Satellite Dish Installation Guide

Installing a dish antenna yourself is not difficult. This guide shows you in an easy-to-follow approach, how to select your dish, choose the best location, install, and eventually fine tune your satellite antenna for the best reception.

Installing a Satellite TV System

A complete satellite TV system installation is a two-stage process:

Installation of the satellite dish itself and the Installation of an appropriate decoder to receive the television programming from your service provider.

However, prior to moving on with this two-stage satellite TV installation process, you need to select and purchase a satellite TV kit. This consists of the satellite dish and related mounting kit, high-grade RF coaxial cable, and the satellite TV receiver, or decoder.

Selecting your Dish Antenna for Satellite TV Reception

It is important to invest a little bit of some thought here prior to choosing your satellite dish to avoid unnecessary expense later on; the type of satellite dish you use - and receiver - will eventually determine the kind of TV programming you will be able to receive.

Low Noise Block-down Converters: A few basics

Equally important is deciding on the number of LNBs. LNB's/LNBF are low noise 'block' down-converters. An LNBF is an LNB with an integrated feedhorn. Most LNB's in use today are actually LNBF's. The term 'low noise' relates to the quality of the amplification and mixing that takes place inside the LNB.

LNB's sit in front of the actual parabola of the dish, at the end of the arm projecting from the satellite dish. Their purpose is to receive, amplify and down convert the required 'blocks' of microwave frequencies to lower 950MHz to 1.45GHz L-band frequency signals; these are then sent to the satellite TV receiver or IRD (integrated receiver decoder), via RG-6 coax cable.

The number of LNB's determines the number of satellites a satellite dish can 'see' since a separate LNB is required to receive signals from satellites in different orbital positions. Satellite TV service providers use multiple satellites to deliver their content - implying that multiple LNBs are required to receive all television programming supported by a satellite TV service provider.

LNB's use an antenna probe inside the feedhorn to pick up the signal focused by the satellite dish. The probe has to be aligned mechanically in a vertical or horizontal direction (or left and right hand circular polarization for DBS satellites) in line with the polarization of the signal transmitted by the satellite transponders. This dual polarization is used by satellites to avoid interference between adjacent channels, and is achieved by assigning even and odd transponders on the satellite, different polarization.

LNBF's employ a dual antenna probe setup inside the throat of the feedhorn with one aligned vertically and the other horizontally (or left and right). Switching to the correct polarized probe is carried out electronically via a voltage sent up the coaxial cable by the receiver.

Feedhorn Installation Tips

Proper installation and adjustment of the feedhorn is critical to system performance. It is particularly important if you are installing a feedhorn that receives Ku-Band signals. In order to find the correct focal distance for tracking, the feedhorn must be at the correct distance from the center of the dish, properly oriented, centered and perpendicular to the plane of the antenna. Follow the alignment procedure outlined below:

1 - Set the scalar ring adjustment for the f/D ratio that is called for in the antenna specifications. If you do not know the f/D ratio, you can calculate the focal distance and f/D ratio yourself using a formula.

2 - Rotate the feed to it's proper orientation using the "polar axis template". The polar axis is a line that runs through the center of the dish pivot points. It is the axis around which the dish will rotate. Another way to look at it is ...... If your dish is positioned so that it is pointing at it's highest point of travel (the zenith of the arc)...... when you stand directly in front of the dish, the "polar axis" runs from 12 o'clock to 6 o'clock. Proper orientation in these terms means that you point the arrow of the polar axis template at 12 o'clock (directly in line with the axis). If you do not have a template, you can get close by siting down the long side of the servo motor; pointing it at about 11 o'clock.

3 - Centering the feed in the dish is also critical to proper reception. This can be done by measuring from the feedhorn to at least 3 different points around the rim of the dish (i.e. measure from the feed to the left side, right side and bottom). The 3 measurements should be equal. Use the adjustments in the feed support legs (or guy wires if you have a buttonhook support) to make any necessary adjustments.

4 - The opening in the feedhorn (face) should be parallel to the face of the antenna (dish). The easiest way to check this is to use an inclinometer or universal protractor. Check the angle at the center of the dish and across the throat of the feedhorn; the measurements should be the same.

