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So you want to watch UK television but you live outside the UK?

With just a little effort you can easily bypass the rather silly anti-European attitude that Sky, the BBC, C4 and other EC broadcasting cartel members suffer from and you'll soon be enjoying the delights (if that's the word <grin>) of UK TV on the continent.

If after reading this little guide you still don't have the slightest idea what it all means then you can post a message in alt.satellite.tv.europe where you should find some more help. You can post there too if you found this guide informative, incorrect, incomplete or just plain inane. I shall appreciate it either way and it will help me when I revise this page. If you find the whole subject of satellite absolutely fascinating and you want to learn a lot more about it then you will find plenty of web sites that deal with the topic. I can recommend the Satcure site for starters. See below for links.

There is a lot to read on this page so, to save time and money, you can go off line to read it or save it on your hard drive.

LATEST NEWS

FTV cards are no longer being issued and the BBC channels no longer require a card or Sky digibox to be viewed. See below. Currently ITV, C5 and C5 still require a card.

Sky are in the process of reissuing all viewing cards. This should be completed by mid-2003. Be aware that if you have a used digibox that was sold to you with a used card for the FTV channels then this card will not be automatically replaced and may soon stop working. For this reason you should never pay extra for any digibox that comes with an existing card.

When your replacement card is received just remove the old card and insert the replacement one. The replacement card will activate itself without any phone call being necessary.

Contents:


Your foreign TV equipment.

All satellite receivers are equipped with scart sockets these days. Your foreign TV probably has them as well unless it came out of the Ark. Use just these special sockets and cables to interconnect your satellite receiver, TV and VCR and it will all work just fine as long as your TV and VCR can handle the PAL standard. Only old French equipment is unlikely to handle this. If you're an expatriate Brit (or an ex-patriot as they are sometimes amusingly miss-spelt) then you can also use your old UK TV and VCR though you probably won't be able to receive local TV with them (you may consider this to be an advantage).

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Analogue or Digital?

Sky Digital is fairly new (launched October 1, 1998) but take-up has been so good that Sky have stopped the analogue service already.

Sky digital and Sky analogue are broadcast from two different satellites and each requires a totally different type of receiver. Dishes are compatible with both systems but older LNBs (pre-1997) may not be suitable for digital.

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What can I receive?

You will need to check out whether you will be able to receive the programs that you wish from where you live with the dish size that you have. You will find the all the Astra 2 beams (and those of other satellites) on the Lyngsat site. It is important to check that you can receive all the beams you need at your location, especially for digital (some Spanish, Greek and Italian residents may have problems with some channels in this respect though the signal is generally strong enough throughout central and northern Europe). The new Astra 2D satellite has a tighter footprint that is significantly weaker outside of the UK, Benelux and France and this may prevent some people from receiving channels that use this satellite, like ITV and the BBC who have recently moved to this satellite. Read about specific 2D issues on http://www.astra2d.cjb.net/.

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Digital.

Purchase.

Only "Sky" digiboxes can receive encrypted Sky Digital transmissions, which currently include the digital services from ITV, C4 and C5. No other type of digibox will do so nor is there any at the moment any type of decoder module that can be fitted to other digital receivers to enable this. Although it is technically simple it is strongly resisted by Sky for commercial reasons. The BBC does also transmit on the Sky Digital platform but since July 10 2003 their services are FreeToAir, which means that any digital satellite receiver can receive them.

Sky Digiboxes are currently manufactured by Pace, Amstrad, Panasonic and Thomson. Sony and Grundig also used to make Sky digiboxes. There may be other manufacturers in the future. Currently all Sky Digiboxes are built to similar specifications and offer the same features though this may change in the future. Minor exceptions include the optical audio output on Sonys and the S-Video (S-VHS) output on some Grundig models. The only major difference that is evident between brands is the speed of the on-screen graphics display. For this Panasonic is the unquestioned leader. Residents of very far-flung areas of Europe (like southern Portugal and Spain and in Scandinavia) may also do better with a Panasonic model 30, Sony model 750 and Grundig model 310/2 than with the other brands as the tuners on these are a more sensitive model.

After-sales service policy varies greatly from brand to brand and Pace, Panasonic and Grundig seem to offer the cheapest replacement service for faulty boxes. Amstrad apparently offer no service of their own though Satcure and others can fix the most common Amstrad model 100 tuner fault for around 50.

I suppose that you can only choose the brand that you like the look of and have the most faith in.

