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SKY box maintenance

The following is a guide for anyone that owns a SKY+HD box who would like to maintain it themselves. Especially those of you with a box no longer under warantee wishing to avoid having to contact SKY or pay for an engineer. This guide mainly applies to the DRX890 and DRX895 boxes as these are the only SKY+HD boxes that Sky still support, but some of the tips below will work for older boxes. This guide does not support Sky Q.

The SKY+HD box

The SKY+ HD boxes are essentially a mini PC in-a-box with an internal hard drive, a TV output, input via a small control panel or remote control, and a network card in the form of an ethernet connector or built-in or attachable wifi device.

SKY supply the software or 'operating system' (known as the EPG) that runs on each box. This universal software has to work on every type of SKY box that is still supported and is delivered at random times silently without you knowing when the next update is coming. These updates have been proven to of had minimal pre-delivery testing. When an update is pushed out a small percentage of SKY+ box owners experience one or more glitches or even system failures. At this point you'll be reaching for the phone to call SKY or logging on to SKY.com to raise a ticket. This guide was written to provide you with a few helpful steps so that you could try and resolve the problem yourself. Usual disclaimer: I accept no responsibility for your actions.

Keep your deleted items folder empty

I can't emphasise this tip enough. Keeping your deleted items folder empty or near empty is essential to maintain the health of your hard drive. Relying on the built-in space management software is not advisable. I receive many emails from people who never deleted anything in their deleted folder and as soon as the free space reached 10% or lower they started experiencing planner failures. While you may get lucky and experience no problems, taking 5 minutes each week to clear out the deleted folder will go a long way to extend the life of your system.

To reduce recording problems due to having too many deleted items it is a good idea to regularly go into the deleted items folder and delete the contents. Do this often otherwise you will be sat there for ages deleting the contents as each deletion is a slow and tedious process.

To delete the contents of your deleted folder:

  • Press tv guide
  • Enter your planner
  • Select the deleted folder
  • Select an item to delete and press the yellow button
  • Repeat for each item that you wish to permanently delete

How automated housekeeping works

Your box has a section of the hard drive marked as available to you for storing recordings and downloaded programs. A bar indicates how much of this space you have used and how much is free. The free space is the size of unused space and the contents of the deleted folder combined. The housekeeping function routinely removes any recording in the deleted folder that has been there for 60 days or longer. If the unused space equals zero then the housekeeping function needs to free up space, which it does in the following order:

  • Permanently deletes the oldest recording in the deleted folder
  • Permanently deletes the next oldest recording in the deleted folder
  • Permanently deletes recordings in the deleted folder until the deleted folder is empty then..
  • Permanently deletes the oldest recording in your planner marked VIEWED but not marked KEEP and not purchased
  • Permanently deletes oldest recording in planner marked RECORDED/DOWNLOADED in your planner not marked KEEP and not purchased
  • Permanently deletes oldest recording in planner not marked KEEP
  • Permanently deletes oldest recording in planner

Defrag your hard drive

As you record and delete programs your hard drive will become fragmented. This can lead to recording and playback performance problems. For example you may be recording two HD programs while playing a third from your planner. Your SKY box has to read and write a lot of data to and from your hard drive and if that hard drive is fragmented the hard drive mechanics have a lot of work to do which could lead to jerky playback or recording problems.

In order to defrag your hard drive you have to perform a planner rebuild. This process takes time as essentially it performs several actions that combined provide a form of integrity check. These actions require all processes to be stopped so perform a rebuild only when you have no recordings happening now or within the next 20 minutes. It is recommended that your deleted items folder is empty before performing a planner rebuild.

To perform a planner rebuild:

  • Press services
  • Select help
  • Select Sky+ Rebuild
  • Press select to confirm

A rebuild will look at all your recorded and scheduled programs and re-order and validate them.

