Copyright D.Sullivan 2001 Satellite for caravans
satellite TV at home or abroad
Don't let anyone tell you it's complicated or needs an expensive satellite finder. It isn't and it doesn't!

© Copyright David Sullivan, 2001 - 2006.
Except where specified, the text and images supplied here are the intellectual property of the author. The article may be printed out for your own personal use but may not be copied into other websites or distributed in any other form either whole or in part.
All trademarks acknowledged.

STOP PRESS!
To block spam, my internet service provider, NTL, uses an independent blacklist of companies known to carry it. Wanadoo is currently on that database and therefore if you use Wanadoo you might find your emails to me are rejected. If that happens, I suggest you contact them and increase pressure on them to resolve the problem.

NOTICE
If you are using Windows XP with Service Pack 2, it might generate a warning message about 'active content' when you visit this site. To get the full facilities of the site you will need to allow the Javascript code to run. You have my promise that it's not invasive and will not harm your computer in any way.
The other thing I need to make clear right at the outset is that this is an amateur website and I am not connected with the satellite industry in any way, either as a technician or as an equipment supplier. If you want a supplier, try my Links page or the adverts in satellite TV magazines.

Index to main page contents:
Section 1.
Section 2.
Section 3.
Section 4.
Section 5.
Section 6.
Section 7.
Introduction
What equipment do I need?
How to aim your dish.
I still haven't got a picture! Help!
Getting a signal in southern Europe.
Getting BBC/ITV in marginal areas.
Contact me.

Links to other pages: (all these links open in a new window)
Satellite viewing without a subscription (Freesat etc)
Recent updates to this website
(12 January 2006)
Questions and answers to many of your problems
Database of dish sizes for BBC/ITV reception around Europe
Where's the satellite? Compass bearings from various towns in the UK and Europe.
Links to other sites (Equipment suppliers and technical info.)
How to fit a cable connector or check for a faulty connection
Glossary of terms and help for non-technical people
How to use a signal meter correctly (what the suppliers don't tell you!)
French sites we are happy to recommend to others.
Useful information submitted by readers
How to tune in other ITV1 regions
What equipment will I need?
Who am I? This is me and the boss!
Email in your caravan using a mobile phone
And now this website on your mobile phone. Click here to find out how.
Letters to the editor!

1. Introduction
Some people use their caravan to get away from the television; others can't live without it. Love it or loathe it however, one fact remains - cross the English Channel and it's useless. No more Eastenders, no more Coronation Street, not even any news or weather reports. Even in the UK there are plenty of caravan sites in areas where it is difficult to get a decent signal through an aerial, so what can one do about it? Get satellite, that's what! You can get all 5 UK terrestrial channels (including your own local BBC and ITV1 variations) with a crystal-sharp picture and CD-quality sound. Unfortunately many people are put off because they think it will be too expensive or too difficult to set up. (No doubt there are also people who think a satellite dish is too naff to have on a caravan roof but I'll bet most of them have one of those flying saucer things on theirs!) [In any case, click here for a way of hiding your dish!]

This website sets out to dispel some of the mystique surrounding satellite broadcasting and will, I hope, show that it isn't difficult to make use of it on the move. (This main page is chiefly concerned with information immediately relevant to obtaining the necessary equipment and getting a signal. Other ancillary information can be found on other pages, linked from the boxes above.)

There is much confusion about the cost of satellite TV. A lot of people are discouraged because they think they'll be tied to a monthly subscription. Not so - there are many free channels for which no subscription is required, and which only need a dish and decoder to receive them. You simply have to buy the equipment, just as you had to buy a television and an aerial in the first place. Once you have the equipment there need be no further ongoing costs (unless you want the extra pay channels provided by BSkyB). In addition to various free commercial channels, you'll also get all of the BBC's and ITV's television channels including BBC3 and 4, and ITV2, 3 and 4, (and not forgetting CBeebies for the little ones!) which are included in your licence fee. You'll also get the BBC's national radio stations. And for an extra one-off £20 for a viewing card, you'll also get Channel 4 and Five.

