Digibox - Setting it up


What you need...

Please note that the dish size depends a lot on where you are located. I am in northern France, so within the beam catchment area of the Channel Islands. I have seen the "Minidish" in use around here, but have, myself, chosen to use my 80cm dish because it is what I had.
The dish size also depends upon what you intend to receive. Perhaps, for the 'Sky' services, you might require a 2 metre dish if you are living on the Canaries. To receive TV Canarias, on the Canaries, you can probably make do with something more subtle than a 2 metre dish!

While this guide doesn't cover the BBC services, I will add that the BBC channels have been moved to a beam that is fairly tight on the United Kingdom. While you should receive it in Northern France, Belgium, and north-west Germany...
...if you have a sunny little fattoria in Tuscany, or an appartamento with private beach in Palermo... then sorry, you're probably out of luck. It can't hurt to try though.


Aligning your dish

There are several ways you can go about this. The first is best, then a correct way, then two rough'n'ready methods.

When I make reference to check the dish alignment using the Digibox, refer also the the 'switching on the Digibox' section below...

    This is the best way to tune, but it requires you to see the television clearly while moving the dish - not always possible.
    Set your Digibox's Default Transponder accordingly ( 11.778 V 27.5 3/4 for 19.2°E). Proceed as for #2 below, but instead of using a sat-finder, make sure the Signal Test screen is up and use the Signal Quality. The Network ID for the Astra 19.2°E satellites is 0001 (Sky's Astra is 0002).
    Because you are using the Digibox's own 'quality' meter, it will give you the most accurate report.
    If you demand perfect results and wish to watch your satellite signals in sub-optimal weather, then it should go without saying that this is the only method of dish alignment that you should use...
    Wire up your equipment and put the dish pointing to 'sort of' the right direction. Wire in your 'sat-finder'. My good friend Ewen Cathcart describes how to get the best from a sat-finder.
    Switch on your Digibox and go back up the ladder. Keeping an eye on the 'sat-finder', move the dish very carefully until you get the best signal.
    Now go down and try to tune into CNN (details on the channels page) to ensure you've chosen the correct satellite!
    Speaking from experience:
    Some people don't like beepy-squeaky sat-finders.
    They say that a strong signal isn't always a good signal.
    I have had no difficulties in setting up a Digibox using
    just such a sat-finder. In fact, careful use of even the
    cheapest and most basic equipment will allow you to
    home in on the satellite; this is something that is very
    difficult to do with the Digibox's on-screen display due
    to the small delays inherent in the system. So if you can
    pick up a sat-finder for £12 (or less!), you'd be foolish
    to turn it down. It makes re-alignment of the dish so
    much easier!

