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REVIEWS

 

SATELLITE RECEIVER REVIEWS

 

1. ECHOSTAR SR-800

About time too... The Echostar SR-800 is the much needed replacement for the dreadfully basic SR-70 which has done them no favours whatsoever over the past year or so. Echostar have a well-earned reputation for advanced multi-satellite receivers, but their entry-level Astra tuner was well out of step with what was happening elsewhere in the market. Most other manufacturers recognised the need for well-specified, user-friendly designs early on, producing receivers with plenty of spare capacity and enough flexibility to meet the needs of the fast-changing market.

 

This is a bit more like it, the SR-800 is a moderately well-equipped IRD, primed and ready for Astra 1D with a 2GHz tuner. It’s no great shakes in the looks department, very ordinary in fact with all-black livery but that’s about par for the course these days. It’s not going to frighten anyone off though, with just three exposed control buttons (channel up/down and power) and a row of four LED indicators. However, appearances can be deceptive, it looks as though there should be some sort of numerical channel display behind the large translucent panel on the fascia. Unfortunately it doesn’t have one, at least not on this version, but it could certainly do with one, especially when making time-shifted of off-dish recordings, as there’s no way of knowing which channel is being received, without switching the TV on and interrogating the receivers on-screen display.

 

The single smart card slot is hidden behind a rather flimsy-looking flap. Echostar would do well to look at a few other manufacturers designs, and think about a second card slot for their next update, it obviously passed through their mind at some stage, there’s plenty of room on the panel...

 

Around the back there’s the usual bank of three SCART sockets, a pair of stereo line audio output phono sockets and two LNB connectors. Incidentally the threads on the F-connectors are on the long side, standing almost 16mm proud of the back panel. With a plug and cable attached that adds a good 40mm to the room needed behind the unit, something to bear in mind when installing this receiver in a confined space. There’s a PAL I/BG switch on the back, for the RF modulator, that, along with a Videocrypt 2 option, confirms suggestions that this receiver has been designed for a wider European market, and not just the UK.

 

The general specification is geared towards fixed dish operation, though the 199 channel memory is factory tuned with all of the other main TV satellites, including Eutelsats F1 to F6 (omitting F5), Telecoms 2A and B, TDF1, TV SAT 2 Intelsat 601, Hispasat 1A/B and Kopernicus. Tuner positions 65 to 105 have been set aside for radio channels.  Up to 20 TV channels can be committed to the receivers ‘favourite channel’ memory using one of the multi-layered menu-driven on-screen displays. These cover all aspects of the receivers operation, from initial set-up, to more involved procedures, including channel tuning, audio selection (32 modes, 16 user programmable), setting audio threshold, bandwidth reduction filter (BRF), parental lockouts, the rather basic VCR timer and password entry. The menu system is reasonably simple to navigate using a moveable cursor, operated from a set of four position buttons on the remote handset. The display graphics are somewhat plain and not always easy to read against a bright background. They’re reasonably steady most of the time, though we noticed a slight jitter on some channels now and again, often for no apparent reason.

 

Installation is fairly straightforward and apart from programming the favourite channel selection and setting the volume there’s no need to do anything else, the factory defaults will suit most users. However, there’s plenty of scope for fiddling around with the background settings or adapting to multi-satellite set-ups. The receiver can accommodate most types of LNB, including single, dual and wideband types, including those with tone-switching facilities.

 

On screen performance from our sample was satisfactory; sensitivity was about average with a few sparklies present on reference signals from channels such as UK Gold. Weakening the received signal, simulating the effects of a heavy downpour revealed that the SR800 has a small  amount of gain in reserve, but it would definitely seem to favour lower noise LNBs and carefully aligned dishes. Audio performance is also adequate, the lack of proprietary noise reductions systems is evident, though,  with moderate levels of  background hiss on the stereo channels.

 

The SR-800 is a major improvement over the SR-70 which was hopelessly under-specified by today’ standards. This new receiver makes up a lot of the lost ground but Echostar are chasing a fast-moving target and the competition -- especially in the fiercely competitive mid-market sector -- has moved on. So whilst there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it, it, doesn’t have anything particularly interesting or unusual to offer, which would make it stand out from the crowd.

