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Free UK satellite TV in Germany

= How to get free UK (English language) Satellite TV services outside of UK=
  • Update January 2012. Please update/correct these pages as and when they are needed

What you need

Digital Satellite Receiver

  • ANY digital satellite receiver is fine for the main UK TV channels (all BBC TV and radio as in UK, All ITV channels, Channel 4, Five), plus many more which are maybe (even) less interesting. There are:
  • Receivers for normal (SD) TV reception
  • Receivers for High Definition (HD) TV reception for those channels that offer these services (currently the main ITV, BBC and Channel 4 TV services are available in High Definition for free)
  • Receivers with a built-in hard disk to facilitate recording or programmes. Often called a PVR ("Personal Video Recorder") these are available in both standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD) models
Some newer receivers have a USB connection to allow you to connect an external disk to record and store (or even distribute) broadcast content.

None of the channels referred to in this Wiki are encrypted (scrambled) so do not need any additional equipment, special hardware, a subscriber card, subscription or monthly charge. There are no legal issues in receiving any of these channels outside of the UK as they are freely transmitted and available to anyone who has the equipment to receive them. Some broadcasters would prefer their content was not received outside of the UK and have tried to make them harder to receive (by restricting signal strength further afield) but have no legal basis, national or international to prevent their reception.

If you want enhanced services such as a detailed programme guide (EPG - see below) then you can also get "Freesat" receivers - normally ONLY available in from UK suppliers - standard Freesat receivers begin under £40, HD receivers under £70, and HD PVRs under £160. Sponsored by ITV and BBC these are tailored to the UK Free satellite services, but are only officially available new in UK stores or from authorised mail-order sources such as Argos. Retailers in the UK are only supposed to sell to UK residents, but it is difficult for them to check. Mail order stores will normally only ship to UK addresses but Falconsat are alleged to ship into Europe for a small charge. There is also a "Freesat from Sky" Digibox receiver exclusive to Sky TV - pretty much the same channels are available on this receiver which is essentially the same "Digibox" used for Sky subscription services including a subscription card which is included in the purchase price. As Sky prefer to provide and install (at a UK address) their service this is less easy to obtain to use abroad but you can easily buy a used Digibox for under €100 and add a "Freesat from Sky" card which costs £20 but can only be delivered to a UK address. See the Freesat from Sky website for more details. There are no on-going subscription charges for Freesat or Freesat from Sky.

Do not confuse "Freesat" or "Freesat from Sky" with the UK "Freeview" service providing a similar channel line-up for UK viewers, but which is a terrestrial system (over normal TV antenna) which cannot be used outside the UK.

Satellite Dish

A suitably sized satellite dish with LNB (signal receptor on the end of the arm - the dish actually reflects the incoming signal and focusses it onto the LNB which then sends it down the cable to the receiver)- size is VERY important - see the Satcure website for a realistic idea of dish sizes needed across Europe. Having a larger dish is never a problem, and may improve reception or reliability in bad weather. Sky "minidishes" used in the UK are too small to be used in most of Europe. A PVR normally needs a "dual" LNB with two outputs and will need a twin cable to feed the dual inputs on a PVR (to permit simultaneous watching of one channel while recording another). If it is only possible to lay a single cable in your home then this is not a big problem, but will prevent you from having the advantage of being able to record one channel while simultaneously watching a different one or will not allow the recording of two programmes at the same time. You may consider to use a quad LNB (4 outputs) in case you want to add further receivers later. Do not confuse a "quad" LNB with a "quattro" LNB which looks similar but is not suitable for satellite reception without additional equipment.

It may also be possible to add a SECOND LNB onto a dish to receive a second satellite such as Astra1 which broadcasts the German channels. This complicates the set-up (as it requires a relay switch to switch between satellite sources) and is MUCH more difficult to install/align, so should really only be installed by a professional. Sky Digibox receivers cannot be used for non-UK channels but both "normal" Digital Satellite Receivers and the "Freesat" receivers from Humax support the switching required to automatically switch between the different satellite sources (although with Freesat it's a bit of a kludge and not recommended). It's often better to forget the switch, connect two cables (one for each LNB) and use 2 different receivers for the different services.

Other Essential Equipment

  • Digital LNB The gizmo on the end of the dish arm.
  • Mounting Some sort of dish mounting bracket (e.g. a wall bracket, balcony clamp or floor mount) - it's critical that the dish is fixed and stable. Any slight movement will affect reception, so for this reason a free-standing dish is not recommended
  • Satellite Cable A coaxial cable (like aerial cable) to connect the LNB to the satellite receiver. (with 2 end connectors called "F-connectors").
  • AV Cable A SCART cable to connect the receiver to the TV (or HDMI cable for HD connectivity to a suitable HD TV).

Complete Packages

You can buy off-the-shelf complete hardware packages which contain pretty much all of the above from many DIY and HiFi stores (such as Mediamarkt or Saturn) or get one made up by a local specialist store.You will also often find people leaving the area offering complete hardware packages for sale second hand - the advantage here being that you can be reasonably be sure that the dish size is adequate for the area you will be living in (but check with the seller as to what channels he was able to view).