Perform a forced Software Update

Over time your SKY box may develop a problem or a background update may have failed leaving your box still functioning but with 'glitches' such as any one or more of the following:

  • Scheduled recordings that you know you added are no longer in your planner
  • You cannot add a program to your planner because your box is forever initialising
  • You cannot perform a search because your box is initialising
  • Your box is responding to the remote control really slowly
  • The software appears to be working as you can access the menus but the screen is blue
  • You witness temporary blue screens during live viewing or the box turns itself off
  • Your tv guide is telling you that no listings are available from one or more days in the future
  • Your box is forever trying to connect to your broadband router whereas other devices have no problem connecting

Nine out of ten times the reason for any of the above is a software fault. If you think about it there are a myriad of different SKY boxes out there all at different software versions and SKY has to push firmware updates out to all of them and those updates must work otherwise the volume of support calls will increase. What tends to happen is for a small percentage of us SKY box owners those updates will fail. When this happens your SKY box is supposed to be able to recover and will try again and again to apply the update. But what if the failure means it is stuck in a state that means it is unable to receive and apply the update or to reinstall the software to fix itself?

The good news is that you don't need to call SKY and wait in a call queue as you can resolve this problem yourself. No need for an engineer call out either.

To perform a software update:

  • Put your SKY box in stand-by mode using the remote's off button
  • Turn off the power to your SKY box
  • Hold down the backup button on top of your SKY box
  • Keep the backup button pressed down and turn the power back on
  • Keep the backup button pressed down until all the lights light up on the front panel of your SKY box and the TV screen turns black with white writing
  • Relase the backup button and leave your SKY box alone for 10-20 minutes
  • Wake up your SKY box with the remote.

The update will be complete when you can perform a search or add a program to your planner without being informed that your box is initialising.

The dreaded System Reset

When all else fails most SKY support staff will direct you to perform a system reset. This process will perform a low-level format of your hard drive followed by a download of the latest firmware. This WILL erase all your recorded programs and delete your scheduled programs.

A system reset is only recommended when you have exhausted all other options such as multiple software updates.

Two scary words for any SKY+ user are "Diskless mode". This is where your SKY box can no longer read the contents of its hard drive. Something has happened to the data on the drive such as corruption caused by a power failure when it was writing to the disk. You could try updating the software but chances are that won't fix your problem. The IT gurus among you could remove the hard drive and connect it to a PC and point a tool such as Spinrite at it, but again there are no guarantees although I have heard of limited success with using a hard drive repair tool like Spinrite followed by a system refresh.

If all else fails and you have no option but to perform a system reset:

  • Press services
  • Press select then 0 then 0 then 1 then select again to go to the hidden menu
  • Select System reset
  • Press select to confirm

For serious failures where you cannot get to the menu system to perform a system reset then you can perform one via the facia buttons as follows:

  • Turn the power off to the Sky box
  • Hold down the left and right buttons on the box and keep holding them down
  • Turn the power back on to the box and wait for the blue circle to light up
  • Press Select button on the box and the blue circle should spin backwards as it reformats the hard drive
  • The blue circle should turn off and the blue play light should illuminate to say the process is complete
  • If the red record light is on the process failed. Repeat the process

Tip: If you have to perform a system reset but you can still see your scheduled programs list, I highly recommend using a digital camera (or your smartphone camera) and advancing each page in your schedule while taking photos so that you can easily rebuild your schedule later.

Single feed mode

For those of you with only the one satellite cable coming into your property i.e. communal satellite, you will need to enable 'single feed mode'. This is done as follows:

  • Press services
  • Press 0
  • Press 0 then 1 then select again to go to the hidden menu
  • Select Single Feed Mode and set to ON
  • Press green button to save cganges
  • Read warning and press Select if happy to continue

Check firmware version

To check if your Sky box has the latest available firmware installed you will need to know your manufacturer name and model number. This will be written on the back of the Sky box or can be read from the Sky+ app if you have it installed on your phone or tablet. Next you need to know your revision number which the Sky firmware also calls the 'Model Number'. To get this number carry out the following:

  • Press services
  • Select settings
  • Select details
  • Make note of the Model Number

Next go to the web page http://skyepginfo.co.uk/Firmware/SkyPlusHD.php and locate the correct column for your Sky box. Work your way down the column until you find a matching Model Number. If your Model Number is at the top you have the latest version.

