All Over The Road
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Friday, November 07, 2008

Satellite TV without the bulk dish

Satellite Dishes installed on an apartment complexImage via Wikipedia

The Clymo Brief: Satellite minus the dish

I was recently cornered by my elderly neighbour as I put the bins out one evening.

“Here, you write about gadgets and stuff, don’t you?” he asked. “I’d like to pick your brains.”

It was a pretty simple request. He had been reading about how we’re set to become an all-digital TV nation in 2012 and was looking to upgrade and finally get telly via satellite.

But with a very limited budget he and his wife were concerned about signing up for a monthly subscription-based service like Sky. He wondered what I thought of Freesat, a joint venture between the BBC and ITV launched in May of this year. It can be had for a one-off payment and doesn’t involve any kind of contract or subscription – and so it really appealed to them.

High-def misconception
I hadn’t actually tried the service, but an interesting point came up during the conversation. The couple had recently bought an HD-Ready television so they were under the impression that they were watching everything in high definition.

Freesat, the subscription-free service from BBC and ITV (image © Freesat (UK) Ltd)
They were, in fact, watching episodes of Corrie and Emmerdale via a plain old analogue signal because they didn’t have an HD receiver, which is a necessary requirement for getting high-definition Freesat.

But, I explained over the top of the wheelie bins, there were plenty of options for sorting things out. An integrated digital television (IDTV) with a built-in Freesat HD receiver would be a good bet, but they’d only just recently bought their TV. So a set-top HD receiver would be the next best thing and for a bit extra they could even get a digital TV recorder too.

Flat antenna
I also suggested they might want to take a look at the SelfSat Flat Antenna. This is a neat variation on the satellite dish that allows you to pick up a satellite signal just like a normal one would. The big difference is that this device is much less obtrusive than many comparable models on the market, so it’s ideal if space is tight or you have regulations about what you can attach to your home.

A lot of flat owners, for example, have rules stipulating what they can put up on the exterior walls and it’s often a similar problem if you live in a listed building. SelfSat has a design that can be cleverly disguised to blend in with the background and can also be squeezed into much tighter spaces, so it might just offer the solution for that kind of issue.
Selfsat graphic (image © idoit)
I had been sent one only a day or two before, so our conversation created the perfect opportunity to put it to the test. They popped to the shops to buy an HD set-top box and I went round the next day.

Plumbing in the cables was the easy bit. Once it’s connected, though, you have to spend some time getting the SelfSat pointing the right way for maximum reception. This is aided by a compass (supplied) and brackets that have degree markings on them.

Costly option
This bit went surprisingly well, but the neighbour was less impressed when I told him the SelfSat costs £149 and that he couldn’t keep the unit I’d lent him as the PR lady had asked for it back again. Which meant he was still going to need a dish.

So although this was an experiment that was successful in as far as I could successfully roadtest the SelfSat, it was a disaster in terms of staying on speaking terms with the people down the road.

Nevertheless, the SelfSat did a pretty good job of picking up pictures, although you need to be sure that there’s a clear path between dish and satellite. It’s just a shame about the price as it makes an ideal mate for the Freesat service.
The SelfSat device (image © idoit)
Now that I’ve taken a look at it, this budget answer to multi-channel viewing seems like a really good idea.

Freesat currently offers over 130 channels and a growing number of them are now in high definition. It certainly seems a lot better than Freeview.

Freesat features
BBCi, for example, runs better on Freesat and the on-screen menu system it employs is much more user-friendly. And there are additional benefits. For starters, a Freesat-approved box has an Ethernet port.

This means that if you’ve got broadband you can hook up to that and gain better access to the growing number of interactive and on-demand services that are appearing.

Freesat also makes sense if, like in our neighbourhood, you’re not currently well catered for when it comes to a decent analogue signal strength. It effectively means that you can’t get Freeview at all.

Satellite TV in every room
Nailing up a dish like the SelfSat allows you to tap into satellite and the twin or quad LNB line also enables the use of multiple receivers from the single antenna. It means you can watch your favourite channels on more than one television.
The disguised SelfSat unit (image © idoit)
Oh, and you can customise it with stick-on transfers so that the antenna blends in with its surroundings. That’s a good idea if you’ve got a home with a standard red brick finish, but there are also football team logos on offer that, if you ask me, might end up doing the complete opposite. Still, there’s no accounting for taste.

So is the SelfSat a good idea or just an unnecessary variation on the more conventional satellite dish? Well, at £149 it’s not cheap and there are plenty of inexpensive alternatives available.

But having seen it work so nicely in tandem with Freesat I think there could be a market for this kind of device - although they’ll need to get that price down first. My neighbours think so too.
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AOR (All Over the Road) by dublinjames is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.