I received this Astrovox 9000 decoder from a former college friend who apparently has very many decoders lying around at his house. The first thing I noticed just like everything else is it’s small size and numerous vents at the top. At the front it only has 3 buttons, Program Up, Program Down and the Standby Button. It also has some of its features listed at the front namely HD, HDMI Trademark, high Speed USB, Full HD 1080i, Digital Video Broadcasting MPEG-4, PVR Ready and Xvid HD.
It has a very long remote control with buttons like Media, Time shift and Weather that would require getting used to. But checking it again I could recognize the usual buttons like EPG, Language, Audio Subtitles and Record button which are very common with most free to air satellite decoders.
At the back it has all the usual Suspects LNB IN and LNB out, SCART connector which is rarely used these days, Normal RCA connectors plus The HDMI port, an RS232 Port and a VGA connector too.
Okay here comes the real test. I connected it to my existing setup that includes a DiSEqC switch with a number of dishes already installed outside. The first thing I noticed was the user interface primarily dominated by the black and purple colours. The signal Intensity and quality bars show on the normal channel information message. It can also tell you if the channel you are viewing is HD or SD. But there is no setting to tell the decoder for how many seconds it should display this information bar, you just have to press EXIT on the remote controller to remove it quickly.
Now to antenna settings, the decoder has a DiSEqC version of 1.1 so this decoder can handle up to 16 satellites using a 16X1 DiSEqC switch. The last time I checked 16 X 1 switches are not available in Nairobi but I have plans of buying an 8 X 1 DiSEqC switch which costs around Ksh800. But the Astrovox VSR 9000 has an option of selecting DiSEqC 1.0 (maximum of 4 dishes) which is what I am currently using. It switches automatically without any glitches, you would think all the channels are on one satellite. The decoder can also be used with a motorized dish because it also has DiSEqC 1.2.
So I recently bought an ESD-81 Eurostar 8X1 DiSEqC switch at riwara Electronics along Luthuli lane hoping to add my free to air channels by first installing a spare 90cm dish that I had. After connecting the switch and assigning all the LNB inputs their respective ports, the Astrovox VSR 9000 could not pick the 8X1 switch. All blinds cans just retrieve channels from the LNB connected at port 1. I tried exchanging ports but the result was just the same. The last trick I had up my sleeve was to withdraw the input at port 1; too bad this also did not work as all blinds cans yielded No Programs. So this decoder has a problem of not picking up an 8X1 DiSEqC switch. I simply reverted back to the 4X1 switch with an idle dish and LNB already installed outside.
The blind can feature is also relatively fast but you have to select blind scan and not sat scan. The blind can feature lists all available frequencies and channels while the sat scan will be limited to the transponder frequencies already set in the decoder. This decoder also has the ability to list your favourite channels in groups for easy viewing. This feature is a time saver because without it I would have to skip almost a thousand channels to view my favourite programs.
Talking of favourite programs, this decoder has PVR capabilities. The first time I tried it on this decoder is using a 2GB Flash disk. I opened the front cover on the right side where the USB port is positioned and plugged in the USB stick. After this I hit the record button and the movie started recording. The movie in this case was automatically put in a folder named PVR, inside the folder was another folder listing the channel, date and time (MBC ACTION (20140126_160703)). Inside was the movie in high quality picture. I still have the folder on my computer. The decoder has an option of selecting the type of picture quality you want, with the highest quality videos consuming more space. The best device to use recording movies is an external Hard Disk.
The decoder also has the playback function, so you can also play not only the movies you have recorded but also MP3 Music and watch your JPEG photos on your TV. You can easily access this feature by pressing the Media button from the remote control. The USB port also serves another very important purpose of upgrading the software to the latest version. If you have to upgrade the software, beware of power blackouts as these will render the decoder useless if power was interrupted during the process.
Now I know why the decoder has so many vents at the top, I peeked inside and saw a big Heat sink on the Microprocessor. I have never seen such a big Heat sink on a satellite decoder before. This makes sure that the excessive heat is dissipated faster. The vents work is to release the resulting hot air into the room. I would also advise you not to place your Hard Disk or any other thing for that matter on the decoder because of this heat. Blocking the vents may damage the decoder too.
Another thing I do not like about this decoder is the fact that when you press the EPG (Electronic Program Guide) button, the channel you were watching disappears together with the sound. A good decoder will make the channel screen smaller at a corner while the sound is still functioning as you browse and read through the EPG. Other decoders will still show the channel but with the EPG menu on top of the channel like a see through. The EPG problems as well as the very small user interface text are the major flaws of the Astrovox VSR 9000 free to air satellite decoder.
One last thing, what would I change on this decoder if I were the designer? Introduce a USB port at the back.