July 2006 Archives

Getting just the TV I already pay my license fee for - how?

Well, we moved into our new flat, and now when I log in to my bank's online banking thing, there's a new entry. It used to be that the front page would show the various savings accounts that have almost no money in them, my credit card that I owe a few hundred pounds on until I pay it off every month, the current account that fills up with a bunch of money at the end of the month, empties out almost immediately with direct debits, and then tapers out to almost nothingness until UK2 pay me again, and the loan that is slowly being paid off.

Well, now there's a big -£100,000-odd figure there as well. No pressure, then.

Anyway, TV. New flat has a cut-off TV aerial cable, roughly the size and attractiveness of a kitten's tail, and a couple of NTL/Telewest cable boxes. I pay for a TV license partly because I might want to watch terrestrial TV (e.g. the World Cup), but mostly because it's fairly cheap and I strongly believe in publicly-funded TV that doesn't rely on advertising. It's the only way to voluntarily put your money where your mouth is, if you're tribally and idealistically Labour, other than joining a union. (I also belong to a union.)

I hear from Jessie that you can get a cheap cable set-top box that will grab the free-to-air channels from the cable feed (something backed up by various people online saying that those channels have to be legally unencrypted), but it's remarkably frustrating trying to track down that information online. (A forum post saying "it should probably work, but it depends where you are - let us know what happens", with no response, doesn't really count.) Obviously NTL aren't in the business of telling you that you can get something for free, and while going to Maplin and getting a cheap set-top-box is appealing, their website isn't any good at recognising that when you type "cable" in the search box, you don't actually want physical cables. (Not that I can blame it - it's one of these search terms that just Doesn't Work.)

So the first question would be: if NTL/Telewest don't know about me, will the cable coming through my wall still send the standard free-to-air stations (i.e. BBC1-2, ITV1, C4, Five, anything else is a bonus)? Follow-ups would include such gems as "If I subscribe for a month, then cancel, will I still get signal because their systems are stupid and forget to cut off the transmission?"

Secondly, given the fluid state of digital / HD TV, is there any point in spending money on being an early adopter of any non-cable format? (Also, am I right in thinking that digital TV is either cable or satellite, with no provision for an adjusted special aerial that could be split among the other 5 people in the close?)

I have no intention whatsoever of ever adorning any property that I own and share with other people, with a satellite dish - except if said satellite dish is shared with the other people in the building. Sometimes I'll see a building with a number of different satellite dishes poking out, and it frustrates me - each owner has paid for some guy to fit a satellite dish, there's no economies of scale, the building looks uglier every time a dish is added, and it could have all been better if people talked to each other. It reminds me of some of the buildings in New York when we were over a few years ago: rather than having a central air-conditioning system, people had added individual air-con boxes hanging out of their windows, one by one, until the building was almost 2/3rds covered with air-con boxes, scattered around apparently randomly, and looked uncannily like a game of Minesweeper which was just getting into the difficult stage.