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GROUP TEST

 

MID-RANGE SATELLITE SYSTEMS

 

INTRO

If youíre in the market for a new satellite system check out these five mid-rangers which sell for between £150 to £240...

 

FERGUSON SRD 6 £200 (inc. 60cm dish)

Until fairly recently Ferguson sourced their satellite receivers from Pace, and very good they were too, but their latest model, the SRD 6 has been designed and built by their parent company Thomson. The stylists have been at work and theyíve tried hard to make it look different from the regiment of anonymous black boxes. Itís not displeasing, though the open smart-card slot is not a good idea, as anyone with kids will testify. Weíre not sure about the ergonomics of the strange-looking remote handset, at least itís not going to be picked up by mistake...

 

For the price itís reasonably well featured. The 199 channel memory has more than enough room to cope with Astra channels present and future. Channel allocation on our sample was somewhat eccentric with Astras 1A, 1B and 1C allocated channels 1 to 49. Astra radio occupies channels 51 to 94 and Astra 1D is programmed on channels 101 to 114. Thatís not normally a problem but on this receiver shifting channels around is a chore, it could definitely do with some kind of Ďswapí facility. Otherwise thereís little to complain about. It has an 8-event/1-year VCR timer, three SCART AV sockets, and line-audio outputs, so it can be easily hooked up to an AV system. The stereo sound channels have Wegner-Panda 1 noise reduction and thereís a PIN operated parental lock to restrict access to designated channels. Everything is controlled from a well thought-out, menu-driven on-screen display.

 

The receiver works well enough, though it favours a good strong signal, thereís not a lot of sensitivity in reserve. Colours are bright and well defined, but noise is evident in areas of high saturation. Sound performance is fine, it has a neutral sound with very little background hiss. The SRD6 is a bit of a mixed bag but on balance the good points outweight the bad ones and itís a welcome breath of fresh air to a market that at times seems to be obsessed with cloning and badge-engineering.

 

Value 90%

Ferguson telephone: 0181-344 4444

 

GOODMANS ST700 £150 (inc. 60cm dish)

This receiver is based on the Pace PRD700 and is sold exclusively through Comet stores.  Itís a fairly conventional design with the familiar Pace split-front layout. The right side has a set of three LED indicators whilst a flip-down panel on the left covers the single smart card slot and power/channel buttons. It has a frugal 99 channel memory, factory programmed for all Astra channels, including 1D. The supplied 60cm dish comes with with an enhanced (1D compatible) LNB though the receiver can be programmed to work with other types, including older FSS band, Telecom and DBS models. BSKYB and other English language stations have been grouped together on channels 1 to 17. The newcomers on 1D obviously came too late to be included and they are all consigned to channels 51 to 64.

 

All operations are controlled from a menu-driven on-screen display, this is reasonably easy to use, though it doesnít generate channel names, which is more than usually annoying as the receiver hasnít got a front-panel channel indicator either. On the plus side it does have pukka Wegner-Panda 1 noise reduction, three SCART connectors and stereo line audio output sockets. Other features worth a quick mention include a reasonably secure parental lock, 4-event/2-week VCR timer and user-programmable channel, tuner and audio parameters. The remote control handset is on the small side, and the buttons are all the same size but in general itís quite easy to use. The only operational quibble concerns the manual selection of two-digit channels , which involves pressing a third button,  otherwise it performs very well indeed. The picture looks clean with little noise, colours are sharp and the sparklie count is low even on weak signals or during adverse conditions. Stereo sound is average to good with acceptable levels of background hiss. A competent though quite basic design but very good value for money.

 

Value 95%

Goodmans telephone (01705) 673763

 

MITSUBISHI ST-PB10 £200 (inc. 60cm dish)

Mitsubishi are comparative newcomers to the satellite TV market and this is their first Astra system. Itís a fairly cautious toe in the water exercise and rather than design and build a receiver from scratch theyíve badge-engineered a Pace model, itís based on the the PRD-700, which also appears in this roundup as the Goodmans ST700. As a matter of interest Pace never actually marketed this model in the UK under their own name.  

 

The PB10, like its Goodmans cousin has a 99-channel tuner, ready to go with all of the Astra channels programmed in, including the new ones from Astra 1D. It has a Wegner-Panda 1 stereo sound system, on-screen display, three SCART sockets, single smart-card slot and 4-event/2-week timer. The parental lock is quite secure and requires a 4-digit pin code to restrict access to individual channels and the on-screen  menus. Channels 1 to 17 are set aside for English language channels, though itís a simple enough matter to swap the order around, or alter any of the other main tuning settings from the on-screen display.

