Yesterday was Sky+ day, and a cheerful engineer turned up at the time he said he would, fiddled with my satellite cable, bunged a box under my telly and mooched off. I played with it for a while, and then popped off to Currys to buy a Logitech Harmony 300i remote, satisfied that all seemed to be well. I was even able to take the digital sound from the Sky box and use my PC as an amp (albeit it stereo only, not Dolby 5.1). This means that I have to switch the Sky box off in order to shut off the sound when I want to use the media centre (which was actually one of the issues I was trying to avoid) but it does mean that one sound control works for everything which is convenient, especially if you’re trying to control everything with one remote.

The Logitech remote works very well for a £30 device. There’s a very convenient web/PC interface for programming it, which has loads of remotes already in its database, and you can drag-and-drop to move different commands to different buttons if it doesn’t get it right first time. You can’t program single buttons to perform sequences of actions, and there’s no feature for switching TV inputs automatically when you switch devices, but overall I’m happy.

What I’m less happy with is the profoundly weird behaviour of the Sky+ system and the near-total cluelessness of the telephone advisors.

If you pore over the Sky website, somewhere on there you will find a warning that you require two connections from your dish to your box for Sky+ to work properly. Fine if your dish is on your roof, balcony or in your back garden. But I’m in a block of flats with a communal dish, and my personal access to it is through a faceplate in the living room, which only has a single connector.

However, the latest generation of Sky + software has been updated to deal with this very issue. An engineer can set the box to “single feed mode” which means that you won’t be able to watch one channel while recording another, but also means that the Sky box won’t try and do this either. Although I think Sky could do more – considerably more – to flag this up to potential subscribers, I was aware of it and I wasn’t bothered. After all, I’m used to having only one tuner and I’m used to not being able to watch one channel while recording another. No big deal. Right? Wrong.

You see, the Sky + box really does take quite some convincing that it only has one tuner available. Deep in the core of its essential being, it is built around the fact that it will have two input feeds to choose from and its behaviour, even on single feed mode, is nothing short of bizarre.

With two feeds, if you are watching one channel while recording another, and at that moment, a second recording is triggered, you will – quite sensibly – be offered a choice: do you want to keep watching what you’re watching and cancel one of these recordings, or shall I start recording the new programme? If you do nothing, the box – perfectly correctly – assumes that it is unattended and prioritises the recording. My old Media Centre solution, with its noisy images and Heath Robinson IR blaster, unable to tune into more than one channel at once, would likewise warn me that it was going to change the channel to effect a recording if I was watching another channel when a recording was due.

But the new box, if I’m watching BBC 1 and a recording is due on BBC 2, simply IGNORES the recording and stays tuned to BBC1!! This is madness. Some Sky advisors advised that setting the box to standby cured this insane behaviour, but I couldn’t get this to work. There is a work-around, which I’m trying at the moment, but before I get to that here are some other possible options.

  1. There is a second satellite feed in the bedroom, but getting that connection to my digibox means trailing a wire out the bedroom window and back in again, or drilling holes in the walls. Neither is ideal.
  2. I could (if I could get permission from the landlord) stick a dish on the balcony and do things my own way, but we’d still have to drill (a small) hole in the wall and we’d have a fucking dish on the balcony. Sky would do this for free however.
  3. The technology exists to take two inputs from the dish, pump them down a single wire at different frequencies, and then separate them back out again at the digibox end. These boxes are called a “stacker” and a “destacker” and cost about £100, but they’d have to be fitted directly to the dish which means involving the landlord and/or the managing agents. Sky might or might not do this for free. Who knows? EDITED TO ADD: The terms “stacker” and “destacker” seem to refer to older technology which was very dependent on the quality of the wiring. The proper solution is called a Single Cable Router or SCR. My building managers can fit this for me for around £250, or if I buy the box for £100, Sky may be able to fit it for free. Chapter 4 will reveal the outcome.

Here’s the work around.

Before Sky implemented this single feed setting, tech savvy Sky users sharing communal dishes and only able to access one feed would set up “dummy recordings” which would fail but which would tie up the “second” feed. This would force the box to use the first feed for the new recording, the one you wanted, instead of using that feed for watching live TV. A version of this can still be used with the new software. Here’s how, courtesy of forum member utterepicicity on

Step 1: Ensure feed is on input 1.

Step 2: Turn Single feed mode ON.

Step 3: Turn Anytime back ON.

Step 4: Ensure you are tuned into a channel (eg BBC1) and it’s on the mini-tv

Step 5: Set a manual recording on a channel you never watch starting in 2 minutes time (so if its 9:00PM, set it to start at 9:02PM), have it finish at 04:00AM in the morning (assuming you never watch anything at that time of the morning). This ensures that Input 2 is tied up til 4am.

Step 6: Set up another manual recording on the same channel from 04:02AM until 04:00AM. Set the frequency to daily. This will tie up input 2 all day every day.

Step 7: Set up another manual recording on a channel you never watch from 03:58AM to 04:04AM. Set the frequency to daily. This ensures that the dummy recording never takes up Input 1.

Ensure you turn your box to Standby whenever you’re not watching it. It doesn’t matter if you forget now and then but try and get into the habit of it.

The whole thread is here. So far this seems to be working, but it’s not ideal. Tomorrow I’ll try running a satellite cable out the window.

UPDATED TO ADD: Couldn’t face running a satellite cable out of the window and with two windows needing to be permanently open, albeit just a crack, it’s going to be a lousy, lousy solution come the winter. This evening, the Sky box was displaying only “no satellite signal” when I got in from work. I turned off  “Anytime” and it sprang back into life, so maybe my box prefers Anytime to be off. Later tonight, it got in a paddy trying to record Dragon’s Den and I had to do a planner rebuild to get it to record anything at all. Finally, with the “dummy recording” in place, I watched it obediently flick over from BBC HD to Channel 4+1 when Him and Her ended and Jamie Oliver Tells Rural Americans They’re All Too Fat To Live was about to begin. Success! But the real solution is clearly the SCR. Since another tenant is also having this done, we may be able to effect a saving by doing two at once. By which I mean it might be £200 instead of £250. Jesus. 13/9/10.

Evolution of a Media System. Chapter 1: Blu-ray
Evolution of a Media System. Chapter 3: The Telly