Buying Satellite





Confused by cables, perplexed by plugs? Rick Maybury helps you make the right connections



The 72,000 kilometre round-trip, taken by satellite TV signals to get to the dish outside your home, is the easy bit! That journey only involves several hundred million pounds worth of equipment and the efforts of countless highly trained engineers but turning those signals into decent quality pictures and sound is another matter. Far too many people end up watching sub-standard pictures but with a little care satellite TV can look and sound every bit as good as terrestrial TV, and a whole lot better than VHS tape. 


Clearly the first consideration is the dish and receiver. Nowadays thereís not a lot to choose between the majority of mid-market systems, indeed most of them are manufactured by just a handful of companies, and thereís even less diversity in critical components, like LNBs and tuner modules. However, the starting point has to be a receiver with a stereo sound system, preferably with Wegner-Panda I noise reduction. Proprietary noise reduction systems are improving, and one or two are almost as good as Panda, but the cost differential is now so small that itís not worth trying to save a few bob by buying a non-Panda receiver. Even if youíre using top-notch equipment, AV quality can still suffer if the dish isnít properly installed, the wrong size, or the downlead isnít up to the job, so before you go any further make sure the system is giving its best.


The connection between the satellite receiver and the TV is where most damage can be done to the sound and picture. The simplest method is to route the STV receiverís RF output via the TV aerial lead. This type of hook-up has one obvious disadvantage, the pristine video and audio signals produced by the receiver have to go through several additional processing stages, which introduces extra noise into the signal; furthermore, the audio output, which started out in stereo, ends up in boring mono by the time it emerges from the TVís loudspeakers, even if it is a stereo set.  Worse still is the temptation to route the RF signals from the sat receiver through a VCR, so satellite channels can be recorded. This entails a lot of messing around with the VCR and TV tuners, and more often than not, adjusting the RF modulators in the satellite receiver and/or the VCR to avoid co-channel interference.  This also adds to the noise problem, and you still end up with mono sound.  


The ideal solution is to use the multi-pin SCART AV sockets on the backs of the satellite receiver, VCR and TV, assuming of course your equipment has been made within the last six or seven years. If your TV or VCR doesnít have SCART sockets then theyíre so old that itís about time you replaced them! Using AV connections to link AV equipment ensures the best picture and sound quality as the signals undergo minimum re-processing, but what if you havenít got a stereo TV? No problem, virtually every stereo satellite receiver and VCR has separate line-audio outputs, normally in the form of a pair of phono sockets. They are for connecting the stereo outputs to a hi-fi system.  In most cases the results are a lot better than you would get from a stereo TV. Thatís because hi-fi speakers -- even those supplied with budget systems -- are a whole lot better than the titchy little squeakers used in most stereo TVs, moreover the enclosures will be more bass-friendly, and they can be placed either side of the screen, to give you more control over the sound-field.


Better still, use the line audio outputs to connect the satellite receiver and stereo VCRs to an AV amplifier or system, with a Dolby Pro-Logic (DPL) decoder, to create a home cinema system, so you can enjoy the amazing multi-channel surround sound effects that are hidden inside the stereo soundtracks of most recent movies and a growing number of TV programmes shown on satellite TV, and on rental movies on tape.


There are two alternatives worth thinking about: TVs and satellite receivers with built-in Dolby Pro-Logic processors. Thereís now a good selection of DPL TVs, Toshiba were the first TV manufacturer to offer this facility, and they still have the largest share of the market, but thereís now a growing number of sets from other manufacturers, including Hitachi, Ferguson, Nokia, JVC and Sony. The disadvantages are cost -- the cheapest surround sound TVs start at £800, you might not want to replace your existing set, and remember, most of these sets have small speakers and/or relatively low-powered amps. DPL satellite receivers are still a little thin on the ground, with models available from Pace (also cloned by Hitachi), and Amstrad. They can give quite good results but again power levels are generally lower than those from AV amps or systems. In their favour both TVs and DPL sat receivers are easy to install, and involve fewer boxes than a component system, though a thereís a lot of new mini and midi AV package systems coming onto the market. They can be quite reasonably priced too, the cheapest one, (Sony MHC-901AV) costs less than £500, though the majority of them sell for between £650 to £1000.


Whatever type of system you end up with you will be faced with a bewildering assortment of plugs and sockets. If you opt for a package system interconnections between the various related components will be taken care of, using the supplied leads, but there remains the problem of connecting external devices, and you will almost certainly end up having to buy one or more cable sets.


