Sky Digibox History and Buyers Guide
Sky Digiboxes have been around for circa 10 years now and it seemed appropriate to review the various types and generations of these boxes from various manufacturers. As these boxes use common software as downloaded by Sky, the boxes will be considered from a performance and reliability criteria.
As a brief history, when Sky digital commenced broadcasting there were five prime digibox manufacturers, Pace, Amstrad, Grundig, Panasonic and Sony. As time has gone by this number has now been reduced to three, Pace, Amstrad and Thomson. Thomson took over from Grundig when they went bust, the first Thomson offering, the DS 4101, being based on a Grundig design. Panasonic and Sony sadly no longer manufacture Sky Digiboxes which is disappointing as, at the time, their receivers were considered to be the fastest and most sensitive of their breed particularly the Panasonic DSB 30 and the Sony VTX 760U.
As far as I am aware, the first generation of digiboxes consisted of the Amstrad DRX 100, Pace BSKYB 2200B, Grundig GDS 200 Series, Panasonic DSB20 and Sony VTX 750U. These were quickly followed by the release of the Amstrad DRX 200, Pace BKYB 2300 (for Comet), and 2400B. The second generation of digiboxes appears to have been the Amstrad DRX 300, Pace BSKYB 2500B/N series, Grundig GDS 300 series, Panasonic DSB30 and Sony VTX 760U.
The next generation of digiboxes saw the introduction of the Amstrad DRX 400, Pace BSKYB 2500S series, Grundig GDS2000/3000, Thomson DSI 4101 and Panasonic DSB 31/40; sadly Sony had discontinued manufacture at this point. The final generation of Digiboxes continued with the Amstrad DRX 550, Pace 2600CI / DS430N, Thomson DSI 4212 and Panasonic DSB 50, the last of the Panasonics.
Having attempted to place the various boxes in some sort of chronological order, I will now attempt to review their performance/reliability.
PACE DIGIBOXES: The first and second generation Pace boxes are now somewhat sluggish and can take a while to search and load the listings. The Pace 2500S series are nippy performers especially the S5, only being outperformed by the 2600CI and DS 430N, probably the best digiboxes I have worked with. The reliability issues with these boxes from the late 2200s to the last of the 2500S series is that of failure of the ZIF tuner. The LSI tuner decoder chip runs very hot and fails on a regular basis. I personally have not experienced any power supply issues with these boxes.
AMSTRAD DIGIBOXES: The Amstrad DRX 100 and 200 are also now somewhat sluggish and the DRX 100 is also prone to tuner failure, but for different reasons to the Pace. Finding replacements for these is somewhat more difficult as they are now obsolete but can occasionally be replaced on an exchange basis. Apparently 2 grades of tuner, standard sensitivity and high sensitivity may be fitted to the DRX 100; hence the sensitivity can be unpredictable as it will depend on which one has been fitted. As far as can be ascertained only Amstrad receivers can be used with the Cielpus PVR card but this depends on the EPG and hardware version. The performance of the later Amstrads has been somewhat unimpressive and lacklustre considering that they are supposedly faster and superior boxes.
PANASONIC DIGIBOXES: The Panasonic DSB 20, despite its age, is still an adequate performer although a bit bulky. The DSB 30 is still very fast as is the DSB31/40, and in my view, outperforms its later Amstrad successors. The DSB 30 also has a very sensitive tuner and is excellent for fringe reception. However the DSB 30 does have preponderance for video processor chip failure due to overheating meaning that the box gets stuck in Standby. This can be alleviated by fitting fans and heatsinks to the chip but this only postpones the inevitable. The DSB 50 was a disappointing performer and also comes in an all plastic case which can be easily damaged.
SONY DIGIBOXES: Both the VTX 750 and 760 U were excellent performers with the added advantage of having an SPDIF optical audio output. The 760U was particularly fast. Being form the Sony stable these were very reliable receivers, although a bit on the large side. Pity they are no longer made.
GRUNDIG/THOMSON DIGIBOXES: Finally we arrive at the bottom of the heap literally. In my opinion these are the worst boxes of the bunch. The GDS 200/300 are now incredibly slow and take minutes to search and load listings. They have a peculiar boot sequence, illuminating the front panel LED, then extinguishing it, then turning it back on. Sometimes the front panel LED does not come on for some 30 seconds after power on. When the listings have eventually loaded selecting interactive services such as Sky News can cause the box to search for listings or reboot. All the Grundigs and Thomsons that I have dealt with, which incorporate the Samsung designed power supply, at some time suffer to a greater or lesser degree from missing channels or No Satellite Signal being received due to the capacitors in the power supply failing. The case ware on the GDS 2000/3000 is very thin and flimsy and bends and dents with mere finger pressure!
There are also too many variants of the Grundig range some having S- video sockets and others not, all very confusing. The very early Grundigs are also aesthetically displeasing and made from very thick metal which makes them very heavy.
Based on my experiences I have constructed the following order of merit
1) Pace BSKYB 2600CI/DS430N
2) Panasonic DSB 30
3) Panasonic DSB 31/40
4) Sony VTX 760/750U
5) Pace BSKYB 2500S4/5
6) Amstrad DRX 550
7) Panasonic DSB 50
8) Amstrad DRX 400
9) Pace BSKYB 2500B/N
10) Panasonic DSB20
11) All other earlier Amstrads
12) All other earlier Paces
13) All Grundig/Thomson
Trevor Austin 15/08/07