Your UK based friend will need to buy a Sky Digibox and get a card. Sky despatch the cards separately by post once you have sent them a subscription form. You can get a subscription form sent to a UK address by calling 08702 404040 from within the UK. Subscription prices vary currently from 12 a month for a very minimal set of channels through 16 for a wide choice of general channels to 37 for all films and sport. Check out Sky's website for details. The other big advantage of Sky Digital is that it carries BBC1, BBC2, ITV, C4 and C5. There is no requirement to subscribe to Sky to buy a digibox or to receive the BBC though at the time of writing there is no way for new viewers to receive ITV, C4 and C5 without a subscription, even though these channels are free.

The subsidies.

UK purchasers of a Sky Digital receiver can benefit from a one time only subsidy that reduces the cost of a new box to nearly nothing.

One of the conditions of the subsidy is that you keep the box connected to a UK phone line for a year. If you're intending to use the box abroad then you won't be able to fulfil this condition so you will have to pay the full price. Full-price boxes are sold for between 200 and 300.

Don't be tempted to cheat by using a subsidised box abroad as Sky will check the phone line and if yours isn't connected then you may be switched off pending a wrist smacking and repayment of the subsidies. Those who are keen to save the most money and are in no hurry to use their box outside the UK will take the full subsidy and installation and keep the digibox installed in the UK for the minimum 12-month period. After this time it can be permanently disconnected from the phone and, of course, removed to anywhere you wish. This is the best deal you will find.

You do not need to take out a Sky subscription at the time of buying the digibox if you don't want to (see BBC channels below).

A special small (35cm) dish and LNB may be included in the full price of the digibox and Sky consider this to be adequate in many parts of the UK. You should think about using a larger (up to 1.2m or more, depending on your location) dish to ensure good reception in poor weather.

Installation of unsubsidised boxes by a registered dealer is now no longer obligatory and you should have no trouble finding new digiboxes for sale at specialised satellite shops and by mail order. In theory chain stores like Dixons and even Sky themselves will sell a full priced box over the counter without installation. You may have trouble trying to actually do it through them though.

Remember that dealers aren't supposed to sell receivers for use outside the UK though they are usually helpful.

Another option is to buy a used digibox. Prices are obviously variable but this market is very lively with boxes changing hands for anything from 20 to 200. Places to look are Loot, online auction sites and local car boot sales etc. See below for links. Don't pay extra for a viewing card as these are not transferable and if a new one is issued you will not automatically get a replacement. Beware of online fraudsters.

The subsidies/contracts are not transferable so any second-hand box can be used without the phone connection. Sky/BIB however will not know that a subsidised box has been sold if it is still within the first year and so they may switch it off pending investigation though there have been no reports of this actually happening. Be sure to get a full receipt for any used box purchased and preferably try to get a copy of the original proof of purchase as stolen boxes are traceable in theory.

Sky will definitely issue cards for second-hand and/or full price boxes though the telephone staff (and their billing software) aren't at all accustomed to it. Persevere and ye shall succeed. (Be warned, it may take you months to get a contract out of them though usually there is no delay.) There are no extra charges or requirements other than the regular monthly payment and the 12 month minimum subscription period.

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Digital.

Installation.

Aligning the dish onto Astra 2 at 28 East will be more difficult than aligning a regular analogue receiver and dish as the digibox has some fairly powerful error correction circuitry which may make you think you have a good signal when in fact you haven't. You should use an alignment meter for this job, which is anyway probably best left to someone who knows exactly what he's doing.

Once the digibox is set up you should be able to see Sky News (ignore the "please insert your card" message and just tap in 501, or use the TV Guide button) and some other channels like QVC without inserting the card. You should also be able to see the BBC channels on 101, 102, 115, 116 and 508.With the card in (assuming that your box/card is already authorised) then you should be able to see all the channels that you are paying for. If the card is not yet authorised then you will be able to see channel 998 if the card is valid and this is a good test.

If your card hasn't been previously authorised then you need to follow this procedure:

Line up the dish and ensure that signal quality is as high as possible. Signal strength is less important. Pay special attention to the LNB skew. Check the quality from the services menu: push "services - 4 -6". You should be getting at least 50% gray in the second bar. Once a good signal is being received do a software reload by unplugging the box from the mains and then plugging it back in whilst holding in the "back up" button on the fascia for about 15 seconds until a message about reloading software appears on the TV screen and all the lights on the front of the digibox go on (very pretty). You will not see the message unless you are using a scart connection. Then release the button. Wait until this procedure is finished (about 10 minutes) at which time the box will reset itself and then restart the box by pushing the blue Sky button on the remote.

