About the TV services in Jacob's Island

TV OutletMost buildings in the Providence Square development are now fed by an communal Integrated Receiver System (IRS, basically a shared aerial & satellite dish) which was installed across the majority of the development a couple of years ago.

This allows you to receive any digital broadcast TV service you choose, from a variety of providers. Some, like Freeview or Freesat, are subscription-free. Others, like Sky or Virgin Media, require you to pay a subscription. All services now allow you to receive HD programs, and you can also buy TVs or external boxes that record programs to Hard Disk, replacing your old video recorder.

There are five important things you need to know that are specific to our systems in Providence Square:

  1. The cables from your apartment are connected in the basement to either the Virgin Media (cable) service, or to the IRS system (Freeview/Freesat/Sky). If you want to change to or from Virgin Media, this will require the engineer to visit and reconnect your cables.

  2. Most apartments will have had their aerial sockets converted to the new IRS system a couple of years ago. New aerial sockets have three outlets ("Sat", "TV", and "DAB/FM"). Old aerial sockets, and those connected to Virgin Media, will have just two outlets ("TV" and "Cable"). If you want to switch systems, you may have to have the aerial wallplates in your apartment changed. Freeview should work through either type of sockets provided the cables in the basement are connected to the IRS.

  3. Recording from a satellite service (Freesat+ or SkyPlus) requires two separate aerial feed cables. These would typically be connected to the aerial outlets on either side of your lounge, meaning that a cable has to be routed around the front of the room. Your installation engineer will be able to advise. Note that recording from a terrestrial (Freeview+) or cable (Virgin Media) service only needs a single cable feed.

  4. You can mix and match services in your apartment. Most apartments have four separate aerial feed cables running to the basement (2 from lounge, one from kitchen, one from main bedroom). It's perfectly feasible to have Virgin Media on one socket (e.g the Lounge) and Freeview or Freesat on the other sockets, but it's a bit more work for the installation engineer – the cables aren't individually labeled in the basement, so he'll have to figure out which one is which. So if that's what you want, insist on it, and don't be fobbed off by an installation engineer looking for an easy life!

  5. Be cautious about internet / broadband TV packages, such as BT Vision or TalkTalk – these require a good quality high bandwidth broadband connection. Although the broadband speeds at Providence Square are generally very fast, the reliability isn't always great - electrical interference from the lift motors often causes dropouts. Several residents have tried these services, and given up.

What options are available?

Service Type Technology Connection to aerial socket Connection in the basement Can I record programs?
Free, integrated into all new TVs Digital Terrestrial "TV" IRS system Yes, with "Freeview+", from single feed cable
Freesat /
Freesat HD
Free, integrated into some new TVs or via a Freesat box Digital Satellite "Sat" IRS system Yes, with "Freesat+", but will need 2 feed cables.
Sky / SkyPlus / SkyPlus HD Subscription Digital Satellite "Sat" IRS system Yes, with "Sky+", 2 feed cables.
Virgin Media Subscription Digital Cable "Cable" Virgin Media Cable system Yes, with Tivo, 1 feed cable
BT Vision Subscription Broadband internet & Freeview hybrid "TV" IRS system Yes

 I want to change service / get Sky / get Virgin Media – who do I talk to?

The IRS system was paid for by us (the residents) and we don't want random installation engineers messing about with the wiring!  So please don't just call Sky!  Please contact the Concierge to get the contact details for our approved installers, who will make an appointment to come and swap you over to Sky or Freeview – they will make a small charge for this.

If you need to get the aerial sockets changed in your flat, please talk to the Concierge who will give you the contact details for our approved installers – again, they will make a small charge for swapping these over.

If you want to switch to Virgin Media, you should be able to give them a call and arrange for the engineering visit directly with them. Note that they might try to swap over all your aerial sockets to Virgin – if you still want to receive Freeview in the bedroom, then make sure they leave that socket connected to the IRS.

Which aerial socket do I plug my TV/set-top-box into?

The newer IRS sockets should have three outlets – a "Sat" outlet, with a screw-type connection, a "TV" outlet, with a 'bullseye' push-fit connector, and a DAB/FM radio outlet.
If you're using Freeview/FreeviewHD (terrestrial), then connect to the "TV" outlet. Multiple devices (TV, hard disk recorder, etc) can be 'daisy chained' from a single cable.
If you're using satellite (Sky/Freesat), then connect to the "Sat" outlet.
If you're on Virgin Media, connect to the "Sat" or "Cable" outlet, which will also be a screw-type connector.

