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Direct Broadcast Satellite

 

 

A New Generation of Television In America

 

 

 

Version 33. Jan 14, 1998.

 

 

 

 

 

Richard R. Peterson, President

The DBS Connection

1480 Lark Avenue

Maplewood, MN 55109

 

 

 

 

 

NOTICE: This document is Copyright (C) 1998, Richard R. Peterson. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to duplicate this document if and only if the following three conditions are met: 1. This document cannot be modified in any way. 2. This document cannot be sold for profit nor included as a part of any publication sold for profit. 3. This notice must be included. Any other use requires the written consent of the author.

 

DISCLAIMER: The author makes no guarantee as to the accuracy of any information provided in this document and is not responsible for any consequences of its use.

 

What is DBS?

 

Several new television services have recently become available to viewers in the United States allowing households to receive television programming directly from satellites on small (18 inch to 3 foot diameter) satellite dishes which are not movable but instead are aimed at position in the sky.

 

The signals are digitally compressed, allowing several programs to be broadcast from a single satellite transponder thereby allowing up to 200 channels receivable with a dish pointed at one orbital position. Programming on the various services includes most major cable services, sports, Pay Per View (PPV) movies, audio services, and specialized "niche" programming aimed at smaller audiences. These services are often referred to as Direct To Home (DTH) services but the term Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) services is more generally used.

 

There are currently DBS services available from five companies. Although they still have far fewer subscribers than the Cable TV industry, DBS services are rapidly adding subscribers and the industry has very strong growth potential. As a result, many companies are interested in getting into the DBS business.

 

 

What DBS services are available today?

 

Five companies currently offer all-digital DBS services in the U.S. with their services called Primestar, DIRECTV, USSB, DISH Network, and Sky Angel.

 

Primestar is offered by a group of Cable TV companies and operates from conventional satellites using 27-36 inch dishes. Primestar has been very successful logging about two million subscribers and capturing over 30% of the DBS market to date, although their growth has slowed somewhat lately.

 

DIRECTV, Inc. which is a subsidiary of Hughes Communications offers a service called DIRECTV which operates from specially designed High Powered DBS satellites receivable with 18 inch dishes. DIRECTV is considered the premier DBS service in the U.S. today acquiring over three million subscribers since starting in 1994 which is over half of the DBS market.

 

The United States Satellite Broadcasting Company (USSB) has partnered with DIRECTV to deliver a complimentary 25 channel premium movie service which use the same satellites and reception systems and a merged program guide making their services appear as a single service. USSB has logged nearly two million subscribers to date.

 

The DISH Network is provided by EchoStar Communications, Inc. They operate from specially designed High Power satellites receivable with 18 inch dishes. DISH started in spring of 1996 so they have a relatively small market share at this time but their service has proven to be very popular adding subscribers at a very rapid rate. Their success is primarily because they have entered the market with very inexpensive hardware and programming which has proven to be very popular with price-sensitive subscribers and which has caused other providers to lower hardware and programming prices. They also are committed to carrying some local channels from the largest U.S. cities which is expected to be very popular with viewers.

 

Dominion has partnered with EchoStar to deliver a 6 to 10 channel Christian religious service called SkyAngel which uses a merged program guide making their services appear as a single service. It is too early to tell how successful Sky Angel will be but it is clearly targeted toward a niche not served by the other services.

 

Because some services share a common reception system and usually operate from the same orbital location, viewers may want to think of the three possible DBS services as 1) Primestar, 2) DIRECTV/USSB, and 3) EchoStar/Sky Angel.

 

 

What equipment is needed?

 

Each service requires reception hardware that includes a dish, a decoder, and a remote control. A single decoder can decode a single channel which can then be routed to several TV sets and VCRs throughout a household. A separate decoder is needed for each TV or VCR that subscribers want to be able to view a different channel on simultaneously. Therefore to watch two different satellite channels simultaneously or to tape one channel while watching another a household must have two decoders.

 

Some of the low-end DBS systems contain a dish which only allows a single decoder to be connected to it while others allow one or two. More than two decoders can usually be connected as well, but that usually requires additional hardware.

 

The DIRECTV/USSB service and the EchoStar/Sky Angel service use systems that allow subscribers to self-install their equipment, although many choose professional installation. Primestar requires professional installation.

