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DRAKE EXPECTATIONS

 

INTRO

Explore the skies with Drake's ESR-600 multi-everything satellite receiver-positioner

 

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If you're looking for an inexpensive, simple to use satellite receiver for Astra viewing, keep looking... That's just about the last thing the Drake ESR600 has been designed to do. With a motorised dish the ESR600 can sweep the Clarke Belt for the dozens of KU-band and C-band satellites, add a second positioner and it will track moving satellites in inclined orbits. This is satellite TV for grown-ups, with the time, inclination, and the dish to explore the skies...

 

It might be easier to say what the ESR600 cannot do. For a start it won't endear you to your bank manager; on its own the receiver costs a little over 800, a full system, including a 1.2 metre dish will set you back in the region of  1125. It's hopeless for watching things, like the BSKYB movie channels, or UK Gold, because it has no on-board decoders, not even Panda/Wegner stereo audio, though it does have a full set of socketry for external unscramblers. Similarly MAC transmissions, or any digitally configured material will be unintelligible but that leaves several hundred other transmissions which the ESR600 will have no trouble with, whatsoever.

 

The ESR600's very extensive feature list is headed by a 150-channel memory which stores all the usual audio and video parameters for each channel, plus more exotic data, including antenna settings, such as position (elevation and azimuth), tracking speed, signal levels and LNB voltage. In addition it's possible to assign on-screen idents for both the satellite and channel being received. All this is shown by an extensive menu-driven on-screen display and control system  which, incidentally, is one of the receivers few weak points. There are two problems, the first is that it is unusually sluggish and unresponsive and sometimes it takes two or more button presses to make it respond to a command. Secondly, the menu operating system is entirely dependent on the remote handset; loose it, damage it, or let the dog chew it and all you'll be able to do is switch it on and off, and change channel.

 

Back to the features: the ESR600 can process 625-line PAL and SECAM, and 525-line NTSC video signals; it has a full set of audio modes, including stereo, there's an IF loopthrough on the back panel, enabling additional filters to be connected to the receiver's front end; it can control both magnetic and pulse-driven polarisers;  VCR recordings can be made using an on-board 4-event/14-day timer and the contents of the ESR600's memory can be transferred to another receiver, to aid installation, or protect the data in the event of a fault.

 

Installation shouldn't be a problem for knowledgeable enthusiasts and the instructions contain plenty of useful information for those who are keen to do the job themselves. The receiver's 150 channels are factory-programmed  for most of the main C and KU-band TV satellites visible across Europe, and it's a simple enough job -- even for a newcomer -- to re-program or reassign channel allocations. The back panel is populated with a full set of standard connectors for LNB input, RF bypass, audio and video output, LNB switching and actuator(s). In contrast the front panel is unusually sparse with only three buttons, a 3-digit  LED display and some LED to show what's going on. It's certainly not going to win any beauty contests, the design is typically American, dull and utilitarian, but inside, where it matters the ESR600 does have what it takes.

 

Dual actuator operation is one of the ESR600's more unusual talents. For this a second actuator is required, to control both the elevation and azimuth of the dish. This has two advantages, firstly it can be used to fine-tune alignment for geosynchronous satellites, stationed along the Clarke belt, and secondly, it will allow the dish to follow satellites on an inclined orbit, which move relative to a fixed position on the ground, normally describing a figure of eight pattern in the sky. The ESR600 can be programmed to learn a particular orbit, or tracked manually, with adjustments automatically timed to occur at intervals of between 10 and 60 minutes. Needless to say this kind of set-up requires more sophisticated dish hardware, it will be of relatively little interest to most users, but it's good to know you can do it, if you want to...

 

On-screen results are most impressive with better than average sensitivity and noise threshold, producing a clean, well-defined picture, under most conditions, but  the wide range of adjustments means it can cope more easily with extreme signal conditions, and it can  produce a watchable picture where lesser receivers will have given up trying. The ESR600's only operational weakness is its audio system. At best it is uninspiring and doesn't really do justice to stereo transmissions, though as we suggested earlier, this receiver will be more at home picking the bones out of an unscheduled news feed on an obscure C-band satellite, than trying to sort out the Dolby Surround soundtrack on the Simpsons.

 

There are cheaper and simpler ways into multi-satellite reception but if you're going to do the job properly then you're going to need a receiver like the ESR600. It's virtually bomb-proof, with the kind of facilities, and sufficient scope for expandability, that will keep it ahead of the game for some time to come.

 

FACT FILE

Receiver:         Drake ESR600e       

System price:   810 (receiver), 1125 (receiver & 1.2m motorised dish etc.)   

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

 

VERDICT

Sound                   **

Picture                 *****

Ease of use          ***

Features              ***

Value for money  ***

Efficient and versatile multi-satellite receiver, capable of excellent on-screen results, let down only by unexciting audio facilities

 

Buying Satellite Rating:   95%

System: ESR-600e receiver with 1.2m motorised dish . Features: 150 channels, multi-voltage supply, PAL/NTSC/SECAM compatible, on-board positioner with dual actuator control, 4-event/14-day timer, IF loopthrough, memory transfer, multi-lingual on-screen display, magnetic and pulse-control LNB  Audio: stereo, variable sub-carrier tuning, programmable de-emphasis . Sockets: RF bypass, LNB in, stereo audio out, baseband out, video out, SCART AV, SCART decoder, IF loopthrough, positioner, LNB polarity . Dimensions 85(h) x 350 (w) x 348 (d) mm 

 

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(c) R.Maybury 1993 1406

 


 

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