We’re going to come right out and say it. When we started writing this comparison, it seemed a little unfair. After all, we already know that Foxtel is the dominant force in Australian Pay TV entertainment. It has dozens of premium channels and exclusive coverage of some of the best sporting events in the world. Free to Air is… free?

And so, as we sipped Daiquiris in the zebra-skin recliner by the rooftop swimming pool of CompareTV Towers, we envisioned that it would be no contest. That the no-cost Freeview footslogger would be run into the dust by the sleekly engineered juggernaut that is Foxtel.

As it turned out, Foxtel did indeed win, but Freeview (a.k.a. Free to Air) – battered and bruised perhaps -also made it to the finish line in one piece.

Content

This is what you really want to know – Is the programming on Foxtel better than on Freeview?

One word answer: Yes.

Two word answer: Hell yes.

We know you had to ask, and we respect that, but really, Foxtel has 92 channels. Even at its most basic, the service offers 43 channels catering to everything from kids’ TV to movies, from drama to documentaries, and invests heavily in producing and acquiring the best content in the world.

If you’re addicted to soaps, you can watch them all day and all night on Foxtel. If you absolutely, positively must watch all the sport all the time, you’ll find coverage of every event that matters on one of the fifteen dedicated sports channels as well as the sports news channels. Including the option to live-stream popular sports to eligible mobile devices using the Foxtel Go app. If you choose the full 92 channel package, there’s a serious danger that you’ll never leave your house again. Headline shows for 2015 include Fear The Walking Dead, Empire and Falling Skies.

Free to Air TV on the other hand, offers 29 channels from a variety of broadcasters, but unlike with Foxtel, it’s not the case that whenever you tune in there’ll be something worth watching. At the time of writing, it’s 8:45 am, and the best picks right now are the shopping channel, an unbelievable amount of kids’ TV, and news in Chinese, Arabic, English, and Russian.

Granted, this isn’t the best time of day for high drama and entertainment, and looking ahead to this evening’s schedule, we can see back to back episodes of The Big Bang Theory on channel 99, Gone In 60 Seconds on Channel 7, and a whole host of solid British and American TV shows from the last decade or so.

Live AFL and NRL Coverage

Australian’s love their sport, so any review between Free to Air and Foxtel wouldn’t be complete without a look at the quantity and quality of their respective coverage of the most popular codes.

Telstra NRL Premiership: Network Nine will offer a minimum of three Live matches on Free to Air TV during each round, Thursday and Friday night, as well as Sunday afternoon, with the last five Saturday night game on channel 9 in the lead up to the Grand Final. Fox Sports will televise every game of every round live, in HD, and ad-break free before the grand final.

Toyota AFL Premiership: Channel Seven will offer a minimum of three live matches on their Free to Air network each full round in all states and territories, which will generally include Thursday and Friday night, Sunday afternoon, as well as the Saturday afternoon game shown on delay. Foxtel will continue to deliver every game of every round live and in HD, before the Grand Final. Between Fox Footy and Fox Sports the matches will be televised across multiple platforms including cable, satellite, Internet, tablets and smart phones (PC and Mac excluded).

The above comparison can be used to describe Freeview TV content as a whole. It’s solid, not dazzling. It’s good, but it’s not inspiring.

Foxtel $26* Entertainment Pack

Foxtel is more affordable than ever and now you can enjoy 45 channels of brilliant entertainment for just $26*/month.

OR

Hardware

This is where things start to become a little more interesting. The latest iteration of Foxtel hardware – the iQ3 box – is a thing of beauty. It’s black, it’s smooth, it looks like it should be in a science fiction movie, and it allows you to record hundreds of hours of TV, as well as viewing catch up TV and pausing and rewinding live TV – all accessible through a Bluetooth remote control. The iQ3 is amazing.

And this is where the Freeview standards come in and where, for now at least, it clings onto a tenuous advantage.

Believe it or not, there’s a semi-official body which set the rules on what can be branded and sold as a Freeview box. That body is called the Freeview Initiative.

To gain certification as part of the Free to air initiative, your hardware has to be able to receive transmissions in both standard definition and high definition. Sounds great, but unfortunately another Freeview requirement is that all recording-enabled hardware be incapable of skipping over adverts on recorded content. Bummer.

But don’t despair just yet – you’re still allowed to watch Free to air on devices which don’t conform to the requirements of the Freeview initiative. A range of consoles such as Sony’s PS3 have been able to bring Freeview to your TV since 2009. It’s your choice – play by the rules and buy a box endorsed by the Freeview initiative, or watch through an unapproved device and skip the ads.

What you miss out on with non-Freeview hardware is the special Freeview electronic program guide (EPG), which in its latest form on hardware certified as “Freeview Plus” will let you browse the program guide, choose what you want to record, view catch-up TV from all of the free-to-air channels, and a lot more. It’s incredibly user-friendly and very sleek – and it’s also something you’ve been able to get, more or less, with Foxtel for many years now.

Foxtel also offers Foxtel Go to all subscribers. This handy little app runs on most mobile devices and lets you take the best that Foxtel has to offer with you, wherever you want to go. Freeview doesn’t have any sort of similar service as yet, although the Seven Network is moving to change that by the end of 2015 with its Plus7 app, which ultimately will be able to live-stream all of the network’s channels, 24/7. When that arrives, it’s likely other Free to air networks will follow, though by that stage you’ll be juggling five apps instead of Foxtel’s one.

Cost

As we mentioned earlier, the basic Foxtel entertainment pack costs $25 per month for 42 channels giving you a taste of all available genres. If there’s an area you’re particularly interested in, such as documentaries, movies, or sports, these can be bolted for an additional price of between $20 and $25 each. If you want everything Foxtel has available, then the “Platinum HD” pack will set you back $134 per month.

Meanwhile Free to air – as the name suggests – is free.

Conclusion

Whether you choose to go for Foxtel or Free to Air depends on how much you love TV. If you’re a casual viewer, we imagine that you’ll be quite happy to stay with Freeview. After all, it’s free, it’s easy, and the content is pretty good.

If you’re the kind of person who loves TV and has found themselves waiting with bated breath for their zombie fix on Fear The Walking Dead, who absolutely needs the best sports coverage money can buy, and who can afford to pay for it, then you should, without hesitation, choose Foxtel. You can compare Foxtel deals here.

View Comments

One Comment

  1. Michael Holt August 9, 2016 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    i’ve tried to get some information about what Olympic sports channel 7 is broadcasting and when and I have been completely frustrated. I keep getting offers to subscribe to fox or live streaming but that is not what I want.

    For such an important national broadcast the entire coverage is just diabolical. You should be ashamed.

Leave A Comment