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My new satellite receiver
It has become clear to me that I really ought to have an HD compatible satellite receiver. A while back I tried a little PCI card, but that came with no software. I commiserated the loss of NHK World (it has gone HD only everywhere in Europe), but that was that, right?
Just by chance, I came across a dinky little satellite receiver. A Metronic Touchbox HD3. Going by the box, the positive points were:
- Does HD
- Has a SCART socket (so presumably can downscale HD content)
- Has a USB socket on the front for being able to record/timeshift.
It did leave some questions, however:
- Are recordings viewable on other devices?
- No S-video support
- No mention of DiSEqC
Another negative point for some may be that it has no capabilities for dealing with encrypted streams, so it won't work with Sky or French channels - only properly free-to-air channels. This wasn't an issue for me, as it is exactly what I wanted.
It cost €50. I looked it up and saw the average price was €69 and since there was only one left on the shelf...
It is dinky and minimalist. The front offers three buttons - on/off, and channel up and down. Next to that, a basic four digit LED. Then an operation LED (red/green). Then a little sensor for the remote control. Finally, a USB socket.
Across the back, antenna in and pass-through (that could be useful), a coaxial SPDIF socket, the tiny HDMI socket, a much larger SCART socket, and the power lead entry.
Inside (of course I opened it up!), there is a small power supply and, well, pretty much everything else is a single SoC with a big heatsink on top.
As I already had the dish in place, it was a simple matter of switching the LNB cable around and then plugging in the receiver. It won't pick up anything, so you will need to press
MENU, then go
RIGHT twice (to the "Channel Search" choice), and press
DOWN to get to "Dish Setup" and
You ought to see something like this, so you will need to go to the appropriate satellite (Ku band Astra 28E for UK FreeSat) and set the appropriate settings. This will likely be the LNB type (09750/10600 or 09750/10750), keep 22kHz set to Auto, and set up the DiSEqC LNB number, if you have a switch present, or leave it at None if you do not.
I don't know what the receiver tries tuning to, but for me it came up with some bars for quality and signal. As you can see, it isn't great. It's about 30m of really old satellite cable along with a dish that is probably a little off centre (I "aligned" my dish for Eurovision by just shoving it to a position that looked sort of correct, and being somewhat surprised that BBC Four and BBC One both came in clearly!).
Anyway, if you don't see anything appear here, you can either go on trust, or try fiddling around with the settings.
BLUE to start a scan. This will open up:
Set "Scan Mode" to Blind Scan. This is important. If you do not, the receiver will only scan for the transponders that it knows about, but since Eurobird has departed and a different Astra has joined the 28°E constellation (to replace an older one), the receiver will miss quite a few channels (and pretty much all of the HD channels). The blind scan is a fair bit slower, but the receiver will pick up everything. By way of comparison, exactly 200 channels (Default scan) versus 386 channels (Blind Scan).
Set "Crypted" to FTA Channels. There's no point storing channels you cannot watch.
Leave "Service Type" as All in order to detect both television and radio channels.
BLUE to invoke the scan. You'll be asked if you want to throw away previous channels, or not. Press
OK to discard previous channels (for a full scan, you don't want dupes).
Then wait a while.
When it is done, if you aren't watching a channel, press
EXIT until you are. Then make the list tidier by pressing
MENU and making sure you are at the left-most entry ("Program"). Set the "Sort" entry to By Service Nam and the channels will be listed in alphabetical order. Much easier to find what you want.
Other menu options that may be of use - under "Picture" you can specify the aspect ratio (the default 16:9 Wide Screen ought to suffice unless you are using an old TV), the HDMI resolution from 576i/576p/720p/1080i/1080P(50Hz) depending on your TV. In my case, I'm using composite video so it makes no difference. For me, I can choose PAL or NTSC output. Given NTSC is a quarter less resolution and rubbish, I'll stick with PAL. ☺
Under "Channel Search", the "DB Management" option allows you to back up the internal channel database to USB memory. Two files are created in the root directory - HB_DATABASE_1_1.DBM (768K, satellite/transponder/channel database, exact layout unknown) and MM_PLAY_TIME.ini (512K, unknown).
The time offset may or may not work. It looks as if it uses your chosen language to determine the timezone offset, which means it may be an hour off if you're in Europe with English as your selected language. However, if you switch to Manual it will expect you to set the correct time all the time instead of picking it up the satellite. As such, your recordings will carry weird timestamps from the year 2000, and the times shown with EPG data will be gibberish. Leave it at Auto and if it's an hour off, too bad...
You can set the on-screen display, subtitle, and audio language defaults. Note that not everything is translated correctly. In English, some of the "Please wait" pop up messages are written in French. Oh well. My phone does the same thing.
There's nothing of interest in "System" unless you want to set a password (the default is 0000). I have seen no reference to updated firmware nor where such over-the-air updates may be found. It's not just this receiver. Most of my FTA receivers have had OTA upgrade capabilities, and exactly none of them have said where/how to update.