    The benefit to aligning with analogue is that when you point the dish in the right direction, you can instantly see something. There is also fade-in and fade-out with audio hissing noises. I can get a dish lying on the floor pointed to Astra in under a minute.
    The down side? A good looking analogue picture is not necessarily good enough for digital, you have to take care and time to get the alignment spot on (which can be hard as the analogue picture may look identical for a degree of movement!).
    Put your dish up, facing the right sort of direction. Put your analogue receiver outside with a small TV, and hook the dish to the receiver.
    Tune the receiver to 11627 V and then move the dish until you see CNN.
    Alter the dish carefully for the best picture quality.
    Please use CNN for tuning as the signal strength is weaker than, say, CNBC or Viva.
    Then, hook up your Digibox and tune into CNN (details here) to ensure everything is okay. This will get you a signal, however the quality of the signal can be extremely variable.
    If the rain is piddling down and it is nearly midnight.....there is still a way you can align any dish even if you can't see the television and it is pitch black and you don't have a sat-finder!
    The 'other other' way to tune... I use this a lot myself. It generally results in a lower quality signal, however all of the pictures on the channels page were taken with the Digibox hooked to a dish tuned using the acoustic method.
    What you do is tap your dish and listen for a high-pitched pinging noise. The higher the pitch, the more on-signal the dish is...
    No, seriously... Proceed as per "the 'other' method" above, but now instead of using a TV to see the picture as you tune in, you hook up a PMR transceiver to the audio from CNN.
    The way I do this is to force one radio into 'transmit' using a lego brick and a couple of rubber bands. Place headphones around the radio, and shove a beer can between the back of the radio and the other side of the headphones. This ensures the radio mic is up close to the headphones speaker.
    Pop on your favourite Alizée track to check everything is working properly, then switch the audio to the analogue receiver.
    Up at the dish... (actually, my dish is in the driveway, propped up using three ridge tiles and a small rock!), aim the dish towards the satellite. Perform a slow and careful sweeping motion to find it. Once you hear some hiss, stop. Wobble the dish to bring in sound. You should hear an American girl talking about who just blew up who in Israel. This is important as it is quite easy to point your dish at the wrong satellite, and end up looking at the likes of Nile TV!
    Here's the hard part. Move the dish left until you lose the signal. Note the position. Now move the dish right and note where you lose the signal the other direction. Position the dish in the centre, and then do exactly the same for up and down. With a little luck, you can lock the dish in place bang on-signal. It's very hard though, as you only get a couple of degrees of 'play' with analogue, and with digital you need a good signal (sparklies in an analogue picture can be enough to kill a digital picture). So, for digital, your 'play' is less than a degree. If your dish is in a place susceptible to wind, ensure it is locked down tightly.
    My dish, as I've mentioned, is on the ground and propped up with ridge tiles. Luckily our main winds are Westerlies so the house shelters the dish, but a strong cyclonic is enough to knock it out of alignment. In fact, one storm last winter deposited the dish about forty metres away in a field! :-) Actually, as of mid-2004 I reverted to a smaller (60cm) mesh dish. Not only does this give a better signal (I think the solid dish is suffering from its flying lessons!), it also has the great benefit that wind passes right through it.
    You might ask why I don't fix it down securely. I'm tied to the length of the cable, and the dish 'sight' of the satellite. The choices are to drill into a solid stone wall, and I don't have the equipment for that. Alternatively I could try punching a hole through the tarmac driveway which may have been overlaid on stone cobble (not by us, I hasten to add). As you can see, the ridge tiles may be temporary, but they aren't a bad compromise...
    This is my (old) dish, precariously held in position by a few spare ridge tiles! The current dish is much the same, only it is a black mesh type and is 60cm (the white one is 80cm). The mesh dish is less vulnerable to gusts of wind...

    If you tune using the acoustic method and you can stand being out in the pouring rain (some people like that kind of thing - look at that film with Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds (though maybe not if it is -5°C!)) - then you are likely to get a more on-signal satellite the heavier the rain is. Why?
    Because on a beautiful clear sky there's nothing between your dish and the satellite except a whole heap of air. With heavy rain clouds in the way, there's a lot of water vapour there also. And satellite signals don't pass through water as easily as they do the air, so it attenuates the signal; thus the hit'n'miss range is reduced.
    Now, if you're going to get yourself wet, it goes without saying that you pick a warm day to do this - unless you fancy a week feeling crappy and sipping the Lemsip. This would be greatly enhanced if you have a partner/parent/child to assist you as you really don't want to come inside and poke electronic equipment with water dripping off of you. One drop inside your Digibox can render it quite dead. And as for getting water in the back of a TV. Trust me, it isn't nice.
    One final word - if you do the maths and figure that the ultimate signal block is likely to be a cloud with serious mass, like a thundercloud or a hurricane, then you are quite correct. However, do you think it is entirely sensible to be perched up a ladder grasping a possibly-earthed metal dish while there's a storm raging or lightning rolling from the sky? Really, it's a no brainer. Don't do it!!!
    If you prefer to be warm and cuddly and dry, there is a way that you can see if you have this rain margin. Any decent sat-finder will have a little switch on the back (or possibly inside). The switch will be marked "0dB" and "-6dB". The exact meaning of this is too much bother to explain, so just know that the "-6dB" setting is your rain margin. You'd be best leaving your sat-finder at this setting.
    Align the dish as described but leave the sat-finder in-line and go look at your television. If it is all okay with the -6dB reduction in signal, you have a suitable rain margin.
    If you don't have a signal, switch the sat-finder to 0dB and check again. If you now have a signal then the problem is weak reception (no rain margin). If you still don't have a signal with the sat-finder at 0dB then you have a problem...


