Consumer research for older and disabled people

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Digital TV: Choosing your kit

You can tune into a digital TV signal in a variety of ways - either directly through the tuner in your TV, through a set-top box or recorder with a digital tuner, or some combination of these. Your kit choices may be limited depending on how you choose to receive your signal - by aerial, cable, phone line or satellite - and whether you want a free or subscription service. So, if you have not already done so, we recommend that you read our summary of digital TV options before continuing on this page.

In the lead-up to the digital switchover, Rica tested hundreds of digital products. And although we are no longer conducting tests of products, you can use the knowledge we gained about what makes for good digital boxes, recorders and TVs to help you decide which is the best digital kit for you. 

Here are your main kit options for receiving digital broadcasts (and recording them):

We also tested dozens of indoor aerials. If you get a good signal indoors, see our indoor aerial test reports for our recommended aerials. 

If you are looking for something that's easy to use, there are three key things to think about: remote controls, on-screen TV guides (EPG) and accessibility services. For Rica's advice on the features that make these digital products easier to use, plus buying tips, watch our video: 

General features to look for in digital TV equipment

Whether you've decided on a set-top box, digital TV recorder or a digital TV, there are certain features worth looking out for. In broad terms, bear in mind the most essential things that we considered during our testing of products:

  • how easy the product is to use
  • what features each model has, and how well it works
  • that the quality of picture and sound is satisfactory
  • how well the product works with other equipment

Some models are definitely easier to use than others and some are more versatile and convenient. All the digital boxes and TVs will display an on-screen TV guide (EPG) - have a look at the differences in the shop before you buy. And the remote controls you get with them vary a lot in how easy they are to use, so try those out as well. 

So what else is important? The following features are worth considering for any piece of digital equipment. For additional features to look out for, see our separate pages about digital recorders, set-top boxes and digital TVs.

  • With so many channels to choose from, a system that allows you to delete unwanted channels or, better still, to set up your own favourites list, is worth having.
  • Look for a card slot so you can receive additional pay TV channels if you want these. By law, all digital TVs should have a connection port where a card slot can be fitted but many set-top boxes and digital TV recorders do not have this facility.
  • If you have a very old TV with no SCART sockets, choose a digital box that incorporates a modulator, so it can be connected to your TV's aerial socket.
  • A front-panel display is handy if you listen to digital radio through a separate hi-fi system - it shows the stations without having to have the TV on. But you will need a digital audio output.
  • Take better care of the environment and save some money on energy bills by having a digital box that consumes less power. Check out the standby power figures in the product specs.
  • With improvements and changes in the pipeline, it's worth having a box that does automatic updating rather than requiring manual retuning and updating.
  • Consider buying a digital TV or set-top box that has internet connection, and check the range of services this can access (e.g. BBC iPlayer, YouTube, etc)
  • To be future-proof, buy one that receives high-definition (HD) channels. Note that if you buy an 'HD ready' TV, you'll need to buy a separate set-top box or recorder if you want to watch HD channels.
  • If you live in Northern Ireland, consider one that can recieve channels from Eire broadcast by Freeview's equivalent, Saorview.

Last updated: July 2013


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