 

DATA BOX

PRICE - £269 (with 63cm dish)

FEATURES - satellite receiver/decoder, 199 pre-programmed channels, on-screen graphics and channel display, three SCART AV sockets, 20 ‘favourite-channel’ memory, parental lock, 4-event/7-day timer, dual LNB input, Astra 1D compatibility

 

PROS - average to good performance, easy to use, Astra 1D ready

CONS - mediocre facilities, hissy sound

 

RATINGS

performance                  7

looks                            7

ease of use                   7

features             7

value                             7

overall rating                  33/50

 

 

AKAI SX-1000

 

The Cambridge ARD200, on which the Akai SX-1000 is based, has to be one of the most cloned or ‘badge-engineered’ receivers around at the moment. That says a lot about the integrity of the design, and companies like Akai, British Telecom and JVC certainly wouldn’t put their name on any old rubbish. The SX-1000 is a moderately well specified design, and unusually compact, measuring just 326 x 193 x 63mm, or between two thirds and three quarters as big most other satellite receivers.

 

The design is fairly plain -- all black, naturally -- with the front-panel flap covering the entire width of the fascia, hiding everything apart from a large three-digit LED readout in the middle. With the flap open there’s a single smart card slot on the left side, along with a pay-to-view authorise button; on the right there’s four more buttons, two for channel up and down, a function lock switch which isolates the remote handset (to prevent accidents whilst recording), and a power on/standby button. No problems there, apart from that front panel flap, which rather flimsy, easily dislodged, and unless it’s replaced very carefully, will never shut again properly.

 

The back panel sports a row of three SCART AV connectors, two phono sockets for line audio output, TV aerial in and out sockets, and one F-connector for the dish. Having only one dish input puts it at a slight disadvantage, and limits the potential for expansion but that doesn’t entirely preclude it from being used with motorised dishes or LNB arms. The 200 channel tuner has extended IF coverage, up to 2GHz, so it’s Astra 1D capable, and the tuner has been factory set for the new channels. In addition there’s a 20 ‘favourite channel’ memory, which most users should find reasonably easy to set-up, and use. The SX-1000 has a comprehensive VCR timer, programmable for 8-events over a four week period.

 

All operations are controlled by menu-driven on-screen displays, channel number and basic status indicators are also shown on the front-panel LED display. This has two basic modes, showing channel numbers, from 001 to 200, and favourite channel selection, from F01 to F20. Three additional indicators show stereo, audio mute and standby modes.

 

Other convenience features include a pair of skip buttons, so you can whiz through the memory ten channels at a time; it also has a parental lock which will disable individual channels (including ‘favourite’ channels), secured by a four-digit PIN authorisation code; that should defeat even the most determined teenage hackers. PIN protection is also used to prevent unauthorised tampering with the main programming menu changes the main receiver settings. User-settable options include channel frequency and LNB polarity, channel name, audio frequency (32-modes) and external LNB switchbox control (available as an optional extra). The more advanced audio options cover switchable de-emphasis  (50us, 75us or J16), noise-reduction and sub-carrier frequency deviation. Installation couldn’t be much simpler and in most cases it will run quite happily on the factory defaults.

 

The infra-red remote control handset could have been be better designed. It has 28 buttons, 26 of them identical in size and several of them badly labelled with blue lettering against a grey background; in short it’s a swine to use in subdued light.

 

Picture quality is generally quite good, it’s not going to break any performance records but it should be perfectly acceptable on a typical 60cm dish set-up, in the Southern half of the country. At our South London test site, using a bog-standard Lenson Heath dish and 1.5dB LNB our sample receiver gave a clean picture across all Astra channels, though there were one or two sparklies present on weaker channels, like UK Gold, under conditions of reduced signal strength. Attenuating the signal strength further showed the receiver to be averagely sensitive. Colours were reasonably bright and contrasty though there was some noise in areas of high saturation. The SX100 has switchable audio noise reduction; it’s not as efficient as the Panda/Wegner system,  there’s always some background hiss audible, though it’s not too intrusive. The sound output has a reasonably flat, largely uncoloured response, treble is a tad light but it’s no worse than most other similarly-priced receivers.

 

The SX-10000 is a dependable, if unexciting Astra IRD with average to good AV performance and a moderately useful range of features. However, it’s a relatively old design, well over a year old -- almost an antique in STV terms --  and we’d be very surprised if a replacement wasn’t already in the pipeline. At the very least it needs a second LNB input and another card slot would be useful. Nevertheless, systems using this receiver  -- not necessarily with the Akai badge -- can be very good value, some versions sell for well under £200, so don’t dismiss it out of hand, it would suit anyone content to stay with the Astra channels. 

