Diagnosing issues with your satellite TV system

Launching a satellite into space and receiving a television signal from it, is one of man’s great achievements of the 20th century. Sometimes getting a picture to appear on your television can seem almost as technical and challenging. If you are not receiving a picture from your satellite TV system, follow the steps below to help resolve the problem.

Resolving issues is a two-step process. Before we can rectify an issue we must first figure out what the issue is – thus stage one is the diagnosis…

Never make changes to your decoder or undertake a scan in an effort to correct an issue that you have not yet diagnosed (this is like a doctor handing out pills BEFORE he has examined you).

Follow these steps to diagnose your issue – these must be done in order (don’t skip a step and do not move on to the next step until you have proved the current step!

1.       Using your decoders remote control, find the Optus C1 Tunning channel (the actual channel number is different on each decoder – just look for the channel called “Info 156E”). If, once you have this channel, you see pictures on your TV (a slide show about using only genuine smart cards and one slide identifying the Optus C1 Satellite) you can be sure that you are receiving a signal from the Optus C1 satellite.   Only once you are able to view these pictures should you move on to the next step. If you cannot see these pictures, see the section below “finding signal”.

2.       Switch the decoder to the channel “7 Central”
Check the signal quality – some decoders have two signal bars, one is signal strength and the other is signal quality – in this case, signal quality is the bar to look at, ignore the signal strength reading. Signal quality must be at least 60% or better. If you have less than 60% see the section on “More Signal”. You will not get a reliable picture with a signal quality less than 60%.

3.       Now viewing 7 central with a signal strength better than 60%, look at the message on the TV screen. The common messages are;
No or Bad Signal – this message means exactly what it says. Your decoder is not receiving enough signal from the Optus C1 satellite to decrypt and display the picture.
Invalid Smart Card – This message is displayed when the decoder cannot correctly communicate with the smart card. This could be because you have inserted the card incorrectly or because either the card or the decoder have a fault. Smart cards are easily damaged by static electricity and heat. Never touch the gold contacts on the card and do not allow the card to become too hot.
Scrambled Channel – Assuming that you have been through the tests in step one and two – this is a good message. It means that you have enough signal quality, your card is communicating with the decoder and it is just waiting for updated encryption keys. Generally when you see this message, you need just one more thing … patience. Simply leave the decoder on the channel 7 central (do not switch between channels) … you should see pictures within about 20 minutes. In the unlikely event that after waiting for an hour, you still have no picture and the scrambled channel message is still displayed, try the following…

a.       Check the signal strength again and confirm that it is above 60%

b.      Make sure the decoder is tuned to 7 central

c.       Turn the power to the decoder off

d.      Wait 10 seconds

e.      Turn the power to the decoder on

f.        Wait another full hour

If after carefully following the above procedure, you still have the message “scrambled channel” on the screen, there is a fault either with the decoder or the smart card. If you can borrow another smart card from your neighbour, try that in your decoder – if neighbours card works, where your card does not, the card must be faulty – if not, you have an issue with your decoder.

Note – there is an exception to this “try another card test result”. Some smart cards are only designed to operate is a particular decoder. This is rare but it can throw you off when you are diagnosing a system issue. Some decoders that are particular about the smart card include:

  • Phoenix
  • CoShip
  • Arion (these will only function with a new, original Optus smart card)
  • Healing
  • Some newer Strong decoders


Finding Signal

Pointing a satellite dish at a tiny space craft that is located more than 35,000km above Papa New Guinea is not easy. There are three things that change from location to location:

1.       The direction you point the dish

2.       The elevation of the dish

3.       The polarization or skew – this is the rotation of the LNB

If ANY of these three items is not correct, you will not receive a good quality signal from the satellite and the system will not work. Trees (even a few leaves) will stop the signal from the satellite reaching the dish. Relocate or reposition the dish to get good quality signal. Other less likely causes of signal issues include:

  • Faulty coax cable
  • Faulty or an excessive number of joins in the coax cable
  • A faulty LNB
  • Setting the LNB L.O. frequency on the decoder to one other than the correct L.O. frequency for your LNB.

If you have good signal quality but still cannot view pictures on the C1 Info 156E channel, you are probably pointing your dish at the wrong satellite. Try moving the dish a few degrees to the left and up OR a few degrees to the right and down (when viewed from behind the dish) and go through your satellite finding procedure again.

More Signal

If you have a signal quality reading less than 60%, your decoder will have trouble receiving enough good quality digital data to correctly decrypt and display the program. Apart from not pointing the dish at the satellite correctly, setting the incorrect skew angle on the LNB is the most common cause of this issue. The skew angle is adjusted by rotating the LNB. I suggest that this is best done when you are receiving the Info Channel. Watch the signal quality bars displayed by your decoder and rotate the LNB a few degrees at a time until you obtain the best possible signal quality. This procedure should be done every time the dish is moved more than a few hundred kilometres (particularly if it is moved in an easterly or westerly direction – the skew angle does not change much when you move north or south).

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2 Responses to “Diagnosing issues with your satellite TV system”

  1. Graham McClare Says:

    In your article you say tune to Central 7, in Western Australia we are not allowed to do this is it possible to say ” to the channel “7 Central or GWN if in Western Australia”

    Very good article our cheap setup is still going good after 3 years constantly on the move

  2. Hobo Says:

    Yes you are right. For those using the genuine smart-cards, 7 central is not available when in WA and GWN should be used. However, I don’t think I know anybody using the genuine smart-card. Most people prefer to use less restrictive solutions at allow the reception of all channels no matter where they are located.

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