The Satellite Saga: Phase 1

I’m off to England to reside for the minimum amount of time to allow us to give notice to marry. Apparently the registry office resides in the dark ages, and being a citizen of the United Kingdom isn’t quite enough to get married there. I’ve just finished a set of nights, and another project.

The Satellite Saga

Imagine for a moment. You’re working nights. Exhausted. Drained physically. Emotionally. Intellectually. Would you relax? Get to bed early? Take a bath? Replace the LNB on your satellite and run new cabling to supply two rooms with satellite TV? I know which I would rather do.

satellite sky dish freesat install

The Sky dish, pre-upgrade. Don’t let the sky fool you…it was freezing

It was time for a change. After a tumultuous broadband changeover from TalkTalk to Sky and back again (that was a Tolkien book, right?) we ended up with a residual Sky TV subscription with a Sky Q box. It was entertaining at first, but given how little we watch TV, it was hardly worth our while keeping it. Sky doesn’t take prisoners when it comes to non-compliance. With no subscription they cripple the box, leaving minimal freeview channels and taking away most of the capabilities. So it was time for the box to go. They don’t care about the satellite. Satellites are cheap. Sky Q boxes are not.

We were left with a Sky satellite and LNB (the doo-hickey that does the actual work). I’ll admit to some technological ignorance at this point. I had little idea how satellite worked as I had never dealt with it before. There was something scary about coaxial cables and F-connectors. They were things that should be left to trained installers. We didn’t have satellite when I was growing up. Instead we suffered through life with a loft aerial. One person stuck upstairs in the roof space adjusting the direction of the antenna, with the other shouting “No! Yes! Keep it there!” while desperately searching for RTE 2. That was what I was used to, and though I had looked at satellite TV occasionally throughout the years, it was before Freesat was properly developed. Now there are loads of free to view channels available from the same satellite as Sky, offering a way of getting great picture and more choice.

quad lnb sky freesat installation

Fitting the new quad LNB

I hadn’t thought about Freesat properly until dad was discontinued the Sky subscription. There was now a satellite dish without a purpose, and we were back to awful reception with an indoor Freeview antenna. Don’t get me wrong, if your terrestrial antenna is configured correctly, you can get great quality HD broadcasts, but ours wasn’t. I started looking into what we needed to make the jump to Freesat.

First off, could we use the same satellite dish? Yes, with a caveat. Sky Q, being the latest and greatest thing around uses a different type of LNB – a wideband, dual type which is helpfully incompatible with other equipment. If it was an older satellite installation there wouldn’t have been a problem. The first hurdle to overcome was replacing the LNB with an older quad LNB. At this point I started to become more interested in the technology.

Quad LNB satellite cables

Hooking up the new cables to the LNB

As I mentioned earlier, the LNB is the component of the dish which deals with the satellite signal. It stands for low-noise block downconverter, and amplifies the microwave signal from the satellite, then supplies it to the receiver attached to the TV via coaxial cable. It was already starting to make more sense. Satellite was actually very simple. Put up a dish with an LNB, then connect it to a receiver via copper cable and voilà. And the LNB design is essentially tool-less – snap off the old one, snap on the new.

Of course it needs to be pointed in the right direction. Conveniently ours was already setup by Sky engineers, so I skipped that step. Did I need to move it for Freesat? No, helpfully. Sky and Freesat signals share the Astra 28.2 E satellite, so it was ready to go. If you wanted to do it yourself, you can get hold of a satellite finder which helps you locate the dish for optimal signal, or just approximate it with the help of satellite finding website. You plug in your address and the intended satellite location, and the website gives you a line/landmark to point it at, and the required elevation. There’s some trial and error in the process, but it wouldn’t be too onerous.

astra satellite sky

The ASTRA satellite system – we’re using 28.2 East

Two cables were already installed for the Sky box, as it was a dual tuner and required two signals, so all I needed was a new receiver. The best models are made by Humax, and range from £90 to £170, but if you’re cheap and don’t care about a perfect interface, or are only using the TV occasionally, you have plenty of options.

Off to Amazon…the Satellite Jungle

Amazon has become my first port of call for almost all online shopping. When you’re buying unconventional items or Chinese manufactured electronics (Apple not included) having a bunch of reviews to tell you yay or nay is very helpful, and reduces the chances of getting a lemon. So with Amazon my search began. The first thing that struck me was the size of the boxes. The Sky Q box isn’t huge, but isn’t exactly petite. Some of the boxes for sale on Amazon were the size of Raspberry Pi’s. Just big enough to fit a coaxial input, HDMI connector and power input. Most also included USB connections, and with the help of a USB drive, you can pause and record TV. Given the average price of these devices was around £30 to £40, I was impressed.

I settled on the Edision Proton, a satellite receiver afflicted by the all-too-familiar problems of Chinese products listed online: verbal diarrhoea. Instead of the title “Edision Proton HD Satellite Receiver” which sounds pretty cool, they instead opted for “Free TV (Lite v2) Full HD Free To Air Satellite Receiver, PVR Via USB,Video/Music Player Via USB, Receive UK Freesat Stations ,Free To Air Box,12 Volt“. Most sensible people run away when they see this. Yes, products should have descriptions, but they don’t have to be contained within the title.

free satellite receiver

The Edision Proton satellite receiver

Nevertheless I was giving it a chance. This was going to be a trial model for phase 2 of the project and the ultimate goal of fitting out the B&B rooms of Lismaine Cottage with satellite and removing the head-melting amplified antennas. My initial plan was to buy a basic receiver and test it for the rooms, and ultimately get hold of a Humax box for the living room.

My experience with the Edision Proton has been better than initially expected. The user interface is a bit primitive, and it lacks a 7 day electronic programme guide, providing only now and next options, but the picture quality is great, and setup was effortless. I plugged it in and it instantly acquired a channel list and was ready to go. The USB recording and timeshifting functions are basic but work reasonably well. This isn’t a “record five programmes and watch a sixth” kind of deal, but who needs that these days anyway. We consume most of our content from on demand services. This is planned for occasional use, not to replace our multimedia setup.

The box worked. My replacement LNB worked. Onwards to phase two.

Satellite receiver

Phase 2…like all great things starts with a break

 

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