An elderly neighbour of mine had her cataracts removed, and after the operation, she thought her home had been redecorated by relatives because everything looked so much sharper. Switching to HD after years of watching standard-definition broadcasts can have the same effect -- the jump in image quality is that dramatic.
When they first emerged, TVs with built-in Freeview HD tuners came at a significant price premium over models with plain old Freeview tuners. Those days are long gone and now it's increasingly rare to find models with only standard-definition tuners.
Freeview HD relies on a new broadcast technology called DVB-T2, which is an upgrade from the older DVB-T system initially used to transmit Freeview in the UK. The DVB-T2 system is backwards-compatible with DVB-T, so you can still receive standard-definition channels if your TV has a Freeview HD tuner.
In the UK, there are currently four HD channels widely available via Freeview HD -- BBC One HD, BBC HD, Channel 4 HD and ITV1 HD (STV 1 HD in Scotland). Viewers in Wales also get S4C Clirlun HD -- the channel for Welsh speakers.
Channel 5 was due to launch an HD channel in 2010 but it ditched its plans because of the costs involved. The bandwidth that was reserved for this service is now controlled by the BBC. It uses it for special events such as the extra HD channel that will be accessible via the red button -- or on channel 304 -- during the Olympics.
As Freeview HD was a big hit with viewers, the technology quickly became ubiquitous, so the vast majority of sets on the market today have Freeview HD tuners on board. Helpfully, TVs with Freeview HD tuners carry the Freeview HD logo, so they're easy to spot in the shops. Also, Freeview HD tuners are available in sets that use different display technologies such as LCD, LED and plasma. You've got plenty of choice when you're buying a new Freeview HD-compatible TV.
The exception is smaller sets, as tellies with screen sizes of 26 inches or lower often only have standard-definition Freeview tuners. I wouldn't obsess over having a Freeview HD tuner on a TV smaller than 32 inches as the difference between HD and SD isn't all that noticeable. However, the larger the screen, the bigger the hike in quality you'll notice between HD and SD broadcasts. Certainly, on TVs over 46 inches, the benefits of HD channels are hugely apparent.
Crisper HD pictures aren't the only advantages of Freeview HD as high-definition channels on the service also broadcast with multi-channel surround sound. Of course, to enjoy the improved audio, you'll have to connect your TV to a suitable surround sound amp and speaker kit via either an HDMI cable or the TV's optical or coax digital audio output.
If you're thinking of buying a new TV with a Freeview HD tuner, check out some of our favourite models listed below.