Put the box on Sky News (501) and leave the thing alone. Get your UK contact to ring Sky on 08702 404040 and ask for the card to be switched on. You will need to give your name, UK address, your subscriber number and the box serial and version numbers and the card number. These last can be found in the digibox services menu: push "services - 4 - 5".

Over the next few hours you can try tapping in "106" from time to time. Do not attempt to change channels using the channel up/down function. Do nothing else at all to the box. Once the card is activated the box will switch to Sky One when you tap in "106". Until then it will just say "channel unavailable".

The signal is usually sent quite quickly and most channels will decode within a few minutes though this can stretch to hours or days on occasions.

If your box and card are unused for some time (several weeks) you may find that your card has "forgotten" its authorisation when you switch it back on. Don't worry. Leave the box on Sky News for a few hours and the card should wake up all on its own.

Is it all working?

Well done, you've finished!

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BBC channels.

There is one other option available to you. The BBC now broadcast without encryption and so their channels can be received using any DVB compliant digital satellite receiver. See your local dealer for recommendations and dish sizes. ITV,  and C5 used to be receivable with a Sky Digibox and a free "FTV" card as issued for several years by the BBC. At the time of writing these FTV cards are no longer being issued and if you don't already have one then you will need to subscribe to Sky in order to watch these channels. If you have a Sky Digital viewing card with a blue cloud/sky design and the words "Sky Digital" on the front then this will probably serve to decode the FTV channels for some time. If you have a viewing card with a very dark blue front and a yellow "house" design then this will probably decode the FTV channels for several years. It is quite likely that some replacement scheme for  FTV cards will be introduced in the future. Or maybe the remaining FTV channels will also go FTA.

The BBC TVservice is intended for use by those in the UK who have already paid their UK TV licence fee. If you don't have a UK TV licence yourself you should get your friend to buy another one in your name. It's only about 2 a week and I expect that you'll consider it a good deal compared to whatever foreign trash you're receiving in Europe in return for the licence fee that you're paying there.

Buying a UK TV license will help the BBC to carry on producing the programmes that you obviously think are worth viewing as you're going to all this trouble to do so. So buy one - it's only fair.

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Radio and other channels.


All national UK radio channels are all available FTA on Sky Digital. Commercial national radio services are also available FTA, except for TalkSport, which is available on subscription to SkyDigital. Other radio services are also available - for a complete list of all channels see the Sky Digital FAQ.

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Contents

What's the Sky Digital phone connection for?

When you buy a Sky digibox you have the option of accepting a subsidy. Why?

Sky offer some 'interactive' services such as home banking and shopping. In order for this to work at all your digibox must be connected to a telephone to allow you to 'interact' with the service that you are interested in. To be sure of having a reasonable number of potential users of this service Sky decided to subsidise the purchase cost of the digibox as long as you agree to the digibox being connected to your phone for 12 months.

To help you stick to your part of the bargain Sky require that your digibox be fitted by a specially authorised installer. This install costs from 1 to 120 depending on who does it and on which subscription package you take. After installation Sky will periodically get your digibox to dial out to a number that is currently free to check that the box is still connected to the phone. In addition the digital contract states that if your digibox is connected to the phone then Sky may use it to transmit "information" back to them. This information is to do with Pay Per View (PPV) programming and possibly other things.

The important thing to remember is that the phone connection is entirely optional as long as you don't take the box subsidy. If you take the subsidy the connection is obligatory for one year. All of the current Sky TV service (PPV, Movie Channels, Box Office etc.) is available to those who don't wish to have the phone connection to the digibox. Everyone can receive all channels and all programmes without a phone connection by using a regular telephone to order these PPV programmes in the usual way. If you do not wish to order extra PPV programmes then you do not need to have a telephone at all to receive the Sky service.

The interactive services also work without the phone connection to a certain extent. None of the shopping features are useable without it though.

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What's the penalty if I get caught?

You should be aware that for having dared to do the above both you and your UK friend may get a visit during the night from members of the Sky management team equipped with baseball bats.
In fact this won't happen though some people seem to think that it ought to. Why, I don't know as viewing Sky TV in Europe with a fully paid up subscription is hurting no one, least of all Sky.

The legal situation appears to be this:

There are no restrictions at all on the export or use of a Sky digibox outside the UK.