Avoid program clashes

For some reason Sky have not added the ability to detect automated clashes to their Sky box firmware. It can detect if you are trying to add a program to your planner that will clash with two existing programs but it cannot detect if it does it itself due to scheduling changes and Next Series additions. Instead Sky added this feature to their Sky+ app available for tablets and smartphones.

The Sky+ app is worth installing for several reasons as well as the avoidance of clashes. I myself use the app in conjuction with MySky reminders to add programs to my Sky boxes without disturbing what the family is watching on the TV right now. You can also delete programs and browse channels without bringing menus up on the TV.

To remove clashes just start the app and connect to your Sky box and it will tell you about any clashes and will present you with options on how to resolve, which might entail moving a few programs around. I find that 8pm to 10pm Monday to Friday is when most clashes occur as this is the primetime TV slot. I record so much TV that I tend to switch a lot of my series recordings to the early hours when clashes are unlikely. Both HD and non-HD programs are repeated in the early hours so you can still get your programs without having to make sacrifices.

Avoiding clashes means that you do not have to download the programs later or have to wait for the next repeat of a missed program if you have no or slow broadband.

FAILED due to power cut

One point worth mentioning that I myself have experienced multiple times living in rural Britain is that the Sky boxes are susceptible to power fluctuations when recording. Even a small spike in power can result in the presence of the dreaded FAILED message in your planner. And when you press 'i' for more info it says it failed due to a power cut. What power cut you ask yourself? Your clocks are not flashing 00:00, and all electronic devices reported no outages. Chances are it lasted less than a second but to your sensitive Sky box it was enough to fail your recording.

I've tried surge protectors with no luck. When the lights flicker in our house we quickly check the Sky boxes and sometimes we get lucky, but often not. If you have a solution then let me know. For now I continue to check my recordings for any FAILURE messages once a week in order to download the program that failed before it is removed from the list of available programs.

Programs in planner have no names

After a planner rebuild or software update your Sky box may take some time to refresh. During this period you may notice that your planner shows scheduled programs as time and dates and not by name. Don't worry, what you are seeing is the link to the program in the planner. Your TV guide has yet to fully update so it does not know the name of the program that it is scheduled to record at 9pm next Tuesday, yet, but it will once it has completed downloading the TV guide. If you go into the TV guide and press the button to advance 24 hours you will see that the TV guide is still updating. Once this process is complete your planner will correctly show the names of the programs that it is scheduled to record.

Unable to delete a failed recording

Sometimes a failed recording (usually due to a 'technical fault') refuses to be deleted. You can delete other recordings but not this one. The reason is that there is no actual file to delete. This could be because when the recording was attempted it failed immediately before recording even one-second of the program to disk, or because the first attempt to delete it worked but it failed to remove the entry in the planner. Either way, what you are left with is a ghost entry. The only way to get rid of it is to force the system to check what is actually on the hard drive, which means performing a planner rebuild. After the rebuild the ghost entry should no longer be present.

Some people have reported that some recordings just won't delete but when they download or record the same program again or another in the series and delete the nested programs the recording is finally deleted.

System crash

Sometimes your Sky box will just crash. The general symptom is a frozen picture on the screen and no response to the controls, whether via the remote or facia, or a channel or recording is playing but the system won't respond to any commands. If you were playing a recording from your planner the blue circle lights may still be animated on the front facia and pressing the remote results in LED flashes on the front of the box but there is no response on screen. There is only one course of action with a system crash: power the box off then on again. Turn the power off to the Sky box for at least 30 seconds then power it on again. It may take ten to twenty minutes before your box will respond as normal without informing you that it is initialising or being generally slow to respond.

Can you copy or backup your recordings?

You can backup your recordings to DVD in SD format using the play and record method outlined in your user manual. Alternatively, I am informed that you can copy your recordings from one Sky+ box to another or to a PC using software called ExPVR. There is also a Sky hard drive copier software program called Copy+.

What do the failure codes mean?