The f/D ratio and scalar rings - why it is important to set properly
Proper setting of f/D on the feedhorn allows the feedhorn to take advantage of all of the signal being reflected off of the dish, without receiving interfering ground noise or terrestrial interference.

The f/D ratio is the focal distance of the dish (f), divided by the diameter (D). When dealing with most prime focus antennas, the number should come out between .28 and .42. If you notice, most of those numbers are also on scale on the side of the feedhorn. You simply set the top edge of the scalar ring even with the line that corresponds to your correct f/D setting.

What this adjustment actually does is determines how wide of an angle the feedhorn can "see". If the dish is very deep(example: 10ft diameter dish that is 24 in. deep), having an f/D of .28 for example, then the focal distance is relatively short. When that is the case, the focal distance is often only a few inches greater than the depth of the dish. Therefore, the feed needs to be able to "see" nearly straight to the side of the opening in the throat.

Conversely, if the dish is very shallow (example: 10ft diameter dish that is 11 in. deep), the f/D ratio would be closer to .42 and the focal distance would be much longer. In that case, the feed would need to have an narrower field of view so it would "see" the whole dish, yet not see past the edge of the dish.

Formulas for calculating focal distance and f/D ratios

To calculate the focal distance, you have to measure the diameter (D) and the depth (d) of the dish. Measurements should be in like units (you can't use feet for the diameter and inches for depth). For the example, we will say we have a dish that is 120 inches in diameter (D) and 18 inches deep (d).

focal distance (f) equals the diameter squared (D x D) divided by 16 times the depth (16 x d) or :

D x D = 120 x 120 = 14400
16 x d = 16 x 18 = 288
D x D/16 x d = 14400/288 = 50

focal distance f = 50 inches

After you have calculated the focal distance (f), you can use that figure to calculate the f/D ratio of your dish. In this case, using the same diameter (D) = 120; and the calculated focal distance (f) = 50

f / D = 50 / 120 = .416
f /D = .416 which you would round up to give you a setting of .42

The list below shows how far the throat is out from the scalar rings for different f/D settings.

EXAMPLE: A dish with a .42 f/D will have the throat about flush with the rings.

Inches --- f/D
.12 ------- .42
.32 ------- .40
.52 ------- .38
.72 ------- .36
.92 ------- .34
1.12 ----- .32

Determining the Focal Point of a Satellite Dish

Feedhorn Troubleshooting Tips

How to recognize a polarity problem

Polarity problems are usually very easy to recognize. They are usually indicated by the fact that every other channel is bad. You will notice that on some satellites, only the even numbered channels will come in, while on other satellites only the odd numbered channels will come in. This happens because the probe inside the feedhorn will not turn the 90 degrees that is required to change from a horizontally polarized channel to a vertically polarized channel. If your satellite system is several years old, the problem is most likely that the servo motor that drives the probe has failed. Here are some steps to take to find the problem:

1 - Use a volt meter to check the voltage at the back of your receiver to make sure that the voltage is coming out of your receiver. The connector to check is usually labeled "Polarizer +5v" or Polarity +5v". Disconnect the wires that go to the dish and measure the +5 connector to GND. You should have approximately +5 to +6.5 volts dc. Receivers put out a constant +5 supply, so the voltage should be there as long as the receiver is turned ON. Other brands of receiver may only put out the +5 when the channel is being changed or when the polarity/skew is being adjusted.

2 - Check for dc voltage at the pulse connector. The pulse output is what tells the servo motor how far to turn the probe. You will read from .2 to .9 (+)volts dc here. In most receivers, this voltage will only be present when the channel is being changed or when the polarity/skew is being adjusted.

3 - If the receiver is putting out the proper voltages on the pulse and +5v connectors, re-connect the wires that go to the dish. Then, go out to the dish and remove the feedhorn cover. Disconnect the 3 wires that are connected to the servo motor. Measure to verify that you are getting the pulse and +5 voltage on each respective wire. If you are NOT getting the same voltage as you had at the receiver, then you have a wiring problem. If you are getting the same voltage, reconnect the 3 wires, proceed to step 4.

