Satellite Television

Communications from satellite isn't just for rural areas anymore

Satellite TV has undergone massive transitions in the last decade. Not so long ago TVRO (Television Receive Only) was the method of satellite TV that people used when they weren't able to receive cable TV, usually out in the country. That's when you'd see a giant dish on the yard, attached to a motor hardwired to a handset in the living room used to rotate the dish. This system received television signals directly from a variety of satellites that would rotate across a subscriber's range of reception. Signals would gradually fade and there would be a whole new crop of signals you could change to.

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Today the DBS Direct Broadcast Satellite has taken over. This a much more practical system where you subscribe to a complete service from a dedicated digital satellite feed. These digital data streams are now from one or two satellites that serve North America; they sit in a static location in space in geosynchronous orbit somewhere over Mexico. Small 12" dishes can now be mounted on the roof of the subscriber's house and aimed in one direction; exact coordinates are dependent on the viewer's location. The data stream carries a wide variety of digital channels compressed with Mpeg3 and decoded with the satellite receiver.

Conversion of satellite reception to HDTV is a small matter of setting your dish up to receive the HD feeds with an HD LNB, and then using an HD satellite receiver set-top box. Satellite TV has gained popularity well beyond residences of rural areas for which it's the only option. Suburbanites everywhere have abandoned cable TV companies in favor of satellite TV. Consumers who have switched to satellite have cited everything from poor signal quality of aging analogue cable lines to poor customer service from a complacent cable company that has too long enjoyed a monopoly over subscriber television services.

In the U.S. there are two main satellite services, DirecTV and Dish Network. Historically, Dish Network had been the choice for sports fans, being the first to offer its customers the sports packages. Sports packs are a subscriber option that allows a fan of any major pro-sport to subscribe to an entire season of the game, meaning that every game played during the regular season can be broadcast directly to the subscriber. It's the only option for an out-of-town fan to see his favorite team's every game. Today, however, the two main services look a lot like each other. Your decision generally comes down to which has the best start up offers or promotional incentives.

Today, Cable TV has been able to exploit a major shortcoming of satellite TV technology. The way the data stream for satellite works is that it's only a one-way communication. Pay-per-view transactions with the satellite company are performed over a phone line attached to the satellite receiver. Cable TV has no such limitation and can offer a higher degree of interactivity, including On Demand TV. On Demand TV is a service that satellite will be hard pressed to imitate using only phone line communications back from the customer. But this sort of pressure is good for satellite too, since part of what made their services interesting to begin with had been their relative low cost compared to cable TV. These days, the decision to go with cable or satellite is no longer a matter of cost as they're about equal depending on the package.