The obvious point about getting what you pay for holds true, but so too does the law of diminishing returns and an AV lead costing £5.00 can perform every bit as well as one costing £10 or £20. So what should you look for? Needless to say you should make sure itís the right type, and the correct length. Thereís no simple way of checking manufacturing quality, other than by taking it apart, but you can limit the chances of ending up with a lemon by only buying from a reputable dealer, and preferably sticking to the better known brands (see contact listing).


Should you go for gold? Leads with gold plated connections are all the rage, but are they worth the extra? Gold is used for two reasons, itís an excellent electrical connector, and it doesnít tarnish. Thatís important as when plugs and sockets are pulled apart the contacts come into contact with sweaty fingers, moisture in the air and atmospheric contaminants, which can lead to corrosion and oxidisation, both of which can result in poor electrical contact, and that creates noise. If you reckon on doing a lot of plugging and unplugging itís worth paying a little more for gold plating, but don go overboard, it should only add between 15 to 20% to the price.






Belling & Lee/Coaxial/RF

Familiar push-fit plugs and sockets, used to carry UHF and VHF signals from the aerial, to the TV. Coaxial connectors were also used for dish antenna connections on a handful of early satellite TV receivers



F-Connectors are normally found at both ends of the cable or Ďdownleadí linking the LNB on a satellite antenna with the receiver. The threaded metal collars that hold them in place reduce loss, prevent interference, help to make them weatherproof and keep them securely in place.



Simple push-fit plug and sockets, used to carry audio and composite video signals. Black, red or sometimes white coloured plugs are used for audio, and yellow for video.



21-pin plug and socket system used for AV, data and control signals. Several configurations are available, the most appropriate ones for satellite and home cinema are Type ĎCí, (9-pins wired for composite video and stereo audio), and Type ĎUí, (all pins wired). Make sure the AV connections are Ďcrossedí, so that inputs are correctly wired to their corresponding outputs.



Also known as a Y/C or mini DIN connector. A small, round push-fit 4-pin connector, used to carry specially formatted video signals between TVs/ video projectors and video components such as Super VHS (S-VHS-C) and Hi8 VCRs and camcorders


Telefunken Plug

Yes, even those plastic/rubber mains plugs on the backs of VCRs and satellite receivers have a name.




AV cables can be expensive and yes, you can save money by making up your own custom leads, moreover itís a good way of ensuring theyíre the right length. Plugs and sockets of all types, and multi-way cables are readily available from Tandy, or specialist electronic suppliers like Maplin, but you need to be adept at soldering. The terminal pins on plugs and sockets are very close together, and the plastic insulation on most leads softens and melts quickly. You need at least two pairs of hands, or a jig to hold the parts in place. In short thereís enormous scope for error, and considerable potential for damage to equipment, if connections are short-circuited, or wrongly wired, so unless you are an accomplished solderer, forget it!




Lead manufacturers & suppliers


AICO INTERNATIONAL, Aico House, Faraday Rd, London Road Ind Est,             

Newbury, Berks RG13 2AD. Telephone  (01635) 49797


BANDRIDGE LTD, Premiere House, 18 Deer Park Road, Wimbledon,

London SW1 3TU. Telephone  0181-543 3633


BIB AUDIO VIDEO PRODUCTS, Kelsey House, Wood Lane End, Hemel Hempstead, Herts HP2 4RQ. Telephone (01442) 233233


HAMA Unit 4 Cherrywood, Chineham Business Park, Basingstoke, Hants RG24 OWF. Telephone (01256) 708110


JOSTY LTD (LINXS), Perry Avenue, Teeside Industrial Estate, Thornaby,

Cleveland TS17 9LN. Telephone (01642) 769000


LEKTROPACKS Windsor House, 141 Bath Road, Houslow, Middlesex TW3 3BT

Telephone 0181-572 9737


VIVANCO, Unit C, ATA House, Boundary  Way, Hemel Hempstead HP2 7SS.

Telephone (01442) 231616




MAPLIN ELECTRONICS, PO Box 3, Rayleigh, Essex SS6 8LR.

Telephone (01702) 554000/554161


TANDY/RADIO SHACK, Tandy Centre, Leamore Lane, West Midlands WS2 7PS

Telephone (0922) 710000



R. Maybury 1995 2505




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