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Are you ready for the ‘Big TV Switch Off’ in Spain?
• Louis Smith with partner Flavia Cacace
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Internet TV specialist Michael Coard explains why and when you will be losing your British TV this year
WHEN Channel 5 disappeared in a puff of smoke before Christmas taking with it all those chestnuts such as CSI and Celebrity Big Brother, there was – perhaps understandably – little more than a minor ripple of concern
That was until the million or so British expats in Spain learnt that ITV and BBC might be next.
The horror of losing Coronation Street and Eastenders, not to mention X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing, was too much to bear for some people, with one even commenting in a recent article that his wife would ‘force him to move back to Blighty if she lost her British TV’.
Action stations then for many, rushing out to find the best value solution to the upcoming problem… but do they really need to worry?
Well the short answer is ‘yes’, but it is not imminent and nobody knows exactly which parts of Spain will be affected.
What is pretty certain though is Andalucia is in for the chop. And even if you live in Gibraltar you will almost certainly lose your Freesat channels this summer.
It all stems back to the launch of the SES Astra Satellite fleet some 13 years ago since when expats on the Costa del Sol could enjoy their favourite television programs via this satellite with little interruption.
However the recent and planned improvements to the Astra Satellite fleet will change all this.
Let me explain.
Our television is provided by several individual satellites positioned in geo-stationary orbit at an approximate height of 22.000 miles above the earth at 28.2deg east of south.
The individual satellites are placed several miles apart from each other and they all help to create a strong and reliable TV signal for their clients; the TV networks, such as Canal Plus, Rai Uno and ITV.
The problem is that the life of a satellite is around 12 years and as most of the present fleet were launched around 13 years ago they need to be replaced.
This was demonstrated by the rapid decline in performance of the satellite Astra 2D.
Although launched in late 2000, its performance declined so quickly that a quick fix was required and all channels were transferred to Astra 1N, a satellite intended for the use of German and Spanish channels at a slot of 19 degrees, but moved to 28.2 to assist the failing 2D.
All of the popular British channels were moved from 2D to 1N early last year and reception throughout Spain improved especially in Gibraltar and the Balearic Islands, with Andalucia also faring well.
However this is certainly all about to change this summer when 1N will be moved back to its original slot of 19deg as originally planned and all British channels will be moved to the new ‘big birds’ called Astra 2E and 2F.
Astra 2F was put into service in December 2012 and Astra 2E has a predicted launch date at the end of May.
These two satellites are of similar build and specification and have two main broadcast beams.
These are a ‘UK spot beam’ concentrated entirely on a UK domestic client base and a pan European beam.
And that is the problem as the UK spot beam will not be received on the Costa Del Sol even with a whopping three metre dish and therefore all channels will be lost.
How do we know this?
Well it has, in fact, already been proved when Channel Five moved to the UK spot beam in December and disappeared from our screens (apart from Five HD (High Definition) which is a part of the Sky package).
The date for the major ‘switch off’, as it has come to be known, is being estimated to be at some point this summer when all the UK public service channels will move to the spot beam.
It is likely to happen around two months after the satellite has been launched, positioned in the correct place and tested properly, so at a guess I would say late July.
This is already backed up by missives from the BBC (see end) where they explain about the changes being due to the need to improve services for all UK based viewers, particularly in places like northern Scotland.
Ultimately it seems certain that there will be a loss of channels in Andalucia, as well as Portugal and the Canary Islands.
Sky channels are less likely to be affected as it is probable that they will be broadcast via the pan European beam that can be received in Southern Spain without problem.
They’ve got plenty of clients down here, after all. But nothing is certain.
Luckily there are alternatives to continue getting UK TV using your internet connection.
Some free services, such as Filmon, already exist but you view on your PC or connect a cable to your main TV, however the image quality isn’t so good, and you have to pay if you want it in HD.
Another, better alternative is to subscribe to a professional streaming service and connect an IPTV set top box to your main television.
You will need a stable internet connection of at least 2M and will be able to enjoy many advanced features such as ‘never miss a program’ catch up TV, programme-recording, up-to-date movies in English and live Premier League football.
And to boot, you will be able to use the IPTV set top box to access YouTube, Google and everything else…
My advice, don’t hang around… get prepared for the ‘big switch off’ whoever you choose.
For more information visit www.smartsat-tv.com