Free to Air (FTA) Satellite System

A Free to Air Satellite receiver (abbreviated FTA receivers) refers to satellite receivers that are designed to receive unencrypted FTA satellite transmissions. Using these satellite receivers, one can legally receive TV signals without subscription. The signal is typically encoded in an MPEG-2 video and may be restricted geographically. In some places around the world, people can receive encrypted Free to Air satellite channels through the UHF and VHF band. The channels transmitted through Free to Air satellite are received by utilizing a common MPEG-2 video compatible satellite receiver. Many people use FTA to receive thousands of satellite TV channels free of charge.

The equipment needed for you to enjoy the freebies are an FTA receiver (and here one has a choice between Pansat, Coolsat, Conaxsat, and many other great brand names) and a satellite dish within the specifics required by the satellite one wishes to point at. However, many satellites only require a standard DTV compliant dish that can be easily found in any satellite TV or electronic store. Both C-band and K-Band dishes work just fine. If you wish to receive channels from more than one satellite, you will also need to have an antenna motor and the LNBF.

In order to complete the installation of the system, you will need to have a coaxial cable running from the dish and making its way to the FTA receiver which should be connected to the television. This is usually the most difficult part.

Though pointing the dish is not very difficult, many people would prefer to hire an experienced person to fix it on the roof of the house. It is important to make sure that the best FTA support services are obtained.

The user can then go to the options of the FTA receiver and select the satellite to point to. Regular firmware updates will ensure that the device works efficiently. The FTA keys will need to be entered manually, and so its important to be familiar with this process. Settings may vary among different satellite receivers.

Free to Air Satellite System

Free to air satellite systems can be defined as a satellite system primarily designed to receive "in the clear" or unscrambled satellite broadcasts. At the present time, there are literally hundreds of channels of news, sports, networks, special interest programming and ethnic channels and foreign language channels that are available without a subscription. The selection is also constantly changing, with new channels coming online and some old ones going offline or changing their broadcast schemes. In the past 5 years, most broadcasters have switched their broadcasts to digital, although there are still a number of analog broadcasts, mostly in the C band range that are available.

Introduction

The concept of receiving free to air satellite signals dates back to the inception of satellite broadcasts in the mid 1970's and 1980's where large C/Ku band satellite systems were a popular way of tapping into hundreds of available channels from the sky. The downside to these systems were extremely large dish sizes and expensive equipment. These made satellite systems prohibitive for many people. However over the years, increasingly powerful commercial satellites and improvements in technology have brought prices and dish sizes down quite dramatically.

The mid 1990's saw the introduction of digital direct to home technology, which for the first time allowed main stream users to access a wide variety of channels not available via their local cable company, while enjoying incredible picture and sound quality, all from a dish far smaller than had ever been seen before. The small dish revolution nearly caused the extinction of the large dish industry, which simply could not compete on dish sizing, price or ease of installation.

The late 1990's saw the digital revolution spread to the large dish industry with services such as 4DTV which brought the same digital picture and sound as the small dish systems to large dish users, although a new and expensive decoder was required for reception.

The last several years has seen most broadcasters switch their broadcasts to digital, which allowed broadcasts to be compressed, allowing more channels per satellite transponder and also a superior picture and sound quality. As well, a common digital standard known as MPEG2-DVB has been adopted by many broadcasters, which allows all free to air satellite channels that use the DVB (Digital Video Broadcast) standard to be received from one satellite decoder.

Over the years, the free to air market has slowly begun to see a small comeback, primarily due to an abundance of programming not available anywhere else, such as international and foreign language channels as well as improved picture and sound quality.

Required Components

There are a number of components necessary for free to air satellite reception, some are mandatory and others are optional.

Clear line of sight to the satellites

In order to properly receive free to air satellite signals, you must have a clear view to the satellites. In North America, you need to have a relatively clear view to the southern sky. Obstacles such as tall buildings or trees or mountains will severely impair or make reception impossible. If you are only interested in signals from one or two satellites, you will more than likely be able to locate your dish in a location favorable to reception of the desired satellite. If however you wish to receive multiple satellites, you will need an unobstructed view. A do it yourself site survey with a compass and a satellite location chart or a professional satellite site survey will determine your eligibility for free to air reception.

Dish

In order to receive most Ku band signals in North America, you will require a minimum of a 30"(75cm) Ku band satellite dish antenna. For fringe area reception or reception of signals outside of a satellite footprint, or locations with an abundance of trees, you will need to upgrade to a larger dish size. Additionally, if you live in an area prone to heavily rain showers, you may want to consider a larger dish diameter as weather can adversely affect satellite signal quality. If you also wish to receive the low power C band signals, you will need a much larger (6-10') C band dish and a more elaborate setup. Your dish must be installed in a location where it will not be prone to excessive movement. Smaller dishes, such as 30" can be mounted to a building or roof. Larger dish sizes should probably be mounted to a firm pole in the ground, reinforced with concrete.

