Direct-broadcast satellite television

Direct-broadcast satellite television (DBSTV) also known as Direct-to-home television (DTHTV) is a method of receiving satellite television by means of signals transmitted from direct-broadcast satellites. All the major services including DirecTV, Dish Network, Bell TV, Shaw Direct, and Sky use direct-broadcast satellites. Signals are transmitted using Ku band and are completely digital which means they have high picture and stereo sound quality.

Prior to the arrival of DBS services in the early to mid-1990s signals were sent from fixed service satellites on the C-band analog and received with television receive-only systems, which had more disadvantages to DBSTV including the requirement of large satellite dishes.


DBS satellite dishes installed on an apartment complex.
Rear view of a linear polarised LNB.
An Inview Neelix set-top box.
Corrugated feedhorn and LNB on a Hughes DirecWay satellite dish.

There are five major components in a DBS satellite system: the programming source, the broadcast center, the satellite, the satellite dish, and the receiver. Satellites used for transmission of television signals are generally in either naturally highly elliptical (with inclination of +/-63.4 degrees and orbital period of about twelve hours, also known as Molniya orbit) or geostationary orbit 37,000 km (23,000 mi) above the earth's equator.[1] Satellite television, like other communications relayed by satellite, starts with a transmitting antenna located at an uplink facility.[1] Uplink facilities transmit their signals typically in the C-band frequency range due to their resistance to rain fade.[1] As a result, uplink satellite dishes are very large, often as much as 9 to 12 metres (30 to 40 feet) in diameter.[1] The increased diameter results in more accurate aiming and increased signal strength at the satellite.[1] The uplink dish is pointed toward a specific satellite and the uplinked signals are transmitted within a specific frequency range, so as to be received by one of the transponders tuned to that frequency range aboard that satellite.[1] The transponder then converts the signals to Ku band, a process known as "translation," and transmits them back to earth to be received by home satellite stations.[1]

Sun outage occurs when the sun lines up directly between the geostationary satellite the earth station.[2] This happens twice every year around midday for a two-week period in the spring and fall around the equinoxes, and affects both the C-band and the Ku-band.[2] The line-up swamps out all reception for a few minutes due to the sun emitting microwaves on the same frequencies used by the satellite's transponders.[2]

The downlinked satellite signal, weaker after traveling the great distance (see inverse-square law), is collected by using a parabolic receiving dish, which reflects the weak signal to the dish's focal point.[3] Mounted on brackets at the dish's focal point is a device called a feedhorn or collector.[3] The feedhorn then sends the signals through a waveguide to a low-noise block converter (LNB) or low noise converter (LNC).[3] The LNB amplifies the weak signals, filters the block of frequencies in which the satellite television signals are transmitted, and converts the block of frequencies to a lower frequency range in the L-band range.[3]

The advantages of LNBs are that cheaper cable can be used to connect the indoor receiver with the satellite dish and LNB, and that the technology for handling the signal at L-Band and UHF is far cheaper than that for handling the signal at C-Band frequencies.[4] The shift to more affordable technology from the 50 Ohm impedance cable and N-Connectors of the early C-Band systems to the cheaper 75 Ohm technology and F-Connectors allowed the early satellite television receivers to use, what were in reality, modified UHF television tuners which selected the satellite television channel for down conversion to another lower intermediate frequency centered on 70 MHz where it was demodulated.[4] An LNB can only handle a single receiver.[5] This is due to the fact that the LNB is mapping two different circular polarisations – right hand and left hand – and in the case of the Ku-band two different reception bands – lower and upper – to one and the same frequency band on the cable, and is a practical problem for home satellite reception.[5] Depending on which frequency a transponder is transmitting at and on what polarisation it is using, the satellite receiver has to switch the LNB into one of four different modes in order to receive a specific desired program on a specific transponder.[5] The receiver uses the DiSEqC protocol to control the LNB mode, which handles this.[5] If several satellite receivers are to be attached to a single dish a so-called multiswitch must be used in conjunction with a special type of LNB.[5] There are also LNBs available with a multiswitch already integrated.[5] This problem becomes more complicated when several receivers use several dishes or several LNBs mounted in a single dish are aimed at different satellites.[5]

The set-top box demodulates and converts the signals to the desired form (outputs for television, audio, data, etc.).[6] Some receivers are capable of unscrambling or decrypting the received signal. These receivers are called integrated receiver/decoders or IRDs.[6] The cable connecting the receiver to the LNB are of the low loss type RG-6, quad shield RG-6, or RG-11.[6] RG-59 is not recommended for this application as it is not technically designed to carry frequencies above 950 MHz, but will work in many circumstances, depending on the quality of the coaxial wire.[6]


The necessity for better satellite television programming than TVRO arose in the 1980s. Satellite television services, first in Europe, began transmitting Ku band signals in the late 1980s. On 11 December 1988 Luxembourg launched Astra 1A, the first satellite to provide medium power satellite coverage to Western Europe.[7] This was one of the first medium-powered satellites, transmitting signals in Ku band and allowing reception with small(90 cm) dishes for the first time ever.[7] The launch of Astra beat the winner of the UK's state Direct Broadcast Satellite licence, British Satellite Broadcasting, to the market, and accelerated its demise.[7]

