Buying Satellite





If you're still having trouble programming the timer on your VCR you might be interested in a new idea that will help to make sure you don't miss out, it might even help you record the satellite channels...



If you've ever returned home to find that the timer on your VCR has unaccountably recorded  the wrong programme at the wrong time on the wrong channel, after you spent twenty minutes programming it, join the club... A couple of years ago a research study commissioned by a leading consumer electronics manufacturer discovered that almost three quarters of VCR owners admitted they could not program the timers on their VCRs. That should  come as no surprise to anyone over thirty; in spite of numerous attempts to endow VCR timers with some sort of user-friendliness, they have become a standing joke.


Now, at long last, the joke is over, well, almost... Video Plus is here, it's a VCR timer programming system that is as near foolproof as it is possible to get. Instead of messing about with times, dates and channel numbers all you have to do is enter a short string of number (from one to eight digits long), into the keypad on a remote control handset. The number, known as the 'Plus Code', you may have seen them printed alongside program schedules in daily newspapers and TV listings magazines



The Plus Code is the key to a computer program called an algorithm which the Video Plus system uses to work out the time the program you want to record begins and ends, what day it is on, and on which channel it will be shown. To make it even easier to use shorter Plus Codes, normally only two to four digits long, are used for popular programmes shown at peak viewing times, and the same Plus Codes can be used for serials, soaps and programmes shown at the same time each day. But what about printing errors? Well, they've thought of that too; the newspapers and magazines which publish Plus Codes use specially written computer software, incorporated into their typesetting and page layout systems, to generate the numbers automatically, virtually eliminating the possibility of human error, well, that's the theory at least.


Video Plus was launched in the UK nearly two years ago, it first appeared in the form of a remote control-style handset, available from multiple outlet and high-street electrical retailers where it sells for around 60. The handset is factory-programmed with the infra-red operating codes for hundreds of different makes and models of VCR so it could work with almost any machine, provided it had infra-red remote control; there are of course a few exceptions, but dealers selling the handsets are, or should be aware of them. The handset remains very popular but within the last year or so an increasing number of VCRs now have Video Plus built-in, as a standard feature.



This is all good news for anyone who wants to make timer-recordings of terrestrial TV programmes, but can Video Plus be of any help to timerphobic satellite TV viewers? The answer is a guarded yes,  however, there's a few ifs and buts, especially for those with older STV receivers. Several newspapers and magazines now publish a full set of Plus Codes for the satellite channels, including the new ones, so it can simplify VCR programming, setting  it to record at the appropriate time, on its designated 'satellite' channel, but unless the satellite receiver is also equipped with a built-in timer, it will have to be left switched on, and tuned to the appropriate station. Moreover, on receivers without multi-event timers, it will only be possible to record on one channel, and although most receivers are rated for continuous operation it's nonetheless a concern for some people to have to leave a piece of electrical equipment switched on, possibly for several days at a time. Video Plus reduces the potential for error but it doesn't eliminate it completely as the satellite receiver's timer still has to be set.


So why not incorporate satellite receiver commands into the Video Plus handset, or build Video Plus into satellite receivers? The problem with putting STV commands into the existing Video Plus handset is the lack of space needed for the scores of extra control codes, and the added difficulty in making sure it can control both items of equipment. It seems unlikely we'll be seeing Video Plus built into satellite receivers, for a while at least, it would add an unwelcome premium to what is a very price sensitive product. However, one manufacturer, Ferguson, has come up with an ingenious method of using Video Plus to control both the VCR and a satellite receiver. The machine in question is the FV74LVX, a stylish, dual-speed machine that sells for just under 400. The FV74 uses the Plus Code to set it's own on-board timer, and when the recording is about to begin, transmits a series of infra-red commands from a set of powerful IR emitters, to a nearby satellite receiver, switching it on and setting it to the correct channel; when the recording has finished it switches the receiver off.


The FV74 has a multi-brand control system, so it can operate a number of different makes and models of  satellite receiver, including, of course, their own. As a matter of interest the FV74 also has a Startext facility which can alter the timer settings to compensate for programme overruns or late changes to the published schedule, though at the moment this only works on Channel 4 as they are the only broadcaster to transmit the appropriate codes which are needed to update the VCRs timer.


Video Plus is a big step in the right direction and has already helped a lot of people to come to terms with VCR timers but its not the final solution, that, as we all know is to enlist the help of a ten-year old child...




R.Maybury 1993 0309




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