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Satellite television is television delivered by the means of communications satellite and received by a satellite dish and set-top box. In many areas of the world it provides a wide range of channels and services, often to areas that are not serviced by terrestrial or cable providers.

History

The first satellite television signal was relayed from Europe to the Telstar satellite over North America in 1962. The first geosynchronous communication satellite, Syncom 2, was launched in 1963. The world's first commercial communication satellite, called Intelsat I (nicknamed Early Bird), was launched into synchronous orbit on April 6, 1965. The first national network of satellite television, called Orbita, was created in Soviet Unionmarker in 1967, and was based on the principle of using the highly elliptical Molniya satellite for re-broadcasting and delivering of TV signal to ground downlink stations. The first domestic North American satellite to carry television was Canadamarker’s geostationary Anik 1, which was launched in 1972. ATS-6, the world's first experimental educational and Direct Broadcast Satellite, was launched in 1974. The first Soviet geostationary satellite to carry Direct-To-Home television, called Ekran, was launched in 1976.

Technology

Satellites used for television signals are generally in either naturally highly elliptical (with inclination of +/-63.4 degrees and orbital period of about 12 hours, also known as Molniya orbit) or geostationary orbit 37,000 km (22,300 miles) above the earth’s equator.

Satellite television, like other communications relayed by satellite, starts with a transmitting antenna located at an uplink facility. Uplink satellite dishes are very large, as much as 9 to 12 meters (30 to 40 feet) in diameter. The increased diameter results in more accurate aiming and increased signal strength at the satellite. 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. The transponder 'retransmits' the signals back to Earth but at a different frequency band (a process known as translation, used to avoid interference with the uplink signal), typically in the C-band (4–8 GHz) or Ku-band (12–18 GHz) or both. The leg of the signal path from the satellite to the receiving Earth station is called the downlink.

A typical satellite has up to 32 transponders for Ku-band and up to 24 for a C-band only satellite, or more for hybrid satellites. Typical transponders each have a bandwidth between 27 MHz and 50 MHz. Each geo-stationary C-band satellite needs to be spaced 2 degrees from the next satellite (to avoid interference). For Ku the spacing can be 1 degree. This means that there is an upper limit of 360/2 = 180 geostationary C-band satellites and 360/1 = 360 geostationary Ku-band satellites. C-band transmission is susceptible to terrestrial interference while Ku-band transmission is affected by rain (as water is an excellent absorber of microwaves at this particular frequency).

The downlinked satellite signal, quite weak after traveling the great distance (see inverse-square law), is collected by a parabolic receiving dish, which reflects the weak signal to the dish’s focal point. Mounted on brackets at the dish's focal point is a device called a feedhorn. This feedhorn is essentially the flared front-end of a section of waveguide that gathers the signals at or near the focal point and 'conducts' them to a probe or pickup connected to a low-noise block downconverter or LNB. The LNB amplifies the relatively weak signals, filters the block of frequencies in which the satellite TV signals are transmitted, and converts the block of frequencies to a lower frequency range in the L-band range. The evolution of LNBs was one of necessity and invention.

The original C-Band satellite TV systems used a Low Noise Amplifier connected to the feedhorn at the focal point of the dish. The amplified signal was then fed via very expensive and sometimes 50 ohm impedance gas filled hardline coaxial cable to an indoor receiver or, in other designs, fed to a downconverter (a mixer and a voltage tuned oscillator with some filter circuitry) for downconversion to an intermediate frequency. The channel selection was controlled, typically by a voltage tuned oscillator with the tuning voltage being fed via a separate cable to the headend. But this design evolved.

Designs for microstrip based converters for Amateur Radio frequencies were adapted for the 4 GHz C-Band. Central to these designs was concept of block downconversion of a range of frequencies to a lower, and technologically more easily handled block of frequencies (intermediate frequency).

