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r.v.s.tvro FAQ - Part 1/10

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Archive-name: Satellite-TV/TVRO/part1
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PART ONE - What is TVRO?

TVRO is an acronym that stands for TeleVision Receive Only. Generally speaking,
TVRO is the satellite distribution system for delivering programming to cable TV 
headends and systems. Of course, anyone with a home TVRO satellite system can 
potentially receive programming for their enjoyment. To receive TVRO satellite 
signals, at least a modern C-Band only or Ku-Band only capable receiver and an 
appropriate satellite dish antenna is necessary. Usually with TVRO, the bigger the 
dish, the better. In fact, TVRO is often referred to as big dish satellite television. 
Unlike direct broadcast satellite (DBS), TVRO uses mostly open standards 
technology so equipment and dish sizes can vary greatly (More on this later in the 

* How did satellite TV begin?

In 1945, science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke envisioned the positioning of
objects 22,300 miles in orbit above the Earth that could send and receive
information. This would cause these artificial satellites of the Earth to seemingly
"hover" above the ground without moving. The orbital "belt" around the Earth 
containing communications satellites would later be named the Clarke Belt in honor
of Arthur C. Clarke's original vision. By 1957, the former Soviet Union created
the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, which sent out electronic beeps of Morse Code 
extolling Soviet technological-superiority propaganda. Sputnik, however, did not 
orbit the Earth at the exact distance of 22,300 miles needed to seem stationary from
the ground; this orbit is known as geosynchronous orbit. In 1962, the first satellite-
relayed television program was broadcast over the Telstar 1 satellite from France to 
the United States. By 1973, Canada's Anik A1 satellite became the first domestic
satellite to be placed into geosynchronous orbit over North America.

In 1976, Home Box Office (HBO) became the first non-terrestrial television network
to relay its signal via satellite. Soon, Ted Turner, owner of Atlanta, Georgia UHF 
station WTBS also decided to uplink its station via satellite, creating the first 
"superstation". Pat Robertson created the Christian Broadcasting Network (now 
ABC Family Channel) and uplinked it also. The foundation for modern cable 
programming and the modern cable television industry had begun.

But even as this was all happening, an industrious Stanford University graduate 
named Dr. H. Taylor Howard had a vision of his own. He knew about the potential 
of being able to receive satellite programming and decided to build a homemade 
parabolic satellite receiving antenna and receiver unit. In 1977, the first home satellite
 system was built and the home satellite industry was born. He even attempted to pay
 HBO for its programming but HBO refused, saying that it only accepted subscription 
fees from cable companies!

By 1980, several companies were manufacturing home satellite equipment and 
anyone simply having a satellite dish, back then usually 12 to 16 feet in diameter, 
was bound to draw attention from neighbors and friends. The early satellite industry 
was somewhat chaotic; standards and legal clarification were needed to set guidelines
for the usage of satellite receiving equipment and the reception of satellite signals. This
occurred in 1984, when then President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Cable 
Communication Policy Act. Among other things, the new law established the legal 
status of owning home satellite equipment. It also permitted program providers to 
encrypt, or "scramble", their signals and allow home satellite viewers the  option of 
paying for subscription programming for a nominal fee. 

In 1986, HBO, the first cable-type service available via satellite, became the first 
programming service to encrypt its signals. Long gone were the days of Taylor 
Howard being denied the ability to pay for his programming! Many people became a
fraid that encryption was the end of home satellite reception and this view caused 
many satellite dealers to get out of the satellite system retail business. By the late 
1980's, satellite TV became well established as the best method of program 
reception available.

* How exactly are satellite signals transmitted?

Satellite transmissions start with the uplink signal, which are transmitted by very large
fixed satellite dishes up to the satellite in orbit above the earth. The satellite then 
retransmits the signal on a lower frequency down to a general geographic area of the 
earth with what is called the downlink signal. On the ground, home satellite receiving 
equipment converts the downlink frequencies to the even lower 950-1450 MHz 
standard frequency block. The signal then travels to the satellite receiver for 
modulation to TV channel 3 and is then sent to the television itself.

* What frequencies and/or bands are used for TVRO satellite transmissions? 

