Summary: This article answers questions about the UK digital television
satellite system "Sky Digital": the equipment needed for reception, and
channels and services carried.
Last-modified: 21 August 1999
Copyright: (c) 1999 Media UK
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CONTENTS - Channels (queries on individual services) - Digiboxes (queries on the receivers) - Widescreen (specific queries for widescreen operation) - Teletext (for both analogue and digital text) - Miscellaneous CHANNELS - Why can't I get the 'foreign channels' any more, even if I "add" channels? Sky Digital comes from a different satellite than analogue Sky; this new satellite, Astra 2, does not carry any foreign channels that are in a format that the Digibox can use. The only foreign channel that is available is CNE (China News and Entertainment); this must be tuned in manually from frequency 11.758 H. - What other channels are available by using "add channels"? Testing services include: 12.129V B4U (Bollywood For You), asian channel, testing 12.178H "1951", an additional MusicChoice channel 12.178H "1952", an additional MusicChoice channel 12.178H "1953", an additional MusicChoice channel 12.192V "S4C2", a promo video for the forthcoming S4C2 channel 12.238V "1713", a copy of the Sky Info channel 12.238V "1707", a SkyDigital held graphic with music track - Can I get any other channels? Yes, for free, too. S4C (a Welsh-language channel but with English subtitles for most programmes on teletext page 888) is available free to any digital satellite viewer in the UK, but you need to call S4C to get switched on, since for copyright reasons you must "subscribe" seperately to the service, even though subscription is free. Call 08705 663 3630 to get switched on (which is a bilingual telephone number, so don't worry if you're answered in Welsh!) - Where's Eurosport? British Eurosport launched on SkyDigital on August 1st. However, it does not currently appear in the channel list in the SkyView magazine. This channel is slightly different to the European Eurosport on analogue Astra. - When is ITV going to be on Sky? OnDigital is majority owned by two large ITV contractors, and ITV itself is broken up into 35 sub-regions. It's unlikely, for the moment, that ITV will make it to SkyDigital itself. However, an add-on for the digibox called a "sidecar" will enable reception of terrestrial digital broadcasts on the digibox within the next few months. Rumours have suggested that Scottish Television may appear on SkyDigital, along with support channel S2; it's likely this will be for Scottish viewers only. - I though I was supposed to get my own local TV news BBC 1 in England only broadcasts a generic local news programme called "UK Today" (which, in fact, consists of English news stories). Incidentally, this is also carried on OnDigital at present; local programming is only available in analogue. - I DEMAND BBC Wales/England/Scotland/NI. [Delete one of the four] BBC 1's regional programming is strictly controlled by contractural rights, so if you live in Wales you will automatically get BBC 1 Wales. BBC 2, however, is a generic UK-wide version of the channel. The 'other' regions of BBC Choice are, however, available to everyone. - Is it true you can't record Sky Box Office movies? Yes, that's mainly true - they use Macrovision (which, incidentally, OnDigital and DVD also use). Sky say that most movie-makers insist on copy protection for pay-per-view channels. Not all Box Office movies (though the vast majority) are copy protected - any copy protected programme is marked "C" in the information section of the EPG. - How does Macrovision work, then? It works by adding extra brightness pulses into the part of the signal which the TV doesn't normally display because of overscanning. The brightness pulses upset the automatic level control of the video which ends up overdimming the picture. Macrovision blockers are available, but are illegal to use in the UK. - How come the FTA channels aren't FTA? FTA = Free To Air, meaning that you can watch them without a card. FTV = Free To View, meaning that you can watch these channels without subscription, but you will still need a card for copyright reasons. Cards are free for non-subscription television, but all subscription cards (ie Sky) are enabled anyway. There are some FTA channels on SkyDigital, which are available without a card. For a full channel list, including FTA/FTV, check the Media UK Internet Directory at http://www.mediauk.com/directory/tv/ - Where's BBC Radio? A reply from the BBC earlier in the year indicated that the BBC are not planning to bring their radio stations to the SkyDigital platform. However, later comments from BBC executives seem to suggest that a BBC service, including regional stations such as BBC Radio Wales, may be available on digital satellite before the end of 1999. - Why doesn't Skyview, the subscriber magazine, list all the programmes available? Sky decided that the EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) was