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Okay, so digital is coming, but itís not going to happen overnight. While youíre waiting, how about a nice cheap analogue Astra system? Suit you sir...



Later this year you might be able to go out and buy a digital satellite receiver and new dish for something like £300 or £400, which may or may not pick up a dozen or so channels, if everything goes according to plan, maybe... 


Meanwhile thereís a whole bunch of satellites, that have been up and running for the past few years. Theyíre pumping out scores of analogue channels, of all shapes, sizes, flavours and complexions, and they will continue to do so, for the foreseeable future. You can watch them right now, on a system thatíll cost you less than a couple of good nights out on the town.


The point is, digital satellite television is going to take a while to happen. Initially there will be the same assortment of channels that you can see right now but unless youíve got, or are planning to buy a widescreen TV or digital surround decoder, theyíre not going to look or sound any different. Maybe the signal will stay a little clearer in bad weather, but for the first year or so itís going to be mostly more of the same, and thatís assuming the remaining technical and political problems are sorted out.


On the other hand Astra systems are getting cheaper and better specified all the time. There may not be many more new analogue channels in the pipeline -- Channel 5 has just started broadcasting Astra --  but thereís still thirty or so English language stations to trawl through, how many can you watch? But for how long? No-one can say for sure,  BSKYB have pledged to Ďdual-illuminateí their channels on analogue and digital satellites until well into the next decade. By that time the satellites will be nearing the end of their service life and youíll be past caring, as you stare into the digital multimedia wonderland that by then will have us and our bank accounts firmly in its grip.





Pace Prima & Grundig GSR1 Mk II, both £100, with BSKYB subscription


After a good deal of deliberation we couldnít choose between these two, so take your pick. Picture quality in both cases is comparable with receivers costing twice as much, they have a sufficient number of channels and adequate coverage for all existing broadcasts. However, what really separates them from the rest of the bargain basement crowd, is their sound systems, that benefits from Wegner Panda 1 noise reduction. Nevertheless, weíre still a bit wary about recommending these systems, which are tied into mandatory BSKYB subscription deals for the full movie package. Moreover, theyíre not really suitable for serious home cinema applications. It has nothing to do with AV performance, which on these two receivers is actually very good, but when it comes to connecting them up to the outside world, theyíre are found wanting, and theyíre not very flexible. Each has a single SCART AV socket. That could be a big limitation as it can make it very difficult to connect the receiver to the TV, and VCR, to make recordings from the satellite box with stereo sound. However, if that doesnít concern you, you were going to subscribe to the full movie package anyway, and you think it unlikely youíll want to upgrade your system in the near future, then both systems represent good value for money.  

Grundig Satellite Communications, telephone (01443) 220220

Pace Micro Technology, (01274) 532000



Pace MSS290, £230 HE41

The MSS290 is notable for being the first satellite receiver with a Ď3Dí spatial sound system, that can be heard through the stereo speakers on a NICAM TV. Adding a pair of active rear speakers enhances the effect still further. We have to say itís not as dramatic as proper four-channel surround-sound, but the effect can certainly help to liven up action movies and sci-fi flicks, with busy soundtacks. Itís a good compromise if you canít run to a full Pro Logic system. This is also one of the few receivers to have an audio equaliser -- Pace call it Ďsound shapeí -- and that, combined with Panda noise reduction makes it sound as good as it looks. It has a full set of SCART AV sockets so it will easily integrate with a home cinema system, and it is very easy to use, thanks to Paceís well thought out on-screen display system. Picture performance is up to their usual high standard, with lower than average noise levels, natural colours and a sensitive tuner, that copes well with weaker broadcasts and reductions in signal strength, brought about by poor weather or a carelessly installed dish.  

Pace Micro Technology, (01274) 532000




Grundig GRD300, £250

Grundig have built up a good reputation for making solid, reliable, middle of the road receivers. The GRD300 is their current top-ender, itís a smart looking design with a versatile 300-channel tuner and favourite station memory, plus one of the best front panel displays in the business. Thatís backed by a comprehensive menu-driven on-screen display system, with clear and easy to read channel idents. Thereís no shortage of convenience features either; it has an 8-event/30 day VCR timer, and a secure PIN-coded parental lock, that restricts access to nominated channels and the tuner set-up. It should defeat most kids. Early models were supplied with a small and rather unfriendly remote handset, we now understand this has been changed. The GRD300 is one of the few receivers in this sector of the market not to have Wegner Panda 1 noise reduction, but itís not a problem. Grundigís own system is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. On the back panel thereís three SCART AV sockets and stereo line audio outputs, making it suitable for home cinema applications. Tuner sensitivity is very good indeed, well worth considering if you live in a marginal signal area, or the size of your dish is restricted.       

Grundig Satellite Communications, telephone (01443) 220220



Nokia SAT 1800S, £300, HE41

Generally speaking analogue satellite receiver design hasnít changed a great deal in the past three or four years. Most new receivers have increased channel capacity, performance has improved slightly, and thereís been a few extra facilities, so the Nokia SAT 1800 made quite a splash when it first appeared in early 1996. It was the first satellite receiver to have a Video Plus+ timer, which solved at a stroke the problem of making time-shifted recordings of satellite channels. Once programmed with the Pluscode for the programme you wish to record, it uses a built-in multi-brand VCR remote controller to switch on a nearby video recorder, set it to the correct channel, and make the recording. When it has finished it switches it back off again. The actual receiver is a high performance design, with a substantial 500 channel tuner plus above average picture and sound quality and a simple to use control system; everything in fact you need for home cinema operation. The cosmetics are just starting to look a little dated but itís very well equipped, the price is fair and itís just the job if you make a lot of satellite recordings, and not about to buy a new VCR with a satellite control facility.

Nokia Consumer Electronics, telephone (01793) 644223



Pace MSS1008, £450, HE39

Almost every stereo satellite receiver built within the past five years can be used with a motorised dish and as an AV source component in a home cinema system, though itís a job some models do a lot better than others. However, the MSS1008 goes one stage further, it has a on-board dish positioner and is one of only two receivers to have a built-in Dolby Pro Logic surround sound decoder (the other one was made by Amstrad). It doesnít just work on the satellite channels either, once connected to a NICAM VCR by SCART cable it can extract surround sound information from pre-recorded tapes and terrestrial broadcasts. This is one of the most advanced analogue receivers on the market, it has a 500-channel tuner with categorised favourite channel memories, Wegner Panda 1 audio noise reduction, twin smart card slots, comprehensive picture and sound control. The tuner is exceptionally sensitive -- an important consideration for multi-satellite operation -- colours are sharp and well defined, and with a good signal, picture noise levels are very low. The DPL decoder works well, though the relatively low-power back channel output is better suited to modestly-sized rooms. Well worth considering if youíre pushed for space and fancy scanning the skies.

Pace Micro Technology, (01274) 532000





* Read the small print on the very cheap system deals, and be aware that youíll probably end up signing up for a years subscription to BSKYBís premium movie channel package


* For the best stereo sound short-list receivers that have Wegner Panda 1 noise reduction systems. Look for the Panda logo, and check the specs


* Aim for a receiver with at least 150 channels, itís unlikely youíll need them all right now for the Astra satellites, but you may want to upgrade to a motorised dish


* Unless youíve no interest whatsoever in home cinema or improving the sound of your system then avoid any receiver with just one SCART AV socket


* Features like on-screen displays with station idents are well worth having as they make channel surfing that much easier




” R. Maybury 1997, 2304


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