Since there are no other web pages that I have found which deal with the life and times of the Squarial, BSB's DMAC receivers and what to do with them now, I have decided to create one! A bit esoteric, I grant you...

Just in case you don't have a clue what this is all about, I'll explain. Around 1990 there were two competing satellite systems available in the UK. The "official" one, backed by government legislation derived from recommendations from the IBA, was BSB (British Satellite Broadcasting). Two BSB satellites were launched (Marcopolo 1 and 2, at 31 degrees West), one as a backup, providing just five channels in high quality DMAC format. But Sky had stolen a march on BSB using cheaper, simpler PAL transmissions from an Astra satellite at 19 degrees East. Both companies lost money like it was going out of fashion, and eventually they "merged" to form BSkyB. In reality Sky bought out BSB, and shut down the transmissions. The satellites were sold, one became "Thor", transmitting technically similar D2MAC signals to Scandinavian countries, the other the other was known as Sirius and placed at 5 degrees East.  Sirius 1, defunct since 2003, was owned by Sirius Satellite, a division of Nordic Satellite AB, and transmitted basically to Sweden.

Finn Schøyen, a writer from Norway, told me the following further information on the fortune of the satellites since BSB:

Marco Polo II was bought in 1992 by Tele-TV, a daughter company of Televerket, the Norwegian governmental phone company, who renamed it "Thor".  In 1995, daughter and mother renamed to Telenor CTV and Telenor respectively, due to privitisation.  "Thor" was moved to 1 degrees west and later renamed to "One West", because they (Telenor CTV) thought the satellite television market would digest that name more easily.

It's a shame that neither Telenor CTV or Telenor Satellite Services have their own web sites, but you can find lots of info by searching around on http://www.telenor.com/  You'll find some brief history of Thor and its future with Thor II and Thor III, by going directly here.   It's a brief history of the Telenor emporium as a whole.  I don't know who bought the Marco Polo I ("Sirius"), but if you get hold of some corresponding info on it, it would do nicely as an extra piece of interesting reading on your site.

The two satellites were in service (or later as backup service) as Thor 1 and 2 until 2002 and 2003, which was slightly longer than their design life.  This was quite an achievement considering they were moved from 31W to 0.8W, which will have consumed some fuel.

Some strange effects came from the merger. One was that once the announcement of the merger was announced, BSB receivers could be bought from surplus dealers at massively discounted prices. These were useful for receiving satellite programs, Sky ones of course, from the Marcopolo satellites during their remaining "life" until 31st December 1992. At one point in 1992, there were some 2000 BSB installations being initialised by BSB every week. If it had been this successful before the merger, history may have taken a different turn!

Screenshot of closed titleThe day it all ended for BSB, 31st December 1992.



What was rather sad about all this was that the BSB system was quite nice. Picture and sound quality from the DMAC transmissions was excellent, and the dishes used were very compact, either small 28 or 35cm dishes or Squarial flat plate antenna. But the system was late launching due to technical difficulties with the complex DMAC chip sets, and also with manufacture of the Squarials. Looking back on it, the five channels expandable to ten, probably was never enough. 

BSB had rather over spent. Two satellites for five channels probably was overkill. BSB's Marcopolo House studios were purpose built, which was perhaps not money wisely spent. These  studios were later home to QVC and ITV Digital (who also lost out to Sky), what a come down!  The building was (wastefully) demolished in 2014.

A writer in 2011 told me "I was part of a team that set up a tv production company that made programmes for the NOW Channel on BSB. WE set up studio/editsuites/offices in a building once used to turn round trams in Fulham, no budget for BBC engineering standards but effective. We sometimes used BSB studios, designed by Ellis Griffiths, great studios but no Green Room for guests and no parking for visitors. You changed the room temperature via the phones." 

Picture of Marcopolo House.Marcopolo House, now demolished.

Here is what was transmitted and their frequencies

11.78502 Now

11.86174 Galaxy

11.93846 Sports Channel

12.01518 Power Station

12.0919 Movie Channel (this name was retained in BSkyB's line-up until 1998.)

Image of BSB satellite footprint Reception was targetted over the UK as can be seen from the satellite footprint (though this image is probably more for show than the actual footprint which would have been wider).

Technically, the D2MAC signal gives better performance that the PAL signal used by Sky analogue, and normal analogue TV signals in the UK.  The sound is digital, based on Nicam, and the chroma (colour) content is split off from the luma (brightness) rather than being mixed in with it as PAL.  This diagram shows what a colour bars test card would look like on an oscilloscope, for PAL and the superior D2MAC.  This is taken from a web page and translated to English.  DMAC as used by the original BSB transmissions would look broadly similar to D2MAC.