One note to consider on the subject of thunderstorms - if you live in the UK and you have a Digibox on the freebie contract - ignore the 'small print' that says it must always be attached to a telephone line. As soon as a thunderstorm comes along, the wise person would disconnect the Digibox entirely (power, LNB, antenna, telephone). Not to mention doing the same for anything else electrical that is 'delicate' (computer, fax, modem, VCR...).
Additionally, if you are planning on spending two weeks in Tenerife, then I'd be inclined to unplug everything and cut the power (unless the fridge/freezer has to stay on).
Electrical equipment can react very unpredictably when lightning gets into it (I've seen a television blow itself apart (the PSU exploded, shrapnel took the tube with it)) and unless somebody is planning to give me a cast iron we-will-replace-everything-if-your-house-burns-down guarantee, then I'd say stuff the small print and unplug.
Incidentally, it works out cheaper for them too. During the contract, the Digibox is under guarantee. No zapped box, nothing to repair or replace.

In Europe, where storms bite (if you've never left England, you have no idea) and where the electrics are 'interesting' (or downright scary, if you're in Spain) and much of it in rural areas is strung high (and thus asking to be hit), nobody in their right mind would keep stuff switched on in a thunderstorm.

Sorry to have repeated myself a few times. I've seen lightning damage. Luckily the only thing I, personally, have lost is a light bulb. Touch wood. A lot. Trust me, it ain't pretty.


The importance of a good signal

With the analogue system, the worse the reception was, the more 'sparklies' you would see in the picture. Sometimes it was enough to cause the Sky's Videocrypt system to fail, but generally it took a thunder-head to knock out the signal.
Actually, as an aside, I observed on a completely clear sky, the signal vanished for a second. Upon looking for a reason, I saw a jumbo jet flying very high up. What d'you suppose are the statistical chances of that?

A digital signal is more fussy. The system used is pretty resilient, but when the data corruption is more than can be recovered, you'll go from mild corruption where movement is affected...

Minor corruption of the signal is experienced with thick clouds, heavy rain...
...to more severe corruption where everything is affected...
Serious corruption of the signal is typically experienced with thunderstorms or solid fleshy objects (cats, birds...) passing in front of the signal path.
Loss of signal is experienced when the problems are more than momentary, or high winds blow your dish. After a few moments, this will change to say that no signal is being received.


Switching on the Digibox

Ensure the dish is hooked up, and the TV is hooked up with SCART leads. If this is a second-hand box, DO NOT EVER connect anything via the RF2 socket. I'll explain why in a moment.
Plug in the power. A little red light at the front should come on.

Now wait. And wait. And wait. The Pace BSkyB 2500B takes over twenty seconds to get itself going; plus another thirty-odd seconds to notice that it actually has a valid satellite signal. It's pretty slow. So slow, in fact, that I can (from standby) press Services, 6, and then Select (for CNN) and it'll tell me that no signal is being received. Unless you have a fast Digibox, don't try to be a speed demon. It won't work!

Press the 'power' button on the front panel or the remote. The red light will turn green. On the TV you'll see it say that it is searching for listings, followed by a complaint that no satellite signal is being received.
Do not panic! It can be receiving a perfect signal, but if the symbol rate and the FEC (Forward Error Correction, it's nerdy so don't bother with an explanation) are not correct, the box will tell you there's no signal. Remember people, this device is intended for the Sky service which is essentially plug'n'play, so no, the box won't bother scanning different symbol rates (actually, it only supports two!) and FECs.

Press Services on the remote, then press 4, then 0, then 1, and finally press Select.
Do not worry if nothing appears to happen as you press zero and one. It is a 'hidden' menu, so simply press the keys given above and ignore the screen, the menu will turn up...
The screen will look like:

The hidden Installer menu is available by pressing [Services], [4], [0], [1], [Select].
If your LNB is non-standard, you can choose option 1 to set up the low/high local frequencies. This is unlikely, though, as most universal LNBs work the same way (9.75/10.6 with 22kHz switch tone). No, the Digibox doesn't support DiSEqC. It is designed for Sky, remember, so changing satellites isn't really an option with the Sky package!
Any reasonable DUAL band LNB will allow you to receive digital broadcasts.

If you want, you can go to option 2 and set the default transponder to 11.778 V 27.5 3/4 - which is nearly the same as the Sky default (the Sky default is the same, except the FEC is 2/3).
This frequency, normally, (on Sky) carries the EPG data, however there isn't any such thing available on Astra 19.2°E, it is CNN and some other channels...
Why bother changing the default transponder? The reason is simple - if you ever plan to check the signal quality, it uses the signal from the default transponder. Incorrect settings equals 'no signal'. It's up to you.

