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MULTI-SAT ARMS

 

INTRO

Forty eight channels not enough? No room to put up a steerable dish? Fancy another 100 TV channels? No problem, and you wonít have to take out a second mortgage. In addition to the 48 TV channels your dish is picking up now, itís also receiving signals from half a dozen other satellites close to Astra 1A, 1B and 1C, but those transmissions hit the dish at an oblique angle and bounce off back into space again.  However, they neednít get away,  a second LNB (the gizmo on the arm in front of the dish), mounted next to the existing one, can be used to intercept them. Weíve collected together a selection of gadgets that will enable you to do just that. They range in complexity from simple bolt-on brackets for a second LNB, to motorised arms that allow a fixed dish to pick up signals from several different satellites, at the touch of a button.

 

Fixed or adjustable brackets are most suitable for those who only want to receive one extra satellite; obviously theyíre a lot cheaper than motorised arms, but you have to add on the cost of a second LNB and the extra cabling or a dish-mounted switch-box.  Motorised arms cost more but they give true multi-satellite access, and you wonít necessarily have to buy a second LNB, though older LNBs might not work very well as the signals from the other satellites are usually much weaker than Astra. Motor arms are also worth considering if youíve only got one LNB input on your receiver, though that neednít preclude you from buying a fixed bracket, it just means youíll have to buy a switcher box, or swap the cables when you want to change satellites.

 

In both cases installation can be quite tricky, and unless you feel comfortable working up a ladder with small, fiddly components and tools, and possibly re-aligning your dish, itís prudent to have the work carried out by an engineer. Needless to say this will also add to the overall cost. By the way, prices vary enormously, those we have given are fairly typical, but the best advice is to shop around.

 

IRTE MULTISAT  typically £130

On paper this is the most expensive of the two motorised LNB arms, though the street prices are often a lot closer together. Itís the most sophisticated of the two systems, and a little easier to install as it uses the existing LNB downlead, to carry power and control signals to the arm. Several versions are available, to fit most popular dishes, up to 80cm in diameter.  Installation is reasonably straightforward and could be carried out by most competent DIYers in an hour or two. The kit includes a set of universal mounting brackets for most common types of LNB.

 

The control unit connects between the LNB cable and the receiver, and is operated by IR remote control. Once it has been connected and powered up the set-up routine is fully automatic. The LNB moves from side to side, storing satellite positions in its memory as it goes. The system is optimised to receive Astra, Eutelsat F1, F2, F3 and Kopernicus; other combinations are possible, though this would involve re-aligning the dish.

 

Multisat is well designed, easy to use and capable of good results, though it obviously works best with newer, low noise LNBs, unless the dish is re-aligned. Recommended.

 

Contact: ELECTROTECH DISTRIBUTION, Unit 6, Drury Way Industrial Estate,

Laxcon Close, Neasden, London NW10 OTG. Telephone 081-451 6766

 

Quality of construction            9

Ease of installation                   8

Value for money             9

Overall 95%

 

 

LENSON HEATH MULTI LNB HOLDER typically £12

Superbly well made LNB bracket, primarily for Lenson Heath dishes with rectangular-section boom arms. It enables two (or more) LNBs to see satellites up to 5 degrees either side of the dishís focal point. The kit comprises two slotted arms, with calibration marks stamped into the metal; one arm can be used if required. The arms bolt in place of the existing LNB holder, all necessary nuts, bolts washers and moulded fittings are supplied. Two LNB saddles, made from ABS plastic, with a 40mm throat, and 23mm collar adapters are included in the outfit. Once assembled there is plenty of adjustment for each LNB, for focus, skew angle and lateral position.

 

Itís advisable to pre-assemble the unit as it can be quite tricky juggling with the numerous small parts, whilst clinging on to a ladder. With so many variables to contend with alignment can be quite awkward as well, especially for novices; the instructions are very brief and assume a degree of prior knowledge.

 

An obvious choice for owners of suitable Lenson Heath dishes. Possibly a bit ambitious for nervous beginners but itís very flexible and -- depending on the performance of the dish and LNB -- capable of excellent results.

