What a non-Sky receiver can do


Within the limits of the possible, a cheapie FTA receiver will probably have a better 'tuner' than half the Digiboxes ever made. Sad, but true.
As I write this, neither receiver can pull in Zone Horror (it is blowing a gale outside!); when adding a certain channel just now my Digibox (Pace BSkyB-2500B) said the signal was 40% and the quality 30% (it works in 10% blocks). The Silvercrest SL65 says the signal is 67% and the quality is 68% (variable).
On one I can watch the weird Camille Jones music video "The Creeps", on the other it sounds much the same (!) but that's because the signal is flaking out...

So, already the first benefit of an FTA receiver over a number of Digiboxes is the part that tunes into the signal works better, harder, listens more. Whatever, you'll get a picture even when the Digibox is convinced the satellite no longer exists.

You cannot always rely upon this however. It appears as if the SL65 performs worse in marginal conditions (though the issues I raise in the receiver examination could perhaps be fixed in firmware). Namely, the receiver quickly flicks to a blank screen with a 'No signal!' message, and it is equally quick at recovering. This can mean the output on the television is like a slow strobing effect. Additionally it seems that the receiver may attempt to display received data, even if it is garbage. A marginal signal can, frequently, cause crap to be spewed all over the screen - while a Digibox with the same sort of signal may suffer minor picture corruption but it is more likely to glitch and freeze. I suspect the Digibox would prefer to entirely toss away bad data than try to do anything with it.

But coming back to the defence of the Silvercrest (and numerous FTA boxes), when the reception changes from marginal to just plain bad - the Digibox (Pace 2500B) gives up. The signal strength meter will just bounce between nothing and around 40% (if you watch the meter you'll see it is actually rather useless) and there will be no signal lock. At all. On anything. Not one single channel will be received.
Which is a lie. Hook up your FTA box and you'll find many channels have been lost, however those that remain may be quite watchable. ITV2 was the night I wrote this document, but I had to watch the film on the SL65 as the Digibox had thrown in the towel.

Disclaimer: My dish is mounted at ground level, looking through some willow trees, and it is blowing a gale outside and tipping it down. You don't want to know how wet I got taking the picture on the receiver examination page. Therefore while this may not represent a decent installation (hence most of you ought to get better), it is good for seeing what happens as a sort of worst-case-scenario.

Update: My dish is now mounted with a clear view of the sky, no more trees. I have slaved the Digibox off the SL65, and I tend to use the Digibox only for news on BBCi and ITV teletext; and the EPG. All of my viewing now takes place off the SL65 for the basic reason that even now the Digibox sometimes glitches for no purpose (signal strength about 60%, quality 90%). The SL65 does not do this...

Later update: My Digibox is frequently refusing to start up correctly (it sits with only the red LED on, no response to the remote except the 'remote' LED blinks) and it hardly ever manages to lock into a signal these days. Just as well that I have that SL65 then, isn't it?



With all this Eco-Carbon-Footprint-Excuse-To-Tax-Us-More crap going around right now, it might be good to know that many FTA receivers at not only smaller than a Digibox, they also run a lot cooler and more efficiently. The Silvercrest SL65 claims a 20W consumption (on the box), and it barely got warm after half a day of use. The Digibox, meanwhile, has an old processor fan on top of it (powered from a 9V mobile recharger) to ensure it doesn't run any risk of overheating.

The SL65 claims to draw 10 watts when in use (according to the user guide), and a puny 3 watts when in standby mode. To put this into comparison, you can actively use six such receivers for the same power consumption of an average 60W bulb (or leave twenty of them on standby...). It compares with roughly the same sort of consumption as an energy saving bulb.
This is fairly typical of the new generation of digital FTA receivers. Couple this with an efficient LCD television and you can smile knowing that your Carbon Footprint - bogus as it may be - is that much smaller.

The Digibox, on the other hand, takes an estimated 25W in use. I have not measured the consumption, so if anybody has figures - please let me know...
The problem is that the Digibox consumes pretty much the same amount of power when in Standby. Admittedly it is a very unfair comparison, as the Digibox is constantly keeping the EPG and channel list up to date; FTA receivers don't need to do this...
...however, as I write in Frobnicate issue 29, there is no actual need to be running 24/7 in order to maintain the EPG. The receiver could switch itself on for about a minute or two every fifteen minutes to do that; so now we're looking at 3-10 minutes of activity per hour instead of 60.


