If you’ve been shopping for a new TV recently, you might have noticed a logo popping up on certain models — “Freeview Plus”. This unassuming logo tells you that the TV is all ready to work with the latest evolution of digital TV in Australia — where broadcast TV meets the internet, all from the comfort of your couch. Let’s take a look at Freeview Plus and see what it’s got to offer to you as a Free-to-air viewer.
The Evolution of Freeview
Back when digital TV launched in Australia in 2001, it was much more basic than what we have today. The commercial networks just put copies of their analogue channels onto digital, and that’s pretty much where digital TV sat for the next eight years until, at the end of 2008, the networks got together to launch an initiative they named Freeview (the name shamelessly borrowed from the UK digital TV service).
Freeview was designed to show viewers that there was an alternative to pay TV — in other words, Foxtel — by adding extra channels to give viewers far greater choice of what to watch at any given time.
Freeview later added an interactive electronic program guide (EPG) that could only be displayed by certain “Freeview EPG” badged devices; this provides a constantly-updated on-screen program guide for all channels which can be used to set reminders or even recordings for shows up to a week ahead. However, that service was shut down at the end of 2017, because it’s not needed for the next phase of Freeview — the big one: Freeview Plus.
You will never have to miss your favourite shows again. Photo: Supplied
So What Actually is Freeview Plus?
The idea of Freeview Plus is that you never need to worry about missing your favourite shows, even if you forget to record them. Previously, the five networks all offer their own “catch-up” services which you could access via web browsers or on some Smart TVs, set-top boxes, and other devices, but you had to actually go to the specific app for each channel and navigate through its menus to find the show that you missed so you could catch it before it disappeared.
Now, Freeview Plus takes those catch-up services and integrates them with your TV or set-top box’s Electronic Program Guide (EPG). Instead of having to go off and hunt for shows in five different apps, the services are all integrated into the EPG. If you missed a show you can literally “rewind” the EPG on your TV screen, or you can select the shows that you missed directly from that screen to watch them from the network’s catch-up service. No digging around through menus, no fuss.
To do this, of course, your TV or other Freeview Plus device needs to be connected to broadband internet, which is why all Freeview Plus devices are broadband-ready — usually with Wi-Fi built in so you don’t have to run cables across the room from your modem.
The Freeview Plus service is run by a consortium of the five Free-to-air broadcasters, cooperating like never before to bring together their broadcast TV and internet services all on the one easy-to-use screen. It’s a huge step for TV in Australia, and you’re likely to see all of the networks advertising it extensively in the coming months.
Freeview Plus functionality, based on the Android TV platform, has been making its way into TVs, such as many current Sony models. This gives users multiple layers of convenience — you can start a catch-up show from Freeview Plus while watching a channel, then continue the show later from the app in the TV’s menus. We’re sure the evolution of these features will have much more to offer yet! Networks are now also able to add custom Freeview Plus menus and apps for specific shows — as Seven has recently done with My Kitchen Rules.
Catching Up Made Easy
One of the most useful elements of the Freeview Plus EPG is the seamless integration with the five “catch-up” streaming services run by the networks — ABC iView, SBS On Demand, 7plus, 9Now, and Tenplay. It’s not just about catch-up, though — Freeview Plus brings some very nice features to the table, such as:
Full program guides updated in real time — no need to visit channels to get the guide
- Direct access to catch-up services so you can seamlessly watch shows you’ve missed
- Recommendations of shows you might like
- The ability to search the program guide for shows, actors, etc.
- Descriptions of every show and episode
- Reminders for your favourite shows so you don’t forget to change the channel
The way things work with a normal digital TV is, you have to look in the EPG and spot your favourite show (“Yes, the latest episode of Vampire Baseball is on!”) and then realize you missed it so you turn off the TV and head on over to your PC, load up the web browser, click the bookmark for the network’s catch-up site, and sit uncomfortably in front of the monitor for an hour of your favourite vampire sportsmen’s wacky antics.
With Freeview Plus, if you scroll back in the EPG and see that you missed the show, you can select it anyway, and the seamless interface fetches the catch-up stream of the show for you from the appropriate catch-up service and starts playing it.
The interface lets you set reminders for your favourite shows (so you never miss another vampire-filled moment), lets you search the entire EPG by title or genre, and even throws up recommendations for you from both live TV and catch-up. You can also view a list of all the upcoming air dates and times of shows you mark as favourites. It’s all extremely handy — and, because the EPG is delivered via broadband, you don’t need to tune to a channel first before its guide appears, like you do with conventional digital TV.
Streaming TV & Movies Plans
Recording – The Downside
Beyonwiz Personal Video Recorder (PVR) Photo: Supplied
The Freeview Plus platform also incorporates the ability for a Personal Video Recorder (PVR) to record shows to hard disk via the EPG, in a similar fashion to those offered by Foxtel’s iQ boxes. But there’s a catch; just like earlier Freeview PVRs, the rules of carrying the logo include one that might be a dealbreaker for some. Skipping ads is frowned upon — not surprisingly, considering it’s the ads that pay for everything you’re watching and recording — and up until mid-2015, Freeview stood firm on the rule that any skip-ahead button on a PVR would have to skip 10 minutes minimum, making them useless for hopping over an ad break. That didn’t go down well with viewers, so it’s not entirely surprising that the rule has been relaxed so that the skip button can flash forward 3 minutes, which should take care of most of an ad break.
FreeviewPlus Receiver aerialBox T2200 Photo: Supplied
Is It Worth It? CompareTV Verdict
If you’re buying a new TV and the idea of seamless catch-up and a constantly up-to-date, interactive guide sounds like a good idea to you — and more features are surely coming to this very extensible platform — then you’ll want to check for the Freeview Plus logo on the TV you buy. There’s no downside to it, as long as you’ve got the broadband connection to feed it. Most brand-name smart TVs have Freeview Plus built in by default even if the logo’s not there — you’ll know as soon as you tune in to a Free-to-air channel and see the familiar Freeview Plus brand slide into view.
If you’re looking for a PVR, however, you may not be quite so convinced. The core functionality of Freeview Plus really shines on a TV, and though they’ve been relaxed, the restrictions on hard disk recording still makes a non-Freeview PVR a much more attractive proposition for many (not to mention the vastly larger range of brands and models to choose from).
Freeview Plus is a nice evolution for Free-to-air TV, regardless, one which puts the viewer first for a change. It’s great to see our traditionally wary Australian networks implementing something that clicks with the way we consume our TV entertainment in the 21st century.