 

Contact: LENSON HEATH Ltd., Thames Industrial Estate, Marlow, Bucks SL7 1TB. Telephone (0628) 890820

 

Quality of construction            9

Ease of installation                   5

Value for money             8

Overall 90%

 

LENSON HEATH DUAL BRACKET KITS typically £6

Simple no-fuss fixed brackets for Lenson Heath dishes, available in two versions (right or left-handed) for mounting either side of the original LNB. The brackets are formed from shaped metal plates, with holes and slots for mounting the plate to the dishes boom arm, and the supplied LNB support bracket. This is made of ABS plastic and has a 40mm throat. The bracket has a fixed angle, enabling the second LNB to see Eutelsats F3 or F5, with the dish aimed at Astra.

 

Installation is easy, the bracket is held in place by the existing LNB bolts, which may need to be replaced if theyíre too short. The slotted holes on the bracket allow a small amount of adjustment but this shouldnít take more than a minute or two.

 

Itís difficult to imagine how it could be made any simpler, thereís nothing to go wrong, making it a logical choice for those with suitable dishes, who just want to watch one extra Eutelsat satellite.

 

Contact: LENSON HEATH Ltd., Thames Industrial Estate, Marlow, Bucks SL7 1TB. Telephone (0628) 890820

 

Quality of construction            9

Ease of installation                   9

Value for money             9

Overall 95%

 

LITTLEXTRA POLAR ARM typically £17

Littlextra is designed to enable a fixed dish to see both Astra at 19.5 degrees East of South, and Telecom 1C, way over at 5 degrees West, (or anything in between). Incidentally, Telecom 1C carries the Irish channel Setanta Sports and Canal Course French horse-racing channel; be warned both are encrypted and cannot be viewed without specialised equipment or viewing cards.

 

The arm consists of a curved Ďpolar barí supported by a pair of clamps on the centre bracket, which fits on to the dish arm. The supplied bracket is designed to fit tubular section arm booms. Two LNB saddles with 23-40mm throat adapters bolt to the arm and slide freely from side to side. Moderately easy to assemble and align (do a dry run first, the threads are very tight), and it requires that the dish is re-aimed, at a point between the two satellites, a signal strength meter is recommended. The instructions are a little brief but thereís sufficient information for most competent DIYers. In spite of looking rather flimsy the structure is quite rigid. The wide span means most 60cm dishes will be working at full stretch, so low noise LNBs are essential, and an 80cm dish is preferred.

 

A fairly specialised design, mainly of interest to those wanting to receive both Astra and Telecom 1C, otherwise there are cheaper and simpler ways of picking up the more interesting satellites in between.

 

Contact  D-MAC INTERNATIONAL, Unit 26 Burnham Road, Glasgow G14 OXB. Telephone (041) 954 8737

 

Quality of construction                 8

Ease of installation                               7

Value for money                         8

Overall 80%

 

 

LITTLEXTRA 3 DEGREE ARM typically £

The same basic LNB mounting components as Little Wizard and Littextra, this time configured to pick up two adjacent satellites, typically Astra and Eutelsat F3, at 16 degrees East of South. Very simple, all ABS plastic construction, comprising two LNB saddles with 23-40mm LNB throat rings, bolted to a short base plate, giving the two LNBs roughly 3-5 degrees viewing angle. This in turn bolts to a bracket, designed to fit models with tubular-section boom arms; the design is slightly crude at this point, with much of the bracketís free-movement fouled by the end boss. Sturdily made though, and thereís very little to go wrong, but there is another potential problem. In common with the Little Wizard and Littlextra Polar arm the LNB saddle top sections are held in place by a pair of self-tapping screws, which are devilishly tight; so tight in fact that it takes an unreasonable amount of pressure to tighten the screws first time, enough to upset the alignment of the dish. Itís a good idea to free up the threads on the ground beforehand; trying to screw the things up at the top of a ladder would be very dangerous.

 

Generally well designed, the components are strong and well made, but the limited range of adjustment means itís only suitable for receiving Astra and F3.

 

Contact

 

Quality of construction            8

Ease of installation                   9

Value for money            

Overall 85%

 

 

LITTLE WIZARD typically £15

Cheap, simple and to the point. Little Wizard is configured for Eutelsat F1 at 13 degrees. It is made of tough ABS plastic and comprises a shaped base plate with two LNB saddles. The outfit also includes a set of dish arm mounting hardware, adapters are available to fit square or round section dish arms. The LNB supports have throat rings with diameters from 40mm to 23mm. The instruction sheet is reasonably clear and easy to follow. Assembly takes just a few minutes, the threads on the LNB clamps are very stiff first time theyíre used, too stiff in fact to tighten one-handed up a ladder, so itís advisable to pre-assemble on the ground. The arm fitting brackets might also be a snug fit on some dishes, so donít forget to take a soft mallet up the ladder when you go.

