Eschew the Sky box, take the freelance approach to HD FTA

December 20, 2021 – 12:34 pm

Hi-def television via satellite usually means investing in a Sky HD box, paying for installation, and forking out each month for the subscription, so there's definitely a demand for alternative, cheaper paths to HD satellite material.

You don't need to go the Sky route; a free-to-air (FTA) HD box will bring you the limited UK free-to-air HD satellite channels (ie BBC HD) and, with the right dish setup, European HD ones as well - not to mention access to all the FTA UK and European standard-definition channels, too.

For such 'independent' use in the UK and Europe, Fortec Star has joined Pace and Humax with an HD set-top box. While not a brand well known to most readers, the Canadian manufacturer has a history of producing respected, good value receivers.

This unassuming box is well made and quite tastefully styled, although the circular 'on' light à la Sky+ is a bit cheeky - suggesting PVR function when there isn't any. The remote looks cheap next to TV and DVD remotes from the Japanese multinationals, but it goes one better than Sky, doubling as a universal control for your TV, VCR and DVD player.

Also bettering any digibox, the front panel display names the channel tuned and provides other information, but the Passion is not strictly a rival to Sky's HD box. It can't be used for encrypted SkyHD channels; it hasn't the required Videoguard CAM (Conditional Access Module) and cannot take one because Sky only allows these within its own official digiboxes.

However, the Passion has two 'Common Interface' slots for plug-in CAMs for continental pay-TV broadcasters.

In the UK, you are restricted to FTA channels - that's BBC HD and FTA SD English-language channels (less enticing but plentiful).

This means pairing it with a dish (50cm across most of the UK) pointed at the Astra 2 satellites. Of course, if you do want to extend your viewing to other satellites, too - for SD or HD channels, free or pay-TV - you will need additional dishes, a multi-feed dish, or a motorised antenna.

Unlike a SkyHD box, the Passion can easily cope with all these possibilities - up to four satellites with its industry standard DiSEqC 1.0 switching system as well as DiSEqC 1.2 and USALS motorised dish systems.

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