4 - Have someone inside change channels on the satellite receiver. If you hear the servo motor turning, but there is no apparent change in the position of the probe (remove the throat cover and look inside the throat to see the probe), remove the servo motor and pull up gently on the amber colored drive shaft that couples to the servo motor. If the shaft pulls out, you will need to send the entire feed to repair.

5 - If the servo motor does not turn, and you have the correct voltages getting to the motor, that normally indicates that the motor is bad and needs to be replaced. You can usually purchase a servo motor at any satellite dealer.

If you find that the servo motor seems to be buzzing all of the time or if you are watching a program that seems to fade out intermittently and will come back by itself or if you change the channel up or down and back, the problem is also likely to be a bad servo motor. But try these steps to determine if the problem is more serious:

1 - Take the servo motor off of the feedhorn and hook it up directly to the back of your receiver. You must disconnect the wires going to the dish for this test to be valid.

2 - Watch the servo while you change channels, then let it sit for a couple of minutes. If it turns when you change channels and does not drift or buzz when you are not changing channels, that tells you that the receiver and servo motor are working properly and the problem is likely to be noise being pick up by your unshielded pulse line. The only way to correct this problem is to make sure that the pulse line is shielded and the shield is grounded at one end.

3 - If the servo motor behaves the same way when it is hooked up directly behind the receiver as it did out at the dish, then it is most likely bad. You need to replace it. We hope this information was helpful. If you can't solve your polarity problem after following the instructions and tips above, we recommend calling out your local satellite dealer to troubleshoot the system further.

Different Types of Satellite Dishes

Currently, DirecTV offers eight type of dishes while DISH Network has ten. Dishes range in size from 18-inch to 36-inch x 22-inch. However, more than the shape or size, the real significant difference between the various types of dishes relates to the number of LNBs, and the number of supported outputs.

Typical satellite dishes can vary from the simple 18-inch dish with a single dual LNB (this is a two LNB configuration affixed at a small offset angle in a single housing), to five LNBs and four outputs, with each of these LNBs pointing to a different satellite orbit.

The number of outputs on the dish determines the number of digital satellite receivers that can be connected to that dish to watch different programs on different TVs simultaneously; in this respect, a quad output dish supports up to four different receivers.

If you want to hook up more receivers than your dish can accommodate, you will have to 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, and send both signals to each viewing area via a single coax cable. In this case, you will need a diplexer for each viewing area to split up the signals again.

You cannot split a satellite TV signal through an ordinary RF splitter as used in terrestrial TV reception. As indicated earlier on, broadcast signals from satellites are split in two different polarizations, and these are differentiated at the LNB. If signals with different polarization were sent over the cable at the same time, they would interfere with each other.

A multi-switch works by taking the input from a dual LNB on the dish and then locks one of the LNB's to always look at the even transponders while the other LNB to always look at the odd transponders on the satellite. The switch then has multiple outputs to receivers. A receiver connected to a multi-switch sends a switching signal back up the coax cable to enable the switch to select the correct LNB it needs to look at.

In the case of multiple 'dual LNBs', the process is the same except that now, each of the LNBs will be looking at a different satellite.

DIRECTV Customers:

When choosing your satellite dish, do not buy the round dish if you are getting a new DirecTv system - only the slightly larger oval or rectangular antenna dishes will able to pick up all DirecTV standard and HD programming.

These satellite dishes come with 5 LNBs to receive both KU-band (101, 110, 119) and KA-band (99 & 103) satellite signals simultaneously.

For current DIRECTV customers only:

If your satellite dish was installed prior to October 2005, you would not be able to receive all DirecTV programming.

If you don't remember when your dish was installed or if you're just not sure that it is a 5-LNB, take a look at your dish and see if it matches either one of the DirecTV satellite dish. If not, you will have to order a new dish.

These dishes are required to receive the new MPEG-4 local and national HD programming. These new dishes consist of a phase III dish with an integrated switch to handle both Ku, and Ka (99/103) satellite signals.

