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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 FAQ). * 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 rec.video.satellite.dbs DBS FAQ by Brian Trosko. A copy of the FAQ is located at Robert Smathers's WWW Pages at: http://www.nmia.com/~roberts/dbs.html