 

The dishes can be installed anywhere there is a direct line of sight to the satellite with no trees or buildings in the way. The dishes typically have a built-in audible signal meter or blinking LED to indicate signal strength to help position them during installation.

 

Self-installation kits are also available for both the DSS and DISH systems for about $70. These typically contain cables, a compass, a grounding block, a telephone T connector, and all hardware necessary to mount the dish and connect it up. These kits typically include a videotape which demonstrates the installation process. All the necessary cables can be purchased at Radio Shack or other similar retailers, but those who donít have easy access to supplies may want to consider the self-installation kit.

 

The decoders in most systems have built in copy protection technology which can control whether or not a PPV movie can be recorded. The degree to which this is uswhich has caused other providers to lower hardware and programming prices. They also are committed to carrying some local channels from the largest U.S. cities which is expected to be very popular with viewers.

 

Dominion has partnered with EchoStar to deliver a 6 to 10 channel Christian religious service called SkyAngel which uses a merged program guide making their services appear as a single service. It is too early to tell how successful Sky Angel will be but it is clearly targeted toward a niche not served by the other services.

 

Because some services share a common reception system and usually operate from the same orbital location, viewers may want to think of the three possible DBS services as 1) Primestar, 2) DIRECTV/USSB, and 3) EchoStar/Sky Angel.

 

 

What equipment is needed?

 

Each service requires reception hardware that includes a dish, a decoder, and a remote control. A single decoder can decode a single channel which can then be routed to several TV sets and VCRs throughout a household. A separate decoder is needed for each TV or VCR thated by the DBS services depends on the number of transponders the company is authorized to use and the number of channels compressed onto each of the transponders.

 

The various services have been authorized by the FCC to use a certain number of DBS frequencies which correspond to satellite transponders. The services seem to all be licensed for a different number of transponders from their assigned orbital positions.

 

The number of channels which can be compressed onto a single transponder depends on a lot of things such as desired image quality (i.e. resolution), frame rate of the source material, amount of movement in the source material, degree of allowable visible artifacts, sophistication of the encoders, amount of error correction built into the transmitted bitstream, and other factors.

 

Programming containing frames with many fast-moving small objects such as a basketball game can be compressed perhaps 3 or 4 to a transponder before significant digital artifacts appear. Programming containing mostly large still images can be compressed at a higher rate, perhaps 5 or 6 to 1 transponder. Movies are filmed at 24 frames per second rather than 30 for video so they contain less source material. In addition, film is not interlaced and is in general fairly constant from frame to frame. As a result, film can be compressed more, perhaps 7 or 8 to 1 transponder for acceptable quality. Compression technology continues to improve so these may be conservative estimates.

 

 

What compression systems do the DBS services use?

 

Each of the DBS services transmits a bitstream which contains compressed audio, compressed video, authorization information, program guide information, and other information. The decoders in subscriberís homes decode the digital bitstream converting it into video and audio which can be displayed by conventional TV sets. Each service requires a decoder designed to work with its system.

 

Primestar uses a proprietary video compression system developed by General Instruments called DigiCipher-1. The format used by the other services is based on the MPEG-2 compression standard but also uses some proprietary components. The EchoStar/Sky Angel services use a transmission system based on the DVB standard which seems to be becoming a world broadcast standard. DVB uses the standard MPEG-2 and also attempts to standardize more of the systems.

 

 

Does this mean the decoders are interchangeable between services?

 

No. There is absolutely no decoder standardization in the DBS world.

 

DIRECTV and USSB use a common decoder as do EchoStar and Sky Angel. Therefore there are three possible decoder types from which potential subscribers can choose today. These three are all different and not interchangeable. While many parts of the systems are common, each of the three broadcast bitstreams contain some proprietary information which only their decoder can understand. In order to change to another service subscribers must either sell or otherwise exchange their decoders for one designed for the new service. This includes DVB compliant decoders.

 

When considering what DBS system to purchase, it doesnít really make much difference what transmission system each provider uses, since they all can create similar quality audio and video and none are interchangeable with other services. It is more important to select the service with the desired programming packages and prices.

 

 

Can you tell me more about Primestar?

 

A group of major Cable Multi System Operators (MSOs) have joined together to form Primestar Partners, Limited which offers a digital 160 channel Direct-To-Home service to North America called Primestar. They were the first DBS service and started with 30 analog channels several years ago. They converted to digital in 1994 and claim to be the first digital service beating DIRECTV and USSB by a few weeks.