The advantages of using an LNB are that cheaper cable could be used to connect the indoor receiver with the satellite TV dish and LNB, and that the technology for handling the signal at L-Band and UHF was far cheaper than that for handling the signal at C-Band frequencies. The shift to cheaper 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 TV receivers to use, what were in reality, modified UHF TV tuners which selected the satellite television channel for down conversion to another lower intermediate frequency centered on 70 MHz where it was demodulated. This shift allowed the satellite television DTH industry to change from being a largely hobbyist one where receivers were built in low numbers and complete systems were expensive (costing thousands of Dollars) to a far more commercial one of mass production.

Direct broadcast satellite dishes are fitted with an LNBF, which integrates the feedhorn with the LNB.

The satellite receiver demodulates and converts the signals to the desired form (outputs for television, audio, data, etc.). Sometimes, the receiver includes the capability to unscramble or decrypt; the receiver is then called an Integrated receiver/decoder or IRD. The cable connecting the receiver to the LNBF or LNB must be of the low loss type RG-6, quad shield RG-6 or RG-11, etc. It cannot be standard RG-59.

Standards

Analog television distributed via satellite is usually sent scrambled or unscrambled in NTSC, PAL, or SECAM television broadcast standards. The analog signal is frequency modulated and is converted from an FM signal to what is referred to as baseband. This baseband comprises the video signal and the audio subcarrier(s). The audio subcarrier is further demodulated to provide a raw audio signal.

If the signal is a digitized television signal or multiplex of signals, it is typically QPSK.

In general, digital television, including that transmitted via satellites, are generally based on open standards such as MPEG and DVB-S or ISDB-S.

The conditional access encryption/scrambling methods include BISS, Conax, Digicipher, Irdeto, Nagravision, PowerVu, Viaccess, Videocipher, and VideoGuard. Many conditional access systems have been compromised.

Categories of usage

There are three primary types of satellite television usage: reception direct by the viewer, reception by local television affiliates, or reception by headends for distribution across terrestrial cable systems.

Direct to the viewer reception includes direct broadcast satellite or DBS and television receive-only or TVRO, both used for homes and businesses including hotels, etc.

Direct broadcast via satellite

Direct broadcast satellite, (DBS) also known as "Direct-To-Home" is a relatively recent development in the world of television distribution. “Direct broadcast satellite” can either refer to the communications satellites themselves that deliver DBS service or the actual television service. DBS systems are commonly referred to as "mini-dish" systems. DBS uses the upper portion of the Ku band, as well as portions of the Ka band.

Modified DBS systems can also run on C-band satellites and have been used by some networks in the past to get around legislation by some countries against reception of Ku-band transmissions.

Most of the DBS systems use the DVB-S standard for transmission. With Pay-TV services, the datastream is encrypted and requires proprietary reception equipment. While the underlying reception technology is similar, the Pay-TV technology is proprietary, often consisting of a Conditional Access Module and smart card.

This measure assures satellite television providers that only authorised, paying subscribers have access to Pay TV content but at the same time can allow free-to-air (FTA) channels to be viewed even by the people with standard equipment (DBS receivers without the Conditional Access Modules) available in the market.

Television receive-only

The term Television receive-only, or TVRO, arose during the early days of satellite television reception to differentiate it from commercial satellite television uplink and downlink operations (transmit and receive). This was before there was a DTH satellite television broadcast industry. Satellite television channels at that time were intended to be used by cable television networks rather than received by home viewers. Satellite TV receiver systems were largely constructed by hobbyists and engineers. These TVRO system operated mainly on the C band frequencies and the dishes required were large; typically over 3 meters (10 ft) in diameter. Consequently TVRO is often referred to as "big dish" or "Big Ugly Dish" (BUD) satellite television.

TVRO systems are designed to receive analog and digital satellite feeds of both television or audio from both C-band and Ku-band transponders on FSS-type satellites. The higher frequency Ku-band systems tend to be Direct To Home systems and can use a smaller dish antenna because of the higher power transmissions and greater antenna gain.

TVRO systems tend to use larger rather than smaller satellite dish antennas, since it is more likely that the owner of a TVRO system would have a C-band-only setup rather than a Ku band-only setup. Additional receiver boxes allow for different types of digital satellite signal reception, such as DVB/MPEG-2 and 4DTV.

