Much like YouView, Freeview Play can be seen as a best-of-both-worlds TV service, giving you access to over 80 live channels (including 15 in HD) and the full suite of UK TV catch-up apps (such as BBC iPlayer) under one parasol. It uses an aerial for the former, and an internet connection for the latter.
With a sea of TV services already on the market, from Freeview to Freesat to YouView, Sky to BT 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?
The latest connected TV platform from Freeview, which was released in the UK in 2015, has had growing support from manufacturers since its launch and now features on a plethora of TVs and set-top boxes. First out of the blocks was the Humax FVP-400T, but that's since been joined by select LG, Philips and Panasonic tellies such as the Panasonic TX-50DX700B and Philips 55POS9002. The future's bright too: Freeview Play is also coming to new TVs from the likes of Sharp and Toshiba. But more on that later.
Freeview Play stands out from vanilla Freeview by adding the extra 'connected' element to TV viewing. The Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) can not only be used to access live programming, but also, thanks to a clever roll-back function, programmes that have aired in the past seven days. So if you missed yesterday's Corrie, you can simply scroll back in time and get your fill.
Alternatively, you can catch missed shows on the service's dedicated TV catch-up service apps; BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, All 4 and Demand 5 are all present. Ultimately, though, the Freeview Play's grand design is to save people the effort of going into those catch-up apps and searching - heaven forbid we perform more remote clicks than we have to!
There's also the Freeview Explore tab, which displays of all the best catch-up content currently available - curated by the broadcasters. Shows are split into genres like Comedy, Factual, Movies, Sport, and a changing seasonal category such as ‘Christmas’ or ‘Halloween’.
With the 2017 Freeview Play specification requiring 'mandatory support for the decoding of HEVC for programmes delivered via broadband', including 'optional support for Ultra HD and HDR', the service doesn't look to be dragging its heels in the ever-advancing AV world, either.
More after the break
How can I get Freeview Play?
While there were only a limited number of ways to get Freeview Play when it launched in 2015, the service is now edging closer to ubiquity - it's onboard products from around 20 brands. In fact, Freeview claims it'll soon be the most widely adopted catch-up platform in the UK.
You have two options: buy a Freeview Play-toting TV (see below), or an external box like the Humax FVP-4000T set-top box or Panasonic DMR-BWT850EB Blu-ray recorder.
On the telly front, LG has released a software update to bring the service to some models, including its rather excellent OLEDs (OLED65E6V, OLED55B6V and OLED55C6V), but also many of its mainstream LCD models (see here). Panasonic (a supporter of the service from the off) has a similarly generous offering, from its latest 4K OLED TX-55EZ952B and its top-tier TX-65DX902B to its Award-winning TX-40DX600B. Philips has joined the Freeview Play party with its Ambilight-toting 55POS9002, while Finlux and JVC have a handful between them.
While we'd imagine new models from the brands above will indeed feature Freeview Play in 2017, we've had confirmation that Blaupunkt, Toshiba, Sharp and Hisense are certainly getting on board this year.
The full range of supported devices can be found here.
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 scrolling EPG. But there are some differences between the two platforms.
If you have a NAS drive, use DLNA to stream content between devices and 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, is the service for you. (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 make the difference for Freeview Play. It's not something YouView can currently offer. YouView does, however, punch back by offering a wider selection of third-party apps...
It's worth noting not all Freeview Play boxes come with apps for all the on-demand services. As Freeview Play is an open platform, TV and set-top box manufacturers can shape the service to offer what they like. Our advice: check before you get your credit card out.
YouView, on the other hand, has the Netflix app on its platform by default, along with Now TV and (for those with a BT TV subscription) BT Player.
MORE: Freeview box reviews
Should you get Freeview Play?
Freeview Play is aimed, first and foremost, at people who don't want to shell out for a TV subscription service from BT, Sky or Virgin. If you're ditching one of those, need a new Freeview box or are looking to upgrade your free TV experience, the service is certainly worth considering.
It may be competing in a crowded market, but given 95% of the nation’s most-watched TV is available subscription-free on Freeview, and Freeview Play TVs now account for 34% of smart HD TVs sold in the UK (according to Freeview), it hopes the upgrade to Play will be as logical as upgrading your phone.
"With new content, manufacturer- and product-enhancement announcements on the horizon, Freeview Play is on track to becoming the new normal way viewers access TV,” says Freeview boss Guy North.
With sales of Freeview Play-featuring products recently reaching one million, perhaps it is.
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