Here is a list of the failure codes that I have encountered so far, along with the common problem associated with the fault code and suggestions for resolving.

  • Technical Fault 5 - One of two recordings failed - Error when two recordings at same time resulted in the failure of one. Possibly due to fragmented hard drive or loss of signal for the channel. Empty deleted folder and perform a planner rebuild to improve hard drive health.
  • Technical Fault 7 - Hard drive error - The hard drive failed to respond or reported a problem during recording. Empty deleted folder and perform a planner rebuild to improve hard drive health.
  • Technical Fault 10 - Signal loss - Temporary loss of signal for channel being recorded. Check signal strength and channel. Caused by a temporary glitch or signal interuption by interference or bad weather.
  • Technical Fault 30 - No Signal - No signal was being received by the box at the time of recording. Check settings for current signal strength. Possible hardware problem with wiring, LNB or dish alignment.

This section is currently unavailable as multiple programmes are being deleted

This is a bug in R014 of the Sky firmware that leaves you unable to access your deleted items folder. You will get the message "This section is currently unavailable as multiple programmes are being deleted. Once completed you'll be able to view the deleted programmes and restore them to your Planner if required". This has been fixed with R015 of the firmware. To check if you have the update press Services then select Settings, scroll across to System Details and look at your Model Number. If you still have the R014 version you can force R015 onto your Sky box by performing a System Refresh. Your box will now let you access your deleted items folder and should correctly report the amount of free space you have left.

How do I protect my kids from inappropriate content?

The default protection set under Services > Parent Control & PIN > Family is pretty basic in that it requires PIN entry for adult content and purchases. Some mature content recorded or downloaded may also require the PIN to access but it can be hit or miss in that it won't be for everything. You'll find that your little ones with access to the remote can access any non-adult channel (9xx range) or anything in your planner without restriction. You can up the security level by moving to the Ratings tab and setting Restrict on PG to 18 certs. Although the description says for movies only this also works for anything with a certificate set. A more advanced option is the Channels tab. You can set every channel to require a PIN after 8pm or at any time. Note that this can become really tedious after a while and if you set both the Channel and Ratings lock you can double-PIN some channels. All that PIN entry is going to wear out those number buttons that your PIN uses making it easier for the little ones to guess your PIN (or they can just watch you entering it over and over again).

Until Sky improve their parental controls your only real option towards protecting your little ones from mature content and offensive language is to hide the remote and set the channels and playback for them. You'll have to put up with them coming to you asking you to change the channel or to start another recording but it is far less tedious than having to lock every channel and non-U rating in order to lock down your Sky box.

Why is my Sky box active at night when I have no recordings scheduled in my planner?

You may notice that your Sky box appears active overnight but there are no new recordings in your planner. The reason for this is that Sky are pushing downloads overnight to your box via the dish (not broadband). The content they are pushing is popular shows and movies that you 'may' wish to view or purchase. It is pre-downloaded to save time downloading it on demand later. To see what has been downloaded to your box press TV guide and select the More Top Picks tile. Scroll through the More Top Picks suggestions until you see a program with the playback icon already present. Select it and select the option with the playback icon and press the 'i' information button. It will tell you when it was downloaded and the size of the download. This download is stored in a hidden partition on your hard drive. When you select to view or buy the download is moved from the hidden partition into your planner. If you wish to disable this feature press the Services button and select Options then Customise and set the following to OFF: Auto Download On Demand, Enable Pushed On Demand.

Why does my Sky box say that no listings are available?

The Sky boxes get the TV listings (TV guide) via the default transponder. If no listings are available then the first thing to do is to check the signal strength of your satellite feed. If both look ok (greater than 50%) then it may be a software fault. Try a planner rebuild first and if that fails to resolve the problem force a software update.

Why is my SKY+HD box saying the time and date is 12:00am Thu 01/01?