 



Picture of STU902 receiver taken from instruction manual Philips STU902 receiver
 
 

Diagram of Squarial, from instruction manual Squarial


What to do with a BSB receiver now? Don't bin it, that is for certain. All models of BSB receiver can be modified to work as D2MAC decoders or receivers. The price of conversion varies with model and the facilities required. In rough order of ease of conversion the receivers are:

Ferguson SRB1

Philips STU902

Decca / Tatung BSB receivers

Nokia BSB receivers

Virtually all D2MAC conversions include a Eurocript card slot. Now this is a potentially thorny subject. In the UK, few if any legitimate Eurocript cards are available. What people use are pirate cards, usually based on one or two PIC16C84 chips or similar. If the transmission "codes" are changed, these chips can be reprogrammed by many satellite shops or by the user using a simple add-on to a PC, as shown here. What's wrong with this? Well, at the moment it is still quite legal to view transmissions in this way, since the legitimate cards cannot be purchased in this country.  By the way, the programmer pictured here, which requires just a unregulated 12V PSU and a parallel port on a PC in order to use, is for sale if someone would like to buy it off me for £12 inc UK post.  I've only got the one, mind you!  It's based on this diagram, which I downloaded from somewhere years ago, so I'm sorry it is not acknowledged.

Picture of home-made PIC chip programmer.

However the EEC are working on legislation which will make it illegal to use any pirate cards of this type. If and when this happens, obtaining new codes for reprogramming PIC chips may become more difficult. Here are some places you might be able to find codes for D2MAC transmissions:

Defiant eurosat

D2MAC and multimac
 

Picture of STU902 with PIC card on top of Pace MSS1000

Here is a fairly typical D2MAC conversion in use.  A Philips STU902, converted to D2MAC by TRANSWORLD, sitting atop a Pace MSS1000 receiver with positioner fitted.  Outside a motorised dish is pointing at 1 Degree West, from where TV1000 is transmitted.  The blue board projecting from the front of the Philips STU902 is a decoder card, containing a PIC16C84 chip.  It is not brilliant, but it usually works.

If your Philips STU902 should cease to work one day, emitting a faint hissing noise from the power supply, unplug it immediately.  Visit Satcure and order the power supply refurbish kit for the STU902 called RELKIT29 from my old pal Martin Pickering.  Carefully fit all the parts in that kit, you may need to get a repair company to do this if soldering is not your thing (but it's not too difficult).  Your receiver will now be fixed and should keep working.


What to do with a BSB dish or Squarial flat plate antenna? Don't bin them either, though they are less useful than the receivers. The problem is that there are very few signals available in the UK that could be received with such a small antenna. Most (but not all) Squarials can be dismantled, the plastic sheet turned over, and reassembled, which will change it from right hand circular polarisation to left hand, suitable for reception of some of the transmissions from Hispasat satellites. The cone of a BSB compact dish LNB can be pulled off and the white plastic cone underneath rotated to achieve the same result.  Squarials are often wanted by collectors, I used to sell them at £15 each but now they have all gone.  Perhaps I should have charged more!

Shortly after the cessation of BSB transmissions, BSB receivers were often converted to D2MAC and used with their original dish or Squarial for reception of French transmissions from the TDF satellite at 19 degrees West. However these transmissions ceased due to falling subscriber numbers and dreadful technical problems with the satellite. There are not any transmissions that can easily be picked up in the UK in this way any longer, though a few parts of the North East of the UK could  just get enough signal from Thor (the ex-BSB satellites themselves!) while they were broadcasting.

In the future, more powerful transmissions may again return to the UK which will allow more use to be made of ex-BSB dishes and Squarials.  Anyone tried receiving Astra digital signals on a Squarial?  If so, let me know!
A Squarial is really quite compact when installed.

Coming soon: Sales literature for BSB sellers and installers.  


Some links on and around the subject of BSB satellite receivers.

Video Clips

I have a collection of video clips of BSB intros here, please do have a look at these!

In early 1990 the IBA takes a look at BSB, talks to their boss, as well as taking a short tour of the old MarcoPolo House

After BSB's merger with Sky, this video made by the newly formed BSkyB talks about wha they are doing in late 1990's.

Satellite and BSB Links

A site dedicated to BSB programmes, with screenshots and movies of the graphics

BSB Testcards!

Technical info from Grundig on the Ferguson SRB1 and Squarial

TRANSWORLD, who can convert receivers to D2MAC and may buy unwanted receivers.

Chris Evans (ugh!) on the Power Station can be seen on this page.

Details of the HS367 satellites from Hughes (now Boeing)

The last programme line-up from Sirius1 and Thor1 (Ex-BSB satellites) and more information on their last transmissions.


Very useful satellite equipment and information sites

Everything you ever wanted to know about Sky satellite TV see www.satcure.com.  Including repair kits

Everything to do with satellite equipment, see the Satellite Superstore.

Brymar do a great selection of equipment for analogue and digital satellite reception.


 

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