Receiving UK TV Channels Outside the UK in your Motorhome or Caravan

Most of our customers looking at our portable satellite TV dishes are interested in watching the UK TV channels (freesat, Sky*, Freesat from Sky) across the UK, France and Spain. These channels are broadcast from a group of satellites positioned at 28.2° East, the three satellites currently in use are Astra 2E, Astra 2F and Astra 2G, collectively referred to as Astra 2 or Astra 28. They provide more than 470 digital TV, digital radio and interactive channels from Sky and freesat with reception intended to cover the UK and Ireland but you can go further with the right equipment. What you want to watch and where determines which dish you will need so read on to find out more.

Due to the new Astra satellites that have been brought in to replace the old ones over the last couple of years the area of coverage for UK TV has changed from the past but don’t listen to those who tell you that you can no longer receive any UK TV in France or Spain because that isn’t the case.

The Astra 2 satellites have different “beams” which provide coverage for different areas, the UK Spot Beam and the Pan European Beam.

The UK Spot Beam

This beam is targeted to cover the UK and Ireland but also extends into Northern France, Belgium and parts of the Netherlands with a smaller dish and further south with the right equipment. The UK Spot Beam carries BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 among others, you can see full lists of all the channels available on the UK spot beams here:

The Pan European Beam

As the name suggests this beam covers the whole of Europe (although you would need a very big dish at the extremes of coverage, far too big to carry in a motorhome or caravan). A lot of the Sky channels are carried on the Pan European Beam which explains why you will often see people saying they can get reception from unexpected places but can only get certain channels. You can see a full list of the channels available here:

Coverage

Below are the official coverage maps (known as the footprint) for the two beams, these maps show the theoretical coverage along with the suggested dish sizes in the circles and are a little on the pessimistic side. The map for the UK spot beam only shows dishes up to 60cm as this size dish covers all the intended reception area but you can get a signal outside this area with a bigger dish and a more sensitive LNB.

UK Spot Beam

UK Spot Beam

Pan European Beam

Pan European Beam

As you can see a 65cm or 80cm dish will work for the Pan European beam in most areas but what about the UK spot beam? Below is the coverage map from the QuickSAT site showing the suggested UK Spot Beam coverage possible with the QS45, QS65 and QS80 dishes:

QuickSAT_ASTRAEF_Coverage

 

Our own experience and the reception reports sent in by QuickSAT users suggest that even this is still a bit conservative with channels on the UK Spot Beam (BBC, ITV Channel 4, Channel 5 etc.) being usable as far as Bordeaux and Valence with a 65cm dish (traditional 65cm dish or compact QuickSAT QS65 dish) and across the border into Spain with an 80cm dish. The Pan European Beam which has a lot of the Sky channels has been seen to be working into southern Spain with a 65cm dish and towards the most southern tips with an 80cm dish.

There are no certainties when you are right on the edge of reception though, accuracy of positioning, receiver used and even the weather can all make a difference. At the end of the day it is important to understand that coverage maps can only be used for general guidance.

What can you watch, Free-to-air, freesat, SKY, Freesat from Sky

Everyone has heard of Sky and probably freesat (lower case f) but the confusingly named “Freesat from Sky” service is not as well known and is often confused with freesat which is actually nothing to do with Sky. Here we break down the three services.

freesat

freesat and other so called free-to-air channels are totally free to receive and all you need is a standard DVB-S receiver such as those built into the Falcon Travel TVs, Cello Traveller Televisions, Avtex DRS televisions or as supplied as optional extras with the QuickSAT dishes or with our EasyFind kits. freesat uses the Astra 2 UK Spot Beam for all its channels.

freesat gives you over 170 digital TV and radio channels and as the name suggests it is subscription free so there are no ongoing costs at all. See the Freesat site for a full list of freesat channels.

Sky

Sky provide hundreds of digital TV and radio channels on their subscription service, for the free channels (BBC, ITV Channel 4, Channel 5 etc.) it uses the UK Spot Beam like freesat but they also use the Pan European Beam for some channels which has excellent coverage. Using Sky requires a Sky digibox or Sky+ digibox and a subscription card but you can take your normal home Sky digibox away with when you travel, no need for a second box or subscription.

