You needn't pay monthly for Virgin or Sky to get High Definition (HD) TV channels. Freeview HD and Freesat HD offer a limited selection for free; all you need is the right equipment - a box to provide it and a HD telly so you can see the difference!
If you've got an HD-Ready (lower quality HD), or Full HD (more detailed HD) telly, then you're set for high def TV, but unless you already pay a subscription for HD shows chances are you aren't getting the most out of your screen. Freeview HD and Freesat HD aim to rectify that; offering free-to-air HD with no subscription cost.
Got a Sky dish? If you've a dish you no longer use, or you're out of contract and can no longer afford, or just no longer want Sky, consider a Freesat box. You should just be able to plug the dish into it and get going straight off. Otherwise you'll need to pay for a dish to be installed separately.
Freesat launched over two years ago, so it's had time to get a foothold in the market. Nonetheless, it only offers two HD channels proper; BBC HD and ITV1 HD, though these are supplemented by the addition of BBC iPlayer on most boxes (it's streamed via broadband so you'll need at least a 1MB connection, and to plug the box in to your network).
Don't have a satellite dish? Then Freeview's likely to be cheaper; you might be able to get it through your standard roof-mounted aerial, though do check availability in your area before paying.
Although it was only launched in March, the upgraded Freeview offers 3 HD channels; both of the above plus 4HD, on top of the usual freeview line-up. All Freeview HD boxes are equipped with a network adaptor which will be used more in future for on-demand services.
Can you get it? While most of the rollout is complete, a few areas can't yet get Freeview HD. Use its coverage checker (click check now) to see if it's in your area.
You'll need a decent roof-mounted aerial , so if you live in shared flats the landlord may have to adjust it. Below are the current top deals on standalone Freeview HD boxes. We've left out freeview recorders for now; they'll be covered once prices drop a little.
Technika Freeview HD box £70
Tesco's wrested back the cheapest HD Freeview crown, reducing its Technika offering to £70 from £99, if you buy instore. Buying online* incurs a £5 delivery charge.
Features include 1 HDMI output (that's the HD one), 1 SCART (for recording to VHS presumably - it's not HD), ethernet connection (For iPlayer and other on-demand services that are likely to launch in future), and the obligatory remote control.
Delivery charge: £5 if bought online Returns: 14 days Guarantee: 1 year
Bush DVB680 £100
Reduced from £150
With decent customer reviews to back it up, this Bush box from Argos* looks to be a decent option.
Features include an 7-day programme guide with now and next, 1 HDMI output (that's the HD one), 1080p upscaling (for Full HD tellies), ethernet connection (For on-demand services that are likely to launch in future), and a remote control.
Delivery charge: Free Returns: 7 days Guarantee: 1 year
Philips DTR5520HD £100
Cheapest top brand box, if you can find one instore
If you want a big-name brand, cheap high street HiFi shop Richer Sounds is offering this svelte Philips tuner for £99.95. Best to phone ahead if you want one as stocks are limited.
As well as top build quality and an easy-to-navigate 8-day EPG, the box also offers full 1080p upscaling from the 720p Freeview HD signal; great if you've a full HD telly.
Richer Sounds also offers the basic box from market leader Humax for £120; this one's got a USB input, which you can use to watch content stored on memory sticks or external hard drives. It also has an optical digital output for audio and two SCART sockets.
Delivery cost: N/A - instore only Returns: 7 days Guarantee: 2 year
Can you get it? Check on the Freesat site, but most can. However....
...while their age means Freesat boxes generally come cheaper than their freeview counterparts, they're only cheaper overall if you've an unused Sky satellite setup to plug them into. Otherwise you should expect to pay another £100 to have a dish installed.
Bush Freesat box £70
Still cheapest, with decent reviews.
A Bush box from Argos, this one's gone up by £5 to £69.99 since we last did this rundown, but that's still decent value. Features include 8 day EPG, 1LNB (satellite dish) input, & 1 HDMI (HD) output.
The box is iPlayer-ready, so just plug it into your dish and broadband and you're away.
Delivery charge: Free Returns: 7 days iPlayer ready: Yes
Humax Foxsat HD £96 refurbished
The top brand, second hand
If you don't mind a refurbished box (one that's been returned to the factory, fixed up and tested), then these direct deals are a bargain. Humax is the market leader in set top boxes, and its Foxsat box, one of the few it offers that doesn't record, comes well-reviewed, so get one before they sell out!
It's iPlayer-ready and has an S/PDIF digital audio output for superior surround sound (if you've a comaptible A/V receiver and speaker setup). It also offers a component (analogue HD) output suitable for older-style projectors and plasma screens as well as the standard HDMI out.
Delivery costs £6 to most locations, but charges can vary by region.
Delivery charge: £6 Returns: 30 days iPlayer ready: Yes
Technisat HDFS Freesat Receiver £130
Can record if you add storage
German brand Technisat isn't to be confused with Tesco's budget Technika range; it has won numerous plaudits over the years for quality, and this box from Amazon* is no exception.
The interesting thing here is that by plugging in a USB stick drive, or better, an external USB hard drive, you can use it like any other recording box, pausing live TV and recording whichever programmes take your fancy.
What's more, if you've a motorised satellite you can use it to watch free to air satellite channels from all over the world.
Delivery charge: FREE Returns: 30 days iPlayer ready: Yes
Humax 320GB HD PVR (recorder) £205
The top brand recorder, second hand
Another direct refurb deal, this Humax FOXSAT-HDR recording box has a 320GB hard drive built-in and'll record two channels at once if you so desire. Again this receiver comes highly rated, with Best Buy awards from What HiFi?, Which? and more.
Aside from the twin tuner recording functionality, it's iPlayer-ready and has an S/PDIF digital audio output for superior surround sound. Plus, it doesn't look too bad either!
As above, delivery costs £6 to most locations, but charges can vary by region.
Delivery charge: £6 Returns: 30 days iPlayer ready: Yes