In the early 1990s, four large American cable companies launched PrimeStar, a direct broadcasting company using medium-power satellites.[8] The relatively strong transissions allowed the use of smaller (90 cm) dishes for the first time in North America.[8] Its popularity declined with the 1994 launch of Hughes' DirecTV.[9] DirecTV acquired USSB on 14 December 1998 for $1.3 billion and PrimeStar in 1999 for $1.83 billion.[10]

On 4 March 1996 EchoStar introduced Digital Sky Highway (Dish Network) using the EchoStar 1 satellite.[11] EchoStar launched a second satellite in September 1996 to increase the number of channels available on Dish Network to 170.[11] These systems provided better pictures and stereo sound on 150-200 video and audio channels, and also allowed small dishes to be used.[11] This, along with the widespread availability of DBS services and advances in noise reduction as a result of improved microwave technology and semiconductor materials ended the popularity of TVRO systems.[12] In the mid-1990s, channels began moving their broadcasts to digital television transmission using the DigiCipher conditional access system.[13]

In addition to encryption, the widespread availability, in the US, of DBS services such as PrimeStar and DirecTV had been reducing the popularity of TVRO systems since the early 1990s. Signals from DBS satellites (operating in the more recent Ku band) are higher in both frequency and power (due to improvements in the solar panels and energy efficiency of modern satellites) and therefore require much smaller dishes than C-band, and the digital modulation methods now used require less signal strength at the receiver than analogue modulation methods.[14] Each satellite also can carry up to 32 transponders in the Ku band, but only 24 in the C band, and several digital subchannels can be multiplexed (MCPC) or carried separately (SCPC) on a single transponder.[12] Advances in noise reduction due to improved microwave technology and semiconductor materials also had an effect.[12] One consequence of the higher frequencies used for DBS services is rain fade. where viewers lose signal during a heavy downpour. Ku band signals are more vulnerable to rain fade than C-band signals.[15]

On 29 November 1999 US President Bill Clinton passed the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act (SHVIA).[16] The act allowed Americans to receive local broadcast signals via direct broadcast satellite systems for the first time.[16]

Satellite Television for the Asian Region (STAR), a service based in Hong Kong which now provides satellite TV coverage to Asia and Australia, introduced satellite TV to the Asian region in the early 1990s. It began broadcasting signals using the AsiaSat 1 satellite on 1 January 1991.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Pattan, Bruno (31 March 1993). Satellite Systems:Principles and Technologies. Berlin: Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 9780442013578. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
  2. 1 2 3 Tirró, S. (30 June 1993). Satellite Communication Systems Design. Berlin: Springer Science & Business Media. p. 279-80. ISBN 978-0306441479. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Minoli, Daniel (3 February 2009). Satellite Systems Engineering in an IPv6 Environment. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press. ISBN 978-1420078688. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
  4. 1 2 "Microwave Journal International". Microwave Journal International. Horizon House. 43 (10-12): 26–28. 2000. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Fox, Barry (1995). "Leaky dishes drown out terrestrial TV". New Scientist. Reed Business Information. 145: 19–22. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Dodd, Annabel Z. (2002). The Essential Guide to Telecommunications (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. p. 307-10. ISBN 0130649074. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
  7. 1 2 3 "ASTRA 1A Satellite details 1988-109B NORAD 19688". N2YO. 9 July 2014. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
  8. 1 2 Ray, Justin (7 May 2002). "DirecTV-5 broadcasting satellite launched by Proton". Spaceflight Now, Inc. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  9. Cory Grice (December 14, 1998). "Hughes buys satellite firm for $1.3 billion". CNET news.
  10. Joanna Glasner (January 22, 1999). "DirecTV Buys PrimeStar". Wired.
  11. 1 2 3 Grant, August E. Communication Technology Update (10th ed.). Taylor & Francis. p. 87. ISBN 978-0-240-81475-9.
  12. 1 2 3 Khaplil, Vidya R.; Bhalachandra, Anjali R. (April 2008). Advances in Recent Trends in Communication and Networks. New Delhi: Allied Publishers. p. 119. ISBN 1466651709. Retrieved 16 July 2014.
  13. Bell-Jones, Robin; Berbner, Jochen; Chai, Jianfeng; Farstad, Thomas; Pham, Minh (June 2001). "High Technology Strategy and Entrepreneurship" (PDF). INSEAD journal. Fontainebleau: INSEAD.
  14. Mirabito, M.,& Morgenstern, B. (2004). Satellites: Operations and Applications. The New Communication Technologies (fifth edition). Burlington: Focal Press.
  15. "Rain fade: satellite TV signal and adverse weather". 2010. Retrieved 16 July 2014.
  16. 1 2 Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act, Act No. 00-96 of 29 November 1999 (in english language). Retrieved on 30 July 2014.
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