If you plan to hook anything to the RF2 output, go into option 4 and ensure that the power is turned off. The Digibox can output 9V to power a Digilink unit. Plugging 9V into the back of a TV is unlikely to be friendly to it.
Question - what if your TV has no SCART socket and neither does your VCR? Apparently the power is only applied to RF2, so use RF1... Best to double-check with a multimeter though... Once the UHF power is off, you can safely use RF2.
Additionally, you can use this setting to alter the UHF output frequency if it clashes with anything. I've set my Digibox to UHF21 (same as the analogue) as my teletext receiver expects to 'see' something at UHF21, I'm only going to be using on receiver at a time, so it's no problem to move the UHF lead - I've got to move the power, LNB, and SCART anyway.

You can now proceed to tuning... Since we are here, we'll use the Manual Tuning option...


Tuning in a channel

If you have a good reception, you can add channels using the 'Add Channels' option (Services, 4, 4 on your remote).
If your reception is less good, you might prefer the 'Manual Tuning' option (Services, 4, 0, 1, Select, 5). The only difference is that the 'Manual Tuning' option pops up the signal quality display while it is looking for channels. You can use this to judge if things are okay or not, as might be the case with a roughly-installed dish, fringe areas, or bad weather.

Enter the details for the channel you wish to receive...

Tuning into a channel, step 1 - entering the frequency, symbol rate, and FEC.
Here, we are going to tune into CNN. Press Select to continue...
Tuning into a channel, step 2 - checking the signal quality. If you tune using the Add Channels method, the Digibox will skip this step.
If you are performing the Manual Tuning, you will see the signal quality appear (otherwise you will see just the backdrop for a few moments). As you can see, my signal strength could be better. The signal quality is okay for the current weather (-7°C and totally clear) but rain might cause picture break-up.
The Network ID and Transport Stream numbers will change, and the Signal Quality will vanish. So count to five slowly and then press Select. You'll see...
Tuning into a channel, step 3 - choosing what to add.
Simply highlight the channel(s) that you wish to receive by moving up and down and pressing the Yellow button for the channel. Press Select when you've chosen them all. You'll then see...
Tuning into a channel, step 4 - additions successful.
Pressing Select will take you back to the frequency/pol./sym/FEC settings screen so that you may add several groups of channels at one time.



  1. Unlike channel reception that you may have been used to, the digital channels are offered in a 'boutique'. Sometimes you can see only a couple of channels (6 to 8 is usual), but if a frequency carries radio channels, you might see more than a screenful!
    The way this works is your Digibox receives ALL of the channels at a given polarisation from the LNB (just like analogue receivers). This is similar to the way your radio antenna receives ALL the stations. The Digibox then tunes the desired frequency (again, like the older receivers or a radio). The next step is that, using the symbol rate and the FEC, the Digibox figures out what this data-stream is actually supposed to be. At any given time, your Digibox will be receiving several channels. It may receive only one, or it may receive over twenty. It simply sorts through all of this mass of data to pick out which bits belong to the channel that you are currently watching. This, sorted, data is then passed to the MPEG decoder for decoding and display.
  2. There is an important caveat - the Digibox only has 50 slots for 'other' channels. You will need to examine what you actually want to receive. What are you likely to be interested in? There are many channels available at 19.2°E - there are probably more than 50 German channels alone!
    This, again, reflects the Digibox's commitment to the Sky package. After all, as soon as you power up a box on Sky you get the EPG with full programme details of thousands of channels you never knew you wanted to watch - so who is actually going to use the Other Channels option on Sky?
    Thankfully, 50 channels isn't too restrictive. Here is my current channel selection (38 channels):
    My (larger) channel list, page 1.   My (larger) channel list, page 2.


Now that your Digibox has been 'set up', it's time to go about using it!

· Main index · Next:Using your Digibox


By the way - the Lemsip reference above is definitely a recommendation. The stuff worked wonders on me when I used to work in nursing homes (places where all the bugs came for the holidays).
Sadly, I've not found anything like it in France so I tend to drop a fizzy paracetamol into hot water, and squeeze in the juice of half a lemon. Not quite a Lemsip, but as close as I can get right now...

Copyright © 2005 Richard Murray