A bit on the side

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Satellite TV, even with one dish, does not have to be confined to Sky or Freesat. With a relatively inexpensive set-up, a wide range of other programmes can be received.

Alternatives

The two main types of alternative viewing are foreign language broadcasts and ‘adult’ programming. Anyone learning a new language finds a ‘native’ channel very useful, especially when subtitles are available, while ex-patriots and international visitors enjoy TV programmes from home. In my neck of the words there are many English-language schools for young Europeans, some of whose hosts lay on the necessary equipment. Within a few orbital degrees (see later) of the 28.2°E position of the Sky/Astra satellite are several which offer channels from a wide variety of European countries.

All British television programming is vetted by regulator Ofcom, whose censorship regime is felt by some to be very constrictive. As a result there is interest in satellite transmissions from European broadcasters with less inhibition, most of which are to be found on Hot Bird 13°E, easily received in the UK via a 70cm dish sporting a standard universal LNB. The supply and fitting-up of equipment for foreign TV reception can be a useful additional earner for independent retailers who offer a dish installation service.

Practicalities

Imagine someone looking head-on at their reflection in a mirror while you stand to one side. You’ll see not their reflection but an image of some other part of the room. That’s how an offset LNB mount works, and with a conventional (not Sky) dish a maximum offset viewing angle, either way, of about 9° is possible. This embraces a useful range of satellites from Eutelsat W4/W7 to the east of the Sky/Freesat bird, to Astra 1 westwards, carrying between them hundreds of European TV and radio channels. For Hot Bird a specially-designed dish – e.g. the Bisat from Videosat – is needed for simultaneous use with the Sky/Freesat service, and in all cases specially designed brackets, easily available, are required to ensure that both LNBs are firmly held in their correct positions.

Due to its small size and the non-availability of suitable brackets, the Sky mini-dish is not suited to this application, but most other types of 60cm (south of UK) and 80cm (north) dishes are fine for dual satellite use, and need not be pricey. Likewise, the LNBs required are inexpensive standard types with as many outputs as required by the user. The offset LNB suffers a loss of gain compared with the prime-focused one, but all the satellite signals of interest are powerful ones.

Receivers

Sky boxes are not amenable to reception of signals from most foreign satellites. Many foreign domestic channels are broadcast free-to-air, and thus a digital FTA receiver will be compatible with them and can be left permanently hooked to the offset LNB’s feed. Adult channels are encrypted and subscription based, so for these a decoder (either built into the receiver or as an optional extra) is required. It’s called a CAM, Conditional Access Module, for which a slot is provided on the box; there are various CA systems of which Irdeto, Seca Mediaguard and Viaccess are the most common. The subscription is based on a viewing card, purchased from the broadcaster – but available via many satellite hardware distributors – which slots into the receiver or the CAM.

Typical costs are £60–£80 for receivers, £150–£300 for specialist viewing cards and £30–£130 for adult cards with six or twelve months currency. Some of these cards are sold bundled with matching CAMs or receivers. All this hardware, from the dish downwards, is available from specialist trade suppliers at, for instance, www.creativesatellite.co.uk and www.satellitesuperstore.com. For satellite and channel listings go to www.flysat.com or www.lyngsat.com.

These figures are necessarily approximate, depending on many factors. However the main one in this equation, of course, is the value put by the enterprising independent dealer on the human side of the operation: the planning, specifying and particularly the skilled installation of the necessary equipment, bringing it all together and making it operational. The punter cannot get a premium Italian sports subscription channel, a Polish regional broadcast or Hustler HD from an £80 Sky installation.

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