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Digital TV

This guide will help you get the best out of digital TV, and includes advice on getting a digital signal and buying the easiest-to-use products. Much of this specialist knowledge is the result of Rica having tested hundreds of digital TVs, set-top boxes, digital TV recorders, indoor aerials and accessories in the lead-up to the digital switchover. Testing has now stopped and the analogue signal is no more, however there's still plenty to know about choosing equipment and connecting up to get the best digital TV experience.

Digital TV and remote controlContents

  1. Introduction (this page)
  2. Digital TV options
  3. Accessibility services
  4. Choosing your kit
  5. Indoor aerials
    5.1 Test reports
    5.2 Tuning your aerial
  6. Set-top boxes
  7. Digital TV recorders
  8. Digital TVs
  9. TV remote controls
    9.1 Test reports
  10. Retuning and updating
  11. Reception problems & FAQs
  12. Jargon buster
Acknowledgements: Testing of digital products was carried out by Intertek RPT (Research and Performance Testing) at Milton Keynes. The digital TV testing programme, and the original consumer website on which this guide is based, were funded by the Government to support the UK digital TV switchover. The test programme ran from 2006 to the end of 2011.

Introduction

Following the final switchover from analogue to digital TV in October 2012, most households in the UK are able to receive digital terrestrial television through an aerial. In fact, in many areas an indoor aerial is sufficient - see our reviews of the best indoor aerials for recommendations. Elsewhere, a digital signal can be received by satellite or cable/phone line services.

This guide is based on our Digital TV website, which was originally intended to help people with the digital switchover. Much of that information is still useful even now that the switchover has been completed, and we've used it to create this guide. We hope it will help you if you are considering upgrading or otherwise changing your TV set-up, or just want to know more about what digital TV is all about.

In this guide, we tell you which digital TV options might and might not work for you. This depends on:

  • where you live
  • your technical know-how
  • how you're hoping to use your TV
  • the package of channels you want
  • how much cash you're looking to spend

Based on that, you'll be able to decide how you want to get your digital TV signal. You have 3 options:

Once you've got that sorted, you can get started on choosing your kit.

Your digital TV set-up will also give you digital radio channels. Digital radio (DAB) can sound clearer and offers a lot more radio stations than analogue. The digital TV recorder option is good for recording radio programmes. For more about DAB services and recommended digital radios, see our guide to digital radio.

Confused by all the technical terms around? Use our jargon buster.

Types of digital TV

Terrestrial TV

Terrestrial TV is simply all of the digital channels that you can receive by using only an aerial. All of these channels, along with additional channels, are also available when you get your digital signal by satellite, cable or phone line. For more information, see Digital TV options.

High-definition TV (HDTV)

High-definition (HD) broadcasts give you a crisper picture and the opportunity of better quality sound than standard-definition TV. Note that there is a difference between an HD TV set, which receives and displays high-definition TV channels using its own built-in HD tuner, and an 'HD ready TV', which has a screen resolution that's good enough to display HD TV programmes but needs a separate set-top box or digital TV recorder with a built-in HD tuner to receive them.

Internet TV

Internet TV gives you the opportunity to access a limited number of internet-based applications on your TV through your home network. Some manufacturers offer only a few applications while others offer an opportunity to download many more. There may also be a selection of games and general information applications (news, weather, etc) available. However, we have found that web browsing is not particularly easy on a TV, particularly when using the remote control for navigation. 

Watch-on-demand services such as Netflix and LoveFilm are also available, either directly through an internet-enabled TV or a device such as a Blu-ray player or games console. Similar options are available with a broadband phone line subscription.

3D TV

To view 3D programmes or films, you'll need a TV that has the 3D technology built in, and also a 3D Blu-ray player if you want to watch discs. Currently, only a few 3D TV programmes are broadcast each day; the Blu-ray selection of 3D films is also limited. In order to view 3D programmes or films, you have to wear special glasses that synchronise with the TV picture. Most manufacturers supply these glasses, but they tend to be fairly bulky to wear and cost around £100 per pair.

Our tests on 3D TVs have shown that performance differs between brands, so we recommend you try out the models you're interested in for a reasonable length of time. While some viewers have been impressed with the technology, some have found the 3D effect uncomfortable to watch and the glasses uncomfortable to wear for any length of time.

Plasma and LCD TVs

Plasma and LCD are two different types of screen technologies. For an explanation of the differences, see our guide to what to look for in Digital TVs.

On-screen TV guides or electric programme guides (EPG) 

With so many channels to choose from, finding the one you want can be a challenge. The solution is the on-screen programme guide (often called an EPG - electronic programme guide).

This TV guide makes the whole thing manageable. It displays the channels on your TV screen, line by line. You scroll up and down, using arrow keys on the remote, to view more channels, and from side to side to see what's coming up later in the day. Another button jumps you forward or back to see other days in the week.

Typically, a good on-screen TV guide can show about five or six channels at a time, with the start and finish times for each programme, so you can plan an evening's viewing. Not-so-good guides show, say, three programmes for each channel with no details of their length - or show only one channel at a time. Being able to display just your favourite channels can be a useful feature.

A full 7- or 8-day TV guide is best, so you can check for the next episode of a weekly programme.

Note that some digital boxes have TV guides that are very slow to fill up after you switch on. 

With a digital TV recorder, you set it to record programmes by selecting them from the on-screen TV guide, using the same arrow keys on your remote control. It couldn't be simpler - and it's much easier than the old methods of setting the timer or looking up and entering long VideoPlus numbers.

Last updated: July 2013 (test reports December 2011)


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