Consumer research for older and disabled people

Text Size:

Current Size: 100%

Reception problems and related FAQs

Frequently asked questions


Why can't I receive particular channels?

If you could receive the channels until recently but suddenly they've disappeared, or you are getting channels for the wrong region, see our advice on Retuning and updating.

Terrestrial (Freeview) digital TV transmits the channels in six separate groups known as multiplexes, and each group is at a different frequency. If your TV aerial does not cover all these frequencies efficiently, you will lose a whole group - which could be up to 10 channels.

Most likely, your aerial is not covering all the frequencies because it or the aerial down-lead cable needs upgrading or adjusting. Your aerial may have worked fine before the digital switchover, but if the digital channels in your area are of significantly different frequencies, the aerial may pick up only some of these, so you'll need a new aerial. Your local registered aerial installer will be able to advise.

Even if you do have the correct aerial, a poor quality, waterlogged or corroded aerial down-lead cable can result in loss of groups of channels.

For more information, see Digital TV through an aerial.

If you're using an indoor aerial, you may need to spend more time finding the best position and orientation or upgrade to a better performing aerial. In some rooms, it may not be possible to get reception from all channel groups. For information about correctly positioning and tuning indoor aerials, see Tuning your indoor aerial.

For reviews of the best-performing indoor aerials, see our indoor aerial test reports.

Why does the picture break up or freeze?

With digital terrestrial, if you have a poor aerial the picture tends to freeze, stagger or break up into little squares. Also, you might get some channels perfectly and others not.

Your rooftop aerial could have been blown out of position by the wind and need re-orienting, or the down-lead might need replacing if it is corroded or waterlogged. Or you may need to replace the existing aerial for a better one or one that covers all the digital frequencies. Your local registered aerial installer will be able to advise.

Why do I get interference or a broken picture whenever a train goes by?

Modern set-top boxes, digital TV recorders and TVs are much better at coping with this sort of problem than in the early days of digital TV. 

Ongoing interference problems can be caused by external, unauthorised transmissions or interference from nearby electrical plant or railways. Follow the steps on the Radio & Television Investigation Service website to determine if the interference is from an external source, or is caused by poor reception or problems with your equipment.

Upgrading your aerial can also be an option, particularly in weak signal areas.

Will an amplified indoor aerial be better than a non-amplified one?

An amplified aerial will not necessarily improve reception. Although it does amplify the TV signals, it also amplifies interference and the naturally occurring radio noise by the same amount and, to make matters worse, a poor one may introduce extra noise of its own. At best an amplifier will only make a small improvement.

In fact, the top performer in our indoor aerial tests was non-amplified and quite a lot cheaper than the amplified ones. We recommend that you first try this one. Buy from a shop that will exchange it if you can’t get decent reception.

Also, follow our setting-up information for indoor aerials to make sure it is adjusted properly.

Will I need to upgrade my aerial to get digital TV?

If you've been getting TV via cable or satellite since before the digital switchover, you may be unsure how well your aerial will receive the digital signal. This will depend where you live: any rooftop aerial, in good condition, is capable of receiving terrestrial digital TV service (Freeview). You don't need to have a special 'digital' rooftop aerial.

It's likely that your existing aerial will be able to receive all the main BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 services to which you are entitled but it may not be able to get all the other commercial channels without an upgrade. This may be due to technical limitations concerning available frequencies, especially if you are served by a local relay transmitter. A local aerial installer will be able to advise you of your options.

For more information, see Digital TV through an aerial.

What if my reception is poor even with a new rooftop aerial?

Most likely, the new aerial is not powerful enough to pick up the weaker signal if you live at the edge of a reception area. To find out what's available in your area, use the Digital UK Coverage Checker

Or the problem may not be the aerial but an old down-lead that needs replacing. Also, if you're running long lengths of aerial cable throughout the house, the cable needs to be good quality with a minimum of joints. Do not use cheap extension aerial cables for runs of more than 3 metres or so. Thin extension aerial cable is only suitable for short lengths eg for the final connection to the TV or video recorder.

Having an aerial in the loft can result in weaker signals. Reception will depend on the materials used in the roof and what else is in the loft. For example, a water tank can cause problems.

Last updated: July 2013


Previous: Retuning and updating | Reception problems | Next: Jargon buster