In a departure from the norm I am going to write today about something not necessarily computer related. Given the “current economic climate” (please remember to adopt serious tone) I would like to tell you how to save a few quid on your monthly TV bill in Ireland with the minimum outlay.
Until the Saorview trial started in October last the only way to receive the Irish channels i.e. RTE1, 2, TV3, TG4 and 3e without a monthly subscription was using a good ole fashioned UHF aerial and analog signal. The quality of this both for picture and sound leaves a lot to be desired. Digital reception is much better, Saorview was officially launched 26/05/11, it is the Irish equivalent of Freeview, and similarly allows digital reception of TV through an aerial. Most people in Ireland are also used to receiving the “British” channels e.g. BBC1, ITV, Channel 4, etc, etc. The best way to receive those without subscription is via a Freesat (or equivalent) box linked up to your old Sky dish, if you have one, or a new dish which comes as part of the kit.
Saorview can be received through a standard wide-band UHF aerial, there will be an accompanying satellite service for people who are unable to receive the terrestrial signal but it hasn’t even launched in trial form yet and will require the purchase of more equipment in the form of a special satellite dish and receiver. The reason for this is that RTE et al can’t afford to purchase enough rights to broadcast across Europe as the BBC can, using the same Astra satellite Sky does. Therefore they have to use a satellite which has a small enough foot print to cover Ireland and only Ireland, hence the need for the equipment. Saorview will not be available through Sky.
You can either spend a little or a lot of money on this. My goal was to get any HD channels available and have PVR functionality into the bargain, whilst spending as little as possible. So I will tell you what I plumped for. For the Saorview I purchased a Fortek kit from tvtrade.ie for €121 including VAT and delivery, which included the aerial and mounting (as I didn’t already have one). On the Freesat front I went for the ROSS kit from B&Q at €70, not a true Freesat receiver, in that it won’t automatically pick up channel frequency changes. Both boxes are HD capable and both have PVR functionality if you plug external USB storage in.
Official Saorview compatible boxes can be found at http://www.saorview.ie/products-retailers/saorview-approved-product-listings/
Before I go any further I ought to point out that I could have kept the Sky HD box I had. There were a number or problems with this that I could see.
- Without a subscription the PVR functionality hitherto referred to as Sky Plus will not work.
- Without the card in any channels you’ve added manually i.e. channels that aren’t available on Sky’s Irish EPG aren’t available either.
- Sky do offer a “FreeSAT” card (for €27) but whether it has the same channels available as true “FreeSAT” remains to be seen and I didn’t want to wait several weeks to find out.
Rather than trying to get around a crippled box I thought it would be better to start again with another box which lets me use everything available on it without a bloody subscription (I spent €200 on that Sky HD box a couple of years ago, the box is mine but I can’t do what I want with it, bloody Sky). Anyway having received the Saorview kit in the post here is what happened.
The packaging didn’t inspire confidence as the box looked a little on the worn side and the aerial was sticking out over one side, however once opened it was clear everything was packed well enough, the only blot being that a couple of the aerial elements were slightly bent, which may have happened as a result of the packaging method or come from the factory like that.
Another blot on the copy book was the lack of instructions for the kit. I’m sure a simple piece of paper with the URL of the kit instructions would’ve been good enough, it may not be immediately obvious to someone else that you need to get the instructions off the web.
The next problem was actually getting the aerial up. No mean feat as I do not own a large set of ladders. I decided to remove the open able part of one of the dormer windows, climb out and scale the roof tiles to get up there. Do not try this unless you are a certifiable nutter. Before this I stripped the RG6 cable and inserted it into the aerial as per the web instructions and with Adjustable spanner, snips, cable ties and clamp carried the aerial and 20 m RG6 cable up to the chimney stack to start work. Although I didn’t have an aerial prior to this I did already have a pole attached to the chimney from a previous Chorus install (which was complete pants incidentally, the engineer said it was the “head” end, MMDS isn’t worth the money) , so once up there I used the adjustable to undo the butterfly nuts on the Chorus aerial, which were suprisingly tight, and removed it throwing it down the roof to land unceremoniously on the lawn. At which point I also realised I hadn’t got the faintest idea how to attach the aerial to the pole with the supplied clamp, promptly diced with death descended the matterhorn (roof) again to scour the tvtrade website for clues. Of course sticking the clamp on turned out to be ludicrously easy, perhaps it was the mild vertigo whilst roof bound clouding my otherwise razor sharp and rapier like intelligence :) anyway I digress. Ascended the Matterhorn (roof) again this time to successfully mount the aerial and carefully unwind and lower the RG6 cable into position ready for insertion through hole in wall, carefully positioning myself directly under the pole to line the aerial up with the local Saorview antenna (about 3 miles away on the hill). Once down the most nerve racking and dangerous part of the project was over.
I used previous fixings to secure the RG6 (thank you Chorus you were useful for something) and set about getting the cable end indoors. Unfortunately neither of the existing holes were big enough to accept the existing feed and the RG6 so I sacrificed one of the feeds, pulled it out, and carefully got the RG6 through by bending the end slightly as it was getting stuck. I then stripped this end of the RG6 and installed the UHF connector as per the website instructions and temporarily installed the box and cable on the floor for testing. When the box was started for the first time it asked for a country and then automatically scanned for channels. I am amazed to report that it worked straight away with the box reporting signal quality of 85%. It has to be the first time I have done something like that and it worked straight away. I am still in mild shock.
Anyway the menus and EPG on the Saorview box are somewhat basic but functional. The only other things I had to do were switch off the subtitles which ship switched on for some reason and turn the sound output up. Saorview up!
Onto the ROSS Freesat box. At the point I became so frustrated with the Sky HD box I realised I would have to buy an alternative, it was a bit late in the day, 7pm to be precise, and my partner had to get to and from Fat Fighters, leaving me half an hour to get down to B&Q in Waterford and purchase it before it closed. Using the toll bridge I arrived 5 minutes before closing and searched feverishly for said box eventually finding it near the tills. Anyway I got this box home and setup fairly quickly. Again the box worked straight away however the channels were a little out of date, so I spent half an hour today scanning them and arranging them all to my liking read: removing the crap. Again picture quality very good, menus a little nicer than the Fortek but not great. If I’d wanted something flash and nice I would’ve spent a lot more wonga.
What can I say Sky have been sent packing, no longer will they take €29 per calendar month from my coffers, I will have recouped my investment in 7 months time and then I will be ahead. It’s early days but if I find anything wrong with the setup I will add it here, my man’s intuition is telling me it will be ok though. Famous last words.
Roughly 1 week of service in and no problems to report. I even managed to rip SATC2 to external storage (for my better half you understand!) and play it using the Fortek’s media player which is surprisingly good producing fine quality (unlike SATC2).
Advantages of Saorview + Freesat.
- No monthly subscription
- Possibly slightly better picture quality (although that may be car wash syndrome)
- Unencumbered boxes i.e. the boxes are mine and I can do with them as I will.
- External storage allows easy change of faulty hard disk or USB key.
Disadvantages of Saorview + Freesat.
- €200 initial outlay (more if you have to purchase external storage).
- Cannot record one Freesat channel while viewing another (unless you purchase another box and connect the spare feed I mentioned earlier to it, or get a box with twin receivers).
- Menus on boxes aren’t great and the EPG’s aren’t either (ROSS box only does now and next, Fortek box although has 7 day EPG annoyingly forces you to change channel to view another channel’s EPG).
- Is a pain to switch from HDMI port to HDMI port on the TV to switch between the Irish and English channels (but then I found viewing a lot of the british channels via “Other Channels” on the Sky box equally painful)