700; CR730; CX802 and CR852. The service will become available via a software update - the TV should alert you when the update is available to download. Panasonic’s new Blu-ray players and digital recorders will also come Freeview Play on board.
Set-top box manufacturer Vestel has also pledged its commitment to the platform and will release a range of products "soon".
Freeview Play vs. YouView: What's the difference?
You may think Freeview Play sounds nigh-on identical to YouView... and you’d be right. YouView also offers a connected TV service with seven day back- and forward-scrolling EPG. But there are some differences between the two platforms.
Firstly, Freeview Play allows content to be streamed, via DLNA, to other devices connected to the same network. The Humax 4000T box for example will let you watch one thing on the main TV, while streaming a different programme to either a tablet, smartphone or another connected TV. YouView doesn’t allow content to be streamed to other devices.
Humax has also said that the same programme can be streamed to two devices at once - without needing to stop and start at the same time. So even if one person is half-way through a programme, another person can start streaming the same show from the start.
It's worth noting that not all Freeview Play boxes will come with apps for all the on-demand services. It’s down to the individual manufacturers of set-top boxes and TVs to decide which services they want to include. The Netflix app isn’t on the Human FVP-4000T Freeview Play box, for example, but it’s set to arrive in Spring 2016. Humax has also said it’s in talks to bring the likes of Amazon Instant Video and Spotify to its platform sometime in the future.
YouView on the other hand has the Netflix app on its platform already, along with Now TV, Sky Store and BT Player (for those with a BT TV subscription).
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Should you get Freeview Play?
Freeview Play is aimed, first and foremost, at people who don't want to pay for a TV subscription service such as BT, Sky or Virgin. Perhaps you're ditching one of those, need a new Freeview box or are looking to upgrade your free TV experience - if so, Freeview Play is worth considering.
For starters, you get the 7-day back and forward EPG, giving you instant access to catch-up TV programming in what sounds like an easy-to-use interface.
What's more, if you have a NAS drive and use DLNA to stream content between devices, and you like the idea of adding TV shows to the streaming mix, Freeview Play can help. Or perhaps you like the sound of streaming TV shows to different devices around your home - again, this will sound up your street. (And this is another way Freeview is cost effective compared to the likes of Sky, which offers a multi-room service but only for an extra fee. With Freeview Play, multi-room is free.)
Compared to YouView, it's this streaming functionality that looks likely to be the difference for Freeview Play. It's not something YouView can currently do. YouView does, however, offer a wider selection of third-party apps. The most popular apps, such as Netflix, may well come to Freeview Play devices in the future but for now, they're not there.
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Freeview Play may be the newest service in what is an already crowded space, but considering over 20 million homes have Freeview (as of 2013), Freeview hopes upgrading to Freeview Play will be as logical as upgrading your phone.
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