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How does it Work?



Satellite television

In principal satellite TV operates much like conventional television, transmitting programming by radio signals.

Conventional (broadcast) television uses powerful antennas to broadcast their material, which is picked up by a much smaller antenna by the viewer. However the receiving antenna has to be in a direct line of sight with the broadcasting antenna. This is the reason that most permanent antennas are on rooftops, hence raising the chance of finding a straight line.

Often trees and small buildings do not cause a problem, but gradually the curvature of the Earth itself breaks the straight line, and so the range of this type of broadcasting is relatively limited. If the Earth were flat, it is possible that the signal would travel for thousands of miles but this may be distorted by objects that are in the way.

Satellite television stations increase this line of site by broadcasting the signal to a Satellite orbiting the Earth which in turn broadcasts the signal to the satellite dish. The satellites are in geosynchronous orbit, meaning that they orbit the Earth in the same time it takes the Earth to rotate. Therefore the satellite remains above the same relative point on the Earth's surface and so the satellite dish used to receive the signal needs only to be directed once - on installation.

The two main satellite providers in the United States compress their signal into MPEG-2 format, meaning that the providers are able to broadcast much more content at any one time. Using this technology, over 200 channels can be sent to the receiver, rather than the thirty or so that would be possible without. In order to prevent the signal being picked up for free, the satellite companies encrypt the signal which is then decrypted by the receiver after the signal is received by the satellite dish.

For the viewer, the result is a vast range of channels broadcast from around the world. Now it is easy to keep up to date with 24 hour news programs and channels showing the latest movies and music. However, it seems that the biggest selling point of satellite TV is the sports packages, something that the providers have recognized. Consequently, the most popular sporting options are often only available on the more expensive tariffs.

Like most technology, satellite TV faced a fight to become accepted and faced an uncertain future for several years. The growth has been so substantial that in the US alone more than 1 in every 20 house has a satellite dish. Now, 20 years after the first satellite TV transmissions, it seems that it is here to stay, and with the digital age fast becoming a reality, suddenly there is more to come.

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