Which just leaves the little matter of pointing the dish in the right direction. It isn't complicated but there is a trick to doing it. You will not get a picture by simply waving the dish around; the digibox has to decode the signal before a picture can appear for the first time and that can take a couple of minutes or more. So if you just swing the dish around, you'll have already moved it out of the signal again long before the picture has a chance to appear. Providing you know the technique however, it is fairly straightforward to tune in a digital system and once you've got the hang of it you would be very unlucky if it took longer than about 5 minutes. I've had people writing to say they got a signal within a few minutes, others took longer. For myself, it normally takes me only a minute or two these days. My own record is 10 seconds - pure fluke, I stuck the dish on its mast and obtained an immediate signal - just happened to point it in precisely the right direction first time!

This article is designed to get you set up in a simple and straightforward way. It only deals with the Sky/Astra 2 platform (which includes the 5 terrestrial channels) so anyone who wishes to tune into Astra 1 or other satellite systems will have to look elsewhere. In addition any expertise I have is restricted to Sky receivers so please don't ask me for help regarding non-Sky equipment, I won't be able to provide it. The only advice I can give in such situations is to use Google to find the manufacturer's website. Even foreign ones will generally have an English option, failing which you might be able to use Google's translation facility to get a rough guide to the meaning.

My credentials are simple - I am not, repeat not, an expert on satellite technology and everything contained in the article is based either on advice given to me by various people, including the retired Sky engineer I met on holiday and got me started, or on my own personal experience. Since February 2001 I have used this technique on countless occasions and in a variety of locations from Almeria in the south to Fort William in the north.

Finally in this introduction, this article isn't unduly concerned with the technical aspects of satellite transmission and I've tried to keep those as simple as possible (even when I know the technical aspects!). So please don't write to tell me that some of my technical descriptions are wrong - I already know and I did it to keep things simple, not to mislead!

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2. Equipment
So, what equipment do you need? Obviously you need a dish, and a method of fixing it rigidly so that it can't move once it's positioned. You also need a Sky digibox and perhaps a compass to find the approximate compass bearing. Oh, and a television would be good . . .

As far as acquiring the digibox is concerned, you have 2 choices. You can get a digibox free of charge if you sign up to a Sky contract and agree to connect the digibox to a phone line for 12 months, or you can buy one outright without having to be tied to any restriction (see here). With the free kit offer, you will also have to pay an installation charge that will vary depending on which Sky package you opt for. Under the free kit offer you will be free, once the initial 12 months are up, to unplug the set and take it away with you, though strictly speaking not the viewing card if you're travelling outside the UK - see the highlighted paragraph below. If you don't want to wait 12 months, you can buy the kit outright and you can then take it away with you immediately. Note that even if the equipment is subsidised, legally you own it from day 1; it's not like a credit agreement where the goods remain the property of the supplier until paid for, but you are nevertheless obliged to conform to the terms of the contract and keep the digibox connected to the phone line. This website is limited to discussing Sky receivers. However there are other types as well which will receive unscrambled channels such as the BBC, but please note that I won't be able to help you with any technical advice.
Which dish should I go for?

In the UK, more or less any dish will do, though it must be fitted with a universal LNB (buyers of secondhand European motorhomes with an installed dish beware, it might be analogue only!). For caravanning abroad, it will have to be a compromise between size/weight and what channels you want to watch. Throughout the Low Countries and most of France, a 44cm domestic minidish or equivalent will be sufficient. Further afield, a progressively larger dish will be needed if you want to watch the BBC and ITV, although even in southern Spain you'll get some channels with a small dish. (The reason for that discrepancy is explained towards the end of this section.) So it would seem that larger is better - unfortunately it isn't as simple as that! Small dishes are more tolerant of poor alignment and you'll normally get a signal a degree or so either side of spot-on. A larger dish has to be aimed more accurately and that, combined with its extra weight, will make it much more awkward to handle. The choice is yours but I would advise you to consider seriously whether a large dish is worth the hassle.

If all you want are the BBC and ITV channels plus a couple of dozen other free-to-air stations you don't have to subscribe to Sky at all. Unless you're happy to buy secondhand, your cheapest option is Sky's non-subscription scheme, Freesatfromsky. It involves a single payment of £150 for which you will receive a digibox, dish and viewing card, and full installation at home. Otherwise a digibox purchased privately will cost you up to £200 for the box, but much less if you shop around - look at my Links page or go to Kelkoo - plus the cost of the installation (you can of course save that cost by using this article and doing the job yourself!).

