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Saturday 21 December 2002

Time for DSAT [lurks]

Y'all know how I've been into this DAB thing. That's Digital Audio Radio for the technophobes among you. It's ace right, bag load of stations which can be grabbed straight to disk or played to any PC in my house with a little £50 Psion Wavefinder plugged into a USB port on Wench. Trouble is over time, the bitrate has reduced. Now this sucks because I'm really quite into recording things like BBC Radio 6 Music's 'Dream Ticket' live sessions and putting in my collection. 128kbs MP2 is unfortunately pretty manky. Equivalent to about 96kbps MP3.

Now it turns out that basically Astra is transmitting a bunch of free to air radio stations. Likewise digital MP2 streams but much higher bitrates. 160-192kbps which is ... bloody good to nearly CD quality. There's some tele on there too. So, after a good day and a half of web research I formulated a plan. A plan so cunning you could pull it's beard back and scrub your toilet.

Essentially I intend to buy a small Sky minidish for next to no money, get some coax and F connectors from Maplins and mount, align and tune the whole lot up myself. Not even going to use a Digibox, I'm going to use an el-cheapo DVB card in a PC with some decent third party software to do scheduled recordings etc. Bingo all the same radio stations in much higher bitrates and I can also capture some tele to hard drive as well. If I get into the tele capturing thing, I can buy a decent DVB card down the line and watch the 'free to view' stuff as well.

The best bit is, it wont cost me a penny other than the ton or so for all the bits. This way I keep my crappy but cheap telewest cable TV for regular tele and so keep my discount on the cable modem.

Now all I need is to find my compass and protractor and work out whether 28% east of south is a LOS which will clear the house out back without raising the dish too far up...


  1. Whats the difference between that and the hauppoage? I don't see any mpeg stuff on that card, that mean it's going to need a decent computer for TV?

  2. Got a letter from Sky, the base package goes up to £18.50 from January. Ken and I are exempt though, still in the first year of contract.

  3. This is pretty much equivalent to the hauppauge nova card which also does mpeg decoding in software. As for how much CPU decoding will require, a tad less than DVD I should think. Video is identical to DVD but there's only MP2 audio instead of AC3. The Hauppage Nexus is bag loads more money and has an mpeg decoder on it and stuff.

    Managed to snipe me a PC DSAT card for £32. Now all I need to do is get my hands dirty and bolt a u-bracket to wall outside for a sky dish.

  4. I've been thinking of doing something similar with the dish that's hanging on the side of my house from the previous owners sky contract. 'cept I'd be doing it for free to air telly to so would probably go the hauppage route. All I need is a spare 400 quid to build a decent shuttle box and this

  5. S'tricky one actually. If you want to get all the free stuff on a DSAT card, you need one of them which will do decryption (like the Nexus) which runs for a fair bit of cash and then get the card add on so you can pop in the free BBC viewer card.Conversely my current tally of buying all the bits I need for my PC DSAT system currently runs to £110.66. That includes the DSAT card, Sky minidish, 15 meters of cable, 2 F-type connectors and a satellite finding kit which I'll chuck on EBay after it's all working. Not looking forward to crawling about on a ladder with a masonery drill though :)Update 22/11/02: Sat dish and meter arrived but DSAT card did not, morons sent me some nasty el-cheap DV Cam instead ;-/ Anyhow, assembled dish and farted about with the meter. Sure enough, I have no difficulty in orienting it towards Astra and Hotbird - needle swings fine as I swing dish through 23 degrees east of south. Now I just need it to stop raining so I can be arsed going outside to bolt it to the wall.Update 29/11/02: Yesterday I climbed to the top of a rickety ladderand bolted the sat dish to the wall. I found a good spot which is outof the way but just has line of sight. Lining it up to Astra 28.2E wasfairly easy with a compass and my crappy analog satellite meter. Sofar I've just run the coax through the house cable tied rather thandoing a proper job but it meant I could quickly hook the dish to thesatellite card and check it out.It works! The only flaw is that the default software is utterlyatrocious. It was very difficult to work out how to get it to work atall. It wanted lots of settings which just didn't seem to bediscoverable. So I grabbed this free third party software for my DVBcard and that had a load of presets including most of the stuffrunning on Astra 28.2E. I clicked on Radio 1 and it belted through!I've got the software more sussed now. I've now got all thefree-to-air video stuffon Astra 28.2E in my favorites. Where all = not very much, mainlysome news stations and some rock TV station. Still, I got it for radioreally and there's plenty of that!The software is the player and I need to use that on the same machinewith the card in it. So I can't do the same funky stuff as I do withDAB and Dabbar, IE streaming channels over the network into Winamp.I've had zero success in getting the author ofdvb viewer to comprehend how muchdabbar owns this for radio but at least the guy responds and tells mehow his software works since there's no docs...In conclusion, DSAT so far has provided for me exactly what I wantedand nothing more. Higher quality digital radio with 100% stability atany time of day. Pulling up a news tv station in a window is a smallbonus but there's no way you'd buy a DSAT card for television. There'sjust nothing you can watch which isn't encrypted and there's noway to view the Sky Digital encrypted stuff on PC.What you can do is buy one of the more expensive cards whichhave encryption card add-ons and point your dish at Europe's Astra19.2E instead. You can buy subs to stations and/or use some hacking softwareto decrypt some of the stations using mainland Europe's encryptionsystem. It's a lot of mucking about and quite expensive.When I have some money and free time, I intend to do basically this;buy a more expensive card and then waste the small sky minidish andreplace with a slightly larger one with a dual LNB so I can get radiofrom Astra 28.2E and the video from Astra 19.2E simultaneously.Another system which would work, of course, is to basically use a SkyDigibox and feed the output of this into a decent video grabber. Thatwould allow watching all the Sky stuff in a window and recording ofcourse, albeit with a generation loss.Update 21/12/02: I managed to snipe a full Hauppauge DVB-S card offeBay for 70 quid, less than half price. This being a technotrend basedboard, most of the third-party DVB software works on this. Theprovided software is unsurprisingly mank but at least it recordsunlike that with the Skystar 2 card. There's some superb third-partysoftware called Win DVB but ... it's only in German and the Krautsstill haven't learnt English yet.I did find some real basic software calledDVBsVCR2 whichis actually quite functional in terms of scheduled recordings. SoI'm relatively happy about the state of the software. Also, this DVB-Scard has an audio out jack on it and you whack that into your soundcard or stereo etc, none of the software actually decodes the MP2 insoftware since the card has a hardware decoder. I'm quite pleased withthis actually, no more farting when alt-tabbing in games and goodcontrol over the mix volume as well.Again the whole process was a minefield. Very little decent info onthe web, I had to work out how to add the Astra 28.2E transponders tothe lame Hauppauge software by manually creating an ini file. None ofthis is documented and there isn't a single 'add satellite' feature.Anyhow, I've realised that it'd be a shame to put all this researchinto different digital radio systems to waste so I've decided to do aweb site. Nothing flash, just all the info that I wished was on theweb when I was doing this stuff.I guess I'll update this monster blog again when it's up.