LNBF/LNB

The LNBF or LNB is the device at the end of the dish arm that collects the signal, amplifies it and sends it to the receiver to be decoded. Ku band systems use an LNBF(Low Noise Block Amplifier with integrated Feed) and large C band systems use an LNB(Low Noise Block Amplifier) with an external feedhorn. Most dedicated Ku band systems use offset dishes, meaning the dish is designed in such a way that the LNBF is offset towards the bottom of the dish so as not to interfere with the signal. This allows a smaller dish size as opposed to large C band systems which locate the LNB at the focal point or center of the dish which tend to block out a portion of the incoming signal.

Quality of the LNBF/LNB is paramount. Ku band LNBF's are measures in DB(Decibals). A good quality Ku band LNBF will have a rating not above .6db. A superior one will be .5db or lower. C band LNB's are measured in degrees. A good quality C band LNB will have a rating of 17 degrees of below. There are also 2 distinct types of Ku band LNBF's. LNBF's designed for use with direct to home satellite services such as Directv or Dish Network which use circular polarization and are not compatible with free to air satellite signals. For all free to air signals, you will want a linear Ku band LNBF as conventional Ku satellites use linear(horizontal or vertical) polarization.

Actuator/Rotor

Also known as a satellite dish positioner or dish mover, this is the electric motor device that moves a dish from left to right (azimuth) and up and down (elevation) in order to receive programming from multiple satellites. If you only are interested in programming from a single satellite, you will more than likely not require one of these devices as your satellite dish will be fixed in one constant position. However if you wish to receive signals from multiple satellite, you will need a dish positioner. Most recent quality receivers now come with a feature known as DiSEqC (Digital Satellite Equipment Control), which can control a dish positioner directly. However if you have an older satellite receiver than does not support this feature, you will likely need to purchase a seperate dish positioner control if you wish to track multiple satellites.

Free to Air Satellite Receiver

This of course is the most important part of your system. There are currently several different digital broadcast formats, however most free to air broadcasts use the common MPEG2-DVB format. When selecting a satellite receiver, you will want to ensure that you are choosing a receiver that decodes the correct format. If you reside in Europe, many pay broadcasters such as Irdeto, Viaaccess, Nagravision, Mediaguard, Betacrypt also use the MPEG2-DVB format and you can receive these signals(upon subscription) if you select a receiver that supports a common interface module which is a removable module that allows for a smart card which is required for reception of various European pay services. Additionally, a number of foreign pay channels receivable in North America can be decoded using a common interface and a subscription. If you intend on using your DVB receiver for pay programming, you will need a smart card and a subscription, both of which are available from the satellite service provider. North American direct to home services cannot be received via a DVB receiver as they use proprietary equipment. Common interface modules are due to laws in several European countries that forbid sales of proprietary satellite receivers that are locked into a single service. However, for most North American free to air applications, you will need little more than a quality free to air receiver.

If you wish to record your programming, you may wish to invest in a free to air receiver with a integrated personal video recorder(pvr), allowing for dozens of hours of recorded programming. Additionally, there are a number of things to be taken into consideration when choosing a satellite receiver. Some retail outlets offer European DVB satellite receivers. While these will work with North American signals, some are not pre-programmed with the locations of North American satellites as are most receivers designed for North American users and most come equipped with connections that are for the most part inapplicable here in North America, such as SCart connections and different coaxial connectors. As well, not all receivers are created equal, many have features that others do not.

For example, if you are interested in good sound quality, then you will want a receiver with a Dolby Digital or AC3 connection. Not all receivers are equipped with this. As well, you will likely want a receiver equipped with an S-Video or at the very least composite video and audio connections. Also if you are interested in looking for hard to find channels or "wild satellite feeds", then you may want to invest in a receiver that has a blind search function which will scan an entire satellite for all channels on all bands. As well, you will want to ensure that your receiver has a fairly fast processor, some can take 1.5-2 seconds to change between channels which can be painful, especially if you are used to DTH systems which are relatively fast.

Free to air satellite programming transmits using C-band (a frequency allocation used for a communications satellite that uses 5.925 to 6.425 GHz for uplinks and 3.7 to 4.2 GHz for downlinks). However, modern free-to-air satellite TVs use Ku-Band programming that uses frequencies of 14 to 14.5 GHz for uplinks and around 11.7 to 12.7 GHz for downlinks. Uplinks are signal paths from earth stations going to a satellite. On the other hand, downlinks are signal paths from a particular satellite going to earth.

