Satellite TV Systems

Digital Satellite Television Systems represent a relatively new technology that is making its way in many homes.

And as with every new technology, satellite television comes with its share of terms and acronyms most have absolutely no idea what they actually mean.

Well, help is here! The following is a list of the more commonly used terms we encounter in the field of satellite television.

Satellite TV Systems: Index of Terms and Definitions

Winegard SK-SWM3 Slimline Automatic Multi-Satellite TV Antenna

This low height automatic multi-satellite television antenna has the ability to receive multiple TV signals with unmatched signal strength. It is also easy to use; just push a button to find the satellite you want!

Access card:
Also know as a smart card, this is a removable credit card-size plastic card included with each satellite TV receiver. It identifies each receiver within your satellite TV system, stores your programming access, and keeps a record of Pay-Per-View (PPV) usage.

Additional Outlet (A/O):
Receivers other than the primary one can be connected to the dish allowing other televisions in the house to be on different programs than the one connected to the primary receiver. Alternatively, an A/O also refers to a convenience outlet to feed a second TV when a second satellite TV receiver is not available; the second TV will show the same programs as the main television connected to receiver.

Antenna Amplified gain:
Gain is the ratio of the amount of power you can reach in one direction from the antenna to the amount of power that would be generated if that same total power is radiated equally in all directions from the antenna. It is expressed in decibels, or dB.

This refers to a set of standards developed by the Advanced Television Systems Committee for digital television transmission over terrestrial, cable, and satellite networks. You need an ATSC tuner to receive digital television irrespective of whether it is standard definition or HD even though many associate ATSC with HDTV only.

Audio/Video Jacks:
Standard definition Satellite TV system receivers would normally include three jacks: one for the video (composite or S-Video), and two for the sound (one for the right channel and one for the left.) The audio jacks are necessary for stereo sound. R/F connectors (coaxial cable) will not provide stereo from the satellite receiver. In the case of a high definition digital satellite TV receiver, this would also include an HDMI output.

This refers to the horizontal direction of a satellite. In the case of a satellite TV system, it refers to the rotation of the whole satellite dish assembly around a vertical axis, or supporting pole. By definition, North is 0 deg or 360 deg, East is 90 deg, South is 180 deg, and West is 270 deg.

It would have a different azimuth depending on your location but since TV satellites are over the equator, if you live in the US, it will always be in the southern sky.

Range of frequencies occupied by a signal or allowed by receiving equipment (basically, what a receiver is capable of receiving). The required bandwidth for a TV channel is 6MHz; this would be able to carry either one analog TV channel or multiple digital TV programs; for more information of Digital TV transmission, please refer to our DTV section.

The raw satellite TV signal before it is re-modulated to become a signal that is suitable for a TV.

A satellite transmission pattern.  It may be wide, narrow or spot. This affects the satellites footprint.

An alternative name for a satellite.

Bit is short for ‘binary’ digit; it represents the smallest unit of data in digital systems; it can have a value of ‘1’ or ‘0’. A group of 8-bits compose what is referred to as a byte.

A particular programming service may not be available in certain areas of the country; this is usually because of contractual agreements.

Caller ID:
A feature in some satellite receivers that displays the caller’s telephone number on your TV if the phone rings while you’re watching TV.

Castle Rock Broadcast Center:
The facility which provides DirecTV with television reception, playback, encoding, and up-linking.

Signal frequency range covering 3.70 to 4.20GHz.

Check Switch:
Running a check switch procedure starts a series of tests in DISH Network satellite TV system receivers which confirms that a good signal connection between the receiver and the multi-sat dish switch exists.  At the end of the test, you will get a list displayed on your TV with the satellites you can receive for your setup.

Clarke Belt:
Named after its founder Arthur C. Clarke, the Clarke Belt is an orbit used by satellites at a height of 22,250 miles, in which satellites make an orbit in 24 hours; this means they will remain in a fixed position relative to the earth’s surface.

Closed Captioning:
This refers to the text stream included in broadcast signal that provides narrative description of dialogue, action, sounds, and other elements of the picture. Most often used by the hearing impaired and in environments where audio is undesirable (such as in restaurants).

This is short for Digital Broadcast Satellites. These high-powered satellites use a Ku-band frequency (12.2 to 12.7 GHz) to deliver programming signals directly to small (18-inch) dishes installed at viewers’ homes.

A device that combines two input signals into a single output. It may also be used the other way to split a single input into two outputs. Often used in satellite systems to combine a satellite signal with an over-the-air TV antenna or cable signal for the reception of local channels. A second diplexer is then needed to split the signals at the receiver location.

Digital Audio Broadcasting:
A broadcast standard which describes the method of transmitting digital audio.

