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TV Satellite Dish

A TV satellite dish is commonly installed by the service provider but can also be installed by a do-it-yourselfer.

Satellite dishes come in three sizes -- small, medium and large. [©Jupiter Images, 2010]
©Jupiter Images, 2010
Satellite dishes come in three sizes -- small, medium and large.

TV Satellite Dish

Even though cable television has been the dominant pay television provider, many consumers are leaving their cable providers and subscribing to TV satellite dish services. In recent years, satellite dishes have increasingly become a more powerful and less-expensive option for commercial television viewers.

The cable television industry, however, continues to claim that their service is comparatively glitch-free and easier to operate and maintain than satellite dish service. For example, large cable provider Cox Communications claims in their Top 10 Satellite Myths article on their website that dish installation can be tricky, time-consuming, dirty and frustrating. According to Cox, the process of pointing the dish antenna to the exact point in space where a satellite's transponder receives the broadcast signal is most tricky. And finding the right location for installing a TV satellite dish can be a daunting task when compared to cable television installations. A chief satellite dish disadvantage is the probability of natural reception obstructions such as trees and nearby building. Cox also calls satellite dishes aesthetically conspicuous, especially when installed outdoors on a roof or deck.

What is a TV Satellite Dish?

A TV satellite dish is a type of parabolic-shaped antenna that's designed to receive microwave transmissions from communication's satellite. The most important part of a dish antenna is the Low Noise Converter (LNC) located at the focal point of the dish. It converts incoming signals to a lower frequency; then amplifies the signal before sending it back to the satellite's transponder. The quality of the satellite dish and its LNC determines the quality of the picture reception.

Within an LNC is a part known as a polarizer. It serves to isolate and prevent conflicts of types of signal transmissions, particularly conflicts between horizontal and vertical signal transmissions. Signal conflicts are among the chief causes of satellite television reception noise. Some signal transmissions are intentionally scrambled to prevent unauthorized reception of subscription programming.

Note that small commercial dish antennas can only face in a southward direction because it is currently the easiest and most accessible satellite reception direction.

A terrestrial uplink transmitter, or Earth station, uses a dish antenna pointed toward a satellite. The antenna sends a signal to one of the satellite's transponders. The transponder amplifies and shifts the received signal to another frequency, avoiding any interference with other incoming signals. The transponder then transmits the new frequency signal to another Earth station's downlink dish antenna and receiver that captures and broadcasts the signal as a television transmission.

In the 1960s and 70s, satellite uplink and downlink signals had been transmitted on a range of frequencies known as C-band. In the 1980s, Ku-band was introduced as a new range of broadcast frequencies. Ku-band was developed because it required less-expensive Earth stations and lower bandwidth transmissions than C-band. In fact, Ku-band satellites made it easy to set up portable dish antennas in almost any location in the world, which made the technology of home satellite dishes an eventual reality.

Types of TV Satellite Dishes

In general, satellite dishes can come in three sizes: small, medium and large. The smallest dishes are typically about 18 inches in diameter. The largest can be nearly 500 feet in diameter. Types of dish antennas include:

  • A Prime Feed Focus Dish is a parabolic-shaped dish with an LNC mounted at its focal point. These types of dishes are typically 60 inches in diameter. In this type of large satellite dish, snow and rain can collect and result in signal interference.
  • An Offset Dish Antenna has a side-mounted LNC that's less subject to signal interference from the elements by design. This type of dish design accommodates a smaller dish size than a Prime Feed Focus Dish.
  • A Dual Offset Dish Antenna, as the name implies, is made up of two dishes: a larger receiving dish and a smaller dish faced in an opposing direction. The small dish first collects the larger dish's signal and directs the signal to a side-mounted LNC. This dual dishs design is said to yield an improvement in signal reception.
  • A Flat Antenna, as its name implies, is a flat panel shaped antenna with an LNC that's built into the panel. This antenna was designed to be more compact and less visually intrusive than dish-shaped antennas.
  • The chief feature of a Polar Mount Dish is its automatic dish positioning control that helps the dish select the appropriate satellite signal.
  • A Big Ugly Dish (BUD) is mostly a satellite TV hobbyist dish these days. Marketed in the 1980s, these low-powered dish antennas (originally fiberglass) were made to receive primarily lower powered C-band transmissions. At the time, it was capable of receiving local cable company signals. HBO, however, fought back with signal scrambling dish technology developed by VideoCipher. BUD usage, as expected, has largely faded.


TV Satellite Dish Installation

Satellite TV providers like the DISH Network provide installation and dish alignment instructions for do-it-yourselfers. Their instructions include a table of all U.S. zip codes along with the specific Azimuth, Elevation and Skew angles that correspond with each zip code location. Dish antennas must be aligned in two planes, horizontal and vertical in an upright 30-degree angle. This is known as the Dish Elevation angle. The Azimuth angle is a horizontal plane position that determines how much a dish may need to turn for signal reception. Elevation and Azimuth angles must be adjusted to each other for fine-tuning television signal reception. Skew is the angle of a dish antenna's rotation.

In 1996, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that residents of apartments, condominiums, town houses or Home Owner Association managed communities have the right to install a satellite dish antenna that is at most 39.37 in diameter. They further specified that the installation of the dish be within the residence renter or owner's exclusive and private outdoor area including a balcony, yard or patio. This right, however, does not extend to include an apartment building's roof or building exterior. The FCC also ruled that landlords or HOAs cannot impose unreasonable fees for the installation of a dish. They are also not allowed to create unreasonable delays for the usage or installation of the dish.

Most satellite television service subscribers prefer to use professional dish installers from their service provider. Dish antenna installation time is typically 2 to 4 hours. Subscribers must provide clear roof access for the installer. Renters, however, may first have to check with their landlord or HOA about installation regulations. DirecTV provides a Landlord Permission Form at its website.

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