Expats – Cable & Satellite Guide – Winter 2017

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Up-to-date advice from Xenio

Do you live outside your home country? What to know what TV channels you can view in your new country of residence?

This is the XLVision Independent Guide to satellite systems & video delivery.

Across the continent of Europe there are now all kinds of ways get high quality video and audio into the home or business premises. We always keep an eye on all of the possibilities.

Below we’ve outlined some of the solutions together with the advantages and disadvantages of each. Do you have questions or comments? Please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Introduction to what’s possible

These days most people watch video on a flat-screen of some kind. It’s often driven by plasma. LED, or liquid-crystal technology. There’s a never ending discussion about which is better – it’s like loudspeakers. In many cases the best choice depends on the circumstances and the user preferences. The scene is always changing, which is why we constantly visit trade shows across Europe, not only to find the most suitable equipment, but also the best deals.

But one thing is clear to us.

There are many fantastic screens out there that have exquisite external design. But they are displaying a truly awful picture – full of artefacts and blemishes, especially when it comes to fast moving events like sports.

In many cases these problems are not due to the display, but the processes in the distribution chain between the content maker and the consumer.

Bringing a better TV signal from them to you

In most of Europe, and The Netherlands in particular, there are three ways to bring a live video signal indoors. You receive pictures from;

  • A signal broadcast over the air from a terrestrial transmitter. In the UK this is branded as Freeview, in the Netherlands it’s a pay-TV subscription system called Digitenne. This technology is known as DVB-T (terrestrial digital video broadcasting)
  • A signal fed into the house as part of a digital TV package supplied by the cable company. Many of these companies also offer Internet services and telephone service as part of a basic or extended package. In recent months, cable companies have do a lot to increase the speed of both broadband and the number of HD channels being offered.
  • A signal received from a small satellite dish mounted on the outside of the building. Let’s examine each of the three options.

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1. Satellite

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Satellite TV reception is made possible by pointing a satellite dish towards one or more broadcast satellites operating in geostationary orbit. The dish needs to be positioned in such a way that there is unrestricted line of site between the dish and the satellite. In the tropics that means the dishes point straight up. In Northern Europe, they point at a lower angle to the horizon.

The broadcast satellites like Astra, Eutelsat, Nilesat etc. are positioned 36,000 km above the equator in such a way that they are always at the same point in the sky, so the dish only needs to be pointed in the right direction once, during initial installation. It is then fixed and doesn’t need to move.

A typical satellite system consists of two parts. The satellite dish is mounted outside and pointed towards the satellite. A cable runs from the dish to a set-top decoder box inside the building. Often these boxes have a slot so you can insert a subscription card to view pay-TV channels. On the back of this box are connections for a TV display, a digital video recorder and options to put the sound through a hi-fi set.

Satellite dishes come in a variety of sizes, depending on their capabilities.

In general they have got smaller over the years (dishes of 54 cm in diameter are common in Western Europe) and many can receive signals from more than one satellite. The cliché picture of giant dishes is now largely confined to the scientific world of radio astronomy!

No permission needed

International regulations mean you do not need permission or a licence from local authorities to mount a dish.

There may be local by-laws from people who own the building, so check contracts before you invest. XL-vision has experience in what to look for.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe good news is that designs are far less obtrusive than they used to be. Dishes can be made of gauze material or transparent plastic. Traditionally they are white, but also come in other colours to blend in with the surroundings. The only condition is that they need to be mounted at a location that provides uninterrupted view of the satellite. Signals cannot be received through buildings that block the path. But we have become experts at keeping satellite dishes out of view.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe set-top box inside the building converts the satellite signals into video and audio signals that can be watched on a LCD or plasma display. The boxes also generate an on-screen menu of the signals that can be received. Some boxes are capable of receiving and displaying both standard definition (SD) and the new higher definition (HD) pictures being introduced across Europe. There are hundreds of channels which can be received free-of-charge. But most boxes also offer the ability to use a subscription cards which unlocks scrambled pay-TV channels. You need to purchase these smart cards separately and the price depends on what selection of programmes you want to see. Note that not all cards are available in all countries. It may be that the satellite TV operator restricts the coverage of its channel for copyright reasons. Some programmes are regional. So if you move from India to The Netherlands, the bouquet of available programmes will always be different.