See the hundreds of channels available on Sky.

Freesat from Sky

Freesat from Sky allows you to use an existing Sky digibox to receive around 240 channels for a one off fee of £25. Channels available include BBC and ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, E4, Sky 3, BBC News, Sky News, Film 4, Film 24, Euronews, Zone Reality, Life, and Wedding TV and coverage is the same as with the full Sky subscription service. Using Freesat from Sky requires a Sky digibox, eg. an old one you no longer have a monthly subscription for or a second hand one bought elsewhere. More information is available on the Sky website.

Portable Satellite Dish Options

When setting up up a portable satellite dish two factors are very important, elevation (the vertical tilt of the dish) and azimuth (the horizontal rotation or compass bearing) and they vary from location to location. These figures can be obtained from printed elevation tables, smartphone apps such as Dishpointer on iPhone/iPad or SatFinder on Android or the Dishpointer website. The compass bearing doesn’t vary much, only by six degrees in the UK but the elevation varies a lot more and is the hardest bit to get right and the further you get from the intended coverage area of the satellites the more critical these settings become. You may also see skew mentioned, this is the rotation of the LNB but it varies so little that we find it can be totally ignored in the UK and France with the systems below.

The old-fashioned way to set up a dish was to use a sat finder or satellite meter which is a little box that plugs in between the receiver and LNB and beeps and shows the signal strength. These kind of meters are notoriously difficult to use and as they can’t distinguish between satellites they can you leave you having spent a lot of time and effort precisely aligning your dish to the wrong satellite and wondering why you still can’t get a picture. That’s why the systems we have picked use two different technologies to neatly sidestep this problem so you can get it right first time without the headache.

EasyFind Portable Satellite Dishes

cat-easyfindThe EasyFind portable satellite TV systems work like a traditional dish for setting the elevation by using a graduated scale on the back of the dish but for the azimuth it uses a special LNB (the part at the end of the dish arm) that has a tri-colour LED light on it, this changes from red (not near correct position) to amber (getting close) to green (correctly positioned) which makes setting the azimuth easy as long as you have the elevation correctly set, just rotate the dish while watching the LED.  The advantage of the EasyFind is lower cost but you do need to make sure you have the dish set up on level ground otherwise the elevation will be off , it also needs to be used with a special receiver (set top box) that has the EasyFind technology built in or one of the Avtex DRS televisions with Easy Find built in, so no Sky TV unless you first set up with an EasyFind receiver and then switch to your Sky digibox.
Buy EasyFind portable satellite TV Dishes

QuickSAT Portable Satellite Dishes

cat-quicksatThe QuickSAT portable satellite TV system is another method of easily setting up a portable satellite TV dish. In this case a unique patented digital elevation tool allows you to quickly and very accurately set the elevation to precisely the correct setting, even if the dish is not on level ground. With the elevation set all you do it set your TV or receiver to channel and the QuickSAT system relays the sound to the dish, then it is simply a case of rotating the dish slightly until you hear the sounds. The beauty of the QuickSAT is the easy and precise elevation setting (the hardest bit to get right manually) which means you only need to tweak the rotation slightly if at all. In many cases if you have pre-set the rotation using the QuickSAT “sat mat” and compass then there is no rotation required, it just works as soon as you tilt the dish to the correct elevation using the digital meter. QuickSAT works with any free-to-air, freesat or Sky TV box and has a twin LNB so you can watch one channel and record another with Sky+ or other suitably equipped free-to-air receivers.
Buy QuickSAT portable satellite TV dishes here or watch the demo of Chris setting it up in under 2 minutes below:

Our advice is to choose the QuickSAT system if you can but if you are on a budget the EasyFind is still an excellent choice and is miles less hassle than messing around with a traditional satellite finder.

As always, if you have any questions about which satellite TV dish is best for your motorhome or caravan then contact us here and we’ll be glad to advise.

 

 

*Sky is a registered trademark of Sky UK Limited. Falcon Technical Ltd is not affiliated with Sky and no endorsement by Sky is implied.
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