The sky’s the limit…

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After 25 years at his Southborough premises, Phil Millington, managing director of The Satellite Shop, has seen the audio-visual industry evolve to an extraordinary degree. We caught up with him to find out what’s in store for our home entertainment

How and why did you get into the satellite TV field?
I started this business when Sky began in 1989. I was 20 and had already been working in the industry. After school I worked in electrical shops, then joined Harrods as a Sony rep. That’s where I first saw a satellite dish, before Sky started – being Harrods, they had everything first! I was looking for a reason to be self-employed and people were broadcasting channels before Sky got involved, but you needed a massive dish and it was hugely expensive. It was going on though, more with enthusiasts at that time. But I decided to get involved. By that stage I was a rep for a company that sold into electrical shops, including stores in Tunbridge Wells, and my parents had moved here. Mostronics saw the potential for satellite TV when Sky launched and I became a self-employed installer for them for a while. Once I’d sussed out what to do, I left and set up on my own, getting this shop in Southborough.

Were you worried that satellite TV might not take off?
There was some uncertainty at first. The only manufacturers to take a risk on making equipment were Alba and Amstrad. The satellite was due to be launched but people still thought it could blow up. I still decided to do it, though – I got a bank loan on the strength of having a job, then I left the job and lived in a caravan on my parents’ land. It was a major struggle. The tech was not very reliable then and didn’t really work properly. After that I became more of a specialist satellite installer, getting involved with the enthusiast market and those wanting foreign channels. I’d put in dishes for people wanting to pick up as many channels as they could. Then I got more involved in AV and the general market.

How has the industry changed over the years?
Nowadays we do CCTV, home cinemas, TVs on people’s walls and so on. There are more remote control systems and that’s the way it’s going. Multi-room control systems have always been expensive and exclusive, but it’s coming more into the mainstream. We’ve started to deliver those at different sorts of prices. It’s all coming down in price.

These days, people want TVs floating on their walls without any boxes or wires in sight; they want to lock it all away in a utility room so they can control the system from their phones. And now there are heating and lighting systems that can be controlled from your iPad or iPhone – it’ll creep into your life, whether you like it or not.

What other services do you offer?
We provide free local quotes. If someone is refurbishing or putting up a new build and doesn’t know what they need to do, we come and advise on the cabling, making sure it’s all in the right position. Even if we don’t install it, we can oversee an electrician doing the first fix. Then we can do the second fix and put the equipment in. We can become consultants from the beginning and prices tend to start from about £250. For that we check that it’s all done properly. Planning from the start can save a lot of trouble later on.

Are there any key issues people should be aware of when installing home systems?
All the remote and wireless systems rely on a network connection. That’s not necessarily about the speed of the Wi-Fi coming into your house, but more about the Wi-Fi coverage across the house. During a build or refurbishment, people will say, “Oh, I don’t need wires for that, it’s going to be on the Wi-Fi” but you need to be able to control it. So it’s about making sure you put Wi-Fi access points in each room to extend the coverage. We see so many home systems that have been botched. The point is getting the right advice at the start.

What do you see as the next big movement in audio-visual?
Definitely streaming, and controlling devices from your phone or iPad. There will be a time when everything is streamed and not just in your home – you’ll be able to look at your recordings elsewhere and watch them where you are. There will always be a place for satellite TV and aerials in the areas where you can’t get good internet coverage, but in 10 years’ time streaming will be mainstream.

There are also location services available for phones, so if you’re within a certain radius of your property you can turn on the heating and even run a bath. With voice-controlled programmes like Cortana and Siri, that’s what we’re heading towards. It’ll be, “Siri, turn the lights on” and “Siri, call my mum!” It will come.

So what’s next for The Satellite Shop?
We’re moving more towards home automation and network control. We’re also looking to refurbish the TV room at the shop to make it into an experience centre, demonstrating home control systems. We’ve got a new projection system and want a room where people can see exactly what they could have at home. Hopefully that will happen in January or February.

56a London Road, Southborough Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN4 0PT 01892 548468

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