I've received many emails from people asking what a particular message means that's popped up on their screen and I've asked them to send me a photo and in the photo I can see that the time and date is showing as '12:00am Thu 01/01'. For a Sky box this is day one. This is the equivalent of a PC's on-board battery running out of juice and therefore being unable to remember the date and time. For a Sky box seeing this generally means that your box has suffered a software failure. To fix it power off the box and keep a hold of the backup button on the box as you turn the power back on and keep it pressed until you see the writing on your TV screen. Then leave it for 20 minutes and after that your problem should be fixed.

My sky box does not respond in the morning

Some boxes can hang when ECO mode is enabled forcing them to go to sleep overnight. The problem is that the box cannot be 'woken up' forcing a power off and on to recover or in some cases a software update is needed. If your box is one of the ones affected by this problem it's probably worth disabling ECO mode and seeing if that helps. I know that my 2TB box hangs with ECO mode enabled so I have my boxes set to Active. To change the mode go to Services > Options > Sky+Setup > Standby Mode and set to ACTIVE or NONE.

Does Sky still support my Sky+HD box?

Sky is slowly phasing out support for the Sky+HD boxes in favour of Sky Q. The last boxes that are still in support - meaning that they can still receive software updates - are in the Amstrad DRX89x range. Go to Services then Settings then Details and look at the Model Number. If your model number starts DRX89 then your box is still supported (your version number must also start with 4f31). If your box is not supported you will be unable to update the software or refresh it if it develops a fault. If you want to keep on using your box for FreeSat (or in this case Sky free-to-air) you can but it might be advisable to image the hard drive to provide a rollback option should the box develop a software fault in the future.

The DRX89x box naming format is made up of DRX89 followed by a 0 for the 500GB hard drive model or a 5 for the 2TB hard drive. W means it has built-in Wi-Fi and L means it's the new 'Lite' version with the telephone ports removed.

My Sky+HD box is completely dead so do I throw it away?

Assuming an out-of-warantee box and assuming that you have checked your plug fuse and internal fuse, and you are not good at repairing electronics yourself, then the box is still worth a few quid as spares on sites like eBay or Gumtree. A dead box is worth about a tenner at best as the fault is unknown and the potential buyer is taking a punt with it. However if you strip it down to: box, hard drive, remote control and cables you can get more for it as a sum of parts. The hard drive is worth the most as they are generally fast 7200rpm models. After removing it type it's details into eBay to find out what the market is selling them for. You may be surprised. Next is the controller in terms of value. It's worth more if the writing on the buttons is not too worn. If your box is a DR89x model then it's worth something to the refurbishment market. People buy faulty DRX89x boxes to fix and resell.

For info in the past I have stripped down my old Sky boxes and sold them as parts on eBay and anything that didn't sell was properly disposed of at my local WEEE site.

What happens after you cancel your Sky TV subscription?

After your Sky TV subscription ends your box becomes a FreeSat box. FreeSat gives you around 200 channels. If you leave your Sky viewing card in your box it activates 30 extra free channels. It does this by acting as a de-encryption card even without a subscription. This is called Sky FTA (Sky free-to-air) and will work as long as you leave your old viewing card in your box. If Sky change the viewing card at any time you may need to pay a small fee to get a new viewing card in order to keep those extra 30 channels should you want them, but card changes are not that often.

If your Sky+HD box is still in support you can still receive EPG updates and perform a software update yourself without a TV subscription. You cannot use the Sky+ features such as live pause, recording playback and recording (PVR). Sky charge a fee for this. The EPG remains the same unfortunately so you will have to learn which channels you can watch (FreeSat) and which are subscription only as you are unable to edit the EPG and you can only flag 50 favourites.

The DLNA server component still works following the end of your Sky TV subscription so Sky apps can still access your Sky boxes, but with limited functionality.

Why can't I record, playback or live pause without a subscription?

After your Sky subscription ends Sky disables the software in your box known as XTV PVR. This software allows your box to record, playback and pause feeds. This is so Sky can charge you a fee to enable XTV PVR, which they refer to as the 'Sky+ service' and costing around a tenner a month. IMO this is a bit of a rip-off. Sky charge customers (directly or via subscription) around £250 for the Sky+HD box, which is both a satellite receiver and PVR in one. However if you no longer wish to be a Sky customer and cancel your subscription and switch to FreeSat, Sky disable the PVR part of the box rendering the hardware to be nothing more than a satellite receiver. Would you pay £250 for a satellite receiver? Plus the hard drive is still operating within your box requiring more electricty than other satellite receivers with no hard drive, adding to your electricity bill. Not surprisingly a lot of people write to me moaning about not knowing this up front and asking if there is any way of enabling the PVR feature themselves. I'm not aware of one. Sorry.