The final menu entry is "USB". Select "PVR" and then "PVR" again to view recordings. They are present in the HBPVR directory, listed by channel name, date, and time. They are all MTS files.
Once you have selected a file, it will start to play in a tiny window. Press
RED to bring it full screen.
Under "Movie" (instead of "PVR"), you can play movies. I have not given this much testing, I would imagine standard AVI and MP4 files with nothing fruity like MKV. Not sure if H.264 is supported - depends if that's what HD broadcasts as. It does play video from my iPodRecorder, which makes it one of the few embedded devices other than a modern phone that can cope with these files.
The recorder claims to support devices formatted FAT32 or NTFS. The USB socket is "double power" so that it ought to be capable of self-powering harddiscs.
There are three modes of recording. The first is TimeShift, where you can pause/resume live TV. This facility is mentioned on the box, but the user guide doesn't appear to talk about it at all. Okay, to enter TimeShift mode, press the
YELLOW button. The live TV will be paused. You can press
PLAY to resume, plus move backwards and forwards in the recorded data. It is rather glitchy and tends to skip. This may be because my USB key is too slow? During TimeShift, there is an annoying slider-status bar on the screen.
The more useful method of recording is to simply press the red-dot
REC button. Recording starts quickly, and pops up a little flickery yellow note on the screen, along with a time of how much was recorded. Recording cannot be paused. If you press Pause, it will pause the live video, and behave as if the receiver was in TimeShift mode (recording will carry on).
The final way of recording is to schedule a recording. Press
RED and enter the necessary information into the grid. Here I have set up a recording for Prisoners on Channel 4 tonight. It's nearly three hours. I bet I run out of space...
Recording is the task of literally dumping the satellite video and audio data to storage, in the form of an MTS file. Such recordings are big, and the recording size is largely determined by the bandwidth of the channel. For example:
These are only guideline figures, as the BBC HD seems a little low, so it may be adaptive to what is happening (static stuff is encoded at a lower bitrate than rapidly moving content).
- Russia Today HD (random choice) creates a 52.4MB file for a minute of video, which implies around 3GB per hour.
- horror channel creates a 140.6MB file for ten minutes of video, implying around 845MB per hour (and that, my friends, is why the picture quality is...lacking).
- NHK World HD creates a 1182MB file for twenty minutes of video, implying around 3.5GB per hour. Writing a little under a megabyte per second, continuously, you'll need good media to keep up with NHK World HD!
- BBC One HD wrote a slower 30MB for one minute of video, to give us around 1.7GB per hour.
- BBC One South (SD) wrote 21.6MB for a minute of video, implying around 1.1GB per hour.
Playback is possible by either wading through the menus to the PVR functions and then the correct directory... or you can make life easier and just press the
LIST button. Choose the video you want to watch,
OK it, and then press
RED to bring it full-screen.
MXPlayer (Android), SMPlayer (Windows, Linux), VLC (everything) all cope with MTS files.
SD recordings are ffmpeg2 codec, at size/bitrate depending upon the broadcast (SMPlayer reports 15000kps for each, though that seems incorrect given the file sizes differ). Screen size is likely to be 720×576. Audio is mpeg123 at 48kHz, 224kbps for BBC One, 128kbps for horror channel.
HD recordings are ffh264, SMPlayer gives no bitrate. Screen size is almost always 1920×1088. Audio is ffac3, 128-256kbit, at 48Hz.
If storage space is not a concern, then this is your best bet. You can't get a better recording from satellite TV than literally dumping the video/audio data.
That said, I don't think it's curtains for the OSD just yet. For starters, while it is possible to transcode HD recordings to a smaller filesize, it is not a fast process. Handbrake on my 2.8GHz P4 machine converted a gigabyte odd to around 260MB. It was a 20 minute video. At a lowish quality (visible artefacts), it took four hours. The better quality conversion was aborted as the estimate measured in days.
Things are better with SD as the data rates are less and the picture much smaller. A ten minute recording (Grand Prix, from C4) is capable of encoding at about half realtime, so 15 minutes of video encodes in about half an hour. The slowness is because the file needs to be deinterlaced. It can convert a 345MB recording into a 264MB MP4 file, so it's about a third smaller. I will need to try recording something like Doctor Who and seeing how big the file is, and how rapidly it can be transcoded. After all, the OSD uses a fixed bitrate and tends to create somewhat wasteful files. This is understandable, the OSD has only a 200MHz ARM and a 100MHz DSP and it must encode in realtime without the luxury of the sort of complex look-ahead or chroma motion behaviours that a standalone encoder on a ~2GHz processor may offer. So some stuff does get transcoded as a matter of course. The big difference here is that the OSD records 640×480 from a 720×288 input (the vertical is halved to reduce internal bandwidth). The satellite recording, on the other hand, is native screen size. That's 720×576 for SD (whether 4:3 or 16:9), and 1920×1088 for HD. Yes, HD is supposed to be 1080, but 1080 is not divisible by 16 so the size may actually be 1088...