 

Primestar is now in about 2 million homes the vast majority of which are in rural areas. They have been successful primarily because they are the only service which does not require customers to buy the decoder or dish. Instead, they lease it and include the lease cost in the monthly subscription fees. They broadcast from a conventional medium power satellite called GE-2 which operates from the 85 degree west orbital position so they use about a 27" diameter dish which must be professionally installed.

 

Primestar decoders are manufactured by General Instruments. Their reception system is called the DigiCipher 1 digital broadcasting system. Their decoders are hardware upgradable meaning hardware update modules can be attached which allow parts of the system to be updated without replacing any components.

 

Primestar is the only DBS service which modifies the signal on The Weather Channel to include local forecasts for their subscribers. Their hardware and programming can be purchased at Radio Shack and Nobody Beats the Wiz stores nationwide.

 

 

Can you tell me more about the DIRECTV/USSB service?

 

The DIRECTV/USSB service is the leading DBS service available today offering about 200 video channels. Thirted to digital in 1994 and claim to be the first digital service beating DIRECTV and USSB by a few weeks.

 

Primestar is now in about 2 million homes the vast majority of which are in rural areas. They have been successful primarily because they are the only service which does not require customers to buy the decoder or dish. Instead, they lease it and include the lease cost in the monthly subscription fees. They broadcast from a conventional medium power satellite called GE-2 which operates from the 85 degree west orbital position so they use about a 27" diameter dish which must be professionally installed.

 

Primestar decoders are manufactured by General Instruments. Their reception system is called the DigiCipher 1 digital broadcasting system. Their decoders are hardware upgradable meaning hardware update modules can be attached which allow parts of the system to be updated without replacing any components.

 

Primestar is the only DBS service which modifies the signal on The Weather Channel to include local forecasts for their subscribers. Their hardware and programming can be purchased at Radio Shack and Nobody Beats the Wiz stores nationwide.

 

 

Can you tell me more about the DIRECTV/USSB service?

 

The DIRECTV/USSB service is the leading DBS service available today offering about 200 video channels. This service uses three specially designed High Power Ku-band satellites which operate from one fixed position in the sky. The first (DBS1) uses sixteen 120-watt transponders while the other two (DBS2 and DBS3) are configured to each use eight 240-watt transponders. This results in a total of 32 broadcast transponders.

 

DIRECTV has sold five of the 120-watt transponders to USSB. (Actually USSB owns 5/16 of one of the entire satellites since federal regulations require DBS broadcasters to own their broadcast facilities.) The two competing companies both offer programming receivable with a common dish and decoder.

 

The hardware used by DIRECTV and USSB is called Digital Satellite System or DSS(TM). Sony, Thomson Consumer Electronics (owner of the Proscan, RCA, and GE names), Hughes Network Systems, Matsushita (Panasonic), Uniden and possibly others now sell the DSS receiving equipment. The decoders are sold through both satellite dealers and consumer electronics retailers.

 

DIRECTV and USSB customers must purchase their decoders. Prices range from about $100 to $500 depending on the models and pros of their service.

 

DIRECTV offers subscriptions to most major professional and some college sporting events. They use the addressable nature of the decoders to allow reception only in certain geographic locations such as outside the local broadcast coverage areas. Significant local black-out rules apply meaning many games viewers may want to watch are not available in their area.

 

Can you tell me more about the EchoStar/Sky Angel service?

 

EchoStar and Sky Angel provide the second High Power DBS service in the U.S. EchoStar started operation in early March 1996 and has already signed up over a million subscribers thus far. Their service, called the DISH(TM) Network, uses a DVB compliant system which they manufacture and is also sold by JVC and Philips. Their programming seems to be priced slightly lower than the other DBS services.

 

DISH is currently the only service which operates from two (and soon three) separate orbital locations. The first is the 119 degree orbital position where they control 21 broadcast frequencies from two co-located satellites. The 100 or so channels from this position can be received across the entire continental U.S.

 

EchoStar also uses a third satellite from the 61.5 degree orbital position. Although signals from this satellite can be received across the entire U.S., it is really positioned to provide a reasonable look angle to the Eastern half of the U.S. EchoStar plans to launch a fourth satellite into the 148 degree orbital location to provide service to the western half of the U.S by mid 1998.

 

Many subscribers may choose to only receive the 100 or so channels from the 119 degree position. Others will want to receive programming from two of the positions. It appears it will not be possible or necessary for subscribers to receive programming from more than two positions.

