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Wednesday, 30 October, 2002, 14:36 GMT
Back to basics on Freeview
Stereophonics on BBC Choice hit Re:covered

Dust down that box, get that remote control out, it's time for yet another TV revolution.

Well, not really - the Freeview package is something a lot simpler and a lot less confusing than you'd expect.

If, like me, you used to have ITV Digital, Freeview probably means little more than having to reset your channels (again) so you can pick up a few extra ones.

The line-up isn't totally complete yet - just four extra channels crept onto my TV on Wednesday morning; Sky News, Sky Sports News, Sky Travel and UK History.

Sky Sports News won't offer much in the way of live games, but for the cost-conscious fan, its slick 24-hour service is the best way to catch up with all the action.

In fact, sports fans are surprisingly well-served on Freeview.

Barcelona's Juan Riquelme
European football is free on ITV's digital channels
ITV2 shows what ITV Digital's now-defunct sports channel used to show - for free. Three spare BBC channels allow for extra sport coverage - a cut-down version of its interactive service on satellite.

News junkies can now watch Sky News and the ITV News Channel all day and all night, as well as BBC News 24.

But when Estelle Morris resigned and terrorists stormed a Moscow theatre last Wednesday night, you wouldn't have seen it first on the ITV News Channel - it was showing Champions League football.

UK History beefs up the "serious" programming on Freeview. BBC Four may be a little dry for some, but its documentaries, news, and features are not afraid of looking at issues from new angles.

 George Alagiah
New angle: George Alagiah hosts BBC Four's world news bulletin
As BBC Choice starts to turn into BBC Three, it is starting to move away from showing repeats of shows which have already been on the main channels - although the results have been mixed.

Its habit of slapping promotional captions and graphics all over its programmes makes you wonder how long it expects you to actually tune in for.

Sport aside, ITV2 loyally backs up ITV1 with extra Popstars, soaps - and all the repeats of Britain's Worst Drivers you could ever dream of.

Liz Kershaw
Liz Kershaw's 6 Music station appears on Freeview
The music channels are standard mainstream stuff.

The Music Factory promises to "follow the rhythms of your family's life" while The Hits rotates chart fodder like most pop radio stations do.

For more interesting music, search up the channel list for Freeview's best-kept secret - its radio stations - especially the BBC's urban station 1Xtra and 6 Music, which specialises in cutting-edge, alternative and classic rock and pop.

Still to come
A home and lifestyle channel
Entertainment channel F tn
There is also room for more channels to be added
A clutch of commercial stations feature as well - rock station Kerrang! cleaned my ears out good and proper, while talk station Oneword aims to add intellectual clout.

Back on TV, children's channels CBBC and CBeebies also feature, as do shopping channels QVC and TV Travel Shop.

Not all aspects of digital TV through an aerial are impressive - its text services are slow, unreliable and clunky compared to digital satellite or good old fashioned Ceefax.

BBC Parliament lets you spend a rainy night Westminster-watching - but the politicians are confined to a small box in the corner of the screen.

And the picture quality overall is also a little less good - although most of the time you won't notice.

It's also an improvement on what some ITV Digital channels offered - as anyone who ever tried to watch pay-per-view football on it will tell you.

Cbeebies' Fimbles: The BBC provides children's channels
You may also have to get a new aerial to cope with the more sensitive digital signal.

With Freeview, you get what you pay for. If you want complete interactivity, as well as films, football, cartoons and 500 other channels, get ready to sign a direct debit form.

But if you want just a little bit more for a little bit of money, Freeview is a handy way of broadening your choice.




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