Buying Satellite





Bored with the same old 48 satellite channels? Did you know your existing dish could pick up another 60 channels, we look at two gadgets that will help you do just that!



How many TV channels can you receive on your satellite dish? Conventional wisdom says forty-eight, that's the number of channels broadcast from the three Astra satellites co-located at 19.2 degrees East of South. In fact your dish could be picking up a further sixty or so channels, transmitted by satellites stationed either side of the Astra birds. Side-lobe reception, as it is known, is a well-known property of parabolic dishes and several companies market bolt-on brackets to take advantage of this useful side-effect, enabling a second LNB to intercept signals from adjacent satellites.


It's a simple idea, in Southern counties (and with larger dishes) these brackets can work quite well with the extra channels looking as good as Astra broadcasts, though there are a few ifs and buts. For example that second LNB will set you back at least 30, dual LNB set-ups work best on receivers with twin LNB inputs, and this approach lacks flexibility, unless you're happy with just one extra satellite, or don't mind shinning up and down a ladder to move the bracket every time you want to watch another satellite.


There is a better way, a motorised arm that moves the LNB from side to side in front of the dish. There's no need to buy that second LNB, it works fine with receivers that have only one LNB input socket, and you can shift from one satellite to another at the touch of a button! Clearly a motorised arm is going to be much more expensive than a simple bracket and second LNB -- typically two to three times as much --  but it's a more flexible method, and a whole lot cheaper than a fully-fledged multi-satellite system with steerable dish, positioner and controller.



Thus far two motorised LNB arms have appeared on the market, with more to follow later this year. The first to be announced was the British designed and built Zeta Select-A-Sat, though, ironically the Multisat from the Italian company IRTE  reached the shops first due to some last-minute production problems at Zeta. On paper the IRTE arm is slightly more expensive, with a suggested selling price of around 145, compared with 130 for the Zeta arm, but if you shop around the price differential is less pronounced and we have seen both models selling for less than 120.


So how do they match up? The IRTE Multisat is the smaller and lighter of the two, it looks a bit like a miniature dish positioner; the design is optimised for the reception from Astra, Eutelsats F1, F2, F3 and Kopernicus. (A second, larger version is available to work with 80cm dishes). The Select-A-Sat is a more substantial affair, it's made from transparent plastic, so you can see the works, which may or may not be a selling point. This design will enable most 60 or 80cm dishes to receive Astra plus Eutelsats F1, 2, 3 and 4. On the debit side it appears less well finished, the mechanics are more exposed and it may prove susceptible to clogging from airborne dirt, or unwelcome insect house guests



Multisat and Select-A-Sat both attach to the end of the dish arm, in place of the existing LNB bracket; the original LNB then fits on to a bracket on the moving dish arm. They each come with 'universal' fixing kits, that will fit most common dish types,  Multisat is generally easier to fit. Multisat doesn't require any extra cabling, power and control signals are carried by the dish downlead. At the dish end the downlead cable goes to a small control box next to the motor; a second socket connects the control box to the LNB, a short cable is supplied. At the receiver end a second control box/infra-red receiver connects between the downlead and the satellite receiver. 


The Select-A-Sat arm connects to its indoor control box/IR receiver by a length of four-core cable, (supplied with the outfit). The extra cable has to be run alongside the existing downlead, which adds to the installation time again.


Multisat's set-up routine is automatic; the LNB arm moves along the track, the control unit sensing satellite signals as it goes, the positions are then stored in memory. Select-A-Sat works on a slightly different principle; the set-up takes a little longer and involves re-positioning the dish and re-acquiring the Astra satellite, so it's not for absolute beginners. Positions for the satellites are already stored in the control box, which counts pulses generated by the dish unit, so it knows where it is at any given point. Once set up both arms are controlled from small remote handsets. For some strange reason the up/down buttons on the Select-A-Sat handset defy convention, with higher numbers selected by the left button.



Neither unit has any direct impact on picture quality as the original dish, LNB and  receiver are retained, so if you're getting a poor picture from Astra now, you'll get an even worse picture from the other satellites as they generally broadcast at much lower power levels. If that's the case it's well worth upgrading your LNB for a more recent low-noise type.


However, depending upon the care taken during installation, pictures from the Select-A-Sat installation should be marginally less noisy as the re-alignment of the dish means that  the stronger Astra signal is on one of the dishes side-lobes, with the focal points for the weaker satellites closer to the centre-portion of the dish.


Operationally the IRTE Multisat is easier to live with, it's marginally faster too and the remote handset and control units look more professional.  Select-A-Sat has a slightly wider range of movement, which could be relevant for some users, keen to view specific foreign-language satellite channels on ECS F4.



Multisat is the more elegant and refined solution, it's also easier to install and use, but has slightly less scope and potentially inferior picture quality to Select-A-Sat. The extra cable and less well-designed hardware lets the Select-A-Sat down. For example the remote handset looks crude, and the battery rattles around inside. The mains adaptor supplied with the unit is a general purpose type, with switchable voltage and polarity, and multi-fit connectors. These  include a connector with exposed contacts that could short-circuit if they came into contact with a metal surface. A number of modifications have been promised, hopefully they will bring it up to the standard set by IRTE.



Make/model:           IRTE Multisat    

Typical price:       145

Address:               Electrotech Distribution, Unit 6, Drury Way Industrial Estate, Laxcon Close, Neasden, London NW10 OTG.

Tel: 081-451 6766



Build quality                  ****

Value for money: ***

Ease of use:                  *****

Facilities                       ****


Sophisticated design, easy to install and use, well worth considering as a low-cost alternative to a multi-satellite system


Buying Satellite Rating:   95%



Make/model:           Zeta Select-A-Sat      

Typical price:       130

Address:               Select-A-Sat, Pearcroft Road, Stonehouse, Gloucester GL10 2JY.

Tel: (0453) 827378



Build quality                  ***

Value for money: ****

Ease of use:                  ***

Facilities                       ***


Less sophisticated but slightly cheaper and more efficient alternative to the IRTE Multisat. Worth considering.


Buying Satellite Rating:   85%



R.Maybury 1994 2504



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