Digital Satellite - What do YOU need?

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It is a common misconception that Sky IS digital satellite.  Sky is certainly a D-Sat provider, but not the only one.  There are several ways to get digital (or even analogue!) satellite and this guide hopes to explain how.

Getting the right box

The right box (or reciever) for you depends on what you want and your level of skill/experience.  Some good examples are as follows:

  • Technomate - good, relliable and relatively cheap.  Easy to use.
  • Kaon - good reputation, well regarded.
  • Sky Digiboxes - good for Sky Digital reception but not much else.
  • Sky + boxes - same as above but with PVR (hard disk recording) capabilities.
  • Pace - again, good reputation, generally sturdy.  Pace also produce boxes for Sky, generally regarded as some of the best sky boxes.
  • Dreambox - deffinately NOT for beginners!  Good equipment for the REAL enthusiast!
If you're buying a second box for Sky or Freesat from Sky, you'll probably want a Sky Digibox for the job, however if you're looking to recieve foreign broadcasts a Sky box will be awkward to use and you'll tire of it very quickly.
Some recievers are "patched," this means that certain broadcasts can be unlocked at no cost.  Whilst legally questionable, these are commonly available on ebay.  Note - NO UK broadcasts can be cracked in this way, the encryption system used by Sky (NDS Videoguard) hasn't been and can't be compromised.

Cards and CAMs (Conditional Access Modules)

There are various encryption methods used across a multitude of satellite broadcasters, including:

  • Videoguard
  • Nagravision
  • Betacrypt
  • Viaccess
That is only a short list of some of the more common cyphers.  Which CAM you'll need depends on the format used by your chosen broadcaster, unfortunately there is no Videoguard CAM (despite the Television Without Frontiers act passed by EU parliament).  In addition to single format CAMs, there are also multiple format CAMs such as the Dragon CAM and others.  The way cards/CAMs work is that you slot a CAM into a CI (Common Interface) slot on the reciever and slot a card into the CAM, the CAM translates the data on the card into a language the reciever understands.  Some recievers have integrated support for cards (eg, Sky Digiboxes that hae integrated Videoguard support.  Dreamboxes have programmable card slots).
To recieve a broadcaster's encrypted content (channels), you will also need the relevant card, available either with a year's subs from a dealer or a monthly subscription from the broadcaster.  On Sky, there are 3 FTV (free to view) channels - Channel 4, five and Sky Three.  For these channels you will need a "Yellow House" card - a blue card with "sky" in the corner and a yellow outline of a house these cards are available from Sky for £20 or from ebay/a dealer.  If you buy the card from ebay it will need to be activated, to do this just leave it in a Sky Digibox plugged in and connected to the dish (pointing at 28.2 degrees east) and wait for up to 24 hours for it to reactivate.

The Dish

The dish is the aerial of the system, it will recieve signals from the satellite(s) of your choice.  In this section, I will ONLY focus on fixed dishes as opposed to the motorised variety.  Basically, what you'll need is:

  • A dish of the correct size for you chosen sattelite(s)
  • A bracket/mount
  • A universal LNB
  • A run of shielded co-ax cable
  • A few 'F' connectors
The size of your dish will depend upon what you want to recieve and where you are.  If you want Sky and you're in England, you'll need a minidish, if you want Astra 1 in most of England, you'll need a 60 cm dish or if you want Eutelsat's Hotbird, you'll need an 80 cm dish (for relliable reception).

Thanks for taking the time to read this guide, I hope you find it useful.  Remember to do your research when you come to installing your equipment or employ a reputable installer.  Most importantly - have fun scanning the skies!
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