all seen the ads on TV: The Cable company claims DBS (Direct
Broadcast Satellite is foolish, and the DBS companies rag on
Cable. Who should you believe?
subscribed to cable for years. In 2002 though, I switched to
DirecTV, and it's one of the best decisions I ever made. Here
are the facts, based on my experience.
you get local channels with DirecTV? The answer for most
people is yes. Not only that, in 2006 DirecTV started rolling
out local Channels in HD.
landlords usually allow DirecTV dishes? Unfortunately,
no. It doesn't hurt to ask though. If you rent, but have
a view of the southern sky, carefully explain what you'd like to do,
and be willing to work with the landlord on finding an inconspicuous
spot to mount the dish. be sure to explain that it's only
18" in diameter, about the size of an extra-large pizza.
you lose the signal when it rains? Not usually. It
takes a major storm to block the signal, and those usually pass
quickly. I've experienced half a dozen outages in a year, and
they averaged 10 - 15 minutes. I had more minutes of outage per
year with Cable. This would happen anytime water got into a
connection, or a tree branch fell on a line. Cable outages
averaged 2 - 3 hours.
claims that it's expensive to set up DirecTV for multiple TVs...Wrong! Prior to 2006, DirecTV sold it's receivers
outright, and even then you could find deals that gave you the
receivers for free. Today DirecTV leases the equipment in much
the same way as the cable companies. From the customer
standpoint, the deal looks pretty much the same: You can get
all the equipment you need for a four TV system for free, and you pay
a monthly fee for each receiver. If you're new to DirecTV, my
advice is to order directly from them. There are a multitude of
independent vendors and installers, but all they're really doing is
reselling DirecTV's current offer. If you're already a customer
and looking to expand your system, here are a few things to keep in mind.
the beginning, DirecTV was very simple. There are one
satellite in orbit, (Sat A at 101°) and you got a round dish,
18" across, with a single LNB
that provided two outputs. This type of dish will support two receivers
with no additional equipment needed. To add two more TVs, one
needs a two input / four output Multiswitch that currently costs
around $15., enough RG-6 coax to reach the new locations and two more
receivers. That's it! (Well, almost. Each receiver
needs to be attached to a phone line as well.) Need to hook up
more than four receivers? Quality 8 port Multiswitches are
available for just over $60. I've created a diagram (below)
that shows a Phase I system configured for four TVs.
the launches of Sat B (at 119°) and Sat C (at 110°),
things became a lot more "interesting." Many channels
were duplicated, but new channels were also added, including some
High Definition (HD), and local broadcast channels for major markets.
With more than one target to aim at, the antennas had to change from
round to oval. (18" X 20") The Phase II dish
had two LNBs, and room to mount a third. To merge the signals
however, an external multiswitch was a must. The Phase II Plus
antenna had the third LNB for Sat C already installed, plus it had a
built in multiswitch. The Phase III dish is basically a
refinement of the II Plus, with all three LNBs contained in a single module.
The Phase III dish will support up to four receivers with no
additional equipment. For additional receivers, a four input
multiswitch is needed, and a 4-In / 8-Out unit can be purchased for
just over $60. The diagram below shows a Phase III system, and
just how quickly one can use up eight outputs. If even more
outputs are needed, larger multiswitches are available, (at a
substantially higher cost) or 8-Out units can be cascaded.
observant reader will have noticed that there are two cables running
to the TiVo receivers. That is because each Receiver with TiVo
(or DirecTV's new proprietary DVR technology) has two tuners, and
each tuner requires it's own feed from the dish. It's almost
like having two receivers, but better. You can watch one
program while recording a second, or record two at once while
watching either of the two, or perhaps a third program that was
recorded previously. If you've never seen a DVR in action, run
to your nearest TV dealer and ask for a demo. You won't believe
how easy and convenient they are.
I get my local channels in HD? That answer to that,
depends on where you live. In Pittsburgh PA we've had them
since April of 2006, and we're not exactly a top ten market.
Expert Satellite maintains a list on their website here,
with information on local channel availability. There's also a
good news/bad news situation, when it comes to local channels in HD:
A better data compression system has been introduced, but that means
new satellites, and the equipment has changed again. The new
"birds" are located at 99° and 103°. Rather than
using the older MP2 compression, they utilize MP4, which results in a
higher fidelity picture. The "old" HD receivers will
not pick up these new channels, so DirecTV will be happy to lease you
a new HD receiver, while the old one gathers dust in you attic.
A new dish is required as well, and it's a monster. The AT-9
measures 25.5" (h) x 29.5" (W), and weighs 32 lbs,
including the J-mount mast. It incorporates five LNBs, and an
internal 5 X 4 multiswitch. As of this writing a new slightly
smaller dish has been introduced, the AU-9S. I've not yet found
a review of this antenna on-line, so I currently have no idea if
there are performance issues. I do know that the first 17,000
shipped had defective LNBs that require the use of an external
wideband multiswitch, regardless of the number of tuners being
connected. Technically, a wideband multiswitch is also required, if
you need to support more than four tuners. It has been my
personal experience that my old Terk BMS-58 5 X 8 multiswitch works
just fine, but that is not a guarantee by me. The Zinwell WB68
is a 6-In/8-Out unit approved by DirecTV, and available for around $80.
about broadband Internet access?
You have three options here. If you already have broadband
over cable, go ahead and keep it! You're not required to
subscribe to the TV service, just to get the Internet. If
you're lucky like me, you can get DSL from the phone company.
With DSL, you're not sharing bandwidth with the neighborhood, like
you do with Cable broadband. -OR- Check out
HughesNet! With HughesNet, your satellite dish comes equipped
with a transmitter, and all your uploads as well as downloads travel
through the satellite. This is perfect for people in rural areas.
current configuration includes an AT-9 dish, a Terk BMS-58
multiswitch, one dual tuner Hughes receiver with TiVo, one DirecTV
brand dual tuner DVR, and one DirecTV brand High Definition receiver.
Below are photos (not to scale) of the Phase I, Phase III, and AT-9 dishes.
I'm also including a photo of my Terk multiswitch, as installed.
The white coax with the red band is the one I use to feed DC power to
to get started? Here's a link to my on-line store, which I've
created in association with Amazon.com. I've selected multiswitches
and a few other technology goodies, and placed them in a nice,
focused format where it's easy to find what you need.