 

 

How can I receive DISH programming from two locations with a single non-movable dish?

 

You canít.

 

In order to receive programming from both orbital positions, subscribers must install two separate dishes, one of which must point at the 119 degree orbital position and the other must point at either 61.5 in the eastern part of the U.S. or 148 in the western half. EchoStar sells a second dish upgrade package for about $100 which can be purchased by viewers who want to receive all of the available programming.

 

EchoStar includes a signal combiner in this package which allows the signals from the two satellites to be combined into a single cable into the home so it is not necessary to run additional cabling. All existing and future decoders can receive programming from two orbital positions. Once installed, viewers will not be able to tell when they are switching between the various satellites and orbital positions.

 

 

What DISH programming is available from the different orbital positions?

 

EchoStarís most popular cable programming is included in the 100 or so channels they broadcast from the 119 degree position so most if not all of their customers are expected to have a dish pointed at 119 degrees.

 

Services from the other orbital positions hasnít been totally determined, but will likely be local channels (described below), data services, and some niche programming such as foreign language programming. Viewers wanting some of this programming will need an additional dish.

 

 

How many satellites does EchoStar have from these orbital slots?

 

The EchoStar High Power satellites are called EchoStar 1, 2, 3, and 4. EchoStar 1 and 2 are currently at 119 degrees with EchoStar 3 at 61.5 degrees and EchoStar 4 planned for 148 degrees. However, they have asked for permission to launch EchoStar 4 into 119 degrees and move one of the satellite currently there into 148 degrees so time will tell where they actually end up.

 

 

What is the Sky Angel service?

 

EchoStar leases a single transponder on EchoStar 3 at 61.5 degrees to Dominion Satellite. Dominion uses it to broadcast about eight channels of religious programming called Sky Angel. The Sky Angel service uses EchoStarís reception hardware and is complementary to DISH service in the same way DIRECTV and USSBís services are. Note that a second dish is probably required in order to receive both Sky Angel and other DISH programming.

 

It appears Sky Angel will only be available from 61.5 degrees so those on the west coast will only be able to receive it with a very low look angle to the east.

 

 

What about watching the broadcast networks and local channels?

 

Lack of local channels is the primary reason cited by most who choose not to purchase DBS systems. The DBS companies recognize this and are aggressively addressing the problem in various ways.

 

EchoStar is taking the lead by using a very significant amount of their bandwidth to add the ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox local affiliates from several major cities to their service. Only those within the terrestrial coverage areas of these channels can be authorized to receive these channels which are being sold as a package for about $5.

 

Satellite rebroadcast of these channels is being done without the consent of the affiliates, which has resulted in petitions and lawsuits being filed by the broadcasters. It remains to be seen how long EchoStar can continue to broadcast local channels, but if allowed to continue, they will be the only DBS service to include local channels as part of their service. They are currently broadcasting from New York, Boston, Washington D.C, Chicago, Atlanta, and Dallas with several more eastern and central cities to be added soon. EchoStar simply wonít be able to carry all local channels in their chosen cities, nor will they be able to service much more than the 20 or so largest markets anytime soon.

 

Local channels are being broadcast on EchoStar 3 so an additional dish is required to receive them. West Coast affiliates will be available from EchoStar 4, which is expected to be operational in mid-1998.

 

None of the other DBS companies have any plans to carry local channels. Instead, they believe local channels should be received over the air so they are working hard to help make local terrestrial reception more effective for their customers.

 

Decoder manufactures are adding capabilities that allow local channels to be seamlessly intermixed with satellite delivered channels in the program guides making it easier to switch between them. USSB is leading a research project to help determine the best type of antenna to be used in every zip code area which salesman can then use to help sell appropriate terrestrial antennas.

 

There are many customers in areas which canít receive their local channels over the air. For these customers, a network programming package of affiliates (usually not the subscriberís local ones) is available to receive the major network programming. According to the Satellite Home Viewer Act renewed in 1994, subscribers who can receive the networks using a roof-top antenna are not eligible to receive this package over the satellite (but the courts have not yet ruled on EchoStarís local channel service.) Note that this is Congressional legislation, not an FCC regulation.

 

 

What DBS system should I get?

 

That depends on your desired programming, your tolerance for dish size, what you can afford to spend, what orbital slots you can see from your location, and several other issues.