Obviously, whichever of the above options you choose, for caravan use you'll also have to budget for a separate dish and a suitable length of digital-quality cable. There are specialist dealers who can supply portable dishes - check the links elsewhere in this article. On the other hand domestic minidishes are much cheaper (and being the cheapskate I am, that's what I use!) - I've seen them priced as low as £20 in some mail order adverts. As your installer will often be an independent sub-contractor, not employed directly by BSkyB, there's nothing to stop you negotiating privately to buy a spare minidish and a length of cable from him.

(You'd be left with the problem of how to mount the dish. It is possible to buy tripods designed for the purpose but an installer could probably supply you with a patio stand which might do the job. Alternatively, if you're DIY-minded you could do as I did and rig up a mast on the caravan to which the dish can be clamped. A David Webster also wrote: "A rotary line from Argos priced at £10 makes a good tripod. Take all of the line off, drill a small hole through the plastic bit below the 'tripod' and continue through the metal pole, then secure with a self tapping screw. Tip upside down and you have a tripod....for travelling it folds easily, and you can cut the pole down to a convenient height to mount the dish.")

Note that Channel 4 and Five are encrypted and therefore although they're free to receive, you need a viewing card to unscramble them. This is known as free-to-view (FTV), as distinct from free-to-air (FTA) which is transmitted clear. There are 2 ways of obtaining the requisite card. You can take out a Sky subscription, or take up Sky's non-subscription offer as described above. As I said above, strictly speaking, due to programme copyright the viewing card should not be taken out of the UK, though thousands of people routinely do, and in any case the situation would be impossible to police ("Excuse me sir, are you carrying any alcohol, tobacco, Sky viewing cards?" - it doesn't work, does it?). But even if you do wish to stick rigidly to the terms and conditions, there are plenty of free channels to choose from including Sky News and Classic FM TV (and of course the BBC and ITV).
And just a word of reassurance about the legality of receiving satellite transmissions away from home. It is no different from watching terrestrial TV through an aerial. As long as you have a valid TV licence, and the equipment is not under any contractual obligation to keep it connected to a phone line, it may be used in a caravan away from home and any of the non-encrypted transmissions can be received quite legally anywhere within the footprint of the satellite signal (within western Europe anyway - some of the North African or Balkan states might be a bit dodgy!). You do not need Sky's permission to do it, nor do you need any special extra licence. Using a dish to receive them instead of an aerial doesn't make them in any way special.
Copyright David Sullivan 2001

English-language digital programmes are broadcast by the Astra 2 system which is located roughly SSE (at longitude 28.2º E above the equator), so the first thing is to find the approximate compass setting. Professional Sky installers use a satellite finder that specifically seeks out the Astra 2 signal. They are excellent pieces of equipment, but so they should be at over £200 each. The type of signal meter advertised in caravanning magazines on the other hand is a lot cheaper ... and nowhere near as good.

I used to view most such devices as a waste of money but to be fair I have to say that a number of people didn't agree. In any case, prices have recently dropped dramatically (as low as £10 in one case) so the economic argument has all but disappeared and there is little doubt that when used correctly a meter can help. Anyway see this separate page for arguments for and against. I don't wish to influence anybody one way or the other but if you do decide to buy one remember they vary widely in price and you need to make sure you don't get ripped off - I can see no reason for paying more than the £10 mentioned above but my only recommendation apart from that is to choose one with an audio function, I think you'll find it easier to use. A list of suppliers (including the one selling at £10) can be found on my Links page.

Despite the fact that signal meters have come down a lot in price, their instructions for use are still rooted firmly in the Dark Ages, with the result that I continue to receive emails along the lines of "My meter shows a very strong signal but there's nothing on the TV. What am I doing wrong?". I have therefore written this separate page that spells out precisely how to use the things. (Now if only the manufacturers would pay me for doing their job for them . . .)

As for dishes, you have a wide choice and it might not be necessary to purchase a large diameter dish - even in southern Europe a standard domestic minidish will enable you to watch some channels such as Sky News and listen to Radio 2 & 4. BBC TV, ITV, Channel 4 and Five will require a larger, more powerful dish in southern Europe and only you can decide whether it would be worth carrying! (See here for more information).

