Thereís a lot riding on the SRD700, itís
Amstradís latest mass-market receiver, due to replace the popular SRD540. Rick
Maybury has been trying one out
Amstrad have done more than most to popularise
satellite TV in this country. They were one of the first companies to market a purpose-designed
Astra receiver, and their systems have always been good value for money, but how
times have changed. The SRD700 weíre looking at here replaces the SRD540 that
last year was being hailed as one of the first systems to sell for less than
£200. The SRD700 package sells for around £180, but itís going to have to
compete in a world where the cost of an entry-level system has fallen to less
than £100, (ignoring for a moment the many and varied strings attached...).
Itís going to have a tough time in this
fiercely-fought market, with the possibility of prices dipping even further.
Moreover some of those budget systems are quite sophisticated, the SRD700
specifications on the other had looks a tad whiskery, and the split front-panel
design bears more than a passing resemblance to Pace receivers circa 1993.
The good points include a 300-channel tuner (the
540 had 199-channels) with extended IF input, so itís fully Astra 1D capable. The
rather cumbersome Channel Skip and Super Indexing System (SIS) on the 540 has
been replaced by a much simpler 30 favourite channel memory, and the exposed
card slot has been moved to the right side of the fascia and given a hinged
cover, to protect it from little fingers. Talking of which, the 700 has what
the instructions call Ď... a form of parental controlí, that basically entails
hiding the remote control, but itís better than nothing. Back panel connection
comprise a pair of coax sockets for the RF bypass, stereo audio line-out
phonos, a single LNB F-connector and twin SCART AV sockets for TV and VCR hook-ups,
or an external decoder. Front panel indicatiors are confined to a single
dual-colour LED, red for standby, green for on. There are just three buttons,
on/standby and channel up/down; a pay-to-view authorise button is hidden behind
the smart card slot cover.
Points are deducted for the crude on-screen
display system. It looks quite dated, compared with most other systems, even
the graphics are blocky and not that easy to read when superimposed over a
moving picture. Apart from that itís not menu controlled, which makes it a
little harder to use, especially as it covers quite a lot of ground. Fortunately
the receiver is not overly dependant on it, and itís quite easy to use on a day
to day basis.
The only preliminaries are to set the time
and date. Itís a very unusual system. Rather than input the day month and year
individually the 700 has a rolling calendar, just press the up/down buttons, until
the right date appears. The change speeds up as the buttons are held, so it
doesnít take long to get to where you want to go as the starting point is
December 31st 1995. The clock set-up works in the same way.
The factory defaults will probably be okay
for most users but for those of an adventurous disposition pressing the Ďset-upí
button brings up three LNB alignment options. These are factory set for an
enhanced 1D-compatible LNB and neednít be touched unless a new LNB is fitted.
The favourite channel selection is accessed by pressing a button labelled with
a smiley face, the channel up/down buttons then step through the 30 programmed
channels. The factory selection can be changed by pressing the set-up button
whilst in the favourite channel mode. The parameters of the selected channel
can be changed, including the displayed name.
The SRD700ís VCR timer has been upgraded from
the 540, this one has 6-events over 365 days, it uses the same sequential
time/date setting procedure as the initial set-up, thatís a vast improvement on
the timer fitted to the 540, which had an incredibly cumbersome day counting
system, to designate the date on which the recording was to start. It has a
good range of audio adjustments, these are selected from a display thatís
called up by a button on the remote with a TV-shaped label. This also covers LNB
polarity and channel tuning, though the latter isnít mentioned in the instructions, presumably to stop users
fiddling around with it. There are 16 audio modes, covering all Astra
eventualities, including the audio-only radio channels.
Operationally it doesnít have any nasty
habits, but performance is best described as average. Noisy channels, like UK
Gold are, shall we say, noisy. Thereís also a sparkly or two on a couple of the
other weaker channels, and our sample didnít seem to have a lot of sensitivity
in reserve when presented with a deliberately weakened signal. Itís probably not
a serious problem and we suspect that with a properly aligned dish itíll only
show up during really heavy downpours.
The SRD700 doesnít have Wegner Panda noise
reduction but it doesnít suffer unduly. The soundtracks are reasonably clean,
with a flat response, though treble frequencies appear to tail off fairly early.
Thereís nothing intrinsically wrong with the
SRD700, a year or so ago it might even have picked up a best-buy nomination,
but the world has moved on. The high street is now awash with sub £100 systems,
admittedly most of them are quite basic, and purchasers need to take into
account the hidden costs of mandatory subscription and installation changes,
but most STV viewers end up paying out for those anyway. Unfortunately the bottom
line has to be that the SRD700 is an average receiver, with average
performance, at an average price.
BOX COPY 1
ON SCREEN DISPLAYS
On-screen displays have never featured very
prominently on Amstrad satellite receivers, and the SRD700 is no exception.
Ironically the one on its predecessor was a lot more colourful, but even that
doesnít make up for the simplicity of use of a menu-operated system. Most
manufacturers now use menu systems. The displays on some mid-market and top-end
receivers come close to matching the presentation and ease of use of ĎWindowsí
type computer software displays. Menu systems are far more intuitive, relying
on a simple cursor movement or number selections to access functions and alter
settings. Changing anything on the 700ís is much more complicated, and thereís
no single Ďdisplayí or menu button, pressing any one of half a dozen buttons
brings up one display or another. When one appears changing anything on it involves
stepping through the various parameters with an arrow button, until the chosen
one flashes, then changing the setting with the channel up/down buttons. Itís
slow and to make matters worse itís not always easy to see which of the options
are flashing whilst the display is superimposed over a bright moving picture.
BOX COPY 2
Amstrad call it parental control, we call it
hide-the-handset... The system on this receiver relies on the parent
programming the favourite channel selection to weed out undesirable channels.
The receiver is then left in favourite channel mode, which prevents access to
any other channels by the front-panel up/down buttons. Confiscate the remote
and hey-presto, itís safe. Most other manufacturers utilise rather more secure software
parental control systems, where specific channels can be locked out, and only
accessed by using secret key combinations, or PIN codes.
BOX COPY 3
£180.00 (ex installation)
Receiver: Amstrad SRD700. Price: £180 with
60cm dish but excluding installation. Features: 300 channels, 30 favourite
channel memory, on-screen display,
channel naming, 6-event/365-day timer, parental lockout. Audio: stereo audio,
16 pre-set audio modes.
Sockets: single extended LNB input, 2 x SCART
AV out, stereo line-audio out, RF bypass
ease of use
Ease of use 8
Value for money 8
” R. Maybury 1995 0309