The narrow beam width of a normal parabolic satellite antenna means it can only receive signals from a single satellite at a time. Simulsat or the Vertex-RSI TORUS, is a quasi-parabolic satellite earthstation antenna that is capable of receiving satellite transmissions from 35 or more C- and Ku-band satellites simultaneously.

Direct to Home television

Today, most satellite TV customers in developed television markets get their programming through a direct broadcast satellite (DBS) provider, such as DISH TV or DTH platform. The provider selects programs and broadcasts them to subscribers as a set package. Basically, the provider’s goal is to bring dozens or even hundreds of channels to the customers television in a form that approximates the competition from Cable TV. Unlike earlier programming, the provider’s broadcast is completely digital, which means it has high picture and stereo sound quality. Early satellite television was broadcast in C-band - radio in the 3.4-gigahertz (GHz) to 7 GHz frequency range. Digital broadcast satellite transmits programming in the Ku frequency range (10 GHz to 14 GHz ). There are five major components involved in a direct to home (DTH) satellite system: the programming source, the broadcast center, the satellite, the satellite dish and the receiver.

Programming sources are simply the channels that provide programming for broadcast. The provider (the DTH platform) doesn’t create original programming itself; it pays other companies (HBO, for example, or ESPN or STAR TV or Sahara etc.) for the right to broadcast their content via satellite. In this way, the provider is kind of like a broker between the viewer and the actual programming sources. (Cable television networks also work on the same principle.) The broadcast center is the central hub of the system. At the broadcast center or the Playout & Uplink location, the television provider receives signals from various programming sources, compresses these signals using digital compression (scrambling if necessary), and beams a broadcast signal to the proper satellite. The satellite receive the signal from the broadcast station and rebroadcast them to the ground. The viewer’s dish picks up the signal from the satellite (or multiple satellites in the same part of the sky) and passes it on to the receiver in the viewer’s house. The receiver processes the signal and passes it on to a standard television. These are the steps in greater detail:

Programming

Satellite TV providers get programming from two major sources: International turnaround channels (such as HBO, ESPN and CNN, STAR TV, SET, B4U etc) and various local channels (SaBe TV, Sahara TV, Doordarshan, etc). Most of the turnaround channels also provide programming for cable television, so sometimes some of the DTH platforms will add in some special channels exclusive to itself to attract more subscriptions.Turnaround channels usually have a distribution center that beams their programming to a geostationary satellite. The broadcast center uses large satellite dishes to pick up these analog and digital signals from several sources.

Broadcasting centers

The broadcast center converts all of this programming into a high-quality, uncompressed digital stream. At this point, the stream contains a vast quantity of data — about 270 megabits per second (Mbit/s) for each channel. In order to transmit the signal from there, the broadcast center has to compress it. Otherwise, it would be too big for the satellite to handle. The providers use the MPEG-2 compressed video format — the same format used to store movies on DVDs. With MPEG-2 compression, the provider can reduce the 270-Mbit/s stream to about 3 or 10 Mbit/s (depending on the type of programming). This is the crucial step that has made DTH service a success. With digital compression, a typical satellite can transmit about 200 channels. Without digital compression, it can transmit about 30 channels. At the broadcast center, the high-quality digital stream of video goes through an MPEG-2 encoder, which converts the programming to MPEG-2 video of the correct size and format for the satellite receiver in your house.

Encryption and transmission

After the video is compressed, the provider needs to encrypt it in order to keep people from accessing it for free. Encryption scrambles the digital data in such a way that it can only be decrypted (converted back into usable data) if the receiver has the correct decoding satellite receiver with decryption algorithm and security keys. Once the signal is compressed and encrypted, the broadcast center beams it directly to one of its satellites. The satellite picks up the signal, amplifies it and beams it back to Earth, where viewers can pick it up.