Digital Compression:
A process of translating video images into a digital code which takes less transmission space than the original raw signal. This allows more channels per satellite transponder; typical compression levels are four-to-one for live video and eight-to-one for film. However, the level of compression possible depends on the compression technology in use.

DirecTV System:
A DirecTV satellite TV System, trademarked for the consumer hardware and created to receive DirecTV programming – includes a dish (standard size is 18-inch), a remote control, and the DirecTV Receiver.

DirecWay is the brand name original used to deliver satellite internet access by Hughes Networking. Now re-branded as HughesNet®, it offers a suite of high speed broadband connectivity solutions for your home, small office, business or government agency, with download speeds of up to 5Mbps without tying up your phone line.

DiSEqC™ (Digital Satellite Equipment Control) system is a communication bus between satellite TV system receivers and peripheral equipment using only the existing coaxial cable. DiSEqC™ can be integrated into consumer satellite installations to replace all conventional analogue switching, providing a standardized digital system with non-proprietary commands and enabling switching in multi-satellite installations.

DISH Network System:
DISH Network Satellite TV System, trademarked for the consumer hardware and created to receive DISH Network programming, includes a typical 20-inch, remote control, and the DISH Network Receiver.

DISH 500:
A DISH 500 is a multi-satellite dish used to receive DISH Network programming. Some programming for DISH Network is only available if you have a DISH 500 dish or a 2nd single satellite dish pointed to the 110 satellite for DISH Network.  The DISH 500 dish is used to receive simultaneous satellite signals from the 119 and 110 satellite slots. This satellite dish has now been superseded by the DISH 1000.

DISH 1000:
The DISH 1000 is a triple LNBF satellite dish that provides reception the using a dish face of 19″(H) x 24″ (W) from three DBS orbital locations: 110°W, 119°W, and 129°W DBS.

Dolby Digital / AC-3 Compatible:
Formerly known as Dolby AC-3, or AudioCoding-3, delivers the movie experience through a maximum of 5.1 channels of surround sound audio. Since the mid-1990’s, this Dolby sound format has become the most popular surround sound format in use today.

Dolby Pro Logic:
Dolby Surround technology delivers four channels of audio – Left, Center, Right, and Mono Surround – that are matrix-encoded onto just two audio tracks. These two tracks are then carried on stereo program sources such as TV broadcasts and feature films on VHS.

A signal’s path from satellite to antenna.

DSS is an acronym for Digital Satellite System. It’s also a common name used to refer to a DirecTV satellite TV system or component.

Direct-to-Home, or DTH, is the official term used by the Federal Communications Commission to refer to the satellite television and broadcasting industries.

Dual LNB:
A dual LNB has two coax connections. You can operate up to two satellite television receivers with a dual LNB.

The Digital Video Broadcast is the broadcast standard for digital radio and television, using MPEG II and MPEG 4 compression. DVB is being supported by all European manufacturers and broadcasters.

The company that owns and operates DISH Network.

Electronic Program Guide (EPG):
A chronological listing of all available programming covering an extended time period (typically covering a period of a few days). This listing displays on your TV screen.

How high a satellite is from the horizon. The angle of elevation refers to the upward tilt of a satellite dish antenna that is required to aim it at the communications satellite, measured in degrees. When the dish is aimed at the horizon, the elevation angle is zero.

Feed Horn:
A device which collects the signals at the focus of the satellite dish and channels them to the LNB.

Five LNB:
A dish with five LNBs and four outputs. This dish looks at satellites in five different orbital positions. It is required for HD local channels in some markets because these channels are not all available from a single satellite.

Fixed Dish System:
A satellite TV system in which the dish does not have to be moved. DirecTV and Dish Network are fixed dish satellite TV systems.

An area of the earth that is able to receive a particular satellite’s signals. This depends on the satellite’s beam.

Satellites orbit the Earth 22,300 miles above the Equator and rotate at the same relative speed and direction as the Earth’s surface. Therefore, the satellites appear stationary relative to the earth’s rotation. There are well over 400 geostationary satellites around the globe, representing an increase of almost 100 satellites in the last four years.

Hard Reset:
A hard reset is the same as rebooting a computer.

HDTV, or High Definition Television, is a digital television format that combines high-resolution video with theater-like sound to create a movie theater-quality TV viewing experience. More information on the different HDTV formats is available in our Guide to HDTV Formats.

Impulse Pay per View (PPV):
The ability to buy a particular program on a last-minute decision by simply pushing the ‘buy’ button on the remote control instead of having to make a phone call.

