The Commodore C64 as a satellite decoder
Towards the end of the 80s, watching TV via satellite became quite popular in Europe, when the “Société Européenne des Satellites (SES)”, became the continent’s first private satellite operator with its Astra satellite. It now operates 16 geostationary communication satellites, which transmit nearly 2400 digital television and radio channels via five main satellite orbital positions to 135 million households across Europe and North Africa.
Back in 1989 though, when the first satellite came into production, the number of channels was much more limited. When you had a satellite dish back then, you could tune into 16 channels, of which 11 were free and 5 offered a subscription service. The latter transmitted their programs encoded or in the D2MAC format and it would come as no surprise, that these 5 channels offered basically all the cool stuff, like 24/7 blockbuster movies and live sports.
If you wanted to watch these channels, you’d have to get yourself a pricy decoder to unscramble the signal and pay a monthly subscription… or was there another way?
There sure was, and if you had a C64, you were in for a treat . Thanks to the versatility of the C64, a user port cartridge became available, called the TCD-64 which would take care of the decoding of the signal. You simply plugged it into your breadbox, connected it to the satellite dish cable and on the other end, connected it to your TV set. You could also connect your C64’s video output to the decoder (hence there was no need to have your monitor at hand), so when you loaded up the accompanying software it would automatically switch to the other satellite input, displaying the unscrambled, high quality picture on your TV.
If that wasn’t enough to convince you to get a hold of this cartridge, the software had a built-in “learning mode”, which allowed it to adjust itself automatically if ever the key for the decoding of the signal changed – pretty cool!
You could get all this “illegal stuff” for a mere (calculated to today’s currency) 130 Euro.
The only drawback of course, was the fact that you had to have your C64 switched on and running the decoding software, which meant that you could not play your favorite games while watching the latest movies. It also meant you basically had to have your C64 close to your TV, which meant either moving your desk to the living room or getting a second C64.
If you didn’t want all this, you could spend another 100 Euro and buy the cartridge as a complete decoder, with basically a built-in, stripped down version of your C64.
Again a testament, albeit a bit borderline illegal, of the huge versatility of your trusty Commodore 64.