The dish

A satellite dish is just a special kind of antenna designed to focus on a specific broadcast source. The standard dish consists of a parabolic (bowl-shaped) surface and a central feed horn. To transmit a signal, a controller sends it through the horn, and the dish focuses the signal into a relatively narrow beam. The dish on the receiving end can’t transmit information; it can only receive it. The receiving dish works in the exact opposite way of the transmitter. When a beam hits the curved dish, the parabola shape reflects the radio signal inward onto a particular point, just like a concave mirror focuses light onto a particular point. The curved dish focuses incoming radio waves onto the feed horn. In this case, the point is the dish’s feed horn, which passes the signal onto the receiving equipment. In an ideal setup, there aren’t any major obstacles between the satellite and the dish, so the dish receives a clear signal. In some systems, the dish needs to pick up signals from two or more satellites at the same time. The satellites may be close enough together that a regular dish with a single horn can pick up signals from both. This compromises quality somewhat, because the dish isn’t aimed directly at one or moreof the satellites. A new dish design uses two or more horns to pick up different satellite signals. As the beams from different satellites hit the curved dish, they reflect at different angles so that one beam hits one of the horns and another beam hits a different horn.The central element in the feed horn is the low noise blockdown converter, or LNB. The LNB amplifies the signal bouncing off the dish and filters out the noise (signals not carrying programming). The LNB passes the amplified, filtered signal to the satellite receiver inside the viewer’s house.

The receiver

The end component in the entire satellite TV system is the receiver. The receiver has four essential jobs: It de-scrambles the encrypted signal. In order to unlock the signal, the receiver needs the proper decoder chip for that programming package. The provider can communicate with the chip, via the satellite signal, to make necessary adjustments to its decoding programs. The provider may occasionally send signals that disrupt illegal de-scramblers, as an electronic counter measure (ECM) against illegal users. It takes the digital MPEG-2 signal and converts it into an analog format that a standard television can recognize. Since the receiver spits out only one channel at a time, you can’t tape one program and watch another. You also can’t watch two different programs on two TVs hooked up to the same receiver. In order to do these things, which are standard on conventional cable, you need to buy an additional receiver. Some receivers have a number of other features as well. They pick up a programming schedule signal from the provider and present this information in an onscreen programming guide. Many receivers have parental lock-out options, and some have built-in Digital Video Recorders (DVRs), which let you pause live television or record it on a hard drive. While digital broadcast satellite service is still lacking some of the basic features of conventional cable (the ability to easily split signals between different TVs and VCRs, for example), its high-quality picture, varied programming selection and extended service areas are features now seen as an alternative. With the rise of digital cable, which also has improved picture quality and extended channel selection, the TV war is really heating up. Just about anything could happen in the next 10 years as all of these television providers battle it out.

Satellite television by region and country

United States

Currently, there are two primary satellite television providers of subscription based service available to United Statesmarker consumers: Dish Network and DirecTV.

Over the past three decades, various U.S. satellite services have come and gone or combined to form the current primary services. In 1975 RCA created Satcom 1, the first satellite built especially for use by the then three national television networks (CBS, NBC, and ABC). Later that same year, HBO leased a transponder on Satcom 1 and began transmission of television programs via satellite to cable systems. Owners of cable systems paid $10,000 to install 3-meter dishes to receive TV signals in C-band.In 1976 Taylor Howard built an amateur system, which consisted of a converted military surplus radar dish and a satellite receiver designed and built by Howard, for home satellite reception. Taylor's system could be used for receiving TV programs both from American and Soviet communication satellites. In 1977 Pat Robertson launched the first satellite-delivered basic cable service called the CBN Cable Network. In 1979, the Satellite Home Viewers Act allowed homeowners in the US to own and operate their own home satellite system, consisting of C-band equipment from a multitude of manufacturers who were making parts for systems such as Taylor Howard's, and began a large controversy of which channels could be received by whom.

USSB was a direct-to-home service founded in 1981. In the early 1990s they partnered with Hughes and continued operation until purchased in 1998 by DirecTV.