The Astra 2 system consists of 3 satellites close together in space so that your dish will 'see' all of them as if they were a single unit. All 3 transmit signals aimed at Europe but the coverage on the ground varies considerably. The 2 older satellites, 2A and 2B, can be thought of as flood lights, lighting up a huge area of Europe, whereas the newer Astra 2D is more like a spot light focused on the British Isles. For the sake of convenience the signals are referred to as the north beam, south beam and narrow beam (or more usually just the 2D beam).

All 3 beams cover the UK so all channels are viewable if you have the appropriate Sky contract. However, as you travel further away from the UK, some channels can only be obtained with a large dish. Of the terrestrial channels the first to be lost will be ITV1 and the BBC both of which transmit on Astra 2D, the narrow beam, and once you get down into Spain or Italy you'll also begin to lose Channel 4 and Five (on the north beam). Many of the Sky channels transmit on the south beam and therefore can be received in virtually all of Europe except for northern Scandinavia and parts of Greece.

Just for the sake of completeness (and to stop anyone from writing in to say I've missed it out!) there is also a 4th satellite used for some Sky channels. It's Eurobird 1, located at 28.5ºE. It's so close to the Astra 2 system that Sky dishes will pick it up OK. And that's all I propose to say about it!

The following diagrams show the footprints of the different beams. A standard Zone 1 oval minidish (the type you'll see on houses across England and Wales) will be OK in the inner pale blue area, whereas for the outer yellow band a 1.2 metre dish is recommended. However these Astra maps are somewhat pessimistic and although you'd be wise not to stretch them too far, you'll probably get away with a smaller dish than recommended - many people have written in to say they got BBC/ITV1 on the Côte d'Azur with a Zone 2 domestic minidish (the slightly larger oval dish used in Scotland). I've even had a report from someone who got ITV1 in Gibraltar with a 90cm dish whilst someone else got it in Faro, Portugal, with a 60cm dish but they're exceptional - don't rely on doing the same! This map, published by Martin Pickering of Satcure, is a useful alternative to the Astra map of the 2D footprint. It is based not on Astra's official projection of theoretical reception, but on practical experience on the ground.

There is a link in my Links page to the part of the Astra website that gives a full list in alphabetic order of which channels transmit on which beam - worth checking if you have certain favourite programmes you're expecting to watch while you're away. One point worth making is that not all channels on a given beam transmit at the same power. Some BBC channels and ITV1 regions are stronger than others for example. So in marginal areas you could find that some channels are easier to obtain than others on the same beam.

Copyright SES Astra Copyright SES Astra Copyright SES Astra
dish sizes
Images Copyright Société Européenne des Satellites.

All of the information in this section, together with extra information about what's available in the market place, is contained in this separate page.

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3. How to do the business.

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Well now you've made it this far I have to warn you that pointing the dish is not just a case of doing a Harry Potter, shouting ''Instantatum!' and hey presto, there's the picture - the first time you try it you might well end up cursing me! It took Mandy and me a while to get a signal the very first time we tried it, because of the need to experiment with the angle of elevation as well as the direction, but practice undoubtedly makes perfect - it usually takes us only a minute or two these days. I even set the dish up for night halts.

The elevation is the trickiest to get right but after you've done it once, the elevation won't change significantly as you move from one place to another and subsequent attempts will be much more straightforward. (My dish simply unclamps from the mast for travelling, without affecting the elevation setting, but if you have to fold yours down whilst on the move it might be possible to mark the elevation scale in some way first - I leave that to your own ingenuity!) The other bit of good news is that with small dishes at least, there is a little leeway in pointing the dish - you have to get it reasonably spot-on but a slight error doesn't matter too much. And finally, it's a definite boost to the old ego when it works and the dish locks on to a signal!

So, follow these steps to tune in the system. I make the assumption, incidentally, that your television is already tuned to the digibox output. If it isn't, refer to your instruction manual - there's only so much I'm prepared to do!

There's one other thing I should point out. This website is aimed primarily at caravanners and motorhomers. I am well aware that people use it as a guide to installing a dish at home as well, but it needs a word of warning. Working up a ladder is a hazardous business so unless you know exactly what you're doing, get a professional instead. Whatever his fee is, your life is worth more! OK, now to the business.

