Ask Rick Maybury 2012



Ask Rick 207 02/06/12


Sky Blues

I have a Sky + box that is only used for recording. All of the programs that I want to watch are on Freeview so I am considering buying a Freeview HD recorder. I cannot find anyone who will tell me if my Sky box will continue to function as a video recorder and whether I will lose programs that what I have already recorded on the box should I cancel my sky subscription. Obviously I will still have the dish and cables.

Doug James, by email


When you cancel your subscription your Sky+ box will still work and using your now deactivated viewing card you will still be able to receive a handful of unencrypted free-to-view (FTV) channels, including BBC1, 2, ITV1, C4 and C5. The recording and playback functions will no longer work, though the firmware on some Sky + boxes can be hacked so it will continue to work but again only on the FTV channels. It's also been suggested that removing the viewing card before the subscription ends, and leaving it out for several weeks, will avoid the record function being disabled by a 'kill' signal sent by Sky. If successful old recordings made on FTV channels will replay but previously made recordings of subscription channels won’t play as a valid viewing card is needed to decrypt them. 



Old PC Won’t Play

My wife and I have recently discovered the BBC iPlayer and other catch-up services. We are generally impressed but we wonder whether anything can be done to lessen the number of faults such as breaks in transmission and, in particular, lack of synchronisation. Does it have anything to do with the fact that we are using Windows XP rather than the latest version?

A Burrows, by email


Windows XP works perfectly well with iPlayer and most other catch-up services, and the majority of PCs made in the past 6-7 years should easily meet the minimum system requirements of at least 1Gb of RAM and 128Mb of graphics memory. You’ll also need a recent version of the most popular browsers (IE, Firefox, Chrome and Opera) and Adobe Flash Player 10.1 or above. Assuming your machine fits the bill the most likely cause of your problems is a slow broadband connection and the easiest way to check if that’s the problem is to run a speed test using the iPlayer diagnostic utility at: This will tell you which iPlayer services your computer can reliably receive, and steps you can take resolve common problems.



Postcode Lottery Loser

I recently switched mobile phone provider from 02 to Orange. The reception at my house with 02 was intermittent.  With Orange it is even worse. Yet the providers tell me that the reception at my postcode should be very good.  My small terrace house is in a slight dip in the land and surrounded by large 4-5 story Regency houses.  Is there any way I can improve reception?

Charles Essex, by email


Websites that rely on postcodes can at best be only a rough guide to mobile phone coverage. Some postcodes can cover an area of several square miles and do not take into account terrain and structures that create localised black spots. Unfortunately your options are limited. You should definitely avoid snake-oil remedies, like so-called antenna boosters that stick on to the back of your phone. Also beware of more sophisticated devices called cellphone repeaters. These use a roof mounted aerial connected to a small box that re-transmits cellphone signals. They may actually work but the snag is they are illegal in the UK and there’s a big fine if you get caught using one. You could try lobbying your present provider to improve coverage, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope unless you can muster support. Your best bet is to switch to another network or possibly another phone with a more effective antenna. The only easy way to find out if such a solution is viable is to ask neighbours, friends and colleague to try their mobile phones in your home to see if they can get a decent signal.



Off The Rails

I live in Hampshire and sometimes commute on the train to London. I’ve been using my trusty old Sony Walkman radio, which gives pretty good reception apart from when in the stations. However, it recently had an argument with the dog and lost. I have a Sony Walkman digital media player, but I cannot get any signal on the train. What device, without spending a fortune, would you recommend so I can enjoy radio on the move?

Pam Palmer, by email


Radio reception is always going to be difficult under those conditions. Phones and media players with built-in receivers tend to have tiny internal antennas, which are not very effective, though some models make use of the headphone cable, but it would be impractical and hugely expensive to test equipment on the off chance. Since your old Walkman radio worked, why not just replace it? There’s an excellent chance that you’ll be able to find the exact same model on ebay, probably for a fraction of the cost when new.



Calling Time On The Kids

When our grandchildren come to visit they like to use the laptop to play games. Problems arise when each thinks that the other has had too long a go, and wants a turn.  The current workaround is to set the cooker timer to buzz for each go. A better alternative would be to set a countdown timer on the screen, to buzz when their time is up.  Do you know of a download that could provide this, please?

Robert Entwistle, by email


There are plenty of simple, free countdown timers for Windows;  have a look at the small selection of tried and tested programs on the Lifehacker website at: Another freeware program worth considering is Simple Account Timer ( This takes a more flexible approach and all you have to do is set up a user account for each grandchild. Once that’s done you can specify the length of time each child is allowed to use the computer. Hopefully they won’t be tempted to hog the machine, and they will be able to take a break without loosing any of their entitlement.



© R. Maybury 2012 1405


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