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Poor weather means bad luck for Sky TV customers

Staying in on a stormy night to catch up on missed TV is one of life’s great pleasures. While the weather may mean you lose your live TV signal, have you ever had trouble with recorded programmes?

Last winter was one of the stormiest in the UK for at least 20 years and the wettest since 1910, according to the Met Office. And every gale and downpour of chubby rain stopped my Sky dish from receiving a signal.

So what? You might say. Unless an engineer is on standby over my dish with a brolly, what do I expect? Well, it’s not the dish cutting out that bothered me, it was being unable to access the programmes I’d recorded on my Sky box.

We still need a signal

At the time, Sky’s set-up meant that if you couldn’t receive a signal, it must mean you’d stopped subscribing to its services. Sky+ boxes store recordings, but still require a recent satellite signal to let you access them. And signal outages can last hours.

This meant that your cosy evening plan to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones could be ruined by any outbreak of winter weather. Seeing as it was windy and rainy rather a lot last year, I spent quite a few evenings changing my plans.

We’ve also found that 68% of Which? members with Sky TV have experienced reception problems during poor weather. Heavy rain affected 76%, but snowfall (36%), strong wind (33%), thick clouds or fog (13%) and even normal rain (6%) are also problematic.

We’ve seen improvements

This year, Sky upgraded its system so that Sky+HD boxes allow access for up to 12 hours without a signal. Older boxes can access recordings for up to an hour.

Unfortunately, I still have one of their older boxes and as with a typical British winter, it’s pretty likely that it’ll rain or gale for longer than an hour. However, it’s still a big improvement and a move in the right direction.

Are you with Sky and have had difficulties accessing your recorded programmes? Do you think it’s unfair that you can’t access recorded TV in bad weather?


I have never noticed not being able to access recordings in bad weather, only live Sky TV getting no signal, but we do have a later Sky+HD box.

We record most programmes to watch at our convenience and have lost many a series because of various problems – some being no signal in bad weather. Sky catch-up sounds great, but the latest episodes of new series are only around for a few days so if you haven’t noticed a problem with a recording you have to wait until the series runs again. Then the series runs nightly instead of weekly so you might have to record the series in non-HD otherwise you get problems with space on your box.

There seems to be no logic behind what is available on catch-up and box sets. Various episodes of previous series can be available but not the latest of a new series.

But I do agree, it is unfair that you cannot watch what you have paid rather a lot of money for. I have always resented Sky retaining half your hard drive to download what they think you want to watch. Why can’t this space be used for you to request episodes that you have lost to be downloaded there instead.

You have already accepted that weather should effect your ability to watch programs on your Sky box.

Sky’s installation engineers are under pressure to complete the work as quickly as possible so once the dish is pointing roughly in the right direction and a picture appears the job is complete. In my opinion, if the dish is correctly aligned and the cable connection is watertight weather should not be a problem.

I have adjusted my dish without any special tools and I never have a problem watching live TV.

In my opinion, if the dish is correctly aligned and the cable connection is watertight weather should not be a problem” – This is not true. Any thunderstorm between the dish and the satellite causes a loss or deterioration of signal.

> Any thunderstorm between the dish and the satellite causes a loss or deterioration of signal.
Your right, thunderstorms will effect the signal because they cause electrical interference, but heavy rain should not even on the channels transmitted at lower power.

Poor reception during heavy rain can be alleviated by a larger dish and poor reception during wind can be alleviated by securing the dish so that it doesn’t move slightly.

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The problem is that Sky mis-sells Sky+ as a service, whereas it is in fact functionality of the Sky box which is owned by the customer.

Sky+ is a PVR (personal video recorder). There are many PVRs on the market, all of which have the functionality to record television programmes on to a hard disk, unlike their predecessors, video cassette recorders, which recorded programmes on to tape. Sky+ is no different from any other PVR; PVRs record both from terrestrial signals or from satellite signals. The electronic programme guide (EPG), upon which PVRs depend, is free-to-air and is not dependent on a subscription.

Unlike other PVRs, Sky+ doesn’t work even on free-to-air channels unless you pay Sky a subscription, even though you have already bought and own the equipment. This is despite the fact that Sky+, like other PVRs, is functionality of the goods, not a service. Quite unreasonably, Sky remotely disables this functionality if you stop paying an unrelated subscription for its services or if your Sky box can’t receive a signal to confirm that you are paying the unrelated subscription. This practice by Sky is deceptive; it is disingenuous of Sky to disable functionality of goods owned by a third party by virtue of that third party not paying a subscription for unrelated services.

