UK TV in Southern Spain - The current situation and possible solutions. March 2014
Well, the dust now seems to have settled and, as expected, the Free to Air channels (BBC, ITV, C4 etc and C5) have all moved to the UK beam on the new Astra 2E satellite and this is no longer receivable on existing dishes in Southern Spain.
The Sky channels have also moved to the new satellites and are on the European beam which is still receivable on existing dishes. Reception reports have been well documented on the Internet forums and many locations across Europe have experienced problems, however Southern Spain seems to have been the worst affected. To be fair, that should have been the case when the Free to Air channels moved some 10 years ago to Astra 2D but due to anomalies in the satellite transmitting antenna we had unexpectedly good reception while further up the coast on the Costa Blanca viewers needed a 2.8m dish and even then could not receive all channels 24/7. So you could say that we have been very lucky for some years, but now it is back to what it should have been long ago!
So where do we go from here?
The first obvious option is to instal a suitably larger dish to receive all the channels that have been lost. That is perfectly possible, but local reception reports are suggesting that a dish in excess of 3 metres would be required. Apart from the difficulties of mounting such a dish we are looking at at least €5000 for the privilege. OK, some organizations may go down this route offering a community solution, but in most cases that is unlikely.
There is one other satellite option that is being marketed here. It is the Satbak transmissions on the Intelsat 907 satellite at 27w. That system is there to provide backup for the UK Freeview system if they experience transmission problems on the ground (UK Freeview is the terrestrial based equivalent of Freesat). This signal can be received on a much smaller dish (typically 80cm) but the signal is encrypted and can only be received on specialised satellite receivers (easily available for about £130 from Amazon ) but you have to know the special codes to be able to decode the transmissions which, in theory are not available to the public. Like so many similar "private" systems, these codes can be made available from very dubious sources on the Internet. The problem is that the codes are changed regularly and it may be a month or so before the new codes become available, if at all. So far there have been very few reasons why anyone would want to do this as free, easy to receive alternatives, were available. Once it becomes clear that this system is being illegally hacked and that the suppliers are charging for the privilege it is fair to assume that the codes will be changed frequently enough to render this option useless. The usual current local commercial offering is to provide a suitable receiver and dish at a vastly inflated price and a significant monthly charge to make the stolen codes available. Incidentally the codes were changed again on February 28th.
In some areas there are very localised “re-broadcast” services that require a line of sight connection via a sort of WiFi signal. You need a small receiving antenna but no Internet connection is required. These companies usually make the list, free channels available, but for a monthly charge, typically €25.
The remaining options are almost exclusively IPTV (Internet Protocol TV) which is a system that allows "streaming" of TV signals to your home via the Internet. These streams originate from the actual broadcasters in the form of their "catchup" options such as BBC iPlayer and the equivalents from ITV, C4 and C5 and also from other live transmissions. These streams are perfectly legal, but their reception is limited to viewers in the UK.
These streams and the direct transmissions are also hijacked by many other companies, not usually located in the UK for obvious reasons, and are made available on the Internet, sometimes for free but sometimes sold to third party IPTV companies who charge the user considerable sums for something they can buy for a fraction of the price they charge. Up to €25 a month is typical. The highest I have seen is €45.
So how do you access these legal and illegal TV streams? The easiest way and arguably legal way is the iPlayer route using the streams from the actual broadcaster. Yes, they are not normally available to viewers outside the UK, but this is easily circumvented either for free or for a small monthly charge (typically $5/month or less) using VPN or Smart DNS - details at the end of this document. All you need to receive these streams is a PC or Laptop or tablet such as the Apple iPad or equivalent Android device or Smartphone. On a PC you access them on the relevant website or on a tablet via a specific app provided by the broadcaster. These were originally designed as "catchup" options where you could replay any program from the last 7 days, but now they all offer live programs as well.
There are loads of other IPTV options such as Filmon at www.filmon.com who offer live TV from around the world for free, in the case of Filmon without the need to circumvent the location problems. Philemon also offer a premium service for a fee, which gives an inbuilt recording facility and higher quality. One caveat, however, they have been taken to court in the US and lost the case so will have to remove their US TV options in due course. Their European system is located in Switzerland and for the moment that seems to protect them from the European piracy laws.
Most of the IPTV options being offered in Spain at the moment offer a little black box connected to your TV and the Internet which can receive the lost channels and a few more, even in some cases the Sky channels. Typically, they charge up to €250 for the box (which you can buy on Amazon for well under €100) and a very significant monthly charge (typically €15 to €25 a month, but the record so far is €45) for channels which are available on a PC or tablet for free.
Clearly the cheapest option is to use a PC or tablet which almost everyone has. The problem is that you really don't want to be watching TV on a 7" screen (that's even smaller than the first TVs 60 years ago!) or even a PC monitor in a different room, so how do we get round that problem?
Almost all PCs and tablets can be connected to a TV via a cable, some more easily than others, but there is an alternative. The Apple TV is a very small black box costing £99 that connects to your TV and wirelessly to your Internet connection. It's not a TV as such - that was a bad choice of name as it confuses everyone - just a connection device. It does have lots of other functions that I won't describe here, but it does offer a wireless connection to your TV. It is designed to work with Apple products such as the iPad and Apple laptops, etc. but there is a way of using it with a Windows PC using a program called AirParrot which costs just £10. This means that you can access the free streams and have them directly appear on your TV.
If you have an Android tablet or phone there are devices, similar in concept, to the Apple TV, that plug into your TV and allow a wireless connection. Here is an example http://www.ten-go.es/wp-content/uploads ... -DC4-c.jpg or just Google Miracast dongle.