Advice for Expats (or those planning to move within Europe)

XLvision can advise on what is available where – and for what price. If you are moving from one country to another, check with us beforehand for advice on what can be received in your new location. Our knowledge database is always current. Established clients who subscribe to our clients-only news briefings get to know about new services and changes first.

Advantages of satellite reception:

  • Subscription costs generally lower than digital cable options.
  • Huge variety of programme channels, significantly larger than cable or Freeview. This is very useful if you speak English and want to receive English language programmes in a country where English is not the mother tongue. Cable companies tend to focus on languages of that nation.
  • Reception of programmes is possible through most of the European continent. If you move within this region, the programme choice remains the same.
  • Satellite TV provides the highest quality video and audio, especially on High-Definition signals which is becoming standard.
  • Easy navigation between channels on a set-top box that you own.

Disadvantages of satellite reception:

  • A satellite dish with direct line-of-sight to the satellite is needed. Obstructions by buildings or other objects usually mean reception is impossible.
  • The dish needs to be fixed (not the easiest option for those on a boat – but possible now).
  • Higher initial investment costs than cable or terrestrial digital (DVB-T) services.
  • Extreme weather conditions (storm clouds) can occasionally impair reception of weaker satellite channels. Most satellite dishes can withstand high winds.
  • Interactive services (such as on-demand movies or Internet via the satellite) are now a viable option in rural areas, though they may be more expensive than cable options. Note that in rural areas, satellite delivered web services are making progress since it will never be economically viable for cable companies to provide extensive services to rural communities.
  • If you want to watch a different channel in another room, then you will need a separate indoor satellite decoder. Each box can only view one channel at a time. Some boxes have two tuners to allow you to record one channel while viewing another.

Xl-vision is happy to advise you on the best choice. Why not call us or make an appointment?

 

2. Digitenne (DVB-T or Freeview)

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Terrestrial digital video broadcasting is expanding in many European countries as analogue services are being switched off or dates are announced for analogue closedown. These dates vary per country. In the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK, for instance, all analogue TV broadcasting has already ended.

digitenne 2014We think that terrestrial digital television is only a transition technology. In Belgium, the main provider Telenet has stopped its DVB-T service, the Belgian equivalent of Freeview. The public broadcaster VRT will still be distributed by the DVB-T, but the rest (including distribution of Dutch public channels) stopped on March 31st 2014. The operator says existing customers will get a refund to cover the costs of the receiver (140 Euro) and any remaining subscription. That’s it then. Telenet only had 18 channels, rather thin in this day and age. And several popular commercial channels were missing.

Differences between UK and Netherlands Freeview

Digitenne in the Netherlands is different from the UK Freeview system, although the basic technology is the same.

In the UK, Freeview offers most of its channels for free, so once you have bought the set-top box there are no further charges. Compared to the Netherlands, only a fraction of the UK has access to digital cable. Rural areas are still waiting for faster broadband via cable.  In the UK, Freeview is gradually introducing some HD services, but nothing like the same range as offered by satellite TV or cable companies.

The Netherlands operator (KPN) has opted for a different business model. You buy a set-top decoder box and a smart card. The subscription is cheaper than cable, but the choice of channels is more restricted (28 TV channels, 23 radio channels as of July 2014). The technology is such that this choice is not going to expand, and (for the moment) the Dutch system is not designed for High Definition.

Digitenne Installation

A digitenne package consists of a smart decoder, a smartcard (the size of a credit card), a small antenna and the required connecting cables. You connect the cables to any TV display, and insert the smart card into the digitenne box. The subscription is activated automatically a few hours after the package has been purchased. You also need to connect the antenna, which operates indoors, for most parts of the Netherlands. The set-up time is literally no more than 10 minutes.

Advantages of Digitenne

  • Simple plug-in-and-play installation.
  • Lowest subscription costs in the Netherlands for 26 TV channels and 23 radio channels. The set-top box is provided as a free loan in the Netherlands. You listen to the radio through your TV or by connecting separate amplifier and speakers.
  • Although you need a separate set-top box for each TV display/receiver you have, each Digitenne subscription allows you to connect up to three TV’s. The first digitenne receiver is free as part of the subscription package. Digitenne are offering to hire the second and third receiver for € 4, per month per receiver.
  • The antenna does not have to point at the transmitter (like a dish towards the satellite). So this is often the simplest solution for people who want to view live TV on a boat or on a camping site in the Netherlands.