 

DIRECTV and USSB have the widest variety of channels and are probably the best for subscribers who want the most possible choice and can afford a number of services. NFL football and other sports enthusiasts will also want DIRECTV as well as those who like a lot of Premium services and Pay Per View movies and events.

 

Primestar requires the lowest initial investment and does not require the subscriber to be responsible for equipment repairs. Although they use a larger dish, they often have the lowest cost of entry and are very popular with rural customers. They also are the only ones to have local forecasts on The Weather Channel.

 

EchoStar is the low-price leader with the most inexpensive hardware and programming costs and they now have the most channel capacity. Additionally, they are the only ones with local affiliates in some major cities. EchoStar also has more superstation type programming and seem to be the only source for Star Trek programming. Their Sky Angel partner will be the first choice for those looking for Christian religious programming as well.

 

Each of the service providers are severely in debt and are continuing to operate at a loss. When choosing a DBS service provider, viewers should note whether or not it has enough cash to continue to operate so they are not left holding unusable hardware if a service were to cease operation. One service provider, AlphaStar, has already gone bankrupt leaving their subscribers with worthless decoder hardware. It is too early to tell how well Sky Angel will do, but even if it fails the DISH hardware will be usable to receive EchoStar programming. DIRECTV, USSB, and EchoStar all seem as though they will survive and prosper.

 

 

How many of these systems have sold and how many do they expect to sell?

 

DIRECTV and USSB claim over 3 million authorized decoders to date with that number climbing by thousands every day. Primestar claims nearly 2 million subscribers to date, although they are not growing as fast as they had in the past. EchoStar now has over a million subscribers and is growing nearly as fast as DIRECTV.

 

Industry experts say they expect to see about 14 million DBS subscribers by the year 2000, although that may be somewhat optimistic. They have consistently added about a million subscribers per year since their start of operation and they expect to meet or exceed that in 1998. The DBS companies continue to fall short of their very optimistic estimated subscriber numbers and are selling at a slower rate than anticipated, however it is still a growth business and they are adding thousands of new subscribers every day.

 

In order to attract subscribers, the DBS companies began subsidizing equipment purchases in 1997. This has pushed their operational breakeven points out much beyond what was originally planned. DIRECTV and USSB had expected to break even at around 3 million subscribers, but in order to continue their long-term growth, it now looks like DIRECTV will need closer to 4 million subscribers which should happen in 1998. USSB also hopes to reach operational breakeven sometime in 1998.

 

Decoder prices have dropped drastically from the $700 to $900 price of first generation decoders a couple of years ago to $100-$400 today in part due to decoder subsidies. As a result DBS authorizations are expected to continue at a very high rate.

 

 

What other services do these DBS companies offer?

 

Data services are perhaps the most exciting aspect of the DBS services. Because the signals are sent as digital packets, the systems can send video, audio, and computer data in any combination to the decoders. Most if not all of the decoders contain a high-speed data port which can be connected to a computer or another external decoder. Each transponder can send an enormous amount of information (at least 23 MBits of data per second.)

 

All DBS companies are reserving some bandwidth for data services, but they are all being extremely slow in their rollouts.

 

EchoStar was the first with a service called AgCast intended for the rural farm markets. AgcCast is a circularly broadcast news service allowing display of agricultural news and information on PCs connected to a DISH decoder through the data port. The cost is about $70 for software and cabling plus about $35 per month for the service.

 

EchoStar also says they will have a PC decoder card available in early to mid 1998. Hardware will be manufactured by Adaptec and will be coupled with some consumer data services to be announced soon.

 

DIRECTV has partnered with MicroSoft Corp. to produce a Windows 95 based PC system which can receive DIRECTV programming in combination with data services. Hardware will be manufactured by Adaptec and perhaps others. This is expected to be available in mid to late 1998. DIRECTV says data services will be a very important part of their business in the future.

 

 

What about AC-3 Audio?

 

No DBS service is using AC-3 audio today.

 

EchoStar says they will begin AC-3 audio broadcasts on some of their channels (perhaps their PPV movies) in mid-1998. They appear to be the only service that currently has AC-3 decoders available.

 

DIRECTV has been broadcasting AC-3width for data services, but they are all being extremely slow in their rollouts.