I regard TV as inessential to everyday life – I can take it or leave it. Many programmes are mindless rubbish. As for those many that begin with the warning “Contains violence and strong language” – why, oh why are we obsessed with such stuff? And the cost of Sky seems a ludicrous extravagance. So Freeview for us, miss a programme – too bad. Buy worthwhile DVDs. Far more important things in life to worry about. So I’d cancel your subscription, deprive Rupert of some income, and take up a hobby or read a good book.
OK – I’m in a cynical Christmas mood.

I really cannot understand why any sane person actually pays to receive a service which is available free.
PVR’s are cheap and good, the service (terestial for me,satellite an option) is good and free, unless you are into whatever it is you can’t get free!
All transmissions are affected by weather, at 12 Ghz rain (between the dish and satellite, not the drops falling on the dish) fade is considerable. A sensible sized dish, a good LNB and correct alignment to the centre of the satellite drift zone will eliminate most problems.
Dropout more than once or twich a year should not be acceptable.

While I don’t watch “live” TV anymore (I only watch Catch-up & save having to pay the Licence fee), I did used to have Sky TV and each time we had a storm, snow, pretty much anything it would go off and have a error message on the screen. It was annoying as hell, especially with how much Sky costs.

I think if I had Freesat (think it’s called) with no monthly fee it would be less annoying? Not sure.

I watch so little live TV that I like to think of my licence fee as supporting BBC radio, particularly Radio 4. I was thinking of getting a smart TV to watch iPlayer on a larger screen than my computer but from what has been posted on a recent Conversation, it might not be long before the hardware was obsolete.

“I was thinking of getting a smart TV to watch iPlayer on a larger screen than my computer but from what has been posted on a recent Conversation, it might not be long before the hardware was obsolete.”

I agree with you 100% wavechange, I am looking for a new TV (for my playstation’s) and wanted a smart TV so I could watch IPlayer too.

But due to another post on Which? saying how these smart TVs that are only a few years old no longer work with IPlayer it’s put me off. So thinking about just getting a normal TV and a lead to connect my laptop to the TV for iplayer.

That’s my plan too, Lee. My TV does not have an HDMI port, just a VGA connection, so I need a new TV. I remember saying that last Christmas too. 🙁

So you’re happy to watch iplayer (which is of course the BBC) but you don’t want to pay the licence fee! So who is to fund your ability to watch the programmes that are on iplayer? The rest of us of course would appear to be your premise.

This topic is not on the BBC IPlayer and the licence fee.

But like all conversations it meanders, and as the question of iPlayer was raised it seems perfectly proper to question watching publicly-funded material without contributing to it?

You do not need a licence to watch IPlayer, so i don’t have a licence. I am doing nothing wrong here.

This was not a personal comment (except to comment on your assertion as to what this conversation was about 🙂 ). It is perhaps a question of whether it is a loophole that needs plugging. Currently the legislation is :
“If you use the BBC iPlayer to watch TV programmes at the same time as they are being shown on TV (live) then you will need to be covered by a valid TV Licence. If you use the BBC iPlayer to watch BBC programmes after they have been broadcast either to download or via streaming on demand then you will not need a TV Licence.”
However, if you buy a smart TV it is, presumably, capable of receiving live BBC programmes and you will, I believe, require a license.

I’m not sure you would need a licence just for owning a smart TV; it’s only when you use it for watching live broadcast television programmes that not having a licence becomes a criminal offence. It can be used without needing a licence as a peripheral device [including by connecting the aerial and tuning it to digital radio broadcasts]. Until June 2013 dealers were under a legal obligation to notify the TV Licensing Authority of the the purchaser’s name and address when anybody bought a TV. This requirement was abolished under the bonfire of the regulations but TV Licensing still maintains a database and does follow-up checks about every two years to see whether the ‘no licence needed’ status has changed.The BBC is alert to the implications of the avoidance of licence-holding [they call it “evasion” which is not strictly correct if there is no contravention occurring] through the new technological opportunities and it will no doubt be seeking amendments to the legal framework in order to stem the loss of revenue. I couldn’t manage without a licence because nearly everything I watch is not available on catch-up or, if it is, its availability does not suit my schedules.

It’s true about the visits, I’ve had the blokes round 3-4 times since 2008. They even ask you to turn TV’s on to prove that no “live” TV is there, I only hook mine upto the Playstations so have always been safe.

I can’t see myself going back to “live” TV, I always used to miss tv shows, now i just curl up with my laptop and watch the shows I like, when I like. No more having to live to a TV guide 🙂

Capability presumably means connection to an aerial or dish?

So far as I can see, the capability of the set-up is not the issue and connecting a TV set to an aerial or satellite dish does not in itself render it licensable. It is the actual fact of receiving a live broadcast [i.e. being appropriately tuned] that invokes the licence requirement. Being ultra-cautious, if using it to listen to a radio broadcast, I think one would have to be careful with the tuning to ensure that no viewable TV signal got caught while performing the channel selection [although that would only be momentary and unlikely to get spotted by a TV licence enforcement officer].