Installation

Unless you are generally technically minded and understand the basic principals being applied then it might not be wise to try to install yourself - you will waste time and maybe money. The dish must be properly assembled with the LNB mounted correctly and must be stable (think "high winds") when installed. The cable needs routing correctly, cutting to the correct length and connectors properly put on each end ( How to fit connectors). Outdoor connections may need to be waterproofed. Once connected and working the receiver may need tuning (NOT Sky Digiboxes or Freesat systems). The cheaper the receiver the more complicated and time consuming this may be, especially if you don't understand the technology, but essentially at set-up time the receiver is instructed to scan all satellite frequencies to seek out available channels. Once that is done you need time and patience to sort and exclude channels you may not be interested in, or to arrange them in a convenient order.

Pointing (aligning) the satellite dish

The satellite dish needs to have a clear view of the sky (no trees or buildings in the way of the satellite view) and be precisely aligned. Enter your location and the satellite ("28.2E Astra 2A, 2B, 2C, 2D") into dishpointer.com to get a feel for direction and if anything might be in the way. In general the direction of the satellite is just to the east of south, roughly the direction the sun shines from late in the morning (although this depends on your location and the time of year!). Look around for neighbouring houses with dishes to get a general idea of the direction, but be aware that UK services are received from a satellite more easterly than those for German TV - i.e. more to the left when standing behind the dish) Actual alignment to the satellite signal must be very precise - for reliable reception the dish must be aligned to within fractions of a millimetre and if you attempt to do it without specialised alignment (signal strength) equipment may require a lot of patience. Important alignment factors are dish direction (azimuth), angle to the ground (elevation) and LNB skew (rotation of the LNB in the holder). Most satellite receivers have some sort of signal strength set-up meter in their menu structure, but this is only a guide as firstly they can be very inaccurate and secondly it's difficult to know if you are aligning to the correct satellite from the many out there.

Tuning in

Sky Digiboxes need no tuning in - if the dish is correctly aligned and connected the channels will simply appear after switch on and have fixed channel numbers - a list of all Sky channels and numbers can be found here - remember that although all Sky channels will be listed on a Sky system only a subset are freely available without a card (broadly those shown in the Freesat listing following). Freesat is similar, except you need to give a (UK) postcode in during setup to the correct channels for that UK region are selected. There is no checking of this information or feedback to Freesat - it is used simply to set up regional BBC and ITV programming to the location of the postcode. A downloadable document listing all Freesat channels can be found here. Cheaper (non-Freesat) receivers may require a channel "scan" to find all the channels and will certainly find many more channels than are actually viewable (many will be scrambled) so you later need to sort and arrange the channels into the ones you are particularly interested in. If you are using a Sky "Digibox", even for free channels then scanning is not required as the Digibox loads a pre-defined channel list when first switched on. Should they be needed this list of Frequencies on Astra 2A/2B/2C/2D can be used for any manual programming

Additional Services

Freesat systems all have the ability to connect the receiver (especially those from Humax) to the Internet to provide additional services such as BBC iPlayer or ITV Player (online "catch-up" services). These are difficult to use outside of UK as they require an UK-based internet connection, but these can be defeated using a "Virtual Private Network" (VPN) or a cheaper DNS redirector service such as SmartDNS to fool the service into believing the receiver really is in UK. Humax receivers can also fairly easily modified with software add-ons to provide network access to the recordings on the box, or to setup a domestic media server in the home for TV, audio and photographic content.

The Electronic Program Guide (EPG)

The EPG is an on-screen display of up-and-coming programmes and times. Normal satellite receivers do NOT support a full EPG for English channels as the English EPG services do not conform to recognised standards so are only available on Sky or Freesat based systems - on a "normal" receiver you can only see details about the current and next programme. If you want to get a full (7-day) programme guide you need to buy Freesat or Sky equipment. Note that many PVRs require a comprehensive programme guide to plan future recordings. As this is missing from standard receivers you should consider a Freesat PVR. Freesat also offer an online programme guide

What TV channels can I expect to receive with this set up?

  • BBC 1
  • BBC 1HD
  • BBC 2-4
  • BBC HD
  • ITV 1
  • ITV 1HD
  • ITV 2-4
  • Channel 4
  • Channel 4HD
  • Five
  • 5 USA
  • 5*
  • Many "+1" versions of the above channels (1-hour timeshift)
  • Many more Satellite Channels
  • Most national and many UK local and specialist radio stations

Costs

  • Receiver cost: Between €50-€200 for a receiver depending on the features, rising to €150-600 for a PVR model with record features.
  • Dish - depends on size (which depends on location) and construction. €50-100 buys a dish at the mid-range end of the market, 70-90cm in diameter, but you can pay €200-€300 for a quality model (e.g. Kathrein). On top of this you need an LNB - these need not be expensive - €15-€30 for a single LNB, €25-€40 for a dual output LNB or €40-60 for a quad (4-output) model. Do not be confused by specifications - so called super/hyper "sensitive" LNBs really don't bring any advantages for UK satellite TV reception(for reasons too technical to go into here!) - in fact cheaper LNBs are often actually a better choice, so long as they are reliable.
  • Installation cost: a professional installation of dish, cabling and receiver installed on a suitable wall or balcony is about 1-2 hours work so reckon on around €100-150 plus materials and travel - possibly MUCH more for a roof installation, where according to German building regulations a satellite dish must normally have additional lightning protection. Take care that in apartment blocks you may need permission from the building owners or building management before installing on a roof, even if you are in the top floor apartment and irrespective of if you rent or own the place. Bear in mind too that a cable must be run from the dish into your home, which can be a problem if the dish is 6 floors above your apartment!.

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