Interactive TV:
An interactive television service that lets you use your TV remote control to access up-to-the-minute news, sports, financial information, weather, get program trivia, respond to free offers and shop, all while you watch TV.

IRD (Integrated Receiver Decoder):
A satellite TV system receiver with a built-in decoder for unscrambling subscription channels. It is usually called a satellite receiver.

Kbps stands for kilobits per second and refers to the speed of a signal transmission.

Signal frequency range between 11 and 14GHz; it is often used by communications satellites.

An L-Band is the frequency range from 0.5 to 1.5GHz.  All satellite TV systems use this frequency (950 to 1450MHz) to carry the satellite signal from the dish to the receiver.

Locks & Limits (Parental Controls):
Allows you to restrict viewing of rated movies (based on the motion picture rating system) or to lock out entire channels.

Low Noise Block down-converter with integrated feed; amplifies received signals and converts them from microwaves to lower L-band frequency signals which are then sent along a cable to the satellite TV system receiver. An LNB can be either single or double. A double LNB is required when more than one receiver is used allowing the viewing of different channels on other televisions.

Multiple Dwelling Unit.

MPEG (Moving Picture Experts Group):
It refers to a set of standards as defined up by the Moving Pictures Experts Group, and that defines the digital signal compression technology used among others, by digital satellite TV systems. Compressing the audio and video signals allows more channels to be broadcast over the same bandwidth. Satellite TV systems use two different versions of this standard:

MPEG2: This format is used for the vast majority of satellite programming, and delivers high-quality picture and sound.

MPEG4: This newer version of MPEG compression is used for delivering high-definition local programming in some markets. Receiving this programming requires the use of an MPEG4-compatible receiver. Newer high-definition receivers are compatible with this format. MPEG4 is more efficient than MPEG2, so it allows more data to be packed into the same amount of space.

Multi-satellite dish:
It is often necessary for consumers to use a multi-satellite TV system, such as the DirecTV Oval 5 LNB Slimeline Dish or DISH Networks DISH 1000. This would normally be required to access programming, like some HDTV programs, and local channels in many areas.

Multi-switch (or Multi-satellite Switch or Matrix-switch):
If you want to hook up more receivers than your dish can accommodate, you can use a multi-switch to split up the satellite feed without compromising signal quality. Some multi-switches allow you to add over-the-air broadcasts or cable feeds, to send both signals to each viewing area via a single coax cable. You will need a diplexer for each viewing area to split up the signals again.

Control of the multi-switch is achieved through the use of 13 and 18 volts signals to select between left or right polarization, while the use of 22KHz tone and DiSEqC (digital satellite equipment control) commands are used to switch between different LNB’s on the multi-switch.

Must Carry:
As of 2002, the FCC established a condition that if a satellite TV service provider is going to carry one local network in a specific market place or DMA, then they must carry all local networks in that market place.

National Standards and Testing Program (NSTP):
The NSTP is a program created to provide basic installation training to satellite TV systems installers.

National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC):
This organization provides telecommunications services to rural electric and rural telephone cooperatives.  If you live in a NRTC district, you cannot use DirecTV services unless you go through your local NRTC office.

Noise Figure:
A measure of the performance (noise contribution) of an LNB in decibels; the lower the better.

NTSC stands for the National Television Standards Committee, a video standard established by the United States (RCA/NBC) and adopted by numerous other countries.

Type of dish with the focus and feed-horn below the center of the dish.

OTA (Over-the-Air):
This is the acronym commonly used to describe standard television broadcast signals received by a rooftop antenna, sometimes called off-air.

Orbital Slots:
Orbital slots refer to the location of satellites around the globe. There are 6 main slots used for DBS TV.

Pay Per View (PPV):
Conditional access service where the user is able to buy one particular program.

Parental Lockout:
Parental Lockout allows users to set a password to control access to programming based on channel, rating or content.

Pixelization occurs due to errors in decoding the MPEG bit stream where areas or patches of color appear instead of the higher resolution image.  It might be described as the picture ‘breaking up’.  The patches of blocks appear and disappear, and can happen anywhere on the screen but usually are part of an image that is in motion.  Pixelization most often occurs during rain fade or if the incoming signal strength is too low for the satellite TV system to operate properly.

A Personal Video Recorder PVR satellite receiver) has a built in hard drive for digital recording of satellite television programs; these come with a typical 35-hour recording capability and two internal satellite TV system receivers.  Dual tuners allow the user to record one program while watching another or record two programs at the same time.

Quad LNBF:
A combination LNBF and multi-sat switch component for DISH 500 systems can accommodate up to 4 DISH Network receivers.

Rain fade:
The loss of signal from the satellite during a heavy rain. This happens more or less to all DBS systems.

