Buying Satellite





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 The rather cumbersome Channel Skip and Super Indexing System (SIS) on the 540 has been replaced by a much simpler 30 favourite channel memory, and the exposed card slot has been moved to the right side of the fascia and given a hinged cover, to protect it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.




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.




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.  




Amstrad SRD700

£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


PLUS:   price, ease of use



Sound                           7

Picture              8

Ease of use                   8

Features                       6

Value for money 8



R. Maybury 1995 0309



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