I find the PVR does the best job of capturing the stuff we really want to see and holding it for us until we are ready to watch it. OK, we have to programme it in advance but it can be set to record entire series even if the episodes jump about all over the schedules.

Some channels aren’t watchable for me even if there’s a single cloud in the sky. ITV that means you! Typically when they’re covering a football match I want to watch.

Luckily most things get repeated a few thousand times over the course of a week, so if I miss something due to bad weather I can watch it when it repeats,

Its a shame that the sky box can’t work out when a recording is interrupted and automatically set itself to record a repeat.

Similarly for Anytime its a shame you can’t force the silly box to re-acquire a programme that’s been weather affected. But since Sky are only out to make money for themselves its not surprising.

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When my dish has a coating of snow there is no satellite signal. This is just plain physics.

Some people put a sawn-off plastic water bottle over the LNB.
Will this prevent a build-up of snow?

Alan O'Brien says:
20 December 2014

Our Sky + HD box is connected permanently to our broadband router. Surely this should enable Sky to confirm our sub is valid even when the satellite signal is interrupted?

Robin Miles says:
20 December 2014

If you are in a cabled area you could switch to Virgin Media – not affected by the weather and their Tivo Box can record three programmes at the same time

I think it’s iniquitous that sky block access to existing recordings when your subscription finishes. They were made whilst you held a valid subscription, and I can see blocking the recording capability going forward, but you paid to receive and view those programs so why shouldn’t you continue to watch them?

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Derek Drapper says:
22 December 2014

I agree. Can we have a reply from Sky, please.? What right have they to stop us watching programmes we have paid to watch on equipment we have paid for?

Tensiletester says:
21 December 2014

What a load of rubbish. Which, I believe that you have done a great disservice in raising such an inconsequential topic.
In reality how often do such outages occur? I have been a SKY subscriber for over ten years and I cannot remember my service being interrupted due to weather conditions once. Also recordings are rarely lost as SKY do provide the facility to archive recordings on a suitable DVD recorder.
It is important to remember that the dish,LNB and all cabling is the responsibility of the subscriber, perhaps a little maintenance might help. As for the member who is receiving Freeview from his dish I am surprised to hear that this is possible!
I was shocked to read that there seems to be a number of contributors keen to evade paying a licence fee, how are programmes to be made by the BBC without advertising? I struggle to understand this something for nothing mentality.
For anyone concerned about their Smart TV losing it’s capability to receive I player etc. I suggest they consider the excellent Now TV box which provides catch up capability for all channels 1-5 for the princely sum of £9.99 requiring only a wireless internet signal.

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I was under the impression that Freeview came via an aerial, and Freesat via a dish. Freesat had a broader range of programmes than Freeview; has it still?
Having looked at Sky, and not being a sports fan, I found the rest of its offering pretty unappealing. At hundreds of pounds a year subscription I can find better uses for my cash, including buying DVDs of the decent films I’d like to watch more than once. I’d also rather do a hobby than sit on the couch!
I know – bah humbug.

I have had Sky for many years and it has always worked for me regardless of the weather. It does strike me that this may be a mute point if the future of TV reception is over the Internet. I have tried Now TV and it was not useable because Sky’s servers dropped out regularly, but I now have Netflix and similar services on an Apple TV and I am wondering if Sky is worth the money given that we hardly seem to watch it anymore.

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David F says:
22 December 2014

I have to laugh at the comment “It is important to remember that the dish, LNB and all cabling is the responsibility of the subscriber, perhaps a little maintenance might help.”

As an ex-telecoms/satellite engineer myself, I wonder what maintenance could be performed by Joe public? It would be too easy for someone to needlessly attempt to clean their dish and knock it further out of alignment as this is pretty much all most people could do. Not many would have the ability to unnecessarily re-make the connections or re-tape them up with the correct waterproof tape (they would probably use insulation tape if they were to try).

As for customers losing signal in bad weather, It happens more often than you obviously realize and often there is nothing the customer could have done to prevent it. I moved into my house and utilized the existing dish, LNB and cable initially but had bad weather outages.
I replaced the dish, LNB and cables and ensured as near to perfect adjustment as possible and still suffer outages during exceptionally bad weather, even when I clear the snow from the LNB and dish (I cannot do anything about the moisture and snow that is above my house degrading my signals). My cabling is high quality and well insulated with good quality connections and self amalgamating tape, all performed to IPC-WHMA-620 (if they had a standard for F connections). I even bought high quality single coax for the front room rather than shotgun used for the back room and both the front room and back room lose signal at a similar time.