 

Installation is reasonably simple, thereís a fair amount of travel in the bracket. The instructions show two alignment methods; the simplest is to leave the dish pointing at Astra and adjust the second LNB for Eutelsat; however, for those who enjoy a challenge, and a better picture (with average quality LNBs) realign the dish onto Eutelsat, with the second LNB picking up Astra.  The whole business shouldnít take more than half an hour or so, providing thereís no problems dismantling the old LNB assembly. Worth considering, if all youíre after is a way to pick up Eutelsat F1.

 

Contact

 

Quality of construction            8

Ease of installation                   8

Value for money             8

Overall 85%

 

 

TRANSARM PRO-FIT LW08 ĎLittle Witchí £16.50

Substantial all metal arm, designed to clamp onto dishes with rectangular-section boom arms. Itís quite easy to fit, and the existing LNB doesnít have to be removed, which makes it an attractive proposition for those of a nervous disposition! Thereís only a couple of bolts to tighten once itís up, so alignment is pretty straightforward as well. The range of angular adjustment is limited but with the dish aimed at Astra itís capable of seeing Eutelsats F1 and F2. The LNB bracket is supplied as an extra, (weíve included it in the price), the used with our sample was made out of ABS plastic, it was a standard configuration with a  40mm throat.

 

The instructions weíve seen are scant, theyíre just about adequate for experienced installers but we fear they would leave most DIYers high and dry. Construction is strong and it feels very solid, if anything itís over-engineered for the job it has to do, and there are far simpler alternatives, nevertheless  ease of installation, and the fact that you donít have to disturb the dish or LNB are major plus points.

 

Contact: PHOENIX, Hampton House Trading Estate, School Road, Evesham, Worcs WR11 6PR. Telephone (0836) 443339

 

Quality of construction            9

Ease of installation                   9

Value for money             8

Overall 90%

 

TRANSARM PRO-FIT (Amstrad fit) £9.50

This one is designed specifically as a replacement arm for 60 and 80cm Amstrad (Communicado) dishes, to enable them to pick up the most popular Ďalternativeí satellite Eutelsat F1 at 13 degrees. The arm is just over a metre long, with a second shorter arm welded on to form a Y-shape.  A support bracket to hold the second LNB fits over the end, this is normally supplied as an extra but weíve included it in the price shown.  Fitting is very simple, just remove the existing arm, replace it with the Transarm, re-fit the original LNB, and clamp on the second LNB and holder. There are no adjustments, apart from the skew angle of the LNBs in their brackets. Itís cheap and almost foolproof and the simplest method yet of upgrading an Astra dish for Eutelsat. The only problem is deciding what to do with the old arm...

 

Contact : Phoenix, Hampton House Trading Estate, School Road, Evesham, Worcs WR11 6PR. Telephone (0836) 443339.

 

Quality of construction            9

Ease of installation                   8

Value for money             9

Overall 90%

 

MSA ADAPTER typically £16

Crude but reasonably effective bolt-on adapter arm for a second LNB, enabling it to see Eutelsatís F1, 2 and 3 and Kopernicus if fixed on Astra. All metal construction which includes a 32mm U-bolt clamp. This fits on to a pair of jointed plates, one of which has a short section of tube welded to it. This acts as the mounting point for a standard LNB bracket.  The instructions state that the U-bolt clamp can be used with rectangular or tubular section arms, thatís true, but we feel the fit may not be very satisfactory in case of a square-section boom arm, and could possibly lead to deformation, if the clamp bolts were over tightened.

 

Itís fairly simple to fit but alignment can be quite tricky as itís difficult to tighten the hinge bolt without upsetting the aim. Itís also mechanically suspect with single bolt and lock washer holding the whole thing together.