If you choose to use a separate signal meter, you should still use the following technique because it is the quickest way of ensuring that you've found the correct satellite system and that the dish alignment is fully accurate. Any references to the use of a meter in the rest of this section will be in bold italics and in a separate panel like this. I've also written a separate page on the topic - see here.

First, make sure there are no trees or other obstacles in the way of the dish and then connect the dish to the digibox, via a meter if required, and switch on the power. (Warning: The dish cable carries a small electric current, and a voltage of up to 18v, so never connect or disconnect it while the digibox is live; otherwise some of the electronic components could be damaged by arcing - always switch off at the wall socket first.) Don't worry if the remote control doesn't react immediately - after switching on the power the digibox can take several seconds before it will respond. On the remote control, press Services, then press 4, then 6. This will display a Signal Test screen. Ignore the Signal Strength and Signal Quality bars for now - they're not needed for this tuning process (except that if there's no bar at all, you've probably forgotten to connect the dish! - no fool would do that, you say? - I have, more than once!). Against Network ID and Transport Stream will be 0000 (zeros).Some digiboxes display an immediate Signal Quality reading, others don't. You should however have something in the Signal Strength bar.

Copyright BSkyB, photograph by D.Sullivan. Not to be used without permission.
Screen images copyright BSkyB

(Apart from the obvious one of not connecting the dish, a zero strength can also be caused by a faulty connector, and I've had any number of queries about that so if you get no reading on either the strength or quality bars and the dish is definitely connected to the digibox, see this separate page for how to correct it.)

If you're using an offset dish, set the dish so that the rim is roughly vertical. The exact angle will vary depending on where you are in Europe but vertical is a good starting point. (This is important - one of the most frequent mistakes made by newcomers to satellite dish aligning is to aim the dish too high. The signal has to strike the dish at an angle so that it is reflected downwards to the LNB.) Direct focus dishes such as a Multimo, on the other hand, do have to be aimed directly at the satellite and you should refer to the elevation scale marked on the dish. Place the television where it can be seen while manipulating the dish, (or if this isn't possible, get someone else to watch the TV while you do the business with the dish), then point the dish to the South using a compass or even the position of the sun and time of day if you prefer, and a bit at a time turn it eastwards until the zeros change to 0002 (Network ID) and 07d4 (Transport Stream). The change will be quite sudden so go carefully to avoid swinging the dish too far. The Lock Indicator will also change from 'Not locked' to 'OK'. The value of 07d4 is the correct one in the UK but you might encounter others, particularly if you're trying to get a signal in southern Europe (of which more later). However the Network ID must be 0002, otherwise you're pointing at the wrong satellite system (see later).

Copyright BSkyB, photograph by D.Sullivan. Not to be used without permission.

Some Panasonic digiboxes are prone to a fault whereby the Lock Indicator shows OK as soon as the box is connected to a dish even if the dish is pointing nowhere near the satellite. My own experience is that even if you get an OK all the time, the digibox will still look for the digital readouts and acquire a signal when it finds them. So just ignore the OK and concentrate on getting the 0002 and 07d4.

[The satellite is actually situated at 28.2ºE of S, but that figure refers to the value of Longitude at which the satellite system is parked over the equator so the actual compass bearing does depend on whereabouts you are at the time (for example, if you travel to Constanta on Romania's Black Sea coast, which just happens to be on Longitude 28ºE, your dish will need to point directly south.) The further west you travel, the more easterly the satellite system will appear to be, and at its most extreme around Lisbon it will be fully 50ºE of S. The LNB manufacturer SMW has downloadable software on its website, www.smw.se, that will allow you to enter your current latitude and longitude and obtain an accurate compass bearing for Astra 2. Alternatively, look at this page for settings for major towns and cities in various European countries.]

Some people prefer to start to the east and work southwards, on the basis that the Astra 2 system is the most easterly of all and therefore the first to be reached as you swing the dish round.

As soon as the Network ID and Transport Stream values change from zero a digital signal is being received. Clamp the dish, then press the Backup button on the remote control 3 times to return to the normal screen (on some digiboxes, pressing the Sky button once will also work, thus saving you 2 presses!). Finally sit back with a cool glass of beer and enjoy the unfailing gratitude of your family and the envy of the people in the next caravan.

