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Satellite Workshop 53

Jack Armstrong

Now that Sky Digital satellite receivers are coming out of warranty, people are asking me about repairing them, so I thought I would take this opportunity to tell you what I know about Sky Digibox repairs.

It's still not certain when Sky will switch off its analogue broadcasts from the Astra satellite cluster at 19.2 E of S but, with more and more Digital receivers being installed, it seems likely that it will be in 2001. From the repair point of view, the "Sky Digibox" will be almost impossible for the one-man repair shop. The boards are mostly seven layer; that means that, as well as copper tracks on top and bottom surfaces, the PCB contains another FIVE layers of tracks inside. In addition, a large number of the parts is the surface mount type and several of them are large, expensive surface-mount chips with hundreds of connections. However at least one organisation has "bit the bullet". Horizon Satellites in Basingstoke (01256 841860) has invested thousands of pounds in equipment and training that will allow them to offer a repair service for digital receivers. The man in charge, Martin Greene, told me that parts and service information for Pace receivers were available but that other manufacturers seemed reluctant to provide anything.

Amstrad, for example, don't provide any spares or service information at all. CPC who are the stockists for Amstrad spares are referring all enquiries to BskyB. Meanwhile, BskyB is apparently trying to set up a repair operation for the Amstrad DRX100. At the time of writing, it seems that whoever gets this repair business is going to have to invest at least 100,000 in component stocks but without knowing what spares will be needed! The DRX100 was made for Amstrad by the Samsung factory in Portugal. It's quite likely that they ordered only sufficient parts to fulfil the manufacturing contract with very few left over for service spares. Anyone now wanting spare parts is going to have to pay an awful lot of money since some parts are custom designed and most will have a large minimum order quantity - not to mention a long lead-time. So BskyB is currently offering a replacement Digibox for 300 to customers whose DRX100 has failed outside warranty. If you have one of these you might consider insuring it right now!

Pace, on the other hand, was the first manufacturer to supply Digiboxes. Their Service Department has, in my opinion, been second to none since Bill Fraser took it over from his predecessor around nine years ago. Spare parts and service manuals are available for all models, including the Pace 2200 Digibox. Dealers can get free training at the Pace factory and the Technical Helpline is almost free, with calls being charged at standard national rates. You can also get help by e-mail and the Pace web site has a password-controlled technical section for dealers. Few other companies provide such comprehensive support. In addition, other companies, such as ARD, are advertising Pace Digibox spares.

In the event that a Pace Digibox fails, the owner can either take it to a dealer or he can parcel it up and send it direct to Pace after first obtaining a Returns Authorisation. The advantage of sending it direct is that the owner might save money as Pace are currently charging just 76.38 which includes delivery back to the customer. However, the owner must be sure to send it in its original packing or equivalent and must make sure that the receiver really IS faulty. You can send it by Parcel Force for around 6 or by next-day carrier for a little more. Do insure it. Your total cost is now around 82 minimum. If the receiver is damaged in transit or exhibits no fault on arrival or has been damaged by water, lightning or by dropping, then Pace might levy a heavy charge. On balance it might be safer to return the unit via a local dealer who will be able to test it before packing it carefully and forwarding it to Pace. The charge from the dealer will probably be very little more than the 82 mentioned, since dealers can often get discount. Units less than 12 months old will be repaired free of charge by Pace except that the dealer will obviously charge a handling fee - especially if he has to find packing materials or collect/deliver to your premises.

Panasonic also offer a repair service but no spares or service information. Faulty Panasonic TU-DSB20 Digiboxes must be taken to the nearest Panasonic agent who will arrange to return it to the factory for repair. It will speed up the arrangements if you have the original packing but leave all accessories (remote control etc.) at home as these are not required and could get lost. The charge is likely to be the same as that for Pace (from 82, with additional handling charges). The TU-DSB30 and any TU-DSB20 units that are still under 12 months old should be returned to the dealer (with proof of purchase date) for free repair.

Grundig do not carry out repairs but have appointed repair agents to carry these out. Again, no spares or service information are available and faulty units should be delivered to Grundig authorised dealers for shipping to the repair agents. At present, repairs are being handled by Genserve in Swindon and Digitech in Manchester. Please do NOT contact either of these companies about Grundig Digibox repairs unless you are a Grundig agent.

Both these companies also carry out repairs to Nokia satellite receivers (analogue and digital) and supply parts and service information for these and you can contact them direct for information. In addition, Genserve offers a Technical Help service to dealers for just 50 + vat a year. This payment gets you access to free advice on Nokia televisions, video and audio products including "brand" name goods such as ITT, Finlux, Luxor, Salora and Skantic.
Dealers can contact Genserve on 01793 436107 for more information and Digitech on 0161 654 6664.