 

Contact            SPECTRUMVISION, 61 Brantwood Drive, Heaton, Bradford BD9 6QR. Telephone (0274) 548988

 

Quality of construction            8

Ease of installation                   8

Value for money             8

Overall 80%

 

 

SELECT-A-SAT typical price £130

The second of the two motorised LNB arms. Itís simpler than the IRTE arm, but it requires a second 4-core cable from the control box up to the dish, to carry power and control signals to the servo motor. Constructed mostly from transparent plastic  itís also a little bulkier than the IRTE design. Installation is straightforward; at the receiver end a small control/IR receiver box plugs in between the LNB downlead and tuner (leads supplied).

 

Itís designed to work with 60 and 80cm dished. Fitting the unit to the dish arm is reasonably simple but alignment is somewhat involved, and depends on the dish being re-positioned, so that the stronger Astra signals are received off-centre, leaving the more sensitive centre portion of the dish for the other lower-power satellites. Satellite locations for Astra, Eutelsats F1, F2, F3 and F4 are stored in the control box, and selected from a rather chunky infra-red remote handset.

 

It works well enough -- possibly better than the IRTE unit if the dish is re-aligned as suggested -- but given the choice weíd plump for Multisat which is better designed, simpler to install and operate.

 

Contact            SELECT-A-SAT, Pearcroft Road, Stonehouse, Gloucester GL10 2JY. Telephone (0453) 827378

 

Quality of construction            7

Ease of installation                   7

Value for money             7

Overall 85%

 

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2. LNBS

 

INTRO

Low-noise block converters  -- LNBs to their friends -- are the unsung heroes of satellite television, quite simply it couldnít exist without them! They have an incredibly difficult job to do, namely picking out the unimaginably weak signals coming from TV satellites 36,000 km away in space. Itís difficult to appreciate just how feeble those signals are; by the time theyíve travelled through thousands of kilometres of space and the Earthís atmosphere to reach your dish power levels are down from 45 watts per channel at the satellite, to just a few hundredths of a billionth of a watt, barely perceptible against the roar of natural and man-made noise.

 

LNBs have three specific tasks, firstly they have to be able to tune in to the narrow band of microwave frequencies used for satellite TV transmissions; secondly, they have to amplify the signals; and lastly, the signals have to be converted to lower, more manageable frequencies, so they can be sent by cable to the set-top satellite receiver.

 

Price and performance go hand in hand and whilst a £25 LNB on a 60cm dish is perfectly adequate for reception of Astra in the South of England, it will be struggling to produce a clear picture on the same sized dish further north than Birmingham, say, and picture quality from any of the other TV satellites is likely to be poor, wherever itís used. Performance is defined by the LNBs noise figure, expressed in decibels. It denotes the difference in the signal to noise (S/N) ratios of the signal before and after it has passed through the LNB, so the lower the number the better. Most general purpose Astra LNBs have noise figures between 1.2 and 1.8dB; higher performance models have noise figures of 1.2dB or less, increasingly under 1.0db.

 

Thereís now another factor in the equation, Astra 1D, due to be launched later this year. This new satellite, which will be co-located with Astraís 1A, 1B and 1C will be broadcasting on a different set of frequencies, between 10.70 to 10.95 gigahertz, thatís below the FSS band (10.95 to 11.70GHz) used by the other three satellites. Older LNBs can usually cover part of the new band but we suspect many existing STV viewers may need to upgrade their LNB and possibly their receiver as well, if they want to watch all the new channels. Thereís now a growing number of Astra 1D compatible or Ďenhancedí LNBs, with wider frequency coverage (10.70-11.70 GHz) and to ensure they work with the greatest number of receivers, local oscillators running at 9.75GHz (normal LNBs have an LO frequency of 10GHz). Theyíre now in the same sort of price range as conventional FSS LNBs, so to give you an idea of whatís available weíve been giving some of them the once-over, though for obvious reasons youíll have to wait until Astra 1D is up and running for full-blown performance test reports.

 

CAMBRIDGE JUNO AE6

Solid all metal construction, familiar in-line layout with electronics compartment behind the feedhorn. Full wideband capability with 9.75 GHz local oscillator. It has a 40mm waveguide throat, so it will fit most dishes without any problems. Stated noise figure 1.0db, performance good on existing Astra channels with sparklie-free reception of normally troublesome UK Gold.

