There are over 55 satellites in synchronous orbit over Europe broadcasting just about every language and from every country you can imagine. French is well catered for with three satellites covering all European territory, French citizens living in or out of France can receive, with domestic size satellite dishes of less than 1 metre diameter, these signals with the minimum of equipment.
Within France most of the country is covered by the usual terrestrial transmitters and an aerial is all that is required to pick up all the main French channels, such as TF1, France 2 etc. Those living in remote corners or sometimes in built up areas, with poor aerial reception, have to use the satellite systems to receive them. Outside France of course only the satellites are usable.
Hotbird, Astra 1 and Atlantic Bird3 are the three satellites used for all the French services. These are different providers, but mainly distribute the same group of channels. TNTsat and FranSat have identical lists of channels including TF1, France 2, France3, France4, France5, France o, Arte, direct 8, Monte Carlo and many more.
A third service by the provider BIS is available on both Atlantic Bird and Hotbird satellites. At the moment the signals from Hotbird are transmitted in MPeg4 format, which is normally used for HD, whereas the Atlantic Bird transmission is the older Mpeg2, so with an HD receiver the pictures from Hotbird are very good indeed. Oddly the TF1 channel, which is in HD on both TNTsat and FranSat is currently only in Mpeg2 ( standard definition) on Hotbird. The main 4 channels TF1, France2, M6 and Arte are repeated on HD channels on both TNT and Fransat.
When receiving the French channels in the Uk, which system should you choose? The TNT and FranSat offer of 18 channels ( plus a few more freebies ) is very attractive. Probably the least hassle is FranSat who don’t put a time limit on their card, unlike TNTsat which will expire after 4 years, however the renewal fee after the 4 year period is only 15 Euros, so there is only the small issue of actually renewing it. This is done for most French citizens on-line, on the TNT website, but you have to be in French territory to be eligible to use the website, so before the renewal dates are due, lets hope there is a procedure to allow Uk TNT watchers a method of renewal in place.
The set top boxes are now common in Darty and other electronics stores across France and most supermarkets too at around 120Euros for the SD standard definition box. Don’t get confused with the terrestrial boxes though if purchasing in France, ensure that you are buying a satellite set top box. There are some boxes with very few extra features beyond the basic setup and some which can be used on more than one satellite and can be better organised into multiple ‘favourite’ groups, useful if you are watching different languages. Most receivers available today are fine, but there are still some early boxes around with poor remotes and reliability problems.
BIS despite its yearly subscription charges, offers at least 3 different cards. The base card is the Panorama, costing around 100 Euro and entitling the user to all the usual French channels to be found on the TNT platform. Next is the Cinerama, at around 160 Euros, also has the film channels from the AB sat platform – Cine FX, Cine First, Cine Polar and Action. Added too are channels like Orange Sport tv, Animeaux, Game One, L’histoire and RTL 9. Finally the top package adds adult entertainment to the mix. BIS is supplied as a pre paid card so the years payment is ‘up front’ and there is no phone call required to activate the card, simply insert into your Viaccess decoder card slot and turn to Hotbird or Atlantic Bird.
Lastly there is always the free channels option. With a good satellite receiver and dish with multiple LNBs or a motorised satellite dish, it is possible to get a good selection of the main and some of the smaller channels without a special box or a subscription, as long as you are not wanting TF1 or M6 channel, such a system will still receive some 30 possible French channels including France2 and 3, ARTE ( also French language from other countries across North Africa.)