Buying Satellite





Watching satellite TV in bed is not as easy as you might imagine, we have the answers to some of the most frequently-asked questions...




Q. Are there any legal implications in having more than one television, and how many sets can you have with one TV licence.


A. As many as you like, provided they're all at your main place of residence, and are for domestic use only. If you've got a second home you'll need a separate licence, unless you use a portable TV, which is not permanently installed there, and is powered by batteries. As a matter of interest over half of the twenty million or so households in the UK now have at least two televisions and recent research suggests that as many as one in ten homes have four or more sets.



Q. How many televisions can be connected to one TV aerial?


A. In theory it is unlimited, from a couple of feeds for TVs in the living room and bedroom, to a fully-fledged distribution system supplying a block of flats, or a housing estate. Whilst it is possible to run two separate downleads from a TV aerial, (in areas of good reception), it's not advisable, the signal will be weakened and the picture could be noisy or unstable. It's better to use a battery or mains-powered splitter/distribution box, with two or more outlets. They are normally sited close to the aerial, in the loft,  which simplifies the task of running cables to other upstairs rooms in the house. These are readily available from electrical, TV and DIY outlets, costing from around fifteen pounds upwards.



Q. Would a splitter allow you to watch satellite TV and video recordings on every other set in the house?


A. Generally no, because a satellite receiver and VCR are usually connected between one of the splitter's outlets and the main TV, either that, or they're linked directly to the TV by an AV cable. Signals from the VCR or satellite receiver only travel in one direction, so they will not be carried on the other outlets from the splitter.



Q. In that case would it be possible to split the feed going to the TV, and distribute that to other TV sets?


A. Yes, that's one way of doing it but it's a fairly crude method, and picture quality is likely to be poor, especially if the cable runs are over 50 metres. This method, as with most others also suffers from the problem of not being able to control the source component (VCR or STV tuner) from a remote location, so, for example, you couldn't change channels on the satellite receiver, or control the VCR when it is playing back a tape.



Q. Is there a way of remotely controlling the VCR or sat receiver?


A. Yes, one of the most popular gadgets is the Powermid, which sells for around 70. It comprises two small pyramid-shaped boxes. The receiver unit sits near the source VCR/STV tuner in the living room, the other, called the transmitter, is in the room with the second TV. The transmitter has an infra-red detector which picks up commands from a remote handset; it turns them into radio signals which are picked up by the receiver unit, this converts them back into IR beams, which are received by the VCR and tuner.



Q. Are there better ways of doing it?


A. Yes, but most of them are expensive, complicated, or both. The ultimate solution is to have an AV distribution and control system custom designed and installed in your home. Clearly that's out of reach of most peoples pockets, it could easily cost several thousand pounds... Slightly cheaper would be to duplicate source components, so in addition to a second TV you also have a second satellite receiver and VCR in the bedroom. It's not as outrageous as it sounds; second-hand VCRs with a few years life left in them can be found for as little as 75 -- you might even consider early retirement for your present machine; you can get satellite tuners for around the same price. The only other thing you need is a splitter box for the satellite feed from the dish. You can use your satellite smart-card in both receivers, so there's no additional subscription costs.



Q. Still far too many boxes, there must be simpler solutions?


A. There are, but most of them depend on the system being made up of  compatible products from one manufacturer. Bang and Olufsen are one example; you can combine all of their products, including TVs video recorders, hi-fis, and yes, even a satellite tuner,  using an integrated distribution and control system called Beolink. This uses a combination of cabled and RF and infra-red links to send video, audio and control signals to other components around the house. The problem is, it only works with their equipment, and it is quite expensive. Other manufacturers have developed similar technologies but needless to say there's no industry-wide standardisation, and hence little or no compatibility between different makes of equipment.



Q. What about video senders, what's the matter with them?


A. They're illegal because they're unlicensed (and unlicensable) radio transmitters . They work by modulating audio and video signals onto an RF carrier, which can be picked up on a TV in another room, on a spare channel. The trouble is the signal goes much further afield, and may -- theoretically -- interfere with other pieces of equipment. You would also be in breach of copyright regulations by re-broadcasting TV programmes and video recordings. It's not worth the risk as they're very easy to detect, as one unfortunate couple discovered. They were using a video sender to watch their saucy home videos in bed, their unofficial blue movie channel was picked up by the neighbours, one of whom complained to the authorities.



Q.  Are there any legal, simple and above all cheap methods?


A.  There is gadget called Rabbit, not to be confused with a cordless telephone of the same name. It first appeared in the late 1980's and was fairly successful for a time. Rabbit costs around 100 and consists of two small boxes, one connected between the aerial lead from the VCR/STV receiver, and the TV; the box other is in the room with the second TV, connected to it by the aerial lead. The two boxes are linked together by a pair of thin wires which can be tucked away under carpets, or skirting boards. This cable or 'mini-wire' (40 metres long) carries video and audio signals from the sender unit, to the slave unit, and in the other direction, remote control picked up by the slave, to the sender, which re-transmits the IR commands to the VCR or satellite receiver. Under ideal circumstances Rabbit gives a reasonably good picture but the unscreened cable is easily broken or snagged and can pick up all sorts of interference from other electrical appliances. Rabbit is not very widely distributed anymore, in fact we didn't find anyone who stocked it during a brief ring-round of AV dealers, though one or two suggested they could still be obtained on special order.



Q. Are there any technical breakthroughs worth waiting for?


A. There's no shortage of clever technology, the problems lie elsewhere. Five years ago an affiliate company of MGM devised a system to squirt video, audio and control signals down mains wiring, rather like FM baby intercom. It worked well but floundered over potential problems with interference from other systems in adjacent houses, and the National Grid, who at that time had plans of their own to use the mains as a distribution system. Four years ago Philips, along with a number of other consumer electronic manufacturers came up with a system called D2B or the domestic digital bus, which would link all kinds of domestic appliances together. Only a handful of D2B compatible products ever made it to the shops, since then we've heard nothing. There are others, including Home Bus, CE Bus, and Esprit, plenty of ideas but few, if any tangible products, so don't hold your breath...



R. Maybury 1993 0806



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