What about internet TV over Broadband?

Broadband (internet TV) complicates the issue a bit! Some subscription TV services are now being offered which use broadband internet connections – BT Vision, TalkTalk TV are examples. BT Vision is actually a hybrid box which uses Freeview to receive the "major" channels, and the internet to deliver premium content (movies, etc)

There are also now many "catchup" and Video On Demand services, either free (BBC iPlayer) or paid for (Apple TV, LoveFilm etc) which stream video over the internet. These can be accessed through PCs, Set-top-boxes/Hard Disk Recorders, games consoles, mobile devices, or "internet connected" TVs.

Many of the latest TVs include internet connectivity (wired or wireless) as an option, allowing you to access these services (such as iPlayer) directly from the TV, rather than through an external set-top-box.

Why do I need two cables to record from satellite (SkyPlus / Freesat+)?

It's because each cable can only receive 25% of the available satellite channels at any one time - in the basement there are 4 feeds from the satellite dish, and a switch which intelligently selects the right one based on the channel you're watching. That's not a problem when you're watching TV, as the set-top-box asks the switch for the relevant chunk of channels, but if you're recording one channel and watching another, the channels might be on different cables.

So a SkyPlus box, or a Freesat+ box, needs two seperate cables down to the basement. Each of those cables can then intelligently select one of the four satellite feeds.
In practice, that means routing the second cable across your lounge to the other side of the room, where your second aerial socket has a dedicated drop cable down to the basement.
It might be possible to use something called a "stacker" box to use a single cable for SkyPlus / Freesat+, but it hasn't been tried, and is not very likely to work in Providence Square because of the quality of the feed cables (which were designed for the old NTL analogue cable system, not for digital satellite).

This would work by having a bit of electronics at each end of the cable (one in your flat, the other in the basement) and trying to squeeze two cables' worth of information down a single cable. As this doubles the bandwidth down the cable, it becomes very susceptible to noise, bends in the cable, etc, and it's likely that the signal will be too weak by the time it gets to your lounge, as the cable was never designed to work at that frequency.
If you get a friendly installation engineer, you might be able to persuade him to try one, before he routes a cable along your skirting board!

Why is Internet TV / my broadband unreliable?

Streaming high quality TV (especially HDTV) over broadband requires a high quality broadband internet connection. Broadband signals are delivered over the phone lines – unfortunately in Providence Square the phone lines are routed up the side of the lift shafts, making the signal very susceptible to electrical noise when the lift is operating. This may cause temporary dropouts in your internet connection, making TV viewing unreliable or even unusable.

One solution may be to buy a new broadband router (also known as a DSL gateway) to the latest and greatest specification – the newer xDSL chipsets seem to be more immune to this kind of noise, and I have seen a big improvement in noise margin since upgrading (to a Netgear N300, available from PCWorld). A new broadband/WiFi router will cost around £100.

To further complicate the broadband situation, Virgin Media have the ability to deliver broadband either over the cable TV, or the phone line (in fact a second phone line – the apartments are wired with two separate phone lines to the basement, one for BT, one for Virgin). Virgin (formerly NTL) have been vague about exactly how they provide broadband into Providence Square – I'm not a subscriber, so please let me know if you're a Virgin broadband provider and you know how they are providing it.

I've got an old analogue TV that can't receive Freeview – how do I change it?

Well, perhaps it's time to boost the economy, and buy a Digital-ready TV for your swanky London flat. But of course, you can add a set-top-box to convert from Freeview – check out the www.digitaluk.co.uk site for details.

What TV / Set-Top-Box / Hard Disk Recorder should I buy?

That's a matter of personal choice! Any TV or set-top-box you buy will be compatible with our IRS system, and has to have Freeview as a minimum. Some TVs have FreeSatHD built in (e.g. Panasonic) which will give you more channels. Bear in mind that if you want to record from Freesat, you will need to run two separate antenna cables to the sockets either side of your lounge.

If you're looking to 'declutter' your lounge, I'd personally go for an LED TV (thinner) with FreeviewHD+ and internet connectivity, such as the latest medium/high-end Samsung "Smart TV"s. These have integrated WiFi to connect to your broadband (watch iPlayer on your TV).  Many also give you the option of plugging a USB hard drive into the back of the TV, and record/playback directly from the TV.