If after aligning the dish, you get a signal but there is interference on sound or vision, it is almost certainly caused by the dish elevation or direction being slightly out of alignment. Move the dish very slightly and carefully up/down/left/right and watch the Signal Quality bar on the Signal Test screen for the greatest value. Anything over about 50% should give good reception and allow some leeway for signal degradation in bad weather.

If you want to use a signal meter, I suggest you swing the dish until you get the highest needle deflection or audible tone (though see the following note) then maintaining that horizontal angle, raise or lower the elevation of the dish to see if the meter will go higher still. At the highest signal level, watch the screen for the digital readout changing.

(Just remember one important thing however. You'll probably find that the signal strength fluctuates up and down as you swing the dish around. That's because the meter will pick up signals from more than 1 satellite system. Don't make the mistake of assuming the strongest signal is the right one because that might well be Astra 1! If the Network ID doesn't change to 0002, then you're not pointing at the right satellite system. Swing the dish further to the east to get to Astra 2.)

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4. It hasn't worked! What now?
OK I admit it, sometimes it isn't absolutely straightforward! There are one or two things that can go wrong. For example, it is possible to get a different set of values that will not produce a picture. Because there are several different satellite systems between south and south east, it is possible for the digibox to pick up a signal from one of them instead of Astra 2. However, your box isn't programmed to decode those signals and therefore no picture will appear. A common error is to assume that Astra 2 is actually at 28.2º E (equivalent to a compass bearing of 152º) from wherever you happen to be. In fact as explained above, it will generally be further to the east than that. In Britain for example, the compass bearing will be roughly 145º, fully 7 degrees further to the east than you would expect. If you swing the dish from the east and thus approach the satellite from the other direction, Astra 2 is the first system you will reach, thus reducing the possibility of catching another system by mistake. Remember to switch the power off to the digibox for 30 seconds first in order to reset the readings back to zero.

If the zeros remain unchanged, and assuming there is no obstacle in the way, there are a few possibilities. First, make sure you're not simply swinging the dish too quickly - if you do you could swing it right through the beam and out the other side before the digibox has a chance to react. Otherwise, the most likely is that the dish elevation is wrong. All dishes have an elevation scale marked on the mast clamp which is hinged vertically and secured by nuts. On a slightly diagonal line from North Wales through to about Hull, the elevation should be 22-23º. The further south and east you travel, the higher you will need to point the dish (the amount is slight - roughly a degree for every 100 miles, 25º in London, 35º in Barcelona for example). Alter the elevation slightly by loosening the nuts that secure the hinge and try again. (My dish is a spare domestic one with nuts that required a spanner to loosen them. I therefore replaced them with wing nuts from my local B&Q to make the job a bit easier.)

Copyright D.Sullivan. Not to be used without permission.

A correspondent, Paul Weeks, has had the idea of glueing a small spirit level on the LNB arm set to level once you've aligned your dish for the first time. He says it makes things really quick on subsequent occasions in the same area and gives a point to work from elsewhere.

[If you're using a domestic minidish, the scale marked on the dish can be very misleading. I've had reports from people who reckoned the scale was indicating an elevation of 15 to 20 degrees higher than the above diagram suggests. (Of course the manufacturers assume that such dishes will always be installed professionally, but that surely begs the question why bother putting a scale on them in the first place?) Anyway as a general guide, in northern England for most offset dishes the dish face should be roughly vertical. Remembering that the elevation rises by about a degree for every 100 miles you travel southwards, you should be able to estimate how much higher to tilt the dish - not much is the answer; even in southern England the dish face will be barely above vertical. It only really starts to point significantly upwards as you travel down through France.]

The other possibility, especially if this is your first attempt, is that the cable connections have been assembled wrongly. I have had any number of queries from people who found that to be the problem and everything was OK once they'd rewired the connectors. In 2 instances, without mentioning names, both units were manufactured by supposedly reputable companies, well known to any caravanner! You need to make sure that at each end of the cable, the copper-mylar foil and braided copper shield are properly folded back from the central core and that there is no possibility of them touching. (See this separate page for more information if required.)