Dish Network Customers:

Depending on the type of dish you have, you may need to install a second dish aimed at a different satellite to receive DISH Network HDTV service.

In general, you will be able to receive simultaneous satellite signals from the 110 and 119 satellite slots. With the slightly smaller 18-inch, you can only pick either one of these satellite slots.

To receive all available DISH Network channels, including all high definition local and national channels from a single satellite dish, you need an MPEG-4 compatible dish antenna.

This is a triple LNBF dish with a dish face of 19"(H) x 24" (W) designed to receive programming from three orbital locations: 110W, 119W, and 129W DBS.

Note: Deciding on the required number of LNBs, shape and size of your satellite dish, depends on a number of factors, including the area where you live, service provider, and programming package selected. This is something that is best decided after you speak with your digital satellite TV service provider.

Dish Installation Process

Now that you have made the plunge and purchased a satellite dish, you need to get that satellite TV antenna up so you can receive all the channels!

The relatively small size of present day digital satellite TV dish antenna systems means that these may be practically fixed just about anywhere. In particular, these compact satellite dishes are especially suitable for city dwellers.

While you may choose to have your new satellite dish installed by a professional, yet the actual installation process is not difficult to do. The only real difficulty that may arise in the process is when aiming the dish to get the best signal from the satellites. This is a crucial step and it is this step which may warrant professional assistance. Remember that the satellite dish is your main link to those satellites floating around in space, so it has to be aimed properly to pick up the signals. Some self-installation kits may be of assistance in this respect.

Selecting the best location for your Satellite Dish

First, you have to decide on the exact location where best to install your satellite dish. There are a few issues that you need to take into account here.

Considerations shall include:

Remember that DSS satellites are in a geo-stationary orbit above the equator. Therefore, a satellite dish must point due South when your position is located north of the equator and North if you are located south of the equator.

Choose a location that is easily accessible in case you need to clean snow or debris out of your satellite dish, or to re-adjust the dish in case it has lost its alignment. A suitable location is to attach the dish to a post which has been sunken in the ground.

The chosen location should be unobstructed by trees, branches, buildings, telephone lines, clotheslines, electrical wires, power lines, radio and television towers, etc. All are possible sources of interference. In other words, there must be no obstructions between the dish site and the satellites in the sky. Once you determines that the location is suitable, you will have to decide on a permanent or portable installation. Unless you fell you will be relocating in the near future or you are living on rental property, a permanent installation in concrete is the better way to go. In addition, make sure that the growth of new foliage does not impede your system.

Ideally, the selected location should be such as to allow you to take a route that is as straight and as close to your television set as possible.

Finally, refer to the included instructions for any specific details.

Choose a method of installation that allows your system to withstand the elements year-round and still remain perfectly aligned and rigidly mounted. Remember that system movement can reduce signal reception to the point of complete loss.

Always do a trial run on the ground for coax cable installation from the satellite dish to the place where it will enter your house. Make sure it is long enough to reach both points. Attach the cable to the satellite dish and then run it across your yard and into the house through a drilled hole.

Once you have the dish mounted with the LNB attached at feedhorn and all cables (LNB and Polarotor) connected, I recommend that you place the receiver and a portable TV set near the dish for that you see a picture while make the adjusts. Attach the cable to your television set. Seal all outdoor electrical connections with weatherproof sealant, and bury the incoming receiving line below the frost line level.

Ground the unit and the incoming receiving line by following local electrical code standards; this is both a safety consideration as well as a potential code requirement. Place an inexpensive coax grounding block at the point where the antenna cable enters the house; then run a wire from the grounding block to your home's ground rod.

To determine the best location for your satellite dish, follow these few simple steps:

- Determine which satellite carries your most frequently viewed programs.
- Locate the area outside your home that is nearest to your television set.
- Turn and face south - or north if you are located south of the equator.
- Look from east to west, following an arc that mimics the sun's path across the sky.
- As described above, observe any obstacles that may obscure the line of sight along the arc. This is the most critical step prior to installation.


Typical TV satellite dish installations include 'pipe in ground' (the antenna is attached to a pipe that is placed in concrete), and 'outside wall' (the antenna is attached to a wall with fasteners that are designed to permanently embed themselves in the wall).