The current HD channels are:
There is an Astra UHD Demo that cannot be received, for obvious reasons.
- &tv HD
- Al Jazeera HD
- Arirang TV HD
- BBC News HD
- BBC One HD (also NI, Scot, Wales regions)
- BBC Two HD
- Bloomberg HD
- CBBC HD
- CBeebies HD
- Channel 4 HD
- Channel 5 HD
- CNN HD
- COLORS HD
- DAYSTAR HD
- ITV HD (many, so probably different regions)
- NHK World HD
- Record TV HD
- RT HD
- S4C HD
- STV HD
- UTV HD
As expected with FTA receivers, the EPG support is limited to Current/Next programme. This is because the British EPG service uses a custom format. Actually, the data is broadcast twice, as FreeSat and Sky use different EPG data. Hmmm... Still, I usually swing by TVGuide.co.uk to see what's on. It's a lot more convenient (and faster) than I remember the Sky Digibox EPG being. Of course, when I relied upon that EPG, I didn't have Internet (and it never listed World Movies anyway). Now I have Internet, so I can look up a better set of listings. Or, actually, the local supermarket sells RadioTimes, believe it or not. Believe it, just don't believe the price. There's a reason I only buy the big Christmas issue...
This receiver makes it very easy to call up subtitles and/or different audio tracks (if available). There's a button for each. There's also a button for teletext, not that it's used anymore on the Sky/FreeSat channels. But, in a stroke of amusing genius, the receiver is able to detect teletext subtitles and list them as an option alongside digital subtitles. You know, in case you prefer the retro look.
Yeah, I know, I know. I ought to watch in French. I don't. You see, when I'm talking to somebody I can say "Huh?", but when I'm watching TV, it's often rapid-fire dialogue and I'd be a liar if I said I understood every single word. This channel broadcasts episodes of "Questions pour un Champion". Watch it, you'll see what I mean.
I was quite surprised to discover TV5 Monde Europe broadcasting in the clear at 28E. Better yet, subtitles were available in French and English!
Besides... You'd rather believe scum who soil your father's memory... you know what? I have absolutely no idea how to say that in French.
If wading through nearly 400 channels sounds like a pain (it is!), you can go into the channel list and mark your preferred channels as favourite. Then tapping on the little heart button on the remote control will call up a list of only your favourite channels. Much much easier to navigate!
I have already mentioned about the downscaling, but it's quite nice to be able to watch HD channels even when I don't have HD equipment. But all is not lost. Given sufficiently fast media, it'd be quite possible to record an HD programme (while watching SD) and later watch the HD recording. Just remember, if you transcode it'll need to be deinterlaced.
I didn't set this up for Eurovision as it only has one video output, so I couldn't run the backup recorder. I suppose I could have recorded the live BBC broadcast, but I have only made small tests at this time, so I don't really know how big things will run to. What's a four hour broadcast on BBC One going to be? How about BBC One HD? I'll probably mostly stay in the SD realm (except NHK, no choice) otherwise I'll find my disc space evaporating in a hell of a hurry!
As for Eurovision's grand final, I downloaded it from YouTube. 1.7GB for the 480p version.
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|Zerosquare, 16th May 2017, 04:01|
"No S-video support"
You could use an RGB-to-Svideo transcoder. It won't make the picture HD of course, but it still should be noticeably better than composite.
|David Pilling, 17th May 2017, 13:18|
Hope you're better
|Rick, 22nd April 2019, 00:10|
Just happened to notice today that the little red light wasn't on. Weird. I've not used the receiver since Christmas, so...
Anyway, 230V at the power connection to the motherboard, but absolutely nothing anywhere else. Fuse continuity is okay, nothing looks blown so...
I've ordered a "like new" replacement from Amazon (twenty euros) so hopefully can simply swap the dead one for a working one, and try to remember what SD card I backed up the channel database to.
Note the date - it managed two years minus a month, which isn't particularly good for a device that spent a lot of its time in standby. I guess I'll have to physically unplug it in the future.
Why did I buy another? Familiarity. Outside of built-to-spec devices like the Sky boxes, there's NO standardisation regarding UI or box behaviour. All of my boxes have been quite different in use (and I still miss the SL65) so I decided to stick with what I know rather than go through the motions of having to learn the peculiarities of yet another receiver.
It's worth mentioning that the power supply hardware is dinky, and a failed PSU is also what killed the SL65. I guess these devices run a power supply that's "just capable", which to me is akin to running a car's engine at 5000 RPM all the time, and then wondering why it wears out more quickly.
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Last read at 22:18 on 2020/07/09.
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