In 1991 Primestar launched as the first North American DBS service. Hughes’s DirecTV, the first national high-powered upper Ku-band DBS system, went online in 1994. The DirecTV system became the new delivery vehicle for USSB. News Corporation currently holds a 38% stake, which it is in the process of selling to Liberty Media. In 1996, EchoStar’s Dish Network went online in the United States and has gone on to similar success as DirecTV’s primary competitor. The AlphaStar service launched in 1996 and went into bankruptcy in 1997. Dominion Video Satellite Inc's Sky Angel also went online in the United States in 1996 with its DBS service geared towards "faith and family". Primestar sold its assets to Hughes in 1999 and switched from DBS to an IPTV platform.

In 2004, Cablevision’s Voom service went online, specifically catering to the emerging market of HDTV owners and aficionados, but folded in April 2005. The service’s “exclusive” high-definition channels were migrated to the Dish Network system. Commercial DBS services are the primary competition to cable television service, although the two types of service have significantly different regulatory requirements (for example, cable television has public access requirements, and the two types of distribution have different regulations regarding carriage of local stations).

90cm multiple-LNA toroidal satellite dish


The majority of ethnic-language broadcasts in North America are carried on Ku band free-to-air. The largest concentration of ethnic programming is on Galaxy 25marker at 97° W. Pittsburgh International Telecommunications and GlobeCast World TV offers a mix of free and pay-TV ethnic channels in the internationally-standard DVB-S format, as do others. Home2US Communications Inc. also offers several ethnic channels on AMC-4 at 101° W, as well as other free and pay-TV channels. Several U.S.-English language network affiliates (representing CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, FOX, the CW (formerly the WB and UPN), ION Network and MyNetworkTV) are available as free-to-air broadcasts, as are the three U.S.-Spanish language networks (Univisión, Telefutura and Telemundo). The number of free-to-air specialty channels is otherwise rather limited. Specific FTA offerings tend to appear and disappear rather often and typically with little or no notice, although sites such as LyngSat do track the changing availability of both free and pay channels worldwide.

On October 7, 2009, NAB TV Board chair Paul Karpowicz planned to testify before the Senate Communications Subcommittee that broadcasters would be willing to allow subscribers of distant signals to continue to do so even if the digital transition resulted in those subscribers receiving stations that they could not before. The NAB did oppose offering new distant signals if a digital signal was available. The Satellite TV Modernization Act had to be passed by the end of 2009. The House bill also allowed Dish Network to offer distant signals. On November 5, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy said he hoped for a "short-time agreement" on the bill passed out of committee September 24. If the Senate approves, the House will have to approve the bill, and if the two versions cannot be reconciled, the license to import signals that expires at the end of the year could be extended. The House version included an agreement with Echostar that, where possible, all 210 markets could receive signals, and Echostar could once again deliver distant signals.

The Senate Commerce Committee approved a version of the the bill on November 19, without an amendment requiring local signals in all markets in three years, though a study would be conducted on why 30 markets still had a problem. Before Senate approval, the two versions of the bill will have to be reconciled; the Judiciary Committee had a short market fix, while the Commerce committee bill required PBS in HD sooner.

United Kingdom

The leading satellite television broadcaster in the United Kingdommarker is a subscription based service named Sky Digital, marketed by British Sky Broadcasting. Since May 2008, a subscription free alternative known as Freesat has been available as part of preparations to migrate the UK to exclusively digital TV broadcasting. The Freesat service is run jointly by the UK's two largest broadcasters, ITV and BBC and should not be confused with the similarly named freesat from sky, a subscription free version of the Sky platform.

Canada

Currently, there are two primary satellite television providers of subscription based service available to Canadians consumers: Bell TV and Shaw Direct.

India

The Indian Subcontinent have many service providers. They are Big TV(ADAG Group), Dish TV, Tata Sky(Tata and Sky), Sun DTH(Sun Group), DD Direct Plus(Prasar Bharathi), Airtel DTH(Bharathi) are some of them. Big TV, Sun DTH, Airtel DTH uses MPEG-4 technology for transmission the other providers use older technologies. DD Direct Plus offers free services while all other providers are subscription based.

See also



References

  1. LyngSat tracking


External links




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