Free to air satellite TVs enable you to pick up different unencrypted broadcasts via any appropriate receiver. You should not confuse free to air satellite TV with FTV (or free-to-view) because FTV programming also comes without charge, but is encrypted. This means that having free-to-view programming on your television can restrict various broadcasts, depending on your geographic location.

How to Receive Free to Air Satellite TV Channels

Unlike ordinary satellite TV programming that needs subscriptions from DirecTV, Dish Network or other satellite TV broadcast providers, free to air satellite TV channels can be received even without paying a monthly fee to broadcast providers. Free-to-air programming is commonly used for international broadcasting.

In order to receive free-to-air satellite TV channels, you need to have a satellite dish (either a K-band or C-band), a free-to-air satellite receiver or a suitable PC card, an LNBF (low noise block with an integrated feedhorn) and an antenna motor, if you desire to capture channels from different satellites, instead of through only one satellite.

Earlier systems used C-band satellite dishes, which are several feet in diameter, in receiving signals. However, modern dishes use Ku-band and other dishes that are under one meter for international DVB (or digital video broadcasting) standards. U.S satellites carry most signals from international DVB. Because of this, free to air satellite TV channels may be scattered within multiple satellites. When this happens, you need multiple "low noise blocks" in order to receive all the channels you wish.

Free to air satellite TV, regardless of the type of dish programming used, is a great alternative when you are located in areas with poor over-the-air reception.

Frequently Asked Questions About Free To Air Channels

What are Free To Air (FTA) channels?

Free to Air channels are digital MPEG2 channels that are not scrambled and require no subscription or monthly payment. They are provided free of charge and are perfectly legal to receive with an FTA receiver. You can find a listing of these channels on www.lyngsat.com.

What hardware do I need to receive the FTA channels?

A digital satellite receiver and a dish with KU Band LNB.

Do you guarantee that these FTA channels will remain free?

Absolutely not. No one can guarantee free channels. You will receive those FTA channels as long as they remain free and not encrypted. We only offer FTA hardware (receiver, dish and LNB). We make no guarantee or claim about the programming.

Are there any Dish Network or DirecTV channels that are FTA?

Almost all of the channels provided by these companies are not FTA. The channels are encrypted and require an authorized receiver and monthly subscription. A few FTA channels are available on Dish Network such as the music channels on www.lyngsat.com/echo7.shtml.

Can I use an FTA receiver to receive premium channels like Dish Network or DirecTV?

Absolutely not. These channels require subscription and special receivers supplied by the service provider. Any tampering with your FTA receiver (whether by hardware or software modification) to try to receive the premium channels without paying is not only a violation of the law and unethical, but also will void the warrantee on your receiver and may hinder it unusable.

What size dish I need for the Free to air channels?

For the C-Band signal channels you will need a 10 ft dish. For KU-band channels you will need a 30 inch (76 cm) dish or larger.



Where can I find out what channels are available free to air?

There are many free to air channels available in North America on satellites such as Galaxy 10R, AMC4, Telstar 5, AMC3, etc. There are from the USA and from around the world. See www.lyngsat.com/america.shtml for a complete listing of what is available. Anything with an F designation is FREE TO AIR.

How do I find the satellite?

The satellite you want to use will be determined by the programming you want to view. Telstar 5 is a very popular satellite for ethnic channels. Locate your satellite using our Dish Alignment Widget with Google Maps and align your dish to that satellite.

What satellites are available?

All you need is the the name of the satellite and degree position of the satellite. For example, Galaxy 27 129.0 West. Galaxy 27 is the name of the satellite and 129.0 West is the position of the satellite. See here a updated Satellites List.

Occasionally the satellite name changes, so we usually refer to its position by degrees. Generally, the satellites that are viewable in North America are 61.5 Degrees West to 148 Degrees West. With that said, if you live on the west coast, it would be easier to get a satellite signal from a satellite that has a higher number (129.0 West for example) and if you are in the East, it would be easier to get 83.0 West.

What are the most popular satellites?

AMC-21 125.0 West (PBS channels, some in HD), Galaxy 18 123.0 West (many local channels around the USA, Fox, etc), AMC- 2 & 4 101.0 West (history channel, biography channel), Galaxy 16 99.0 West (Fox network feeds), Galaxy 19 97.0 West (many multi cultural channels, Arabic, Farsi, Russian, etc) and AMC-9 83.0 West (RTN East and West channel, they are retro TV stations).

How do I move my dish to get more satellites and more channels?

If you have a receiver that has DiSEqC 1.2 you can easily see more satellites and more channels by adding a DiSEqC motor to move your dish.



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