Rating Limit:
The rating limit is set by the customer using the main menu.  When a system lock is active, this limit controls the viewing of programs that have been assigned a rating level.

Receiver, or IRD:
The IRD Unit in a satellite TV system which takes signals from a satellite dish and converts them so that they can appear on TV.

Remote Extender:
A remote extender is a device that allows you to use an Infrared (IR) remote to control a satellite receiver from another room.

R/F connectors: An RF coaxial cable type output on a satellite TV set-top box to connect with old TV sets that do not include separate audio and video connectors. This type of connection do not support stereo audio out from the satellite receiver.

RG59: The coaxial cable that is commonly used for cable TV.  If a home already has coaxial cable, it probably is RG59. It is a smaller gauge than RG6.

The type of coaxial cable recommended for digital satellite TV installations. RG-6 is a larger-size cable than the lower-grade RG-59 cable found in most homes. RG-59 has a small center conductor, a small insulating dielectric, and typically, a single outer shield. By comparison, RG-6 has a larger center conductor, a dual or quad shield, and a much larger insulating dielectric, ensuring greater bandwidth, and lower frequency loss per foot.

Satellite Home Viewer Act (SHVA):
The Satellite Home Viewer Act (SHVA) was originally passed in 1988, and later amended in 1994 and 1990.

Its purpose is to protect the copyright area of local network affiliates. It allows DirecTV and Dish Network to provide customers with national networks only if they are not capable of receiving their local network affiliates through the use of a rooftop antenna and have not received network affiliated stations via cable within the past 90 days. DirecTV and Dish Network have specific geographic areas that qualify for these national network feeds.

The amendments in the SHV-Act of 1999 allow DirecTV and Dish Network to offer local network affiliated stations to their customers. If the local networks are not offered, customers must still meet the above criteria to receive the national networks. For more information, please visit the FCC website.

Satellite Dish:
A satellite dish is used to collect signals from a satellite in orbit and focus them to the front of the dish where a feed horn collects them and passes the signals on to the LNB to be amplified and sent to a satellite receiver.

The SBCA (Satellite Broadcasting Communication Association) is an organization of satellite TV system manufacturers, program providers, distributors and dealers.  They are the leading voice for the satellite industry in the congress and all across the U.S.

Solar Outage:
Solar outages occur when a satellite dish is looking at a satellite, and the sun passes behind the satellite and within the field of view of the dish antenna.  Solar outages occur during the spring and fall as the sun moves up and down the sky during the equinox.  The outages only last a few minutes for a few days a year.

This refers to the polarization angle of the electric field. The term ‘Dish Skew’ refers to the dish tilt necessary to get the satellite dish position such that the LNB will be in exact alignment with the electric field of the incoming satellite signals. Setting the dish skew is necessary only when pointing to more than a single satellite.

A splitter is a passive device or diplexer (one with no active electronic components) which distributes a television signal carried on a cable in two or more paths and sends it to a number of receivers simultaneously.

Spot Beam:
A spot beam is a satellite transmission that is focused on a specific area within the footprint, or broadcast area, of the satellite.  Both DISH Network and DirecTV use spot beams to increase the capacity of channels they can provide, thus allowing the broadcast of more local networks.

S-Video Jack:
It is a standard definition video connection normally found on DirecTV and Dish Network receivers; it supports better quality than composite video.

SW-21, SW-44, SW-64:
These are all multi-sat switches used by DISH Network Satellite TV systems.  The first number refers to the number of satellite input connections and the second number indicates how many receivers that switch can accommodate.

The measure of sensitivity of a satellite TV system receiver measured in decibels (dB).

It is a satellite component that receives, modulates, amplifies, and re-broadcast a signal back to Earth. More than one television or audio channel can be transmitted over a signal transponder using MPEG compression.

Triple LNB:
An 18″ x 20″ dish with three LNBs and four outputs. This dish looks at satellites in three different orbital positions. It is required for HD customers, Spanish language services, and locals in some markets because these services are not all available from a single satellite.

Twin 500 LNB:
A twin 500 LNB is a combination of an LNBF and a multi-sat switch component for DISH 500 systems, accommodating up to 2 DISH Network receivers.

UHF Remote:
Ultra High Frequency remote control that can operate the receiver from another room. An IR (Infra Red) remote needs to be in line-on-sight with the receiver.

A signal’s path from the earth to a satellite. DirecTV’s uplink facility is located in Castle Rock, Colorado, while EchoStar (DISH Network) uplink center is in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Term given to picture displays with a wider aspect ratio than PAL/NTSC 4:3. Digital HDTV is 16:9 widescreen. Most motion pictures have a widescreen aspect ratio, often wider than 16:9.