           

DATA BOX

PRICE - £230 (receiver only) £250 with dish

FEATURES - satellite receiver/decoder, 200 channel memory, 20 ‘favourite’ channel memory, three SCART AV sockets, on-screen graphics and channel display, channel lock, 8-event/31-day timer

 

PROS - compact, easy to use, reasonable performance, Astra 1 D ready

CONS - single LNB input, tacky front panel

 

RATINGS

performance                  7

looks                            8

ease of use                   8

features             7

value                             8

overall rating                  38/50

 

 

NOKIA SAT-800

Nokia and satellite TV go way back, right back to the earliest days in fact when they were one of the first companies to market domestic STV receivers in this country, under their Luxor and Salora brand names. Luxor pioneered the idea concept of a TV with an on-board satellite receiver, and that was in 1985, when Astra was just a row of optimistic figures on a business plan...

 

Since then Nokia have pushed their other brands into the background and concentrated on making a name for themselves with a series of well-engineered, mid-range receivers, most recently with the outstanding SAT-1700. The SAT-800, which was only launched a few weeks ago, takes them right back to basics.

 

Nokia have stripped their latest integrated receiver decoder to the bone, presumably targeting it at technophobic Astra viewers. It’s a no-nonsense, no-frills design, though there’s nothing plain about the front panel, which may not be to everyone’s taste but it definitely shows someone has put a lot of effort into making it look different. What you see is what you get, there’s just three front panel controls, an on/standby button and two channel up/down buttons. The smart card slot isn’t hidden, it’s there on the front panel, though you may not be able to see it in the photographs as it has been faired in with the fascia, in the recess to the left of the power button.

 

The display panel in the middle takes on an unusual significance with this receiver, it’s one of the few we’ve come across lately not to have any kind of on-screen display system. The three digit LED readout has to do everything, from showing channel number, to mode and status indications in the set-up modes; that’s  something we’ll look at in more detail in a moment.

 

Around the back Nokia have played it safe with a more or less standard assortment of socketry. There’s three SCART AV connectors for TV, external decoder and VCR; two phono sockets for stereo audio line output to an hi-fi or home-cinema system; TV aerial in and out sockets  and one LNB socket. The remote control is a slim design with just under a score of adequately labelled buttons, so it’s not going to frighten your old granny.

 

Installation and set-up take only a couple of minutes; most of the 200 channels are factory tuned, and there’s nothing you can do about it, apart from fine-tune the settings. There’s no favourite channel selection and no means of re-allocating channels if you don’t like he order. The best you can do is program the receiver to skip unwanted channels. The only other user-accessible adjustments are for pre-setting video level (brightness), audio tuning (9 modes), and LNB parameters. It’s frugal fare for button pushers and there’s little to excite would-be multi-satellite viewers, though the tuner is pre-set for TV and radio channels on Astras A through to D, Eutelsat F1, F2, F3 and F4, Telecom 2A and 2B, and Intelsat 601. Band switching is automatic, the receiver generates a 22kHz tone which is sent down the LNB cable, this can be changed in the LNB set-up if required.

 

Nokia haven’t cut corners where it really counts, with picture quality, which is up to the kind of standard we’ve come to expect from them. Noise levels were very low on our sample when used with a 60cm reference dish at our South London test site. Colours are bright and vibrant, there’s some noise in areas of high saturation, no more than usual, and the receiver copes well with conditions of reduced signal strength. Sound quality was very average; noise reduction is minimal and on some channels we noticed an odd sibilance in the background. The treble is very sharp but bass response muted, it’s not bad enough to give us cause for concern but there’s clearly room for improvement, if our sample is typical.

 

The SAT-800 is a bit of a mixed bag. On the plus side there’s the lowish price, striking looks, ease of installation, set-up and use. Picture quality is good, though the audio leaves something to be desired. It looses points by not having an on-screen display, the front-panel display is hard work and you need to keep the instruction book to hand to decipher the messages. The very rigid control system is good and bad, it means there’s almost no chance of getting into trouble, but on the other hand there’s just no flexibility. If you want to do something simple, like change the channel order you can’t. We can just about live with that, and the fact that it has only one dish input and smart-card reader, but they’ve also left off some quite important convenience features, such as a VCR timer and parental lock. In the end we have to say it’s a bit too basic for our liking though doubtless some will find this minimalist approach appealing.

 

DATA BOX

PRICE - £230 (including 63cm dish)

FEATURES -satellite receiver/decoder, Astra 1D compatible, three SCART AV sockets, channel lock, 200 channel memory

PROS - good picture, simple to use, Astra 1D compatible

CONS - too basic for comfort

 

RATINGS

performance                  8                     

looks                            8

ease of use                   9

features             6

value                             8

overall rating                  30/50

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 1994 1908

 

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