How to replace my Sky Plus box?
February 15, 2007 5:39 AM   Subscribe

How do I replace my Sky Plus box?

I'm in the UK. For reasons of price I've decided to ditch Sky Plus. Since I already get my broadband from Virgin Media (formerly ntl) I can get a TV package with them for virtually no extra money. One thing I am going to miss though is the easy recording with Sky Plus. Virgin Media have a Sky Plus-type box which apparently has the same function, but it's £15 a month, which I will not pay. (Does the VM box work as well as Sky Plus anyway?)

What alternatives are there? I could go the old route and hook up my old VCR, but there must be a better way in this day and age. All hard disk recorders seem to have Freeview built in. Are there any which will work with cable? Is a DVD recorder going to fitthe bill? Failing that, is it possible to build a bare-bones system myself, and if so, where should I start?

Please do not asnwer this question if you're not in the UK and do not know about UK broadcasting or what boxes are available here.
posted by salmacis to Technology (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I too would like answers to these questions. I have ntl/VM but hate them and am not sure if I want to go the £15pm route.

Are there any ways of getting the digital data out of a Sky+ box unharmed?
posted by i_cola at 6:00 AM on February 15, 2007

I'd be half-tempted to look for an increasingly rare UK TiVo on eBay or through one of the resellers, but to be honest, the tech is getting a bit old, even if the UI still beats most of the newer competition. And there's still a monthly EPG fee.

So I'd probably suck it up and build a MythTV or GeeXboX box with a nice tuner/capture card: though it's going to be more fiddly than Sky+, it's a one-off investment, and you can easily run it as a fully fledged home media server.

You're right, though: apart from Sky+, the range of PVRs/DVRs in the UK is pretty crap.
posted by holgate at 6:13 AM on February 15, 2007

The UK CATV (cable) boxes are somewhat proprietary, they tend to be tied to your provider. I know it's a lot different in the US.

At the moment I'd probably suggest a DVD recorder. They've plummeted in price in recent months. This is one of the main reasons I don't want to ditch freeview - I have a Digifusion dual tuner PVR. I don't know of any third party PVRs compatible with UK cable.


posted by TheAspiringCatapult at 6:16 AM on February 15, 2007

I tried something like this a couple of years ago - it involved building a MythTV box and buying an IR transmitter to sit infront of the ntl box to switch to the correct channel to record.

Which means you need to have a dedicated ntl box for recording unless you're happy with the possibility that you or others might switch channels half way through recording.

I've since gone back to just Freeview and using EyeTV on my Mac to record what I want. It looks like they do one for Digital Satellite too which might be useful.

You might be able to buy a prebuilt MythTV box but it will never be as simple to use and maintain as a Sky+ box.
posted by gi_wrighty at 6:31 AM on February 15, 2007

I'd say the only even-vaguely convenient way to do this is to pay up for the Virgin box, or keep Sky+. Any other route is going to require two boxes (cable receiver and whatever recorder), and you'll spend your whole life making sure both of them are switched on and ready. Plus you will only be able to watch or record one channel at once, and the hassle of two remote controls and two user interfaces and so on.
posted by cillit bang at 6:33 AM on February 15, 2007

the truth is there is nothing out there to complete with sky+. the cable PVRs are unreliable. the freeview PVRs are good but don't offer the convience or channel selection of sky+.

i don't mean to sound like an advert but i've been down this road and realised it's not worth it.

to answer a question above - yes, there are ways of getting some digital data off a sky plus box. this will get the recordings from any unencrypted channel off as an MPEG file. as for encrypted channels, there may be a way in the future - there are some interesting conversations going on in some places.

on that note.. if you're a techie.. a dreambox can be used to access sky's encrpyted channels, if set up correctly.
posted by ascullion at 6:48 AM on February 15, 2007

Response by poster: Interesting answers. Basically the answer is, "you're screwed!" I can't believe this. 2007 and there is still no sensible alternative.

I think I might just buy a Freeview box, and use that for recording Freeview channels. Virgin will be kept around purely so I can add Sky Sports.

Thanks for your help.
posted by salmacis at 6:55 AM on February 15, 2007

Seconding all of that. Nothing - really, nothing - comes close to the SKY+ box in terms of ease-of-use, convenience and reliability.
posted by blag at 5:16 PM on February 15, 2007

maybe keep your powder dry for a bit. there's a new standard for freeview recorders on the horizon, which will provide series links etc etc.
posted by ascullion at 12:46 PM on February 16, 2007

I've been doing some research on the very same thing and stumbled across this question.

In short, MythTV will work but you need a very specific freeview card (as the Hauppage one's IR doesn't work), BeyondTV claim not to support Europe or freeview at all (although some people seem to have got it working using XMLTV and a load of hacks) and SageTV says it'll work but isn't supported and needs some configuration changes to support XMLTV.

Having used XMLTV in projects before, I'd rather they got the information directly from the Freeview EPG as it'll probably be more accurate and reliable.

Finally MCE doesn't support cards with twin freeview decoders (although it claims it does). So with that, watching one channel whilst recording another is out.

In conculsion: Don't bother with a computer based PVR.

Look for Humax to replace the PVR-9200T with support for Freeview Playback which allows for "series link" functionality.

You could pick up the PVR-9200T now as it seems to be pretty reasonable - but you'll have no guarantee that they'll update the software to support this functionality in the future.

(and, given that its a big thing, I suspect they'll make you get new hardware)
posted by mr_silver at 2:29 PM on March 12, 2007

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