Something I see more and more of late is ads offering me the chance to free myself from TV subscription bills like Sky but how do these systems work and what are they really offering? These are the questions most people are asking me and although I try to stay away from this whole area since as you’ll read later it’s a very murky subject legally speaking.
***** UPDATE 17th May 2017 *****
Over the last few months there has been a crack down on all these types of boxes and services. Laws across Europe have been amended and updated to a point where all these boxes can be considered illegal. Along side this Sky have started to shut down the card sharing services by blocking channels. If you buy any of these boxes be aware that they are illegal and as for the satellite boxes will probably loose all subscription channels over the next few months.
***** Original Article *****
To start with there is a way of getting rid of your TV bills if all you want is the Irish channels and the basic UK channels. This option just requires what is generally called a combo box. These boxes take a signal from your roof aerial and satellite dish, combine them together into one complete menu of Irish and UK channels all of which are free and always will be.
On the other hand if you still want the sport and movie channels you’ll need to go with one of the options you see advertised everywhere these days. These ads mostly advertise one of two types of device, either a satellite box or an android TV box.
Before getting into the details of these devices I want to point out that a lot of these are been sold under the name “Dreambox” which none actually are. Dream Multimedia is a company that make satellite boxes and only their boxes can be branded Dreambox. The Dreambox boxes were once the top box available and so the name is currently being used to describe other boxes that offer the same service to try and cash in on the good brand name but these other boxes are very different and are certainly not the same quality.
Tip No. 1: If someone is offering what they’re calling a “Dreambox” but it isn’t an actual branded Dreambox be careful as if they don’t know what they’re selling you could be in trouble.
The satellite box offers the most straight forward of switches from a subscription TV package in that you simple swap your current Sky box with the new satellite box and you’re up and running.
The satellite boxes work on a system called Card Sharing. When you want to watch a subscription channel like sports or movies the box connects to a server online gets the code for the channel and unlocks it. Depending on the speed of your internet and the speed of the server online this can lead to freezing of the picture from time to time. The worse the connection or the server is the worse the freezing can become to the point of it being unwatchable. Anyone offering this service will normally state that their server have no freezing or very little but you won’t really know until you try it.
Tip No. 2: Card Sharing is illegal and in breach of Sky TV’s terms and conditions because of this anyone offering this service is breaking the law and so may disappear at some point. Sky continuously work to try to stop these people so be warned if you signup for this then be prepared that at some point in the future it will stop and may not come back.
The boxes themselves come in two variations. The first and cheaper boxes are normally named Sky Box or Openbox both will be given some version number like F5S or V8 but really they’re both the same. Although I hate these boxes they do get the job done and if you’re willing to put up with the menu and channel updates they’ll work fine just don’t pay too much for it. One of these boxes alone should only cost around €60 so a box plus subscription should come in around €100.
The second type of box is a more powerful and all round better running box. These boxes run a system called Enigma2 which gives the boxes more options and more closely resembles a Sky box. Enigma2 boxes have full 7 day program guide, auto channel updates, recording like Sky+, full streaming capabilities and can be updated and added to over time. The problem with these boxes is that the people advertising them tend to offer the cheaper ones, like iCloud Box and Zgemma, that really should be avoided. Those types of boxes are not supported by the software groups and so can’t be updated easily and many of them go on to have hardware problems over time. The brands to look out for when buying an Enigma2 box are Edision, Gigablue, Golden Interstar, Mut@nt, Technomate, VU+ or Xtrend. A standard Enigma2 box with subscription should come in under €200 which is twice the price of the first boxes but with what you get for that extra money is well worth it.
Android TV Boxes
The second device that gets advertised these days is the Android TV box. This box is basically an android phone or tablet in a box that connects to the TV so anything you normally do on the phone or tablet can be done on the box and vice versa.
Let’s start with the box itself, just as there are lots of android phones and tablets there are lots of android TV boxes but essentially they all do the same thing. Most people are offering boxes that are branded MXQ, M8s or MXV which all get the job done but watch out for older models which are outdated and if you have the option I’d suggest trying to get something different.
Tip No. 3: If you’re looking to get one of these boxes try to match the following specs Android 5.1, Octa Core CPU, 2GB RAM, 8/16GB Memory. If a seller doesn’t list the specs of the box they’re selling then presume that the specs are well below those listed and the seller knows not to advertise them.
Boxes with the specs listed above are the most current and up to date. They will run everything better and be future proof for the next while. The older boxes being offered have an older version of android which will run into problems soon with some apps and the lesser RAM means that they will run slower as apps start doing more.
Once you have the box sorted they all come pre-installed with the necessary software. Different boxes come with different menu systems but that doesn’t matter. What matters is the apps and even though some apps are there and others might not be everything can be installed from the Google Play Store. The main app you will want to have is Kodi. Kodi is a media app that can play your video and music files but with the help from some addons it can do so much more. If kodi is already installed on your box it will most certainly be setup and in most cases it’s setup using either TV Addons or XBMC Fully Loaded. Both these setups add apps for streaming movies and TV shows and also for watching live TV through IPTV services. If your kodi didn’t come setup, you want to switch between setups or you want to set it up on your phone or tablet then follow the instructions on their websites. At the moment my own preference is the XBMC Fully Loaded setup as it gives a better menu setup and the live TV works better on it.
Although they will be advertised as a Sky TV replacement they are not. Yes you will get your sports channels and movies are all there to stream but you don’t get the same channel lineup as you do on Sky. Alternatively you do get channels that are not available on Sky such as the American cable, sports and movie channels so if you’re into your American sports this is a plus. Like the satellite card sharing service the live TV streaming of most channels is illegal and again can disappear from time to time but are more likely to come back even if they are shut down.
Tip No. 4: If you’re planning on getting one of the android boxes I’d see it as a supplement to something else like the combo box mentioned at the start of this post. Don’t rely on an android box as your only source of TV.
I’ve tried to explain the options available to anyone looking to get rid of their subscription service but if I’ve missed something or you want to know more just leave a comment below or send me a message on my facebook page.