English TV in France – the Finale!

(subtitle: installing Freesat in France without getting hot and bothered…)

After eight years eight months and 27 days of living in France we have given in and installed English TV. It would have been a few months sooner but I’m pretty slow at getting on with things, especially when I don’t know what I’m doing.

So in case anyone else is as slow as me, and because when I was doing my research I couldn’t find it explained clearly anywhere, I thought I’d give a quick user guide to how we did it. Of course, as with so many things, it’s completely straightforward and pretty inexpensive when you do know how to do it, impossibly complicated when you don’t.

Part of my problem was that having lived in France for a few years I knew nothing about Freesat, the UK free to air television service…there are other ways of achieving the same but below is exactly what we did. Please feel free to leave comments if I’ve got it all wrong or there is a better way.

What you need

  1. A Freesat box and lead to connect it to your TV – we bought ours in the UK, perhaps you can also find one online if you are not visiting the UK any day soon
  2. A satellite dish and head. Our dish  is 70cm in the south of France. Forums talk of the need for people ‘down here’ to have dishes of 1.2 metres or more but it seems unnecessary here if you have a completely clear view (no trees, buildings etc in the way). Might be different where you live…
  3. A lead long enough to join your dish to the Freesat box! (Ours is 25 metres away, with the dish in the middle of a flower bed at some distance from the house). If you are planning to record programmes as well you will need two of these leads, and your satellite head will need two cable outputs (and of course you Freesat box will need a record facility)
  4. A signal strength detector plus a spare lead (during installation you will need two leads). almost certainly you already know someone with a signal detector, ask around before buying one.

What to do next

  • Connect everything together, including the signal strenth detector between the Freesat box and the dish
  • Point your dish at the sky. Our Freesat manual said ’19.2° east of south’ but should have said ’28.2° east of south’. The sun in the south of France in summer is roughly in the right place at 1pm (south at 2pm), so that is a rough guide. The dish will be pretty close to vertical.
  • Now move your dish around in small degrees until the signal meter shows the best signal you can get (there is a different satellite at 19.2°, you don’t want that one).
  • Turn on your TV, select the correct source for your freesat box, and ‘voila’, the auto tuning should take over from there. Within 10 minutes you will be watching Eastenders.

Why did it take me so long then?

For ages I couldn’t get a signal for the main channels (but could get plenty of German channels), and got various screen messages about bad connectors and low signal strength. What these all really meant was ‘see that tree branch right over there – it’s in front of your dish, you idiot’. As I said, you need a clear view of the sky.

Hence why I carried out a final test with a very long lead running halfway across the garden to a treeless vantage point, before looking on ebay to see if NASA were selling any enormous second-hand satellite dishes.


Don’t get your hopes up about the results. Even when it is all working, and we now have an extra 120 channels to choose from, there was still nothing much worth watching. Britain’s Got Talent and re-runs of Minder weren’t quite the action packed evening we had spent so many months anticipating. Now, where can I buy the Radio Times?



  1. Lesley August 13, 2010 at 1:27 pm |

    Radio Times is on line. Best of luck finding good programmes to watch and radio to listen to.

  2. Johnny Norfolk August 13, 2010 at 6:00 pm |

    I hope you will be paying your £142 Tv Licence for BBC programmes.

    Well done a friend set mine up when we lived in Germany.

    Do you watch any of the BBC on your PC with i Player its very good.

    I can forward your £142 on for you if its difficult.

  3. Boris August 13, 2010 at 6:57 pm |

    Leslie, daughter 2 has discovered that by combining UK and French TV she can watch Friends for 18 hours a day…

    Johnny, I understand that iplayer is quite difficult to watch outside the UK – they monitor the ip addresses to ensure it isn’t being watched ‘illegally’. Apparently it’s possible through a proxy but I never tried.

  4. Tris Burns August 16, 2010 at 7:17 pm |

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    Channel Green TV

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  5. Donna September 5, 2010 at 11:06 am |

    Does anyone know if you need 2 dishes for French and English TV or if you can point one in the right direction to get both? I am in Dept 30 (south of France).

  6. Boris September 5, 2010 at 11:16 am |

    I’m almost sure that you need 2 dishes (but only 95% confident!). Hopefully an expert will come along.
    Of course, you can use an aerial to get all French TNT channels if that’s easier than a 2nd satellite dish (with a decoder ot tnt equipped tv).

  7. Donna September 5, 2010 at 11:20 am |

    In this area they are turning off analogue TV next year. Am I right that an aerial is only used for analogue, or would that work for digital too? (There’s an aerial on the roof that may serve.)

  8. Boris September 5, 2010 at 3:53 pm |

    An aerial works fine for digital as long as your tv has a TNT decoder built in, or you can buy them separately for about 35 euros (diy shops all have them) if there isn’t one in your televison already. Much easier to setup and use than a satellite dish as well.

  9. Peter Grove September 8, 2010 at 7:59 am |

    We had ‘a man’ in to fit our freesat dish as I foolishly thought it would need to go on the chimney/apex wall as the only other candidate is to have an extension attached soon. He wandered around with his meter and said ‘you’ll never get a signal there cos of that s—–ing great oak tree – how about I put it on that concrete fence post.’ It seemed churlish to offer him 10 euros for his advice and do it myself – so I didnt.

    Lesson is, check where you’re dish will go first – fitting it may be very simple!

  10. Peter Grove September 8, 2010 at 8:00 am |

    hmm – my english teacher would have slapped me round the back of the head forthat ‘you’re’ in the last sentence

  11. Rob September 22, 2010 at 5:47 pm |

    Regarding satellite TV, as someone who has been through this a few times, I would like to offer the following advice:

    1. Make sure the line of sight from dish to satellite is clear of any obstruction – trees/house/fence etc. My dish is strapped to the chimney to look over some trees.

    2. You dont need a signal detector – most digi-boxes have them on one of the screens anyway, you just need to have someone yell at you when the signal is best while you move the dish about.

    3. Keep the cable from the dish to digi-box as short as possible to stop the signal degrading (attenuation).

    4. Try not join cables together – the more connectors, the more the signal is degraded (attenuated), which means dont use wall plugs etc.

    5. A multiple output LNB with 2 cables (the thing on the pole in front of the dish) lets you run 2 digiboxes so you can watch 2 channels at the same time (I have tried this, it works)

    6. You can use two LNBs to point at two satellites with the same dish, but you need two cables/boxes, and signal strength might be compromised depending upon angle/elevation differences. (I havent tried this in france yet, only abroard, where one LNB was digital, the other analogue – the analogue one strapped to the main digital one)

    Hope this helps..