There's no getting away from the fact that one's first attempt can be a slog, for the reason already mentioned about getting the dish elevation right. Theoretically, the technique is infallible - given patience and a clear line of sight to the satellite, you WILL get a signal. The problem is that, especially if you have a large dish, your accuracy in aiming it might have to be pretty high, and it could be all too easy to swing the dish right through the signal beam and out the other side without realising it. You simply have to be patient and move the dish very gradually, both horizontally and vertically. Whatever you do, don't just wave the dish around, even slowly. The trick is to be methodical - set the dish elevation roughly using the scale marked on the back of the dish, and then scan the sky slowly and in discrete steps across an arc from SE to SSE before altering the elevation slightly and scanning again. I usually swing my dish about 1 degree at a time and at roughly 1-second intervals. (However, some makes of digibox react faster than others, with Panasonic being the fastest. So if you have a different make, you might need to increase the pause between each movement of the dish.)

Note that once a signal has been detected the digibox will retain its settings, so if you've picked up a wrong signal or the dish is subsequently moved for any reason, causing a loss of picture, it will be necessary to unplug the power for about 30 seconds in order to reset the Network and Transport Stream values before attempting to align the dish again.

Improved reception, especially in marginal reception areas or in bad weather conditions, can also be obtained by skewing the LNB (the box at the end of the antenna arm). Loosen the locking screw if there is one and the LNB will then rotate within its housing. There is usually a scale marked under the housing. Turn the LNB one position either way while you watch the Signal Quality bar on the Signal Test screen. If the quality improves, continue rotating the LNB until the quality is at its highest.

Just to clear up a query raised by several readers, the elevation referred to in this section is that of the satellite above the horizon. Most dishes are of the offset focus type - i.e. the signal is reflected downwards to the antenna - and therefore the dish itself will appear to point some way below that angle. Indeed, as mentioned earlier, in the UK the dish face might well be almost vertical and in the far north of Scotland it could even appear to point down into the ground! angle of elevation

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5. Getting a signal in the southernmost parts of Europe.
The Astra 2 system transmits a north beam and a south beam, (and also, from the Astra 2D satellite, a spot beam that carries ITV and the BBC). When Sky digiboxes are first switched on, they're programmed to look for the north beam first and if they don't find it they'll just give up. The north beam is receivable throughout northern Europe and even as far south as northeast Spain and northern Italy, (see the satellite footprint maps at the end of Section 2). For other parts of Italy and the Iberian peninsular however, the north beam might be out of reach unless you have a very large dish and you will need to change the digibox's default transponder setting to one of the south beam frequencies in order for it to work. The process is straightforward and your viewing card will continue to work.

Incidentally, you know how they keep saying on TV, "Don't try this at home"? Well, this is a case in point. There's no point in practising the following routine before you actually leave for southern Europe because your digibox will simply ignore you. As long as it can receive the north beam, it will say "Up yours matey, I know best". So wait until you can no longer receive a conventional signal and then proceed as follows.

Using the remote control, press Services and then 4. Now in succession, press 01 (without pausing between the 0 and the 1) and then press Select. This is an undocumented sequence which gives access to the Installer Setup screen. Press 2 to get the Default Transponder screen. (Incidentally, don't be tempted to experiment with other features in the installer setup facility - you could seriously mess up the box which is why the routine is undocumented. Keep to the instructions!)

Copyright BSkyB, photograph by D.Sullivan. Not to be used without permission.

Now, using the keypad on the remote control, change the Frequency from 11.778 to 12.129 (ignore the decimal point, just key in the 5 digits), press the down arrow key 4 times to highlight Save New Settings and press Select. Press Backup 3 times to return to the main screen. Now go through the dish alignment process as described above. On the south beam, the Lock Indicator panel will continue to show 'Not locked' but this is normal and will not affect signal reception. You should still get the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG). If the digibox retunes itself back to 11.778 it means you are still within range of the north beam - no harm done except for a couple of minutes wasted effort! You might also find that the Transport Stream value is different from 07d4. The frequency 12.129 for example equates to Transponder 22 with a value of 07e6. As an alternative to 12.129 you can also try 12.207, 11.817, 12.051, or 11.739 in that order. There is also a further worrying development I have recently heard about. A correspondent wrote to say that even when you have a signal on the Signal Test screen, the digibox can still fail to recognise any channels. If that happens to you, try this work-around.

