Free TV For Dummies

I’m a guy who knows very little about how TV operates. I just like to plug the thing in and see it work. When I was connecting up my Sky box, I tended to just stick cables into the ports that fit like some sort of grown-up jigsaw rather than know what I was actually doing.

 

So it was with some degree of trepidation that I embarked on the road to ditch my monthly Sky pay TV and replace it with…well this was my first problem….what do I replace it with? So if, like me, you’re clueless with this sort of television techno-babble, read on and I’ll share my experience with you.

 

The Goal

My goal is simple….to replace my existing TV setup for which I pay a monthly fee with something similar with no monthly fee. My existing setup is a pretty standard one. I have a TV connected to a Sky+ box. We mainly watch RTE and occasionally watch the UK channels. The recording feature of the Sky+ box is something that we have found useful. And we use the Sky TV guide quite a lot.  So any new setup I implement would need the following features

  • Terrestrial channels (i.e. RTE, TV3 etc)
  • Standard UK Channels (i.e BBC, ITV etc)
  • Ability to record programs
  • TV Guide

 

The Research

I began researching this television voyage by consulting d’Internet. I was soon swamped by acronyms like DTT, MPEG4, DVB and jargon like Freesat, Freeview, decoders…AAAGHHH! Normally, I would just give up and make do with what I have. But money is sparse these days and the thought of lining Murdoch’s pockets with my hard-earned cash every month encouraged me to persist. After reading through some material, here’s what I make of it.

 

Saorview<

As most people know (even me!), you could receive terrestrial channels by using an aerial connected to your TV. Since TV time began these aerials picked up an analogue signal. The broadcasting of this signal is being turned off in 2012. Now they are broadcasting the terrestrial channels using a digital signal. The broadcasting of the terrestrial channels using this digital format is called saorview.

 

So in order to get free terrestrial channels, I could either pick up the old analog signal or the new digital signal. It made sense to go with the digital option seeing as the analog signal is being turned off next year! After consulting d’Internet again, I learned that if you have an aerial that picks up TV3 and TG4, then you could use this aerial to pick up digital terrestrial TV (DTT)…I’m using these acronyms already! So I got out a setup of rabbit-ear aerials that I had in the attic. I plugged it into the back of the TV and sure enough, I could pick up TV3 and TG4.

 

Great, that’s the aerial sorted. So why am I not seeing the Irish DTT channels on my TV? Well, apparently, when the digital signal is received, it needs to be decoded. What is needed to decode the Irish DTT channels is called an MPEG-4 decoder. Now, some newer TVs have this decoder built into them. In order to find if my TV (a Samsung LE32R72B) had the decoder built into it, I googled the TV and got the technical specifications. I had a look for MPEG-4 but not a mention of it. So I’m assuming that the TV does not have the decoder.

 

So the next question is, how do I decode the digital signal. Well, for TVs like mine, that don’t have the decoder built-in, you need to purchase a set-top box (STB). According to the saorview website, there are 2 approved set-top boxes; Walker WP10DTP & WP11DTP. At the moment, these cost around €99. So all I need to do is purchase one of these boxes, stick my aerial into it, connect it to the TV and Bob’s your uncle…I have my Irish channels.

 

UK Channels

To get the free UK channels is a hell of a lot easier. All I have to do is unsubscribe from Sky! Then I can use the existing dish and Sky box to pick up the free channels! I couldn’t believe this when I first read it. But you can check it out for yourself. Power off your Sky box. Take out the viewing card. Power back on the Sky box. You’ll find that you still have the BBC’s and the ITV’s. I’m not sure if this is frowned upon or if Sky will come looking for their box back. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable than myself can clarify this?

 

Still Not Happy

So there you have it. Now I have free Irish TV and free UK TV. However, I’m still not entirely happy with this. It means I have 2 set-top boxes, 2 remotes, 2 TV guides. And I still don’t have the ability to record programs. It would be a hell of a lot easier and neater if I had just the one set-top box, right?

 

The Combo Option

Again, after consulting d’Internet (techtir.ie in particular), I found that you could by a box that would accept and decode the digital signal for the Irish DTT and accept the satellite cable that went into the back of the Sky+ box. These are called combo boxes and would allow me to have just the 1 remote, 1 TV guide (this is called EPG in technical parlance). And to top it all off, it allows you to record on to an external hard-disk drive that is connected to it’s USB port. Bonanza!

 

I went into SoundStore looking for one of these devices. The sales assistant told me it wasn’t possible to pick up Irish DTT and the UK channels like BBC on the 1 box. So I hope I haven’t misunderstood the literature that I read. Again, perhaps someone wiser than me might confirm this?

 

Conclusion

So that’s what I have decided on. I’m going to purchase a combo box (the Edison Argus Mini). I hope it’s just as simple as taking out the Sky+ box, putting in the Argus Mini, connecting the satellite cable and the aerial to the Argus mini, and connecting that to the TV. It seems to meet the 4 requirements I set out earlier. I’ll let you know how I get on.