I have just finished installing a motorised satellite dish. I first heard about these 10 years ago and imagined some massive dish sat in someone’s back garden costing thousands of pounds picking up hundreds of channels from around the world, a bit like the one in the picture. I’m not sure how I got round to thinking about it again, I think it was due to me looking at getting a dish for my Mum and Dads caravan so they could get some of the free to air channels as the reception round there wasn’t great. I had an old sky dish on the side of my house that I used just for the free channels in my office until I got a new TV with an inbuilt Digital decoder so the dish was just sort of sat there. I was wondering what to do with it and had a look on ebay to see how much motors were and were surprised just how cheap they were now and how easy they looked to install. I don’t really watch a lot of TV but I did fancy trying to fit one of these just to see if I could do it. As power to the motor is supplied via the same cable as the satellite signal it didn’t sound like it would be too much messing around.
I think I paid about £30 for the motor and it wasn’t long before it arrived. I was able to use the old pole and bracket that the old sky dish had used to attach to the wall. I read the instructions and it talked about making sure that the pole was vertical to the wall before you attached the motor.. well it kinda was so I went about fixing it up.
The biggest problem I had at this stage was getting the SKY disk to attach to the motor. The pole the sky dish was originally attached to was tiny compared to the motor pole. I went into the local satellite shop in Swindon and was met very a very stressed man, who seemed to be far too busy to talk and basically told me I was never going to get a bracket to attached that dish to that motor and never going to pick up any other satellites on a SKY disk as it was just too small and didn’t have enough gain and would need an 80cm dish as a minimum, as he didn’t seem to be interested to sell me one I left him to it. (I have since read a few forums on the internet and there are people out there that have successfully done it with a SKY dish). Not put off I went to Homebase to have a look as to what they had so I could fashion my own bracket.
I managed to find some ‘U’ shaped bolts that did just the trick and took it home and fixed up the satellite. Now this is where my lack of knowledge started to kick in. So I had this satellite dish on the side of the house and now I had to find some satellites. Well my theory was that I would just manually tune it into the old SKY satellite then go back to the receiver and it would find the others as it would take that first one as a reference. I manually tuned it in by pointing the dish in roughly the same direction as it was before and all the other dishes on the street were pointing and then used a Satellite finder that you plug inline that has a needle that shows how strong the signal strength is and makes a noise that changes in pitch depending on strength. This is a similar thing to the tool that most receivers have it just has the advantage of being able to use it close to the dish so as you move the dish you don’t need to keep running back to the TV. It was only a cheap one so doesn’t tell you what satellite it’s found just that there is some sort of signal there.
Using this method I managed to find the SKY satellite which is known as Astra or Eurobird1. I tightened everything up and then went back into the house and tried to move the dish around using the controls on the receiver. After trying for a while I just could not find any other Satellite other than the Astra one which was no better than what I had before I got the motor. I put this down to one of two things. Either the dish wasn’t big enough like the man in the shop had said or the new houses they had built along side of my house was destroying the line of sight to the other satellites.
After a few weeks had passed it was time to give it another go with another dish.. I found an 80cm dish on ebay with a lnb for £25 and ordered that. The dish came and it was a relatively simple job to swap the old SKY dish for this new one. I aligned everything like I did before and after another hour of fruitless searching I just couldn’t get anything more than just the one Satellite.
At this stage thoughts of getting in a professional entered my mind but I didn’t want to give up just yet. After all the idea of doing this was to try and do it myself and I was in no rush to get the thing working other than to satisfy my curiosity. After a bit of reading on the internet and finding a few useful sites I had enough information to have another go.
The main sites that helped me were www.youtube.com which has some videos of a guy doing an install and digitalspy.co.uk which had a forum with a couple of people with similar issues as to what I had.
After digesting this information I came to this conclusion. It’s not as easy as it looked. My very simplistic idea of sticking a dish on the side of your house.. moving it a bit, find a satellite, lock that position in the receiver.. move it a bit more find the next one etc. Well it does kinda work like that but you have to get it exact. When you set the motor up the pole that you mount it to has to be exactly vertical.. not nearly as mine was. The motor arm itself isn’t vertical because as the dish turns it follows an arc and unless you align everything just so you will not get all the satellites. So as I had set mine up.. as I turned my dish it was turning in an arc but my arc was only intercepting the true arc, the arc with all the satellites at one point… as soon as I moved it left or right I lost the true arc and was never going to get another dish.
This is how I imagined it. The black line is the true arc and the dots the satellite and the blue line is the arc my dish was following. Where the two intersected was the place I had manually aligned the dish to.
Everything I was reading was pointing out some key factors
- Make sure the pole that you attach the motor too is absolutely vertical.
- Make sure that you align the motor with true south.
- Make sure that you set the elevation on the motor correctly
Ok.. number 1 was easy enough. I got out a spirit level. Loosened the wall bracket a bit and put some thin plastic spaces under the bracket until I got it level and then tightened it all back up.
Number 2…. hmm true south. Apparently that’s not magnetic south but true south.. you have to account for the variance . I didn’t have a compass and didn’t really want to go and get one just for this. Some sites suggested using a pole in a bucket and marking the shadow at noon. But then is that British summer time noon? Or what and I didn’t really fancy trying to align the dish to a shadow. So here is how I did it in the end, and I have to bring in Number 3 at this point as well.
The first thing to do is to find where about you are in the world. Latitude and longitude wise. I used https://www.dishpointer.com/. Just put in your postcode and it will give you this information. On the side of the motor was an elevation setting which you need to work out what that should be based on your latitude or on mine that was a handy latitude scale as well so I just set that to what dishpointer.com told me. Now on dishpointer you can zoom right into your house and move the pointer to exactly the position on your house the dish goes. It gives you two lines. The white line is true south and the blue is whatever Satellite is selected in the drop down.
This gave me an idea of where south was but I wanted to be a bit more exact so I decided to try and line up the motor using the information that I knew.
I knew that I could find the sky dish quite easily so I set the drop down on dishpointer.com to Astra 2A-B-D, below the map, where it gives the elevation information it also has the Azimuth. Azimuth is positive clockwise position and measured from True North, for where the Satellite should be located. 144 degrees in my case. Well as the motor needed to be aligned to South I needed to work out the South angle so 180 degrees minus (in my case) 144 degrees = 36 degrees. So my theory was if I would lock my motor on 36 degrees as it had a scale on the motor to let me do this. I would then manually turn the whole motor in the wall bracket until I picked up the Astra Satellite. With the dish locked at 36 degrees as soon as I got a signal the motor should then be pointing due south. I did this, tightened everything up and everything worked great from that point on, I was able to pick up other satellites and all the hundreds of free to air channels that they carry