Buying Satellite





There's a lot to be said for simplicity, when it comes to satellite receivers...



Attention minimalists. The Dracom 950SR is for you.... Those of us with more liberal tastes will find the 950 frugal fare indeed, it doesn't even have an on/off switch. A solitary red LED on the plain front panel glows all the time, except when the unit receives a remote command, when it blinks, grudgingly. You can't even tell if the receiver is in the on or standby mode, without switching on the TV.

Drake clearly believe they have identified a market niche for a high quality but very basic fixed-dish receiver but with a price tag of  around 215 have they gone too far, or should that be not far enough? The 950 has no on-board decoders, though there is a full set of socketry for external black-boxes, including outputs configured for Videocrypt and D2 MAC signals. The receiver has a 97 channel memory, the first 48 channels are factory-tuned to Astra's 1A,1B and 1C; channel positions 49 and 50 have been mysteriously omitted, and channels 51 to 75 are set aside for Asiasat C-Band broadcasts. The remaining 24 channels, numbered 75-99 have full user-programmable video, audio and polarity settings. 


The lack of front panel controls makes the 950 resistant to unauthorised fiddling, but it puts great emphasis on the receiver's remote control and on-screen display system. We can  best describe them as adequate, with just two multi-option displays for the main video and audio parameters; knob-twiddlers will find little to excite them, between channels 1 to 74 at least. The 950 has very few of the convenience features, let alone the gadgetry we've come to expect on satellite receivers lately. The features list is a short one, it includes: stereo sound with Drakes own noise reduction system, audio mute, channel and frequency-scan modes, and extended IF coverage, up to 2050MHz..


On the evidence so far the 950 looks somewhat over-priced and under-featured but we finally solved at least part of the pricing riddle during our customary internal examination. Once the lid came off images of brick-built out-houses sprang instantly to mind. The 950's single printed circuit board is a model of simplicity, neatness and good design, and should it ever go wrong we suspect most service engineers would have little trouble in tracing and repairing a fault. However, judging by the quality of construction, and the grade of components used, this receiver is unlikely to ever run out of puff, indeed most of the parts appear to be generously over-rated, which suggests it may have been designed for continuous, round-the-clock operation.



With so few adjustments, and comprehensive factory pre-programming there's very little to do, apart from plugging it in, and switching it on. The only thing that might need attention is the LNB output voltage adjustment, (via a pre-set on the back panel), this is intended to compensate for voltage losses in longer cable runs, to ensure reliable polarity switching. When using an external decoder it is necessary to set the appropriate on-screen display, and configure the correct video output socket, but even this takes only a moment or two.


Operation via the remote control is perfectely straightforward, though the shape of the handset and layout of the 24 identical buttons is very average. The biggest irritant, though, is the lack of any on/standby indication on the 950's front panel. The single red LED is on all the time, so it's quite possible to inadvertently leave the receiver switched on, without knowing it. Whilst this is unlikely to cause any problems -- apart from the small but  unecessary waste of power -- it is nonetheless annoying.


Credit where it's due, the 950 produces on of the cleanest picture we've seen in quite a while. Part of the reason for the very low noise levels may be due to the very spacious PCB layout, with critical components well-separated, and the extensive screening on all unusued areas of the board. Of course the overall design and the quality of the compoents has a bearing on this, and here again the 950 scores well.


In spite of the audio system not having Wegner noise reduction the Drake's own NR circuitry performs well, better in fact that some receivers with propietry systems. Sound quality is generally good, with little or no colouration evident on the output.


Ultimately the 950 will have little appeal to the dedicated domestic Astra-watcher, there are plenty of competent IRDs on the market for the same money or less. There's little here to interest button-pushers and multi-satellites user either. So who will want the 950? There is a market, we reckon it could prove popular with corporate, business or industrial users, who need a high quality, reliable, tamper-proof receiver, for displays, exhibitions or monitoring purposes; as a regular domestic receiver it leaves something to be desired.




Receiver:              DRACOM 950SR

System price:       215 (receiver only)

Address:               Alston Barry International, Units 4 and 5, Win-Born Building, Convent Drive, Waterbeach, Cambridge CB5 9PB.  Telephone (0223) 860965   




Sound                                   ***

Picture                                 *****

Ease of use                          *****

Features                              **

Value for money                 **


Good on-screen results, though  somewhat basic, and rather expensive for a domestic receiver   -- maybe more at home in the display and monitoring market


Buying Satellite Rating:   75%

System: Fixed-dish stereo receiver, pre-tuned for Astra Features: 97channels, on-screen displays, audio muteauto decoder switchingAudio: mono/stereo (multiple de-emphasis and noise reduction modes). Sockets: RF bypass,  LNB input,  AV/decoder  out (SCART), composite and unclamped video out, stereo audio out.  Dimensions 350(w) x 73(h) x 230(d)



R.Maybury 1993 0507



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