When I worked for a factory which made LNB’s, I know they have to meet a specific criteria but can normally perform much better. In the factory, it could take 30 seconds to get it to meet specification but could take another minute to calibrate to its maximum potential but this is not costed in so they never do. Therefore, one LNB could be considerably better than another one from the same production line.

Maybe you are lucky and got one of the better LNB’s

Timmy Trident says:
5 January 2015

Just to clear up the common confusion regarding Freesat and Freeview.

These are two different services offering different channel choices.

For viewing through a TV (ignoring mobile/tablet/smart tv apps etc.), the following applies:

Freesat is received via a satellite dish only

Freeview is received through an aerial only.
See Freeview.co.uk for confirmation

We have both, and our preferred choice is Freeview. It must be borne in mind that we live in a good signal area though. Both the channel (quality) choice and picture quality with Freeview HD is, in our opinion, better. Freesat has more channels but, how do I put this, “never mind the quality, feel the width”?. Regarding picture quality, don’t take my word for it but have look around the technical sites that explain why (two words – signal compression).

The Now TV box provides both free and subscription services. We have one to watch Sky Sports live football with a £7-£10 day pass and, even being connected via superfast fibre-optic broadband, feel that the picture quality, at least watching live football, is barely acceptable. I’ve also noticed that if a match is being shown in late afternoon (running after 5:30pm-ish), we suffer from picture stutter and temporary freezing (peak time use being the culprit, I suspect). Very annoying.

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I tried both Now TV and Netflix about 6 months ago when I wanted an Internet based solution for watching films. My experience was that Now TV regularly froze or stuttered, but Netflix worked fine given exactly the same conditions (I had the accounts at the same time). I settled on Netflix and it has worked fine for me since. I can only assume Sky have capacity problems which they may iron out in time but I’m happy.

Tensiletester says:
21 December 2014

For the record I do not work for Sky.
As for not being well up on technical matters, Freesat is not satellite Freeview it may be described as an equivalent but the two companies have different owners. One of the Freeview owners being BSkyB.
I have no wish to s**g anyone off although I don’t believe I did.
The main reason for my contribution was to query the suggestion that 68% of SKY users regularly experience service interruptions due to poor weather.

I think people might have taken exception to your comment “I was shocked to read that there seems to be a number of contributors keen to evade paying a licence fee, how are programmes to be made by the BBC without advertising? I struggle to understand this something for nothing mentality.” As I tried to explain previously, people who do not use a smart TV for live viewing of broadcast programmes but use it as a peripheral monitor connected to a PC so they can watch catch-up TV do not require a licence and are therefore not evading payment of the licence fee. No doubt in due course the government will have to apply its mind to how to address this potential revenue loss [probably by 2017 when the BBC’s charter comes up for renewal] but until then it is the right of any UK citizen to hitch a TV to a computer or other device and watch TV on demand as available to anyone watching via the relevant broadcaster’s website.

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Freeview,Freestat and Freesat-from-Sky are three differrent delivery platforms, although many of the TV channels are the same.
If we want to help people with their reception problens, I think it’s best to use the correct terminology and so avoid causing more confusion.
Is that OK ?

duncan lucas,

I am very interested in what you were saying about re-using the HDDs of old SKY+ boxes.

One of the reasons I don’t use a SKY+ box is because there is no high-speed dub from HDD to DVD.

Did you find that you could connect the HDD to, for example, a PC and play the old recordings from there?

If so, this might be a good way of backing-up to DVD at faster than real-time.

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Hi Duncan,
Thanks very much for the details of re-using SKY HDDs.
By the by, I’m staying with DVDs for my wife’s sake. Dementia is gradually eroding her ability to cope with new processes.
Back on topic – I would also be interested to know if you can rip the SKY recordings from the HDD.
This may help those with SKY+ boxes that refuse to playback their existing recordings.

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It is not just Sky customers that are affected.
I am a Virgin customer and find it very frustrating that when there is a problem with the CABLE signal to my TIVO box I am unable to watch recorded shows. As these are stored on the boxes internal hard drive I find this situation difficult to understand. This can happen even when already watching a recording.

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I’m amazed: lost signal? I’ve NEVER lost my Freesat signal which uses the same satellite. I’m using an octo-LNB too. I suggest there is a receiving dish or cabling problem to lose the signal ‘for hours at a time’.

Going off on a slight tangent, but still about Sky boxes. Can anyone explain why every Sept/Oct, Mar/Apr the box needs “rebooting” and a few odd time inbetween. I’m guessing its still weather related, but there’s typically no bad weather. Rebooting usually cures it for a day or 5, yet a few weeks later it’ll work happily for months. Although they do “lock” up but that’s just cheap programming on Sky’s part.