 

EchoStar was the first with a service called AgCast intended for the rural farm markets. AgcCast is a circularly broadcast news service allowing display of agricultural news and information on PCs connected to a DISH decoder through the data port. The cost is about $70 for software and cabling plus about $35 per month for the service.

 

EchoStar also says they will have a PC decoder card available in early to mid 1998. Hardware will be manufactured by Adaptec and will be coupled with some consumer data services to be announced soon.

 

DIRECTV has partnered with MicroSoft Corp. to produce a Windows 95 based PC system which can receive DIRECTV programming in combination with data services. Hardware will be manufactured by Adaptec and perhaps others. This is expected to be available in mid to late 1998. DIRECTV says data services will be a very important part of their business in the future.

 

 

What about AC-3 Audio?

 

No DBS service is uused to being able to watch one channel and record another or set their VCR to record two different cable channels while they are out. The DBS systems, like any system which requires a decoder, can only decode one channel at a time so a separate decoder must be purchased for each TV or VCR which are to be used at the same time. Also, some models donít have a program timer to use with a VCRís timer to record programs on more than one channel at a time.

 

Many on the west coast are disappointed that programs appear very early since the services use east coast feeds for most of their programming.

 

Although most if not all decoders contain a parental lockout feature, occasionally violent and sexually explicit programs are broadcast with no rating so they are available to all viewers who set the lockout limit at a typical setting. This makes the parental lockout ineffective.

 

 

Are any High Definition Television broadcasts planned?

 

DIRECTV has announced plans for two full time High Definition Television(HDTV) PPV channels to be available in the 4th quarter of 1998 if the HDTV set manufactures meet their goals of making sets available about that time. DIRECTV has already demonstrated High Definition TV broadcast at 1080I and received with prototype RCA projection TV sets. This will make at least some HDTV programming available nationwide before the end of 1998 and also fits in with terrestrial broadcasterís plans to have at least one HDTV channel available in each of the top ten markets by the end of 1998.

 

DIRECTV plans to broadcast two channels of HDTV on a single transponder so High Definition channels will occupy as much bandwidth as three or four standard definition channels. If successful, the DBS companies will need to carefully consider the degree to which they offer additional High Definition channels.

 

Significant High Definition broadcasts will likely be a few years away with the launch dates dependent primarily on the number of sets sold in the U.S. Set manufacturers are gearing up to sell sets late in 1998, but prices will likely start in the neighborhood of $7000 at first, so demand is expected to be soft for some time.

 

Primestar says they have no plans for HDTV at this time. EchoStar hasnít announced their HDTV plans yet.

 

 

What hardware is required to receive HDTV broadcasts?

 

DIRECTV says they expect DSS decoders to be built into all HDTV sets available in the next few years since the additional cost to include DSS is about $50 per unit which is fairly insignificant. If true, only an HDTV set connected to a satellite dish will be required by DSS owners and their existing decoders wonít be necessary. However, that would imply an additional conditional access card and account, so it will be interesting to see how DIRECTV implements their HDTV plans.

 

Most DBS decoder models contain a very high speed data port which the manufacturers have been saying can be directly connected to a separately purchased unit capable of decoding the High Definition television broadcast stream. However, no company has announced plans to develop this separate decoding unit and most think it would be quite expensive and impractical to do so. Therefore, it is appears that existing decoders will never be used for reception of HDTV. Instead, new models and/or the television sets themselves (with built-in DBS decoders) will be used.

 

 

Can I connect more than one TV to a single dish?

 

The DBS dishes connect to the decoders with coaxial cable. The dish electronics have either one or two coaxial connections depending on the model so at most two decoders can be connected to one dish. It is important to purchase a package which can allow more than one decoder to connect to a dish if viewers ever want to hook up more than one decoder in a household.

 

Channel Master and perhaps other companies sell a MultiSwitch which takes both coaxial outputs from a dual output dish and allows up to four decoders to be connected to it. Note that the base units from most manufacturers can only be connected to one decoder, so the Deluxe unit is necessary in this configuration.

 

 

How do I connect a DBS decoder to my home audio/video system?

 

There are plenty of options for hooking the decoders into a home A/V system. TV sets with S-video inputs can use the S-video output jack on the decoder allowing the display of pure component (Y/C) video as it was uplinked to the satellite. This appears to be most advantageous on those channels which are broadcast using digital tape or fiber optic cable as the source. On those channels, use of the Y/C port can avoid the conversion from the digital component signal to NTSC making very high quality images possible.

