Is HDTV Worth Paying For?

Posted on: 13 May 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

High definition television (HDTV) is big news in the TV world but is it worth forking out for the extra advantages?


Sky recently announced it had more than doubled the number of homes receiving its HDTV service in the last year. There are now more than a million homes with Sky+HD.

Now Freeview has joined the HDTV party. Its launch of free-to-air HDTV services has been brought forward to 2010, in time for the football World Cup finals in South Africa next June.

Indeed, following Sky's success, Freeview managing director Ilse Howling said HDTV was the next big opportunity for his company.

"Freeview HD is what people are searching for most on our website. I'm hopeful that Freeview HD will be available to 40% of homes by the World Cup next year," she said.

The new Freeview HDTV service will require a HD Freeview box capable of decoding an HDTV signal, which will retail for about £200.

But despite the excitement in the industry and the sales success of high definition TV, the great majority of TV viewers are still unsure as to what HDTV is, let alone who offers the best HDTV viewing experience and value for money.

To help, here is our guide to what's out there and what it costs.

What Is HDTV?

There is still a lot of confusion among TV viewers as to how to receive an HDTV broadcast. And many of the 7 million homes who already have an "HD Ready" TV believe that they are actually receiving an HDTV service when they are not.

This is because even though an "HD Ready" TV set has four times as many pixels per square inch as a standard set, it will only show an HDTV picture if the content is being broadcast, transmitted and decoded in high definition.

For the real HDTV experience you need:

  • An “HD Ready” TV
  • An HD set-top box
  • Access to HD broadcasts via a free-to-air or subscription HD service

Worth The Cost?

Customer feedback of those who are receiving an HDTV picture is broadly very positive. Picture quality is definitely far superior to standard TV. This is particularly noticeable for fast-moving sports and documentaries on bigger screen sizes.

However, as the standard definition picture quality in the UK is generally significantly better than the standard definition picture quality in the US, for example, the difference may not seem as marked to some people.

Most HDTV set top boxes also have a PVR (personal video recorder) within the box as standard. That means you can store and record your favourite programmes by pressing a single button. You can also pause and rewind live television.

Where Are The Best HDTV Deals?

So what deal is best? Should you wait until the launch of Freeview HD next year before taking the HD plunge?

Our strong view is that there is no need to wait as there are plenty of great-value deals available right now which offer far more HD content than is likely to be available free-to-air next year on Freeview.

Indeed, once you have your HD-ready set, there are three HDTV options to choose from.

By far the largest range of HD programming is provided by Sky with its Sky+ HD service. This offers 33 channels broadcast in HD, including premium Sky Sports and Sky Movies as well as drama and documentaries from channels including Sky OneHD, National Geographic HD, Discovery HD, History HD and Sci-fi HD.

Sky claims viewers have access to up to 400 hours of HDTV programming every day. That's 12,000 hours a month, which it claims is 50 times more than its nearest competitor.

Virgin Media also offer HDTV with its HDTV service. This offers only one HD channel (BBC HD), as well as a library of HD on-demand content including some BBC iPlayer content.

Freesat offers HDTV without a contract or subscription payment, but it has just two HD channels: BBCHD and ITVHD.

Sky and Virgin Media can be purchased as part of a larger bundle, including broadband and home phone services, making HDTV even better value for money. Freesat is a standalone TV service.

Sky recently reduced the price of the Sky+HD set top box to £49 and now offer 12 months' free phone line rental (a saving of £120) to anyone buying their HDTV service along with their basic broadband and home phone services.

Full Deal Details

Freesat (from BBC)

Offers: BBC HD, ITV HD, Plus over 130 other TV and radio channels

Cost: Upfront cost approximately £230, no ongoing monthly cost, no contract. Freesat boxes are available from Argos, Comet, John Lewis and other retailers.


Offers: A selection of 33 HD channels including premium sports and movies channels. Drama and documentaries are also available from from Sky OneHD, National Geographic HD, Discovery HD, History HD and Sci-fi HD.

Initial costs: Sky+ HD Box £49 for new customers only. Free installation, plus free line rental for 12 months (worth £120)
Ongoing monthly costs: SkyHD subscription is £9.75 a month in addition to a standard definition TV subscription which is between £16.50 a month and £46 a month. Sky Box Office HD movies incur an additional pay-per-view charge.

Tie-ins: 12 month contract (£25 line rental activation fee may apply)

Virgin Media

Offers: BBC HD and selected on demand content in HD including some BBC iPlayer content, V+ HD box free.

Initial costs: V+ HD box installation £99 for new customers
Ongoing monthly costs: From £16 a month, comprised of £11 a month for basic TV package including BBC HD and £5 a month for HD suscription. The fee includes a basic home phone service and free line rental.

Tie-ins: 12 month contract

Prices correct as of May 2009.

Do you watch HD television? Are you pleased with the service?

Let us know by leaving a comment in the box below or share your view with other readers in the 50connect forums.

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