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Freesat - Escape Sky TV but use their satellite dish

Satellite is a great distribution medium. The transmitter is really tall, about 23000 miles high, so you don't have all the fun and games of things outside your house getting in the way most of the time. The aerial is massively directional and frequencies are really high, so your light switches, neighbour's moped etc doesn't get to interfere with the signal. You either can get satellite, or you can't, and the reason you can't is right in front of you, like having to knock down the block of flats across the street from you. Nothing more than a hundred yards away from you will stop you receiving satellite signals.

What's  not to like about satellite TV?

Sky minidsh. Not a pretty sight, eh?


A satellite dish is not a thing of beauty. Let's face it, they're hellaciously ugly. We've become more used to them now that people have been putting them up for 20 years or so. In the early days, the rival satellite firm were able to use more power and a smaller aerial, and made a particular point of not needing a huge ugly satellite dish. They were right - the dishes looked ugly compared ot the smaller BSB "squarials". Where BSB screwed up is not watching their backs while the Digger bought up programmes people actually wanted to watch, their desire being enough that they were prepared to screw three-foot lumps of aluminium to their houses. Okay, so BSB also screwed up by not checking if their smaller squarials worked.

No in-house distribution

One satellite LNB feeds one receiver. Now people tend to fit quad LNBs to a dish which can feed up to four receivers, but each receiver has to have a dedicated cable to the dish. Most folk don't need more than four receivers in an average house, but the wiring is still a right pain to accommodate. Bigger dwellings use special switches and a four-wire trunk distribution system, which is loads of cost, but that is the domain of professional installers, and geeks.

Historical Cost of the Digger's Dime eliminated by Freesat

Sky saw the issues on freeview and moved swiftly to stiff the alternatives when UK satellite TV went digital, seizing control of the digital satellite distribution platform (by paying for it) and locking broadcasters into their nasty proprietary NDS encryption system and subscription.  You want digital satellite TV, you had to pay the Sky toll to unscramble the signal, and since Sky owned/leased the means of transmission they got to say how much.

BBC breakout

The BBC was the first to break free and establish thier presence on Astra independently of Sky, and were followed by ITV, then Channel 4 and finally Channel 5, all of which are now available free to air, along with some of the related channels (FilmFour, More4 and E4), so now there is a real alternative to Freeview. You also get a couple of high-definition channels if you have a HD set-top box. 

What do you need to receive Freesat?

Ex Sky subscribers already have got everything they need, whip the Sky card out of your receiver and you're away. Sky signed up an awful lot of people over the years and not all of them stayed, but there are a lot of satellite dishes attached to British homes. You may have one of these old dishes, in which case it is worth trying a cheap satellite receiver on it. 

No dish? Use Sky to your advantage - see if you can blag some of the install costs from Sky

It's worth first checking what Sky are offering as new deals to sign up customers, as they often discount the install and digibox for new customers. The trick to this is to remember to cancel just before the trial period is up. You generally get to keep the satellite receiver too, it's a hard one ot beat. Of course, Sky hope you will like all the other channels and will continue to pay, so they are just reducing the cost of entry. They fully expect to get some refuseniks, there's nothing wrong in being one of them. 

You can do a DIY satellite install, but it is a pain

Rigging a dish can be a DIY job, though you need to check first that you can see the satellite. The dish needs to face about 28 degrees east of South (ie needs to go on a south-facing wall or be on a bracket at the southern corner on a E or W facing wall, if you are north-facing you are out of luck. There are enough dishes about, look for how neighbours have installed thers. If you have a garden but only a north-facing aspect, or you just don't want a dish spoiling your house, you can ground-mount the dish north of your house and receive the signal from over it, the satellite signal arrives at quite a steep angle to the horizontal. If the eaves of your house are 8m high you want to be about 10m away from the north-facing wall for this trick to have a good chance of working. Satellite signals don't really pass through anything solid, so there aren't any set-top aerials for the cowboy riggers thankfully. The problem with doign a DIY satellite install is that unlike analogue systems, you need to get the satellite dish pointed roughly right to get anything on the receiver at all, and there are many satellites close together in the geostationary orbit. Alignment is a matter of less than a couple of degrees horizontally and vertically, which is a lot more critical than a TV aerial. It all depends on how technically-minded you are. And you can end up spending a fair amount on alignment knick-knacks, which make like a lot easier in finding the satellites, but the costs need to be recovered over several installs. For the enterprising students, or renters looking to move a few times, it can make sense, as you will have to realign the dish each time you move. But if you're only planning to do one install, then there is an awful lot to be said for getting someone in for the install, even if it is a Sky teaser offer! 

 Satellite Receivers

A satellite dish needs to go into a suitable receiver. A used Sky digibox can be had on ebay, but now any DVB satellite receiver can be used because the signals are unencrypted, and these are available from Maplin and varieus electrical retailers. You can't use a Freeview receiver for satellite, the signal is totally different. Likewise, an integrated receiver with the TV has to be freesat-compatible, not freeview compatible, and if you want digital recording you need to use a freesat PVR (personal video recorder). So if your reason for using freesat is because you've had grief with Freeview you get to part with more cash and add some more boxes under your TV...

Selecting and siting your TV aerial

Why DTT is different from an analogue install


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  1. Source: CAI website, July 2005, typical range £80-£190
  2. Set-top aerials are not usually balanced, so you will pick up more interference on the cable than you would with one designed for the job. It'll still be a lot better that on top of your TV!
  3. Run, do not walk, from anybody trying to sell you a UHF TV aerial with a parabolic dish on it. To be effective the diameter of the dish needs to be at least one wavelength, which is 0.5m at 600Mhz for the middle of the UHF TV band. That is one BIG set-top aerial. Any dish at UHF TV frequencies is marketing frippery, not engineering.
  4. 60dBuV minimum, 80dBuV maximum into 75 ohms if you want to be pedantic.

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Text and photographs © RM 2005 unless otherwise credited