What Do I Need to Watch TV Without Cable?
By Tess Lancer
People around the world watch free-to-air satellite television; it is less common for us in the United States. We are more used to subscription cable and satellite options, but FTA works here, and it could offer a complement or even a substitute for paid TV. What do you need to start watching?
"Free-to-air" does not mean completely free: you do have to buy equipment in order to start viewing programs from around the world. The "free" comes in every month when you expect your TV bill. There isn't one. Once you buy the equipment, which is yours and has no rental fees attached, you do not pay for FTA satellite programming. For a trustworthy supplier, try Ocean Satellite for dishes and FTA receivers for sale. But let's take a few minutes first to explain what these are and how they work.
Clear southern view. This will help you receive the satellite signals more clearly; if your view is obstructed, not to worry. Your choice of dish will accommodate for this.
Satellite Dish. FTA satellites are generally larger than those from subscription companies like Dish or DirecTV. The bigger the dish, the better because a big dish receives better signals. But if you don't want a nine-foot lawn ornament, a smaller dish will be sufficient. Do not, however, go smaller than 36 inches. This is still small enough not to be obtrusive but large enough to recover signal.
Another feature is the LNB brackets. Each LNB receives data streams from one satellite transponder; if you have more brackets, you can pick up more options. Satellites usually require professional installation; even with this cost factored in, the cost of FTA is still less than the installation and fees for cable or paid satellite.
Receiver. The dish is designed to receive the signals from satellites orbiting the Earth. The receiver's job is to decode those signals into something you can actually watch. If you are new to FTA, choose a receiver that is user-friendly, can be installed in minutes, and is available at a low price so you can "experiment" with free-to-air and discover your favorite programming.
The receiver looks like a slim-line modem or the receiver you'd get from a subscription-based satellite service. It fits into your home entertainment center or on top of your television.
LNB. A down converter with low noise block is on the front of the dish. Its job is to receive the microwave satellite signal. It amplifies it, converts it to a band at a lower frequency, and sends it to the receiver inside.
DiSEqC Switch. DiSEqC is the protocol, or language, that a satellite uses to communicate signals to the switch. In this case, the switch is a small piece of equipment that attaches to your receiver to allow the equipment to "talk" to each other. Switches are typically under $5 and look very much like RF switches.
Free-to-air television does require some upfront expenditure; with the dish, professional installation, receiver, LNB, and switch, getting started with FTA can cost a few hundred dollars. This, again, is comparable to the cost of installation and equipment rentals for paid television services. The difference is that after you buy the equipment, free-to-air is just that, free. You can pick up channels from across the world or the local networks without a bill.