When you or anyone else fills in the Sky Digital subscription form you undertake to comply with the following conditions (amongst myriad others):

(c) Only you may use the Viewing Card that SSSL sends you. You can only use the Viewing Card at your Address with the Digibox in which it is first used to receive the Service and you must only use it for private viewing purposes.

and

(b) This Contract only applies if you live in the United Kingdom.

Whilst I am not a lawyer (thankfully <grin>) I take this to mean that by passing on the card to someone else for him to use or by using it (as opposed to merely having it which does not appear to breach the contract) elsewhere than at the address specified in the contract you are breaking the terms of the contract. This is not a criminal offence and the contract goes on to say that a breach of the contract will merely result in its cancellation.
It has been suggested on Usenet that anyone who deliberately and incorrectly fills in the subscription form knowing that the card will be used in breach of the contract may be guilty of obtaining a service by deception which is a criminal offence in the UK. You should bear this in mind, especially if you get a friend to subscribe for you.

Given that it is absolutely impossible to know where or when a card is being used (assuming that there is no phone connection and that you are not stupid enough to tell Sky where you are) then you can calculate for yourself the probability of any of this ever being found out.

Just in case you're worried, a large number of Sky subscribers live abroad anyway. You probably know a few of them yourself.
After all, do you think that Sky are likely to want to lose this source of revenue? I don't. You can all sleep soundly.
I do. <grin>

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******One important point to remember:******

NEVER PHONE SKY FROM ABROAD UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.

I can't emphasise this too much. If you want to contact Sky (because your card doesn't work or to buy a PPV programme or whatever) then you should give your friend in the UK a call and get him to do it for you. This is totally reliable and safe. You may be able to side-step this by using a UK registered mobile from abroad or by using a call-back service or other third party operator or a 3-way call originating from the UK but then again, maybe not. If you call Sky direct on a landline they will know that you are calling from abroad and they may switch off the card and box that you have gone to so much trouble to get. The choice is yours. I know what I'd do.

A disclaimer:

This page is not intended in any way to help or assist people to receive any channel without paying for it. Nor is it intended to encourage people to do anything at all that might be illegal. It is intended to explain to people that have already decided to do so how to subscribe to the channels that they wish to see regardless of where they live. This is their moral right (under the articles of the Treaty of Rome) and their legal right (under EC rules which were subsequently illegally modified, amended and then ignored).

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And two more things:

If you feel at all strongly about the impossibility of straightforwardly subscribing to the channels that you wish to see then complain to your UK MP and/or MEP. It's about time that he did something for you instead of just filling his pockets with tax-free groceries, isn't it?

A message to all EU broadcasters, including Sky and the remaining FTV UK broadcasters, and to all EU bureaucrats: Get your act together and apply the principles of freedom of movement of goods and services throughout EC member states as you should be doing. Your lack of integrity in this matter is sickening.

Links

You can find much technical and other interesting information on the Satcure site.

You can find digiboxes for sale in Loot and also at the various online auction site like Ebay, Yahoo, etc.

See the Lyngsat page for details of channels available on all satellites and information about footprints.

See specific discussion of the Astra 2D bird and the BBC channels on  http://www.astra2d.cjb.net/.

Read the Sky Digital FAQ

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No frames, banners, scripts, applets, ads, jpgs, animated images or plug-ins were harmed in the making of this webpage.

This page is best viewed on any browser you happen to like.

My thanks to the servers hosting these pages. They are in no way aware of or responsible for the content.

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 Counter

 V2.0 10/07/03



History

V 2.0 13/07/03 Updated in relation to the BBC going FTA.

V 1.91 29/09/02 Replacement card info added

V1.9 31/03/02 General updates.

V 1.8 6/10/01 General updates

V 1.7 7/04/01 A few minor changes made to links etc.

V 1.6 12/01/01 Installation details improved. Links section added.

V 1.5 11/11/00 Updated. Analogue info deleted. Prices amended.

V 1.41 27/11/99 Radio details modified.

V 1.40 18/10/99 Updated. New prices and radio details included.

V 1.30 03/06/99 Updated. New prices/subsidies/installation details included.

V 1.21 22/5/99 Updated. Condensed to one page.

V 1.20 8/5/99 Updated with new Sky digital prices/info.

V 1.12 11/3/99 Added phone connection page.

V 1.10 4/2/99 Modified to take account of legal opinion offered on Usenet.

V 1.05 15/12/98 Much more information added.

V 1.00 1/12/98 Initial version created. Site under development.

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