 

Contact: CAMBRIDGE INDUSTRIES Cambridge House, Crompton Way, Irvine, Ayrshire KA11 4HU. Telephone (0294) 222100

 

BS Rating            95%

 

 

CONTINENTAL MICROWAVE 0.8dB

Popular, top-performing British-made LNB, this version with a 9.75GHz local oscillator and an impressive noise figure of just 0.8dB. Rugged construction, 40mm fitting, small and light, ideal for compact steerable dishes. Outstanding performance on current Astra channels, but it really comes into its own on multi-satellite systems where the lower noise figure makes all the difference on weaker signals.

 

Contact:   CONTINENTAL MICROWAVE TECHNOLOGY Ltd., 171 Camford Way, Sundon Park, Luton, Beds LU3 3AN. Telephone (0582) 491149

BS Rating             98%

 

 

CONTINENTAL MICROWAVE 1.2dB

Identical in shape and general specification to the 0.8dB model, but this time with a noise figure of 1.2dB. Better suited to Astra-centred applications, though still capable of producing a reasonable picture from nearby Eutelsat satellites.

 

Contact:  CONTINENTAL MICROWAVE TECHNOLOGY Ltd., 171 Camford Way, Sundon Park, Luton, Beds LU3 3AN. Telephone (0582) 491149

BS Rating             90%

 

MARCONI  SOLO E

Astra 1D compatible version of the very popular Solo, with 9.75GHz local oscillator. Tough all metal construction with 40mm fitting. Noise figure below 1dB, certainly consistent with results obtained from previous standard spec Solo. Excellent Astra performance and worth considering for multi-satellite installations.

 

MARCONI ELECTRONICS Ltd. Elstree Way, Borehamwood, Herts WD6 1RX. Telephone 081-953 2030.

BS Rating 95%

 

MICROELECTRONICS TECHNOLOGY GP235F

The odd one out in this roundup with coverage extending from 10.70 right up to 12.75GHz. Local oscillator running at 9.75GHz, so suitable for Astra 1D applications, with wideband receivers with tone-switching facilities. Cylindrical construction, no waveguide but standard C120 fitting. Noise figure of 1.3dB gives reasonable Astra picture on 60cm dish but better suited to a large (1 metre plus) steerable antenna, with a advanced multi-satellite receiver.

 

Contact: PROTEL DISTRIBUTION Ltd., Communication House, 879 High Road, London N12 8QA. Telephone 081-445 4441

BS Rating             88%

 

PROTEL MP6-A

Similar in design and construction to Continental Microwave LNBs but of Taiwanese origin. Fully configured for Astra 1D with a 9.75GHz local oscillator and frequency coverage extending from 10.70 to 11.80GHz. High quality construction with all-metal components and 40mm waveguide fitting. Quoted noise figure of 1.0dB born out by good Astra performance and better than average picture quality on adjacent Eutelsat satellites. Worth considering for undemanding multi-satellite operation.

 

Contact: PROTEL DISTRIBUTION Ltd., Communication House, 879 High Road, London N12 8QA. Telephone 081-445 4441

BS Rating             98%

 

 

SHARP BSCS86M00 1.2dB

All plastic construction, it feels resilient but only time will tell if the snap-fit construction is as robust, and impervious to the British climate as metal-clad designs. Standard 40mm diameter fitting, noise figure rating 1.2dB.  Astra performance is fine on a small dish, a few sparklies on UK Gold but nothing to worry about South of Watford.

 

Contact            ELECTROTECH, Unit 6, Drury Way Industrial Estate,

Laxcon Close, Neasden, London NW10 OTG. Telephone 081-451 6766

BS Rating 80%

 

 

NORTHERN TELECOM UCJ-6551

One of the most recent arrivals, similar in shape, though not construction to their range of LNBs supplied to the likes Nokia and Pace, now with metalised plastic instead of metal casing. Designed to fit 40mm brackets; it has a full Astra 1D spec with 9.75GHz local oscillator, and a noise figure of 0.9dB. Astra performance very good and better than average picture from adjacent Eutelsats. Worth considering for multi satellite applications.

 

Contact: NORTHERN TELECOM EUROPE Ltd., Aspen Wat 2, Yalberton Industrial Estate, Painton, Devon TQ4 7QU. Telephone (0803) 667003

BS Rating 95%

 

---end---

R. Maybury 1994 0208

 

 


 

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