enough for most people, so removed the limited programme listings in the magazine. Never fear; comprehensive (and interactive) listings are available through a piece of software called "DigiGuide", which runs on your PC. For more information, and to download the software free, check out http://www.mediauk.com/directory/tv/, where you'll also find normal HTML programme schedules for virtually all SkyDigital channels. DIGIBOXES - What's the best box? The boxes themselves run almost identical software and hardware. All boxes offer the same features. While different manufacturers have different reputations for reliability, it isn't obvious that any one make of box is less reliable than any other. Boxes are now being manufactured with a faster processor than earlier models: you can spot the difference by looking for the "*" symbol on your EPG's digibox information menu screen. - How much do they cost? The full price of a Sky digibox is £280, plus obligatory installation at £100. If you agree to subscribe to Sky for a minimum period of 12 months, the installation falls to £40. If you agree to having your phone connected to the digibox (see below) then the cost of the box reduces to £0. Neither of these subsidies is dependent on you taking the other, so the total cost could be £40, £100, £320 or £380. - Do I get a choice of box? Not really, although there's nothing to stop you asking nicely. If you go to an independent dealer, rather than one of the chains, you stand a much better chance of getting the box you want (and an earlier installation, too). - How can I get an extra remote control? CPC sell the standard Sky remotes. Their order code is HS00352, and they cost around £16 plus P&P. You can access the main catalogue and order on the web at http://www.cpc.co.uk - And what about the TVLink thing TVLink is available from 0870 333 7775, for £14.99 inc VAT and P&P. It allows you to control your digibox from a second TV, and also acts as a distribution for your normal terrestrial TV channels too. It uses coaxial cable, which you need to buy and fit yourself. It works fine, although other equipment (the author has a "Rabbit", but remote control extenders are also available) would allow you to control your video, DVD etc too. (The author's Rabbit uses wafer-thin wire, which is easy to chuck under carpets without being noticed, but I can't find new Rabbits these days.) - What's with this phone connection? The phone connection is primarily for Open, the interactive television service, for e-mail and purchasing goods. It is also used by Sky and UDirect to communicate which pay-per-view events you've bought. It is unclear what other information is transmitted to Sky through the digibox phone link. The phone connection is not obligatory, although most people agree to it because it gives you money off your digibox. - Do Sky telephone the box? No, the satellite tells the box to phone home, which it does (through an 080 freephone number). It will check whether you are on the line first. - It won't work without the phone connection, will it? Bwah. It will, but your contract probably requires the phone connection anyway - at least for the first twelve months. Sky BoxOffice events are still bookable, but you'll need to ring customer services. - Where's the timer/programme planner/digital teletext? All these features are currently being programmed. An e-mail from Sky in late August reportedly says "I can tell you that Sky does have plans to introduce a timer feature that will automatically turn the television channel at the appropriate time. The exact launch date has not been set but it will likely be late Autumn and definitely before the end of 1999. When this new functionality is added, you will also get a "personal planner" that will allow you to input your favourite programmes and a reminder will come pop up on your screen just before the show is scheduled to start." - My signal strength seems a bit low - is this a problem? Only a problem if your picture freezes. Some digiboxes seem to report the signal strength in a very different way to others, and upgrades of software seem to change the signal strength meter software. - When was the last time the software was updated? The last update of the software seems to have been in early August, adding favourite channels, Sky Sports Extra software, and Open's interactive software. More upgrades are expected later in August. Amstrad boxes received the upgrades later than others. - What's this "Open" thing? Open contains film reviews, games, home shopping, and other information, available by pressing the "Interactive" button on your SkyDigital remote control. - How do I force a software upgrade? Remove your card. Switch the box off at the mains. Press and hold the backup button down on the box, then switch the mains back on. Wait for about 20 seconds, until you see a message appear on your television (which only appears on a SCART lead). Follow the instructions (ie don't do anything for the next ten minutes). Forcing