The obvious advantage of the many Android set top boxes is that they connect directly to the TV without the need for long cables or an intermediate box such as the Apple TV or Miracast dongle and have a dedicated remote control to select the various channels and options. They may be programmed with a built in system to allow them to connect to UK sources that are usually blocked or, if not it can easily be added - see the note later about geo-blocking and VPNs etc.
What about the quality of the picture, especially for those of us who are used to the latest large HD TVs? It depends. There is a problem with quality of picture as, if you wanted to receive a full HD picture, whilst it is technically possible, you would need a very fast, reliable Internet connection, and also if everyone was streaming full HD content the Internet would grind to a halt, particularly in Spain where the connections are not fast. As a result you are going to find it very difficult to get a picture as good as you are used to using full HD receivers.
Filmon quality, unless you pay to upgrade, is just about acceptable, but at least it's free. The best quality I have seen so far is from BBC iPlayer who offer an HD stream on a 3.5MB connection (which many people have). If you have a slower connection, it is possible to download the programs and play them in HD later. The Android boxes will offer whatever quality the streams they use are capable of but it will not normally be better than the free alternatives.
Another possibility is using a Smart TV which most of the latest models are. A Smart TV is a TV that is capable of connecting to the Internet. This offers various facilities, depending on how recent it is and the particular make. If you are lucky they will have the option of an Internet browser to allow you to access any Internet site. If so you can access the various TV options like BBC iPlayer or Filmon. If you are very lucky it might have BBC and iITV player built in but if using it in Spain these options may not be available without reverting to using hidden service codes and even if they are you may need to access via a VPN or Smart DNS - see later for details. If you are contemplating buying a Smart TV it is worth pointing out that the Samsung range of Smart TVs are the only brand that offer all four UK catchup channels, BBC, ITV, C4 and C5 and are very easy to change from the Spanish options to the UK options which include those catchup channels.
One other option, although not directly related to the loss of the free channels are the “Card Sharing” systems that have been offered for a couple of years or so which offer all the Sky channels and more for a seriously reduced monthly subscription. Typically a Sky sub for all the sports and movie channels in HD can cost over £60. These systems offer all those channels for €25 a month using an Internet connection just to download the Sky encryption codes as required. These systems are at the very top end of the illegality spectrum and in the UK anyone trying to sell them will probably end up in prison. However, in Spain there does not seem to be the same legal issues and they are very common and seem to work well. I would also point out that the decryption codes are available direct from the hackers for as little as £50 a year! That's a pretty good profit stream if you are charging €25 a month!
There is imminent danger that changes to the Sky cards may render the systems unusable sometime this year, at best, only the HD channels will be affected, but for the time being they work. The problem is that the free channels are no longer available on these systems as they rely on a decent satellite signal - the Internet connection is only there to download the decryption codes.
I understand that the suppliers of these systems, depending on the type of receiver that they supply, may be able to incorporate some streaming of the free to air channels. This is technically possible, but it remains to be seen just what channels will be available and at what cost. Based on a limited amount of feedback from existing users it seems that there may be problems receiving these streams and the quality will obviously not be as good as the direct satellite feed that they normally use. They also charge extra to add these channels, typically an extra €10 making the total cost €35.
If you are used to listening to UK Radio, there are no problems, all the UK Radio stations are easily receivable via the Internet without geo-blocking. They are available via your Internet browsers or directly on an Android set top box or Apple TV or tablet. There is a very good BBC app available on Apple or Android tablets or phones and it is not geo-blocked. You can also buy Internet radios which will receive stations from all over the world - there are over 1000 listed just for the UK alone. some of the latest AV receivers have Internet radio included.
VPNs and Smart DNS systems.
These systems are perfectly legal ways of accessing Internet content where the originators of the content wish to geographically restrict access to that content for copyright reasons. This process is called Geo-blocking and the way it works is that, whenever you connect to the Internet, you have been assigned a unique address on the Internet and that address shows your actual location. This means that when you try and connect to a geo-blocked site such as the BBC it knows you are outside the UK and blocks your connection.
There are two options to circumvent this. One uses a VPN (Virtual Private Network) which is often used by large companies to enable their staff to connect to company private networks - such as when they work from home and want access to secure company systems. All the data is encrypted for security reasons and all this is way outside what the average TV user wants, however a VPN does have to ability to change your apparent IP address. An IP address is what everyone has when they connect to the Internet. It is totally traceable (normally) and amongst other things, identifies your location which enables geo-blocking. A VPN routes all your Internet traffic through a computer located in another location (in this case in the UK) and the IP address of that UK location is what the BBC computer sees and then allows you to connect.
The second option is called a Smart DNS system. I won't confuse you as to how this works, but suffice it to say, it has the same success in unblocking access. It is usually much simpler to set up and doesn't affect your connection speed which a VPN can. It is also possible to install a Smart DNS on devices such as Smart TVs and other devices that cannot use a VPN. Also, you should note that Smart DNS does not work if you have a satellite Internet connection such as Tooway.
Basically, both options succeed in getting you connected but a VPN is overkill and it can have implications if you have a marginal connection with regard to consistent speed.
My final advice would be not to jump into any immediate solutions without considering it very carefully. There are loads of companies out there who are relying on people panicking about the loss of their UK TV and are clearly, to put it mildly, prepared to rip you off in a big way!
Any additions, correction or omissions that you find, please PM me and I will make the relevant changes.
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