Disadvantages of Digitenne

  • Reception still patchy in rural parts of the Netherlands and impossible outside the borders of the Netherlands (you must be within the limited coverage area of the transmitter).
  • The KPN service site also shows that there are sometimes problems with poor indoor reception due to light dimmers and other sources of interference.
  • For Dutch expats, digitenne is not an option. 
  • The 23 radio channels can only be listened to via the TV or a separate hi-fi installation. You cannot listen to this digitenne radio service on a standard AM/FM radio.
  • HD (High-definition) channels are not coming to the Digitenne platform for the foreseeable future.

In some city areas in the Netherlands with high electrical background noise from mobile phone towers, tramlines etc.  perfect reception may require mounting the antenna outside. But this ‘stick” antenna is small and unobtrusive. Some people want more than the 26 TV channels on offer or a different selection. The package is designed to appeal to the Dutch speaking consumers which make up the majority of the clientele. This is reflected in the channels offered on TV and radio.

 

3. Digital Cable TV Services including Fibre

There are three main types of providers in 2014:

  1. In the Netherlands, cable TV operators such as Ziggo and UPC are offering digital TV services, usually as part of a subscription offering that includes Internet access and telephone.
  2. KPN  former state phone company is also competing with the cable companies by using its phone line infrastructure to offer Interactive TV services , as well as Internet and phone services. In practice, although the technologies to bring signals into your building are different, the results are similar. Like its cable rivals, KPN is expanding its offer of on-demand films. There is a cable connection already present in almost all Dutch homes and businesses. The cable company for that region (or KPN) supplies you with their set-top box which you connect to the TV display in the room of your choice.
  3. In the Netherlands, more than 22 cities now have glass-fibre cable installed. This gives considerably faster bandwidth (50 MB/sec is typical). It required fiber cable to be connected to a special modem in your house. For details, please consult the special national glass-fibre website . This website is only in Dutch. If you think this may be an option for you, please call us for independent advice.
Fibre optical cable being laid across the Netherlands

Orange fibre optic cables are being laid across the Netherlands

Advantages of Digital Cable

  • One stop solution for TV, radio, telephone and Internet services. Internet services via cable are usually faster than the older ADSL.
  • Plug-and-play, simple set-up. You have a greater choice of channels than with Digitenne (though less or the same as satellite TV). Some channels are exclusive to cable companies. You won’t find them on satellite or Digitenne.
  • The electronic programme guide includes on-demand services (think of film services like Netflix or LoveFilm).

Disadvantages of Digital Cable

  • For the moment, at least, the choice of cable TV provider in the Netherlands is very restricted. If you don’t like the subscription packages on offer from the cable company (or its rival KPN), then you have no alternative.
  • If your mother tongue is not Dutch, you may find the offer from the cable company does not include your favourite channels, or that they fall outside the cheapest basic package.You may have pay extra to view these channels.
  • Although HD services are starting to be offered through Dutch cable companies, satellite TV offers a much wider choice.
  • The technical quality of some digital TV channels via the cable is noticeably inferior to the same channels when viewed via satellite. This is because the cable companies want to squeeze more channels and services down the same pipe. But in general the picture quality is good (better than Digitenne, not quite as good as satellite).
  • For Dutch expats, note that Dutch cable set-top boxes do not work abroad.
  • Not all companies allow you to take your decoder with you if you move to another part of the Netherlands where there is another provider.
  • You may be paying for services you don’t need? Check that you get extra decoders for TV’s in other rooms.
  • You get little or no choice in the brand of TV decoder – this is determined by your provider. Cable companies seem to gravitate towards cost considerations before considering features. Check the decoder can do what you want and that the electronic programme guide is easy to use. Does the decoder have an option to record another channel while you’re watching another? If so, how?

Independent Advice on all three options

XL-Vision understands all the advantages and disadvantages of these three delivery systems. Depending on your needs, we can suggest various solutions to ensure you have exactly what you want, where you want it!

Confused by the complicated subscription packages? Ask advice from XLvision to understand what you are really getting for your money?

Please note that prices and channel capabilities mentioned on this website were correct as of mid 2014, but of course are subject to change.

Contact us!

We are always happy to help!

Get in touch now by phone or e-mail to discuss how XL-Vision can offer you the best equipment and service at competitive prices!
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