 

There are a couple of notable differences between the Goodmans and Mitsubishi receivers; the first one is the fascia which has a much squarer appearance, and probably wonít date so quickly as the slanty panels on the ST700. The other difference concerns the price, the Mitsubishi PB10 is around £50 dearer than the Goodmans receiver. We double checked the specs to make sure we hadnít missed anything, and even opened them up, but no, theyíre peas from the same pod. Performance and control operations are identical, so bear, in mind previous comments about the lack of a channel display, and direct channel entry. If it comes to a toss-up between the two then the cheaper Goodmans system would be the one to go for.

 

Value 85%

Mitsubishi telephone (017072) 76100

 

NOKIA SAT800 Plus £230 (inc. 60cm dish)

When the SAT800 first appeared about six months ago it met with widespread criticism for being far too basic. Nokia clearly took many of the comments on board for the 800 Plus has re-emerged as a quite different animal. From the outside little seems to have changed. Itís still a very striking design, with the three control buttons and channel display contained within a curved, lip-shaped panel. The single card slot is cunningly concealed in the shut-line that divides the fascia; maybe itís not so cunning, the card can be easily removed, something to bear in mind if there are children about. Around the back thereís three SCART sockets and a pair of phonos for stereo line audio output.

 

The main criticism of the old SAT 800 concerned the lack of an on-screen display, Nokia have put that to rights with the 800 Plus. It has a simple to use menu-driven  OSD that is used to generate a channel name and number display and allows the user access to many of the receiverís higher tuning functions. It has also enabled Nokia to give the 800 Plus a clock and VCR timer, with a 4-event/4-week capacity, plus a proper parental lock, instead of the rudimentary channel lockout on its predecessor.

 

Some features havenít changed though. It has a useful 200-channel tuner memory, pre-tuned to all four Astra satellites, with the popular UK channels allocated the first 18 slots. Thereís also provision to allocate 18 favourite channels, these are factory assigned to UK and BSKYB programmes, but both this, and the main channel memory can be easily re-organised if required. Picture quality is unchanged, which is just as well as this is a good performer with a clear, sharp picture,  colour accuracy is good and the tuner copes well with reduced signal strength. The lack of Wegner-Panda 1 noise reduction is not a major issue, there is some background hiss but its not enough to be a problem. The 800 Plus is a major improvement but itís up against some tough competition both from similarly priced receivers, and increasingly form the budget sector as well.

 

Value 80%

Nokia telephone (01793) 644223

 

 

TECHNISAT VC-3004 £240 (inc. 60cm dish)

Technisat leave you in little doubt about the origins of the VC-3004, itís easy enough to work out what the Ďlisteí button on the handset does, but what about Ďzuruckí ? If your German isnít that hot then the English operating manual thoughtfully explains that it recalls the last menu item on the on-screen display. But can the instructions be relied on? Hopefully yes, but theyíre not very easy to follow and we found at least one discrepency, including a diagram depicting the layout of the front panel. The illustration at the front of the book shows the concealed channel change buttons in a completely different position. Theyíre behind a hinged flap, next to what looks like two card slots, though one of them is blanked off.  Build quality is generally very good, though if the on-off button is pressed hard it disappears inside the case, and may not come out again...

 

Itís moderately well specified with a monster 350-channel memory, pre-programmed with TV and radio stations from almost 20 satellites. Theyíve made intelligent use of the memory and the channel sequence changes according to the OSD language selection. The main Astra channels occupy the first 18 positions when English is chosen, the order can be changed, and channels deleted from the list to make sequential selection easier. Additional features include an 8-event/24-hour timer, a simple parental lock and a tone control with spatial sound option.

 

On-screen performance is good, colours are well defined with respectably low noise levels, sensitivity is reasonable. Sound performance is satisfactory too, though the noise reduction system isnít especially efficient, and thereís a marked increase in background noise when the spatial mode is selected.  Given the larger than usual channel memory and good tuning facilities this receiver might be worth considering for a multi-satellite systems, though it rates as only average for Astra reception.

 

Value 75%

Technisat telephone (01225) 444894

 

CONCLUSION

Picture quality                        Nokia 800 Plus

Sound quality              Ferguson SRD 6

Features and facilities            Technisat VC-3004

Ease of use                             Goodmans/Mitsubishi

Cuteness factor              Ferguson SRD 6

Overall value for money            Goodmans ST-700

 

 

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” R. Maybury 1995 0703

 

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