Can I take my multiroom box to another house?

Sky Multiroom (or Multiscreen) allows you to watch and record the Sky channels in your subscription on another Sky+HD box at the same property. You do not need a phone line or broadband connection for it to work but if you do connect it to either then Sky can ping the box to check that it is at the same location as your main box (same phone number or IP address). If it reports back with a different location then Sky may charge the bill payer for two subscriptions or may disable all or part of the functionality of the multiroom box (usually after contacting them first).

Why is my hard drive still spinning when in Standby?

When you place your Sky box in Standby (red light is on) you haven't actually turned it off. All that happens is that it won't output anything to your TV. It will still record scheduled programs, download updates and adverts, and carry out housekeeping tasks such as deleting deleted recordings older than 60-days. The hard drive will still spin and make a whirring noise. Your box will only go quiet if it's in standby and some time has passed and there is nothing to do. It will park your hard disk and will wake it up only when it has something to do that requires reading or writing to the hard drive.

I can't delete programs on a second-hand box without a PIN I don't have

If you acquire a second-hand box with recordings you may find that you can't delete them without the PIN set by the previous owner. If the box was sold with a viewing card you could try the last 4-digits of the card but that may not work. If bored you could try guessing but your best bet is to perform a System Reset and wipe everything, then update the software. If you have a viewing card you can then pair it and set your own PIN.

How do I set up a second-hand box?

If you've purchased a second-hand box and want to use it for Freesat or as your Sky TV box you need to reset it then optionally pair your viewing card. First perform a System Reset to clear out the previous owner's data and recordings. Make sure your box is now running the latest software. If not force a software update. Next insert your SKY viewing card into the new box and try various channels such as 157. If it says "card must be paired" follow on-screen instructions. If there are no on-screen instructions and you have a MySky login visit Sky's activate my channels page to see if that works for you. You don't need a viewing card to view the unencrypted FreeSat channels.

About me

I am a professional QA Tester. I do not work for Sky. I learned how to fix my Sky boxes out of frustration after figuring out that Sky Customer Service reps are just following a script and don't really know how the boxes work. After my third replacement box went into 'Diskless mode' and the customer rep told me we need to wipe everything again I'd had enough. I said thanks, I'll fix it myself and I've never called them back for technical support.

I have two boxes both long out of warranty. The oldest is a 2TB DRX895W model and the youngest is a 500GB DRX890W model. The more I learn the larger this guide will grow so keep checking back as this guide is constantly being updated. I've also written an article on how to play the Sky TV subscription cost game in order to get your Sky subscription cost as low as possible.

How to contact me

Feel free to drop me an email if you are experiencing a problem that is not covered by this guide (yet), or you have some feedback or a suggestion for something I can add to this guide, or maybe you just want to say hi and thanks for writing this guide.

If you are emailing me about a problem with your box one thing to try before emailing me is to perform a software update as this is known to fix most problems (holding down backup as your power on). If it hasn't resolved your problem, drop me an email stating that you have tried a software update already and let me know the version of software you have installed and your Sky box version. To find this information select Services then Settings then Details and note the Model Number and Version Number.

Final words..

Sky+HD has been around for over a decade now and there are many thousands of us still out there in possession of these boxes. The Sky+HD boxes are no longer being manufactured so if your box develops a fault Sky will most likely try to convince you to move to Sky Q. If you don't move the replacement box you will most likely receive will be a refurbished DRX89x model with a 30-day warrantee. It's only a matter of time before Sky discontinues support for the Sky+HD service, but until then we can all try to keep our boxes ticking over as long as possible.

Dave

Last updated: 5th September 2017

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