The majority of today's satellite receivers give out the particular satellite's orbit slot and the azimuth (the location of a satellite along the east/west arc) to view that spacecraft.

Satellite positions are given in orbit slot degree coordinates and are true, not magnetic locations. These slots will be based on an azimuth heading that must be viewed as true rather than a compass position. Since a compass will have a magnetic variation. To read true azimuth, turn in the opposite direction of the magnetic variation (e.g. 3 degrees west will turn back the compass dial 3 degrees east for you to base your azimuth reading from).

'Tuning' Your Satellite Dish

Once you have managed to install your new satellite dish, you will surely want to get the maximum number of channels. There is only one way forward - get that satellite TV antenna tuned for perfect reception!

The following steps will help you tune your satellite dish for best signal:

1. Ensure that your satellite antenna meets three conditions:

The line-of-sight view to the particular satellite is free of obstacles and obstructions.

The mast supporting the antenna is rigidly mounted and level.

The reflector part of the satellite antenna (the dish) is not warped.

2. Adjust the antenna reflector to azimuth angle obtained for the particular satellite. This adjustment is the east-west movement of the reflector on the mount and is given in azimuth degrees. The satellite dish must be aligned with the azimuth magnetic value (use the magnetic compass for this) and fix the dish in this position for the time being.

3. Adjust the antenna reflector to elevation angle obtained for the particular satellite (use a inclinometer for this). This adjustment is from the horizon to the sky and is given as elevation in degrees from that point.

4. Ensure that the antenna signal line is connected to the receiver and the receiver is turned on and positioned on a beacon channel (a beacon channel is a channel being transmitted from the satellite to allow you to peak your antenna to it) or set your receiver for the channel that is most likely to have video (consult a satellite TV guide for this or set in a high channel number with video signal).

5. Begin tuning by slowly moving the reflector first to the east in one-degree increments for a total of three degrees, then in the opposite direction (west) while monitoring the receiver's signal meter.

6. Peak the signal to the highest scale at this point. Ideally, this should be done using a signal 'strength' meter due to the greater signal sensitivity of the latter.

7. Lock the antenna azimuth adjustment on the mount once the signal level is maximized.

8. Perform the same procedure as in steps 4 through 6, using the elevation adjustment, first up and then down for peaking. Lock the satellite dish elevation at the point of maximum signal reception. Your dish should now be aligned and and with a good picture in screen. Look the quality picture in others channels and if necessary repeat the adjustments.

9. Ground the antenna and the signal line entrance into the residence to electrical code standards as detailed above.

The next step is to plug your receiver into a household outlet; then turn your television set on and make any necessary adjustments to the satellite system settings. Once ready, you can relax and enjoy your new system !

Satellite Meter for Perfect Dish Alignment

These satellite finders are really useful little helpers when it comes down to perfectly aligning a satellite dish.

Meters are sensitive gauges the amount of signal coming from satellite. This sensitivity allows finding the sweet spot of the satellite dish. Here, we?ve got already a perfectly aligned dish, the meter is at the maximum. Even the slightest movement of the dish to either side of the perfect alignment reduces the signal level (and audio tone) of the meter. You can see that once the fine-tuning is finished, the signal level is again at the maximum.

Some people are trying to align their satellite dishes with the on-screen digibox signal bar which is way too slow, inaccurate and not sensitive enough for a good alignment. Save yourself the hassle and get one of these satellite finders the prices dropped down to almost US$29.

A good meter is the Winegard SF-1000 Satellite Signal Finder/Meter

Keep in Mind: While installing your satellite dish yourself can save you money, yet it possible to enjoy a totally FREE satellite dish installation by a professional if you qualify for one of the promotional offers from DirecTV, DISH Network or other service provider.

If you have any suggestions, comments, or some links that you think should be added to any of my pages please contact us.  

TrackingSat GPS - Satellite Dish Alignment Tools.
TrackingSat is useful to assist users that need to install
your antenna and align it with the satellites in orbit.
If you want to exchange links to increase PR, contact us.
Satellite Dish Alignment Tools

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