 

With most if not all decoders, viewers who choose to use the RF output to connect their TV sets do not get stereo or surround sound audio to their TV speakers. Stereo sound is available only through the direct audio output jacks from a DBS decoder.

 

 

Does the compression used by the DBS systems really work?

 

Yes, but the resulting quality seems to be open to debate. There are occasional digital artifacts resulting from the heavy compression used on most of the services. There is a significant trade-off each service provider needs to make regarding quality versus the number of channels available on their systems.

 

Many customers report that the video and audio quality are excellent and the systems work extremely well. Others report noticeable digital artifacts on at least some channels. The quality seems to vary significantly across channels in part due to variances in the source material. At times the video and audio quality on all of the services is stunning. Digital TV works.

 

 

How do the conditional access systems work?

 

On most systems, the DBS decoders accept a credit-card sized processor board called a SmartCard which plugs into the front and allows the decoder to receive authorized programming. The authorization stream is sent on each transponder along with the video and audio information. The SmartCard can be easily replaced by the owner if necessary to help curb piracy.

 

Pirate DSS SmartCards have been developed and are being sold now, mostly in Canada. It appears the other systems have not yet been broken. DIRECTV has issued several Electronic Counter Measures (ECMs) which have temporarily shut down the pirate cards. They have pushed for several indictments ofmore than one decoder in a household.

 

Channel Master and perhaps other companies sell a MultiSwitch which takes both coaxial outputs from a dual output dish and allows up to four decoders to be connected to it. Note that the base units from most manufacturers can only be connected to one decoder, so the Deluxe unit is necessary in this configuration.

 

 

How do I connect a DBS decoder to my home audio/video system?

 

There are plenty of options for hooking the decoders into a home A/V system. TV sets with S-video inputs can use the S-video output jack on the decoder allowing the display of pure component (Y/C) video as it was uplinked to the satellite. This appears to be most advantageous on those channels which are broadcast using digital tape or fiber optic cable as the source. On those channels, use of the Y/C port can avoid the conversion from the digital component signal to NTSC making very high quality images possible.

 

With most if not all decoders, viewers who choose to use the RF output to connect their TV sets do not get stereo or surround sououth and on the West coast it is slightly east of south.

 

The EchoStar primary satellites are at the 119 degree West orbital position which is above a north/south line running through western Nevada. Those on the west coast will see the satellite about straight to the south. All others will see it to the southwest.

 

The Sky Angel and EchoStarís East Coast satellite operates from the 61.5 degree West position.

 

Primestarís conventional satellite is at the 85 degree West position.

 

 

Where are the DBS uplinks located?

 

DIRECTV uses an all digital facility in Castle Rock, Colorado. They are currently in the process of building an additional center near LA as a backup.

 

USSB uses an all-digital uplink facility in Oakdale, Minnesota which is near Saint Paul. Their two 9-meter Ka-band uplink dishes are inside a specially constructed microwave-transparent atrium which shields them from exposure to the weather.

 

EchoStar uses a $40 million all-digital uplink facility in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

 

Primestarís all-digital facility is in Denver, Colorado.

 

 

Can you tell me the technical details about the DSS system?

 

The three satellites are called DBS-1, DBS-2, and DBS-3. Each has 16 transponders powered by 120-watt traveling-wave tube amplifiers (TWTAs) suitable for both digital and analog transmissions.

 

The satellites operate in the Broadcast Satellite Services (BSS) portion of the Ku-band spectrum (12.2-12.7 GHz) and use circular polarization. They can deliver 58 to 53 dBW radiated power over the contiguous U.S. and southern Canada.

 

Each spacecraft weighs 3800 pounds and measures 7.1 meters across and 26 meters long with antennas and solar panels deployed. The solar panels generate 4300 watts of electrical power.

 

The DSS system uses Quadrature Phase Shift Key (QPSK) modulation to encode digital data on the RF carriers. The audio is MPEG-1 Layer II encoded. Surround sound can be achieved by encoding the audio with Dolby Surround before MPEG encoding. The video is encoded using MPEG-2 syntax with up to CCIR 601-1 sampling rates which is capable of up to 720 x 480 images although lower resolutions are currently being used.

 

The system uses a statistical multi-program encoder called a StatMux that dynamically varies the bit rate according to video content taking into consideration other programs multiplexed on the same transponder.

