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Q. Iím interested in getting a satellite system, mainly for watching sports and movies, what sort do I need, and how much will I have to spend?


A. Pretty well all of the channels you would be interested in are available from the Astra satellites. Thereís four of them at the moment, broadcasting around 64 TV channels. Theyíre all in the same orbital position, so you can pick them up with a single fixed dish. If you live in the South it needs to be a 60cm type, if you live North of Birmingham, say, you will probably need a larger 80cm dish. When you come to buy your system make sure itís compatible with all of the Astra satellites, the most recent one -- Astra 1D -- operates on a different frequency band to the other three. Most of the channels youíll be watching are encrypted, or scrambled, using a system called Videocrypt. Almost all receivers nowadays have the necessary decoder built-in. Virtually all channels now have stereo soundtracks, to get the best sound the receiver needs to have a stereo sound system.


As far as prices are concerned, they start at just under £100 for the system -- thatís the dish and receiver -- but the really cheap deals usually have hidden costs, which may include paying for the system to be installed by a contractor chosen by the retailer, and signing up to a yearís subscription with BSkyB.  If you want a little more flexibility then expect to pay at least £150 for the dish and receiver, installation can cost as little as £35 depending on the amount of work involved, and basic subscription packages start from just under £10 a month.



Q. How does the subscription system work?


A. Although most channels are encrypted a few are still free to view. However, if you want to watch any of the BSkyB channels, (with the exception of Sky News), youíre going to have to pay for the privilege. Once youíve signed up, BSkyB will send you a viewing card, though some dealers can issue you with one, when you buy your system. The card contains a microcomputer which is used to unscramble the signal; how many channels you can watch will depend on which subscription package youíve chosen. Once youíve got a card you can increase the number of channels you receive simply by phoning the subscriber centre, they send signals, over the satellite link, to upgrade the card, this normally only takes a few minutes.



Q. Thereís a cable system in my area, is this any better or cheaper than satellite?


A. Because cable involves a fixed-link between you and the cable company theyíre able to offer a number of additional services, including cable telephone in some areas, and things like interactive TV, teleshopping and home banking, plus a whole lot more in the future. Some cable systems offer a wider range of channels, including local stations that are unavailable on satellite. Generally speaking, though, satellite is cheaper to run, and ironically the quality -- particularly sound -- may be a lot better than that available from some cable systems. In some parts of the country, particularly rural areas, itís the only option if you want multi-channel TV.



Q. Iíve heard that digital TV is coming, should I wait to buy a satellite system?


A. Thereís little doubt that TV will be going digital in a big way, and trial satellite broadcasts are already underway, but it will take between five and ten years before the technology is established, during which time existing services will continue, possibly well into the next century. If you want a satellite TV system buy one, theyíre unlikely to get much cheaper. Provided you take anything you hear about Ďfuture-proofí technology with a bucket-full of salt you wonít be too disappointed.



Q. What is multi-satellite TV all about, and do I need it?


A. At the moment broadcasts from around thirty TV satellites are receivable from the UK. If you could see them they would be strung out in a long arc or Ďbeltí in the Southern sky, stretching from the eastern horizon to the west. The Astra satellites are located at 19 degrees east of due south;  either side of them are other European satellites, broadcasting several dozen TV channels that may be of interest to you, especially if you speak another language. You can pick up channels from Japan, the middle East, the Indian sub-continent and Eastern Europe. They carry a wide variety of programming, including news, movie, general entertainment, and dare we say, even pornography.


There are three ways to receive these channels. The first involves physically moving the dish, using a motorised positioner, that tracks along the belt. This will give you the greatest coverage, providing the dish has a clear, unobstructed view of the sky. Motorised systems start at around £500. If youíre only interested in specific channels from one other satellite simply install a second dish. The third alternative is to retain your existing dish, and fit it with a bracket that holds additional LNBs. Theyíre slightly offset from the centre of the dish, so that they pick up signals from satellites either side of Astra. You can also get a widget that moves the LNB across the face of the dish. This kind of set-up will add between £100 to £200 to the cost of a basic Astra system. In both cases coverage is limited to just a few extra satellites, but they tend to be the most interesting ones. Ideally you should also have a receiver that is programmed to receive these broadcasts (many are nowadays) and preferably a larger dish as some of these satellites transmit at lower power levels.


Whether or not these channels are worth watching is another matter. Take a look at the listings in one of the specialist satellite magazines to see whatís on offer, and bear in mind that some of them are scrambled so it may be very difficult to obtain the necessary decoder and viewing cards outside the country of their origin.



Q. How can I hear the stereo sound from satellite TV channels if Iíve only got a mono TV?


A. All stereo satellite receivers have stereo line-outputs, that you can connect to the auxiliary input on your hi-fi system.  Place the speakers a foot or two either side of the TV screen.



Q. Can I record satellite TV programmes, and is it possible to tape one channel whilst watching another, like terrestrial TV?


A. Yes and no. You can record satellite broadcasts by connecting your receiver to the VCR using the multi-pin SCART connectors on the back of both boxes, suitable leads are available from video dealers for around £5.00. If you want to make a time-shifted recording just set your VCR in the usual way, you will also need to set the timer on your satellite tuner as well, if it has one. Some older models do not, in which case youíll have to leave it switched on and tuned to the appropriate channel. Some VCRs now have built-in satellite receiver controllers, that can do all that for you, and a few even have Video Plus+ programming facilities.


As far as watching one satellite channel whilst recording another is concerned, it canít be done as thereís only one STV tuner in the system, though one model (Amstrad SRX-360) has twin tuners. You can of course record a STV channel and watch a terrestrial broadcast at the same time, or vice-versa.



Q. Is it possible to get surround-sound from satellite TV channels?


A. Yes, Dolby Surround signals contained in movie soundtracks are transmitted with the normal stereo sound, but you will need to have a decoder somewhere in the system, either in the satellite receiver itself, within your hi-fi system or built into the TV. Incidentally, quite a few satellite channels now transmit teletext information, which you can see on your TV, assuming it has a decoder.



Q. Will movies be transmitted in widescreen, is it worth buying a new TV?


A.  No, not yet. This is one of the many promised benefits of digital TV, but there are still a lot of technical and political arguments to be resolved; in any case equipment is not widely available and it will be a while before UK broadcasters begin regular transmissions.



Q. Whatís the minimum specification for a decent home cinema receiver?


A.  Obviously it needs to have stereo sound though virtually all receivers have it these days. Satellite broadcasts can get quite hissy so noise reduction is essential, the best system is Wegner-Panda 1 NR, look for the little Panda logo on the front panel. Interconnections can get complicated, so make sure any receiver you buy has at least three SCART sockets on the back panel, plus stereo audio line output. Thereís growing interest in multi-satellite operation, so itís useful to have two dish inputs. An increasing number of channels are being scrambled, mostly using the Videocrypt system, and some broadcasters issue their own viewing cards, so itís a good idea to get a receiver with two smart-card slots, to save you having to keep swapping them over.





Goodmans ST700                         £150 (currently on special offer at £100)

Cambridge ARD-200                    £150 (now discontinued, look for discounts)



Grundig GRD-150                                £200

Nokia Sat-1700 Mk II                 £300



Amstrad SRD-2000                               £380 (built-in Dolby Pro-Logic decoder)

Pace MSS-1000                            £400 (built-in Dolby Pro-Logic decoder)



Echostar LT-8700                            £1500

Manhattan 9900                            £900



” R. Maybury 1995  3006











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