Go into Add Channel (Services, 4, 4) and enter the frequency details for Sky News (12207, V, 27.5, 2/3). Tab down to Find Channels and press Select. Assuming Sky News is given as one of the options, highlight it and press the Yellow button, followed by Select. Back out to the main screen, then go to Services, 6. Select Sky News.
Wait a few moments and the other south beam channels should then become available. If this still doesn't work, I'm afraid I'm stumped. However you might find other people on site who have worked out a way of getting a signal. If so, please email me with the details so that I can spread the word.

[On the extremities of the north beam footprint, you might suffer difficulties with the digibox. This is because the digibox will switch to the north beam default transponder if it can, but if the signal drifts in and out during a 24-hour cycle, you might find you have to keep changing the default transponder back to the south beam in order to get any reception at all.)

On the south beam, the BBC, ITV1, 2 and 3, Channel 4 and Five are not available (though S4C, the Welsh Channel 4, is), nor are some of Sky's premium channels such as Sky Movies. Nevertheless, there is still plenty of choice including Sky One, Sky News and Turner Classic Movies. The Sky Sports channels are also on the south beam (but not Sports Extra). You will also get BBC Radios 2 & 4. Channels are moved around from time to time so this information might not always be accurate, but the full definitive list can be found on this page of the Astra website.

Unfortunately for people travelling to the eastern Mediterranean (Greece for example), all the Astra 2 beams are marginal at best, at least with the size of dish that a caravanner could carry. With luck you might get a signal on either the north or the south beam, but be prepared for nothing at all. See www.astra2d.com for more details of signal reception around Europe.

Now that the UK terrestrial channels are difficult to receive in southern Europe you might wish to consider tuning instead into the Astra 1 system, which covers that area well. Paul Wharton wrote to say he'd managed to get excellent reception from Astra 1 with a small minidish and could get a number of English-language channels including Sky News and BBC World (both subscription-free). I've no personal experience of accessing Astra 1 but I suggest you try changing your default transponder to 11.597, V, 22.0, 5/6. Then bring the dish round to 19ºE and see what happens. You should get Network ID 0001 and Transport Stream 0421. If you get a signal, you'll then have to put Sky News and BBC World into Other Channels. The details are:

Sky News 11.597 V 22.0 5/6
BBC World 12.285 V 27.5 3/4

For information about any other channels go to http://www.ses-astra.com/consumerSite/siteSections/fnc/index.php

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6. Getting BBC/ITV in marginal areas.

As described elsewhere in this article, the BBC and ITV both transmit their satellite signals via the newer Astra 2D satellite. This has a much narrower beam than the 2A and 2B satellites and therefore the signal becomes rapidly weaker and more difficult to receive as you travel away from the British Isles. There are several things you can do to lessen that problem, though the likelihood is that at some stage you will travel too far for the signal to reach and you'll eventually lose the BBC and ITV channels. The single most important thing you can do is to use a bigger dish. See here for that information. However there is a limit to how large a dish you can use, because of (a) the impracticality of carrying it, and (b) the effect it will have on the remaining strong signals on the north and south beams in overloading the digibox.

Some digiboxes are better than others at dealing with wide disparities of signal strength, and even individual models vary from others by the same manufacturer; but that isn't something I can advise on, I'm not privy to the information.

You might also find that some regional variations of ITV1 and BBC1 are stronger than others. I've found for example that BBC1 NorthWest might begin to break up (and ITV1 Granada disappear altogether) but I can still get perfect reception on BBC1 London and ITV1 Tyne Tees. So experiment with the different regions - in most cases all you'll lose will be the local news.

The other thing you can do is to check that your existing equipment is performing to its maximum efficiency, and this means ensuring that your dish is accurately aligned and that the LNB is properly skewed. Checking the signal quality bar on the Signal Test screen won't do this adequately - it will only display the quality of the signal transmitted on the default transponder. To check the 2D signal, do the following:-

Go to the installer's menu by pressing Services, 4, 0, 1, Select, then choose 5 to select Manual Tuning. (Note that as described in the previous section, nothing will happen when you press 0. It's the combination of 0 and 1 that does the trick.) Now enter the frequency for say BBC2, which is 10.773, H, 22, 5/6, and select Find Channels. This should give you a screen similar to the normal Signal Test screen, but for the 2D beam. Now tweak the dish, paying particular attention to the LNB skew, to get the signal quality bar as high as it will go. This will maximise the dish alignment for the 2D beam.

Copyright BSkyB, photograph by D.Sullivan. Not to be used without permission.

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