 

Each of the DBS satellites can be configured for either sixteen 120 Watt transmissions or eight 240 Watt. This is based on the DC power generating capability of their solar panels.

 

The DSS architecture can broadcast 40 Mbits/sec per transponder in either of two error control modes. In High mode, 30 Mbps is allocated to information and 10 Mbps to error control. In Low mode, 23 Mbps is allocated to information and 17 Mbps is allocated to error control. High mode requires about 3dB more signal power to achieve an end-to-end availability equivalent to Low mode.

 

DBS-1 is running in Low mode while DBS-2 and DBS-3 are running in High mode. Therefore DIRECTV and USSB have 16 transponders at 240 Watts in High mode and 16 at 120 Watts in Low mode. A fourth satellite could be added to bring them all to 240 Watts, but DIRECTV says there are no plans for a fourth satellite at this time.

 

 

What is High Power DBS and how does it differ from DBS?

 

Several years ago the FCC reserved a portion of broadcast spectrum and reserved several U.S. satellite orbital positions for a class of television service they called Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS). The satellite locations are spaced nine degrees apart from others broadcasting in the same frequency range (rather than two for conventional satellites) and these satellites are allowed to broadcast at a higher power providing interference-free reception on very small satellite dishes. This is the FCCís definition of DBS and they have specifically licensed several companies to provide DBS services including DIRECTV, USSB, and EchoStar.

 

It is also possible for companies who are not licensed DBS broadcasters to offer Direct To Home services from conventional satellites. To the consumer these Direct To Home services look identical to licensed DBS services, except that they generally require a somewhat larger dish (although still much smaller than conventional dishes) and they also require professional installation. As a result, the definition of DBS is now generally used for any Direct To Home service using small satellite dishes from a fixed satellite position but the term High Power DBS is used for FCC defined DBS services.

 

The FCC has set aside eight orbital positions for U.S.-owned High Power DBS services of which four are to provide service over the east coast and four over the west. At each of these slots the FCC is permitting a maximum of 32 broadcast frequencies (transponders). The FCC assigns DBS frequencies to applicants in a way that gives them an equal number of orbital positions from east coast satellites and west coast satellites. The idea is that each company can provide service to the entire continental U.S. by broadcasting from both their east and west satellites.

 

However, with today's technology, three of the four eastern positions (101 degrees west longitude, 110 degrees w, and 119 degrees w) are at longitudes which can actually provide coverage to the entire continental U.S. These are called Full-Conus slots and are the most desirable slots.

 

 

Are any other DBS services planned from these Full-Conus slots?

 

Rupert Murdochís News Corporation has purchased rights for 28 transponders at the 110 degree orbital slot. They have recently announced plans to work with Primestar to provide a new High Power Primestar service from 110 degrees with many channels. The FCC must approve this plan, but if allowed to happen, this will move Primestar from a medium-power, mostly rural service to a major well-funded High Power DBS player.

 

Since a Cable TV consortium owns Primestar, there is concern in Washington that this plan will not help provide competition to Cable TV so there is resistance to this plan. However, many feel consumers would benefit from three good strong DBS services that are High Power and therefore use a very small dish.

 

Primestar says it will be April 1998 at the earliest for the start of this new High Power service. They believe they will get FCC approval sometime before the end of 1998. They may decide to migrate their existing customers off the medium-power satellite by moving their dishes and replacing and/or enhancing their decoders, or they may leave them on medium power indefinitely. This will be a major migration effort for them to undertake and will be quite expensive.

 

Primestar part-owner TCI owns 11 of the transponders at 119 (which is EchoStarís main orbital position). The FCC needs to decide what to do with these as well. Primestar has said if they are allowed to use the 110 degree position, they will give up this 119 capacity for auction These additional slots could end up in the hands of EchoStar which would increase their capacity even further, or they could go to another bidder. Time will tell how these remaining full-Conus slots will be used.

 

USSB owns the rights to 3 transponders at the 110 degree orbital slot. It appears they are preparing to launch some kind of service at that location as well.

 

Canada, Mexico and some South American countries have been granted orbital slots which could actually service North America. At least some of them will be soon auctioning off their spectrum and it is expected some U.S. companies will be bidding on them with the intent of servicing the U.S.

 

 

Where can I find the latest version of this document?

 

This document is updated and submitted every few months to the rec.video.satellite.dbs Internet news group and is also included on John Hodgsonís http://www.dbsdish.com web site.