Satellite transmissions can be received from two different bands: C-Band and Ku-
Band C-Band was the original band of frequencies used for the transmission of 
communications satellite signals and is still the most commonly used band for TVRO 
use. In fact, the term C-Band is often used interchangeably with TVRO; unfortunately,
 this usage is actually incorrect since Ku-Band TVRO also exists. C-Band frequencies 
fall within a range of 3.7 to 4.2 GHz. 

Ku-Band is a newer satellite band for TVRO transmissions. Ku-Band frequencies fall 
within a range of 10.9 to 12.75 GHz. Unlike C-Band, Ku-Band has no accepted 
standard for reception, at least in terms of channel number assignments. As far as 
reception, any satellite receiving system capable of receiving C-Band can receive Ku-
Band with only minimal need for additional equipment. In fact, Ku-Band can be 
received with smaller satellite dishes than those needed for C-Band reception! (More
 on this later in the FAQ) Ku-Band is also the satellite band used for DBS systems 
(more on DBS later). 

* Who is likely to be a prospective big dish system owner?

The prospective big dish system owner is primarily the person who wants choice. 
The big dish offers the most variety of programming of any direct-to-home television 
distribution method. Whether its standard "cable-type" programming, audio (music 
and radio networks), or non-standard fare, the "BUD", or "big ugly dish" as it is 
affectionately called, offers a little bit of everything. Big dish offers the flexibility of 
more than a few satellites worth of programming, all the advantages of modern 
digital technologies, and technological superiority over other TV reception methods. 
The prospective big dish owner actually *enjoys* searching for hard to find 
programming, such as "wild" feeds and unknown free-to-air channels (more on this 
later). The prospective big dish owner likely has a technical bent and likes to 
experiment with the technology itself and takes pride in his/her investment. He/she 
likely even *enjoys* having a large satellite dish right in their backyard for all to see! 
The prospective big dish system owner is clearly looking for something extraordinary 
in their quest for programming excellence.

* Okay, now I know a bit about BUD systems. But those minidish satellite systems 
are fairly cheap and simple. What about DBS?

DBS, or direct broadcast satellite, is a relatively recent development in the world of 
television distribution, with Hughes's DirecTV, the first high powered DBS system, 
going online in 1994. DBS uses high powered Ku-Band satellites that send digitally 
compressed television and audio signals to 18 to 24 inch fixed satellite dishes. 
DirecTV's introduction was the most successful consumer electronics debut in history.
 In 1996, Echostar's DISH Network went online and has gone on to similar success. 

So why all the fuss about DBS? To oversimplify somewhat, it's easy. It takes little 
technical know-how to purchase and install DBS hardware. Since they use smaller 
satellite dishes than TVRO, people are more willing to have them installed since they 
aren't extremely noticeable with their 18 to 24 inch diameter sizes. Consumer 
electronics and discount stores can easily stock them in their stores, making them a 
more visible product to non-technical consumers. DBS systems also don't have any 
moving parts, such as a dish mover. Channel surfing is almost the same to the viewer 
as broadcast TV or cable with video quality that is quite a bit better (but lesser than 
TVRO). And, of course, advertisements can't wait to tell the consumer about how 
good "digital quality" is. Realistically, DBS is "cable via satellite". The customer makes
a one-time purchase between $50 and $150 and pays monthly subscription fees for 
ALL the programming; none of it is free. 

In the modern era of programming choice, DBS certainly has its place, along with 
other methods of television reception, such as over-the-air broadcasting (analog and 
digital HDTV), analog and digital cable, MMDS (microwave "wireless cable"), and, 
of course, big dish satellite. Compared to even ten years ago, let alone twenty or thirty
years ago, television distribution has come a long way. But DBS is just what it is: an 
alternative to entrenched cable television's dominance and poor track record of  
picture quality and service. DBS doesn't offer any wide variety of programming 
options or much hobbyist value. Also, like other consumer products, is a reflection of
the efforts of a single company's vision of what you get to watch and how they want 
you to get it. DBS is a great option for many people, particularly those in rural areas 
not served by cable who want no-hassle, out of the box television reception that 
doesn't show up as snowy pictures on the TV set.

For more about DBS, read the DBS FAQ by Brian Trosko. A
copy of the FAQ is located at Robert Smathers's WWW Pages at:

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Last Update March 27 2014 @ 02:11 PM