|P-3500 Digital Satellite Receiver Review|
Last Updated February 9, 2000
Copyright © 1998-2000 by Rod Hewitt
I bought my first MPEG-2/DVB receiver, a Nokia 9500S, just over 18 months ago. Since they aren't available in North America, I had to order it from England and all said and done, ended up costing around $800 US. I guess at the time I was taking a big gamble since at the time, there were very few known MPEG-2/DVB signals in North America - in the end, it worked out to be a great investment, since I can now watch BBC World Service TV; one of the things I'd really gambled on when buying the receiver.
Since those days, the number of MPEG-2/DVB channels available in North America has mushroomed - there are now a ton of channels, especially non-North American, that can only be received by using a Free To Air MPEG-2/DVB receiver. However, up until now, these had been rather unaffordable.
The Prosat P-3500 is one of the best bargains I've seen in the world of FTA MPEG-2 receivers. In addition to it's low price of around $370 US, it's probably the fastest MPEG-2 receiver I've used to date.
Setup of the unit was pretty simple, despite my rather strange configuration. I use a combination of a fixed 5 foot dish with C-Band and extended Ku-Band LNBs, along with a steerable 76 cm offset Ku-Band dish with Universal LNBF (10.7-12.7GHz). This dish also has a US DBS band circular LNBF mounted on it, so I can receive DISH Network's 61.5 and 119 satellites. All of the signals from outside (four of them) are then switched through a DiseqC 4 to 1 switch and then into the receiver.
Since most people with a C/Ku steerable dish, don't need the complexity of DiseqC, the Prosat offers a 0/12v RCA connector on the back of the receiver, so you can use two power dividers along with an optional $30 0/12v external switch and a few patch cables to have the receiver automatically switch between the two feeds.
The 0/12v switch is changed before the DiseqC commands are sent, so it's possible to connect the 0/12v switch to two 4x1 DiseqC switches, allowing a total of eight LNBs to drive the thing. Rather overkill, but I'm sure someone has this configuration!
Once you've programmed the frequencies of the LNBs in the Setup Menu (hint, press PRF+ and PRF- on the remote to switch between LNBs and OK to save the settings), you then go to the "Add Channels" option and enter the frequency and symbol rate of the signal you're after. If the signal can be received, the Lock light on the front panel comes on and you get to see what's there to watch. The receiver can store up to 80 transponders in it's memory.
One thing I must say I liked about this receiver was that it's lock light isn't just on and off. If you have a marginal lock, it'll blink very rapidly depending on the signal strength which of course reduces the brightness. You can bump the dish if you're motorized and just look at a single indicator on the front panel to peak up the signal - a really nice feature.
MPEG-2/DVB receivers generally fall into two design types. Those that store static information about MPEG-2 signals and those that read the stream each time the transponder is tuned. The Nokia for example, stores information statically. This means that when you tune to a particular channel, the picture will appear almost instantaneously because the receiver already knows the specs of the transmission. The Hyundai on the other hand, stores only the transponder frequency, symbol rate etc. and so when you change transponders, there is a huge delay while the receiver reads the System Information stream so it can figure out which channels are there and which PIDs carry the channels. As a result, the Hyundai receiver is terrible for channel hopping.
The Prosat operates much like the Hyundai, in that it only stores information about transponders, however, it's lightning fast when it's acquired a transponder and keeps a copy of the channel map in RAM, only reading it again from the stream when the receiver is turned off and back on. As a note, when the receiver is disconnected from the AC, it can take some time to remap the transponders in it's memory. To prevent this from happening, press the front panel "<" button after plugging the unit in.
Once the channel maps have been read into the receiver, it can change between channels faster than anything I've ever seen. GE-1 Ku contains six SCPC MPEG-2/DVB signals without encryption - using the Nokia to surf between them takes about 1 1/2 seconds per channel. Using the Prosat, well, it's instantaneous - you wouldn't know that the thing had just had to re-lock onto a different carrier.
A glance inside reveals the reason why it's so different than all the other receivers - it uses totally different components than the first generation receivers like the Nokia and Hyundai. The chip set is from Thompson by the looks of things and only contains a few high density logic chips, along with DRAM for the processor and demux/frame buffers. 1MB of Flash for the operating firmware is standard.
In the week that I've had the receiver, I've pointed it at every MPEG-2/DVB signal I could find and with most of them it's worked great. The receiver has a very sensitive front end - it's still the only receiver I have that'll lock onto the MCM package on PAS-5 which is great because this is a very good channel (provided you like French rock music of course!).
The Prosat does have some problems with the Egyptian/Greek package on T5 Ku; the audio is totally scrambled up on this channel on this receiver, but that's not uncommon - the Hyundai doesn't work with it either. Like all the modern receivers, the Prosat handles the switch between NTSC and PAL digital signals perfectly.
There's good external connectivity too. It's back panel has RF input and output with the modulator controlled by the receiver to operate in the UHF band which offers much better quality than the channel 3/4 modulators; the exact channel number can be set by the receiver so you can plumb this reciever around the house very easily. Video, and audio RCA connectors allow composite hookup and S-Video is also supported with the standard connector.
Although, of not much use in North America, the receiver also has a SCART output connector. Since my Nokia and RSD receivers also have SCART connectors, with very simple cabling, the receivers will each automatically route themselves to the video connector on my TV just by turning the receiver on and off - SCART is really quite cool - it's a pitty it never caught on in North America.
For the LNB connection, the receiver has both IF input and output connectors, so by turning off the LNB power on the Prosat, it's possible to wire the receiver in-line with your current analog or DC2 receiver. Obviously, this means single band operation though.
A high speed data connector and low speed RS-232 ports are also on the rear of the receiver. Since the receiver uses Flash for it's operating firmware, one would assume that it will be possible to upgrade this receiver with newer firmware via the serial port, however, this isn't known at this time.
Although the receiver has a card slot on the front panel (underneath a flap that contains the emergency channel change buttons), I should point out that you cannot subscribe to encrypted programming with this receiver since it contains no Conditional Access Module. One assumes that Prosat also sells a version of this receiver with a CAM into a special market much the same way that Nokia sells their 9xxx series receivers as branded receivers in the German and Italian markets as well as generic FTA receivers for use around the world.
So, if you've been thinking about buying an MPEG-2 receiver to get all those oddball channels that your analog or 4DTV receiver can't get, the Prosat comes highly recommended, especially for the price.
950-2150MHz DVB complaint QPSK
1-45MS/s; automatic FEC and Spectral Inversion
14/18v polarity selection
22KHz tone generation
MPEG-2, MP@ML (Main Profile at Main Level) up to 15Mb/s
Composite 1vpp on SCART and RCA connector
S-Video on Y/C connector
MPEG-1 Level 1 & 2 (Musicam)
SCART and RCA outputs
|Modulator||NTSC and PAL compatible. UHF channels 14-83|
|Power||90v to 260v 50/60Hz auto switching|
0/12v RCA connector for band switching
IR remote control
North American Distributor
Tech/Orders: 877-463 3212
Fax: 888-731 1834
Price: $369 US plus shipping