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ECHO PEACH

 

INTRO

It does everything except make the tea, it's one of the most versatile multi-satellite receivers around, it's the Echostar SR-8700

 

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If you were to ask multi-satellite system users what they most dislike about their present set-up we suspect many of them would point to an unwieldy stack of boxes, hiding a rats-nest of cables and a small collection of remote handsets. The Echostar SR-8700 looks like the answer to a lot of STV enthusiasts prayers, like its stablemate, the (bulkier and slightly less sophisticated) SR-7700, it's an integrated receiver and positioner, with a built-in Videocrypt decoder, in a box no that's no larger than many Astra IRDs.

 

Combining such diverse technologies in one cabinet is not without its problems, though. Apart from the cost, which reflects the fact that you're buying a lot of advanced technology, the biggest drawback often lies with the controls. Some one-box multi-satellite systems have too many of them, making them difficult to use; or there's not enough manual controls, denying the user access to important facilities. The SR-8700 treads a fine line between those two extremes; with a little help your old granny could switch it on and off and change channels, but you don't need to be a computer scientist to really get the most out of it, (though it might be helpful, as you delve into some of the 8700's more esoteric installation menus...)

 

Before we take a closer look at the 8700's main features it's worth saying that every  operation is overseen by a easy to follow, multi-lingual, menu-driven on-screen display system, controlled from the remote handset. In addition to basic channel and satellite idents the OSD can also show audio and video frequencies, polarity and receiving modes (de-emphasis, deviation etc.), just about everything, in fact that you're likely to want to know about the satellite, the transmission and the status of the receiver. Do bear in mind this is not the sort of receiver you'd buy if you're only interested in watching BSKYB programmes, so no apologies for the frequent lapses into technospeak. If you're at all interested in multi-satellite viewing you'll either be familiar with the jargon, or quickly pick it up.

 

PRIME POSITION

The dish positioner is programmed with the location and transmission parameters of just about every satellite broadcasting to Europe, African and Asia so initial set-up procedures are greatly simplified. Using the 'AutoSat' facility the dish has to be manually steered -- using the handset controls -- towards three satellites, one close to the Eastern limit of the dish's arc, one in the middle, and one near the western limit. From that information the positioner then works out the actuator's East and West limits and calculates the position of all the C and Ku-band satellites in between, after which it goes through an automatic fine-tuning process called 'ArcPeak'. Another automatic programming aid is included, called 'AutoPrompt II' it's an enhanced version of  the system first used on the SR-6500. In this mode the Eastern limit is set manually after which the dish moves West, to seek each satellite in turn along the arc; after the first three contacts it should have enough information to accurately predict the position of the remaining satellites. Of course, the positioner can be programmed manually, and all or any of the information relating to each satellite can be altered; data for new satellites and channels can also be added, as and when they become operational.

 

The 8700 is designed to work with as many different sorts of LNB as possible and the receiver is pre-programmed with configurations the most common types, including multi-band types, and the various methods of polarity switching, it's also possible to create a custom configuration for specialised devices.

 

TUNED IN AND TURN ON

In addition to the pre-programmed tuning assignments there's a full set of manual controls for selecting audio and video frequencies, as well as polarity; once again all operations are shown clearly by the on-screen display.  Additional refinements and tuning aids include a relative signal strength display, pre-settable deviation (16, 21, 25 and 31MHz), preselectable video de-emphasis (PAL, SECAM or NTSC), bandwidth reduction filter, video invert, an internally generated sync signal for the on-screen graphics information, (should the transmitted signal be too weak) and variable low-threshold operation. This last feature increases the tuner's sensitivity on any given channel and is useful for reducing the sparkly count on very weak signals. The 8700's Wegner stereo audio system options are: manual tuning on all subcarriers (stereo and mono), variable audio bandwidth (110, 150, 280 or 400kHz), presettable de-emphasis (J-17, adaptive, 50uS and 75uS) and audio balance.

 

After that little lot the Videocrypt decoder is something of an anticlimax, in fact there's not a lot to say about it, except that it does the job and works well. Several other secondary features also deserve a quick mention, they include a clock (displayed on-screen and on the front-panel, when the receiver is switched off), an 8-event/31-day VCR timer,  display dimmer, self-diagnostic fault-finding system, password-activated locks to protect  the receiver's set-up routines, a parental lock, to prevent access to particular channels or satellites and a  200 'favourite' channel selection system.

 

VERDICT

Dish positioning using the on-board programming systems is fast and efficient and will instantly appeal to anyone who has gone through the rigmarole of manually aligning a dish and positioner, or is used to simpler equipment. Receiver performance is excellent, we found a few of the factory settings needed tweaking, mostly to suit the test dish and LNBs, but on the whole it's switch on and go! On strong DTH signals from the Astra birds picture quality is faultless, not a trace of noise, though the stereo soundtracks on some channels are a mite hissy, it could do with some more energetic form of noise reduction. Tracking to lower-power satellites the 8700 really showed what it could do, pulling in signals that a comparator receiver either missed or rejected as unwatchable and with a good dual or triple band LNB, and a 1.2 or better still a 1.5 metre dish there's no much this receiver will miss.

 

The 8700 takes the sting out of multi-satellite operation. It has a true dual personality with all of the flexibility and advanced features necessary and desirable to scan the skies for signs of life, and poke around in between the scheduled TV programmes and broadcast satellites,  yet this one unassuming black box  is just as happy unravelling those same mass-market programmes. Chaparral finally have some worthy competition. 

 

THE COMPETITION

The combination of an advanced multi-satellite receiver with built-in Videocrypt decoder is rare indeed, in fact the main competition comes from the SR-8700's near relative, the SR-7700. The closest receiver, in terms of facilities and performance, is the mighty Chaparral Monterey, though it lacks any on-board decoders, and it is eye-wateringly expensive. Both the Drake ESR-600 and Manhattan 9000 are worth investigating, though neither of them have Videocrypt decoders either. Providing you don't mind the extra boxes the Mimtec Spirit and the Palcom SL650 are still worth considering if you want to stay in touch with Astra, they're cheaper too though they're a good deal less versatile, and getting on a bit now.

 

FACT FILE

Receiver:          Echostar SR-8700

System price:    £XXXX with 90cm dish

Address:           Echosphere Corp. Schuilenburglaan 5a, 7640 BJ Almelo, The Netherlands

 

VERDICT

Sound                    *****                           

Picture                  *****     

Ease of use           ***     

Features                *****

Value for money    ****

 

A powerful and versatile receiver that will please any dedicated multi-satellite viewer looking for a challenge 

 

Buying Satellite Rating:   95%

System:  Features: up to 48 channels on each of 64 satellites, or 200 favourite channels. Audio: Wegner stereo, selectable pre-emphasis (J17, adaptive, 50 & 75uS). Sockets: RF bypass,  dual LNB input,  AV out (SCART), stereo audio out, composite and baseband video out (phono), antenna positioner and polariser (spring terminals) positioner motor (screw terminals) mains input (Bulgin), Dimensions . 440 (w) x 63(h) x 350(d) mm

 

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R.Maybury 1993 2408

 


 

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