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CAI Trade Fair 2001 by Ashley Elford

CAI Trade Fair 2001
by Ashley Elford - Media Bullet

I was lucky enough to get tickets to this year’s CAI Trade Fair.  The fair was hosted at the Heathrow Park Hotel, and was open between Tuesday 19th June – Thursday 21st June. I decided to attend the show on Wednesday 20th June.  The show began at 10am, and I arrived with five minutes to spare.  

I received a friendly welcome from the CAI staff once entering the hotel. On arrival, I was issued with a name badge, saying who I was, and what I did (I’m not quite a world-wide media mogul yet!). This sounds like a straightforward procedure, though the printer decided to stop printing.  Anyway, the problem was fixed, and after several apologies for the delay, and a couple of sweets from the staff, I could finally begin to take a look around the show.

The first stand I visited was one from Scion Technology. On display were examples of headend tuners as well as UHF distribution systems.  The staff there gave me a couple of leaflets to look at, but as there was not much of interest to me there, I decided to move-on to another stand.

The second stand I looked at was from the Solutions Group.  The Solutions Group are distributors to the trade for various equipment, from signal strength meters to digital boxes etc…  On display there were many leaflets from the Solutions Group containing information about the products they supply, as well as some general information. There was also a working display of signal strength meters, digital boxes and a satellite PC card.  None of the set-top-boxes appeared to have smartcards, and so a Philips ONdigital box, was tuned into E4 with the interactive service on display.  At the other end was a display of the recently introduced WinTV DVB-S PC card.  This PC card is capable of receiving FTA digital satellite channels, as well as being compatible with satellite internet services (though these are not free).  Spencer Payne from the Solutions Group, showed me a copy of their quarterly ‘Rigger’s Digest’ magazine, which contained an article of the PC card.   

After about twenty minutes of discussion with Spencer Payne, I moved on to the BSkyB stand.  This was one of the stands I thought would be the most interesting, however, I thought it was a disappointment.  It was basically like the usual Sky display stands you would expect to find in Dixons; not a trade fair stand! On display there was a couple of set-top-boxes, connected to a widescreen TV, as well as a TiVo box connected to another widescreen television – hardly interesting!  So thirty seconds later, I moved on to the next stand.

The fourth stand I was to visit was from the Radiocommunications Agency.  On appearance there wasn’t much on display here, just a few leaflets.  Still, I introduced myself, and I had a very interesting chat with the staff there about the way radio in particular was licensed. Although the Radio Authority handle the legal side of these issue, the Radiocommunications Agency handle the technical aspects of the spectrums of UK land based radio, telephone, television etc…  The staff explained to me that they are also used to detect interference from where radio stations may transmit beyond their licensed broadcast limit, and if necessary impose action to jam the station’s frequencies, if it refuses to comply with their requests.  The Radiocommunications Agency has a close relationship with the coastguard for those that have difficulties at sea.  One of the problems they face is when people store distress flares for long periods of time, many of these flares transmit a distress signal when they are set-off, and in older flares the signals can be set-off by them simply being knocked over, so if you have any old flares – take notice!

Thirty minutes later, and it was nearly 11am, I’d been at the show for nearly an hour.  The trade fair seminars were about to start at 11am, so I headed on to the seminar room. Mike Locke presented the first seminar from Eutelsat.  It was about Eutelsat’s new “Open-Sky” service providing a range of multimedia and broadband services.  Mike started the seminar jokingly saying, “You’ll probably know that we’re here as a warm-up act for Sky!”  The seminar mostly consisted of a slide-show, which detailed what exactly the Open-Sky service was able to provide.  After about 25 minutes, the seminar ended, and there was a short break for Sky to set-up their presentation.

The Sky seminar started slightly late to do a sound problem with the projector. The first seminar from Sky, was called “News Flash”, though I suspected it would be about Sky+, surely enough, I was correct.  James Soames presented the Sky+ seminar.  Once the seminar began, James showed us a short 90-second video about what Sky+ did, basically a PVR with twin satellite tuners – which we all knew already!  Anyway on with the technical stuff.

What does Sky+ have to offer ?

  • All the features of the current Sky set-top-boxes.

  • 20 hours ‘typical’ recording.

  • Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.

  • Recording from search and scan banner option.

  • Pause live television.

  • Allows for time changes in programming (participating channels only).

Sky+ has the ability to record one channel whilst watching another. Unlike the TiVo PVR, the Sky+ box will record directly from the broadcasting stream, so for example, if you were to use your Sky+ box for recording sports, you would have a lower total recording time, than recording cartoons.

The menus are virtually the same as those of the current Sky set-top-boxes, except the personal planner options become the ‘personal recording’ options.  Option 0 from the EPG menu will display a list of recorded programmes, and programmes pending recording.  At the top-left of the EPG is a scale of HDD space used, and available.

The standard Sky remote control will be manufactured slightly larger for Sky+, this is to include a circle of recording buttons.  The Sky+ set-top-boxes are to be manufactured by Pace, the boxes socketry includes:

  • Twin LNB inputs

  • Optical digital audio output

  • S-Video output

  • Twin scart outputs

  • Twin RF outputs

The installation of Sky+ is not quite as straight forward as current set-top-box installation.  The single output LNB on the Sky minidish will need to be unscrewed, and replaced with a specialised quad output LNB. The quad output LNB is only compatible on the arms of current Sky minidishes, ‘regular’ (non-Sky) satellite dishes, will need a ‘regular’ (non-Sky) quad output LNB.  The Sky+ set-top-box will need two have two of the feeds from the LNB, and as such all cabling from the minidish to the Sky+ set-top-box will need to be replaced with dual RF CT63 cabling.  Because of the complexity and time of the installation, there will be an increase above the normal cost of installation for those wanting Sky+, in addition, the installation cost will not cover moving a current subscriber’s Sky set-top-box to another room in the house (should they own one).  