Extra channels / audio

Today I watched Ellie (who presents Newsround) asking questions. I guess this was some sort of interactive quiz for CBBC eXtra? I could not access the interactive, but I could access the stream directly. The stream which, I might point out, appears 'blank' on a Digibox.
Ellie asking questions.
Ellie asking questions.

The BBCi streams may be found at 11427 H 27500 2/3. If you manually add these stream channels to a Digibox, you'll only see a blank screen. On an FTA receiver you will be able to view the content. This may be interactive stuff - ice skating, live gigs, snooker, etc. Chances are, however, you'll see a swish number and hear a disembodied voice saying things like "three audio one" over and over.

There's more, a strange Dutch thing which appeared to be a live feed of an empty auditorium. We watched a woman watching the production, whatever it was...

What on earth..?
What on earth..?

Here is the tuning information, but note that this channel only lasted for a day:
Weird Dutch thing tuning.
Weird Dutch thing tuning.

Important! The symbol rate is 4505 - don't bother trying to receive this weirdness with a Digibox, it won't work.

Eventually the woman spoke to us. Sort of. Like this was some sort of closed-circuit rehearsal accidently broadcast across Europe. The picture looks as if it is anamorphic. Try squishing it to 16:9 proportions in your photo editor, see if she looks less lanky.

The Dutch woman talking to, well, whoever...
The Dutch woman talking to, well, whoever...

If anybody Dutch knows what this was all about, please let me know!

There are a number of transponders (12593 V, 12611 V, 12620 V, 12677 V, 12686 V, 12695 V, 12703 V, 12712 V, and 12721 V) appear to be set aside for feeds. The symbol rate is very unlikely to be 22000/27500 so don't waste your time if you only have a Digibox...
These frequencies come from the Lyngsat database - though it is worth pointing out that the feed details shown above don't match the Lyngsat list in frequency or symbol rate - so it is possible that the feeds are flexible and are switched in as required; and the frequencies and symbol rates can be adjusted...

My recommendation - if you are interested in tracking down feeds - is to add the listed frequencies as additional transponders with the given signal rate (usu. 6111), and periodically check to see if the signal meter blips at all. If it does and the symbol rate is something other than 6111, then delete that transponder and run a scan. Your receiver should detect the signal and automatically create the tranponder with the correct settings.

You'll find the Lyngemark list for Astra 2/Eurobird at http://www.lyngsat.com/28east.html. Step back to the index and you'll be able to access tuning details of every channel known on every satellite (by location, by satellite, or by category) - never be lost for where to find a channel. Instead you might be lost trying to find the channel in all the detail! ☺


Here is one that was slightly easier to figure out. On the afternoon of 8th March 2008, a company called "Raiffeissen" broadcast a sort of a televised seminar in German. I don't know if it was live or prerecorded. Tuning info in the picture on the right, and not the low symbol rate so this is another "don't bother trying with a Digibox"...

Raiffeissen picture 1 Raiffeissen picture 2

There were lots of 'slides', information screens, the boring sort of powerpoint-like stuff that turns up in seminars; and the one which seemed to include a gift-wrapped goat (!) didn't provide any clues as to what was going on. Eventually they then went to a number of people who I presume were endorsing the products, and the action-shots made it quite obvious. It's a Swiss company that makes or is somehow involved in skiing/snowboarding equipment and competitions.

Raiffeissen picture 3 Raiffeissen picture 4

Let's not forget the loyal fans (who are probably freezing their butts off), and the obviously-staged "promo photo".

Raiffeissen picture 5 Raiffeissen picture 6


You can also pull in broadcasting that is also viewable on the Digibox... if you know where to look.

Here's a BT advert, which does not appear to be broadcasting at this time:

BT Tower.
BT Tower.

You know those "Be The Best - Join The Army" (and get shot in Iraq) adverts? You can pick up the mosaic used for the four possible feeds:

Army interactive content.
Army interactive content.

You can also choose alternative audio for channels that support it. I bet you didn't know that Euronews broadcasts in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Russian? You can, sometimes, convince your Digibox to select an alternative language, however using an FTA receiver you can easily change language:

Euronews audio selection.
Euronews audio selection.

I also stumbled across a looped football thing, but the bitrate was tragically low - you can see from the astonishingly poor video quality:

Horribly low bitrate football.
Horribly low bitrate football.


Another, perhaps slightly more innovative, use for the interactive streams can be found here!


Next: A wander around the SilverCrest SL65 FTA receiver...


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Copyright © 2008 Richard Murray