a software upgrade is not actually required, since Sky upgrade all box software automatically; furthermore, both new and old software is transmitted simultaneously, so if your box hasn't been told to upgrade, you may still receive the old software. Experience in August shows that many boxes download upgraded software, but do not activate it until you switch the box off and on (by using the remote control). When Sky wish to upgrade your box, they simply send it a signal to switch off. - How do I reset my box? Remove your card. Put Digibox in standby. Switch the box off at the mains for at least 60 seconds. While unplugged, wipe the gold contacts of the card carefully with a dry tissue to remove any static build-up. (Note: use a tissue, not a jumper!) Switch the mains back on. Switch Digibox back on (it'll boot up for around 20 seconds first). Insert viewing card when prompted. - How do I access the Installer setup menu? Services - 4 - 0 - 1 - select. Be careful what you change. - Can I change the preset channel numbers? Unlike OnDigital, you can't. This is primarily for marketing purposes, so that (for example) BBC Knowledge is always on channel 553. There are a few regional differences to channel numbering; for example, Channel 4 for Welsh viewers is on 184, while Wales's own fourth channel, S4C, occupies the 104 channel slot. WIDESCREEN - What's in widescreen on SkyDigital? BBC1, BBC2 and Channel 4 show various programmes in widescreen. Sky has a dedicated movie channel for widescreen, but also occasionally shows widescreen films on its regular movie channels. A few BoxOffice screens are widescreen, and the U Direct pay-per-view film service are all widescreen. Additionally, Sky's premiership football coverage is now in full widescreen, though not Sky Sports Extra, and during the summer they experimented with live cricket coverage in widescreen. The sound, incidentally, is usually Dolby Pro-Logic (although many programmes are just in stereo). - I have a widescreen TV, set to "wide", and my digibox is set to 16:9, but some non-widescreen programmes don't fill the screen, and leave me with vertical black bars. Why? Currently, S4C and Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish versions of BBC1 are transmitting a permanent widescreen flag which means your television will think everything is widescreen on those channels. This is fine when broadcasting 16:9 widescreen programmes, but not so fine when they broadcast 4:3 programmes, which appear with black bars to the left and right. Both broadcasters are planning to change this. - I have a widescreen TV, but some films still have bars at the top and bottom. For a "normal" TV, the ratio is 4:3 (i.e. it's "four" wide, and "three" high). For widescreen, it's 16:9. But for some widescreen films, the ratio of width/height is 2.35:1 - which is even wider than TV widescreen. The bars at the top and bottom of the screen are therefore still there. TELETEXT - Is standard teletext still available? Unlike OnDigital, analogue teletext is available, but not on all channels. Digital teletext, "SuperText", is due, according to Sky, to be "available this autumn and definitely before the end of 1999". Currently there is no sign of it - however, the BBC Text data does appear to be being broadcast - just that the software isn't finished yet. OnDigital subscribers are also seeing some data, and it's currently under test there - for a preview, try http://www.offdigital.freeserve.co.uk, and for real screenshots of Digital Text working, try http://members.aol.com/digitaluk. - Where's my teletext gone? I'm sure it was here yesterday... An early bug meant that, occasionally, teletext did not get received properly by digiboxes. This was fixed, but appears, after the latest upgrades, to be a problem again. To get your teletext back, reset your box. MISCELLANEOUS - Is the picture affected by weather? Normally, no. In a very heavy thunderstorm, either where you are, or where the uplink to the satellite is, then sometimes you may get slight problems; the author's box locks up in a very heavy thunderstorm. - How can I get Sky outside of the UK? Go and see http://www.angelfire.com/me2/europetv/sky.html - Where can I discuss SkyDigital further? For programmes and channels: uk.media.tv.sky For technical and digibox-related stuff: alt.tech.digital-tv.select401 For wider digital tv-related discussion: uk.tech.digital-tv - Credits Graham Sorenson, Nathan Irving, Simon Walker, Jomtien, Ali, Steve Thomas, Mark Wayt, Charlie Pearce Copyright restrictions This FAQ may be posted to any USENET newsgroup, on-line service, or BBS as long as it is posted in its entirety and includes this copyright statement. This FAQ may be distributed as class material on diskette or CD-ROM as long as there is no charge (except to cover materials). This FAQ may not be distributed for financial gain and may not be republished on any website. This FAQ may not be included in commercial collections or compilations without express permission from the author.