To use functions above those of the usual Sky set-top-box, Sky+ users, will need to subscribe to Sky and pay a monthly Sky+ service charge.  James told us that there would NOT be any option to have a ‘lifetime’ subscription, like what TiVo offer.  He said, “Sky+ will be a premium product for Sky Digital subscribers.”

Installers and sales staff will attend training courses during the summer to get used to how Sky+ works, and shops will be given special display stands for Sky+.  Sky+ will have a “press launch” in the summer, whilst in should be in the shops for September/October time.

The seminar was already over-running in time by several minutes, but James agreed to answer some questions.  One of the installers asked if Sky were going to offer any special discounts for the installation of Sky+.  James replied with a ‘no comment’ style reply.  The installer said that they (referring to the other installers in the seminar room) were not happy with the way Sky paid them for existing discounted installations.  This was echoed throughout the room by other installers, but James, had nothing to say in response.

With the time at about 12.15pm, it was time for Bill Collins from Sky to give the third seminar of the day.  The title of the seminar was, ‘Digital satellite – the Package Completed’ with a blurb saying, “Includes how the availability of ITV on satellite will affect the aerial industry.”

Bill started the seminar quite honestly by saying;

“The seminar says I’m supposed to be talking about how the availability of ITV on satellite will affect the aerial industry, but to be quite honest I’ve no idea!”

Instead, Bill gave a talk about the current developments at Sky.

He first said that Sky minidishes were to be made of a more ridged material.  Sky had noticed a problem in which, during installations, some dishes became slightly deformed, because of their softness. Bill also reminded the installers to not assemble the minidishes until arrival at the installation jobs, to avoid damage during transit.  The new minidishes are also to be supplied with slightly modified clamps, this should make installing the dishes in non-standard positions easier.  Finally, Bill explained new dishes would come supplied with a mini spirit level to help with alignment.

Sky said that a future software update would cause the EPG to display a low battery warning should the remote control’s batteries be near the end of their life.

Finally Bill explained that there was a problem with DECT cordless telephones and transponder 40.  Locating a DECT handset near a Sky set-top-box can cause problems with transponder 40 channels because the channels and telephone operate on the same IF band frequencies.  However, this is only a problem on poor installations, or loose connections between the LNB cable and set-top-box.

So by then the time was 12.45pm! I’d been at the show for nearly three hours; the time had passed very quickly!  I decided to have lunch, and a short rest.

At 1pm, I had my break, and began to walk around the fair again.  I took a look at the Philips SMATV stand.  I met George Wojtowicz, the Philips General UK Manager.  On display was a number of leaflets, as well as other SMATV equipment.  George explained to me that Philips supplied a large amount of SMATV equipment.  When I asked him why people chose Philips he told me in reply that whilst Philips may be slightly more expensive than their rivals, they have the edge in quality, and in the long term, people want a reliable SMATV system, not a cheap and nasty SMATV system.

The next stand I was to visit was the SES Astra stand. The stand had two plasma televisions, showing output from the Astra 2 satellites.  Also, on display were a dish of Astra pins (of which I helped myself to two), and some Astra information packs.  However, the stand was un-manned, so unfortunately I couldn’t ask any questions (or tell them about how wonderful Media Bullet is).

Eurosat Distribution got the next visit from me.  Eurosat are similar to the Solutions Group, because they distribute equipment to the trade.  However, in addition to this, they also manufacture satellite set-top-boxes.  Eurosat had a range of set-top-boxes on display from other manufactures, which they both sell, and compare with their Eurosat range.  Eurosat tell me that they have no plans to manufacture and digital terrestrial equipment.

On next to the stand which was from ONdigital.  The ONdigital effort was more technical than the Sky stand.  On display was a working demonstration of ONdigital’s own solution for distributing both FTA and subscription digital terrestrial channels.  There were several staff from ONdigital there talking to people about what they do, what they offer, and the rebrand to ITV Digital. 

“Technical Support” packs were on display, these contained information sheets with tips for installing DTT systems in hotels, making shared aerial systems compatible with DTT, and also domestic aerial upgrades.  In addition to the, “Technical Support” packs, a dish of un-opened, ONdigital branded, business card cases was available for people to help themselves with.

My final visit was to the Pace stand.  I talked to Albert Holtzhausen about how Pace has changed over the last decade.  In the analogue satellite age, Pace was renowned for it’s satellite set-top-boxes, these ranged from basic videocrypt systems to D2MAC decoders, to multi-satellite systems.  Albert told me that Pace has changed its focus in the digital age, to make what the service providers want.  For example, if I operated my own satellite service, Pace could make a system exactly how I would want it to be.  Finally I asked him about ‘digital adapters’ – are Pace planning on manufacturing them ? The answer: Yes!

By then it was 2.15pm.  I had spent a very interesting four hours at the show, and it will be interesting what is on offer this time next year.

All views on this page are the views of Ashley Elford, webmaster of DTT News.

© 2001 Ashley Elford

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