How does satellite TV work? There is a long version that is very scientific and a shorter version that is more interesting. We’ll stick with the shorter version. The very first satellite for TV was shot into orbit in’62. So, there has been a lot of advances made to the technology behind satellites since then. And, we have benefited from all of those advances.
Back then people who wanted satellite for their televisions had to use a nine foot dish that they put in their back yards. They were really big, ugly, and gave an incredible variety of channels from other countries that made them totally worth the effort. Some people still have those dishes in their back yards. When somebody wants to get channels from a different country they call the neighbors to help them move the dish a tad. There were remotes included with the dishes but those were lost years ago.
At that time, and for several years after, no one who owned the dishes really knew which satellites were plugged into which countries. So, you would move the dish until you picked up a country that looked good and watch it for a few days or months until you moved the dish again. Sometimes you landed on your own country, most times you didn’t. But, it was fun and all countries have unique television programs that aren’t seen in other countries.
Once the satellites became more popular, providers started shooting satellites with transponders up regularly. These geostationary satellites orbit at the same speed as the earth so they don’t seem to be moving. This made reception even better and it was lots easier to find channels and countries because the satellites were identified. As people became more knowledgeable about where satellites were located they started creating their own programming guides. Those have now been replaced with the onscreen guides provided by the satellites.
Cities had a problem because of the size of the satellites. Most city dwellers do not have an area over nine feet in diameter that they can put a big, grey, satellite dish. So, providers came up with an'” dish. These little dishes do everything that the big dishes did. They can be attached to anything and, as long as they are pointing south and are not obstructed, the picture that is received is great.
Problem was that most city dwellers don’t have an unobstructed view of anything. So, the next advancement was found in spot beams. Spot beams provide the answer to many problems. The satellite shoots a signal to the spot beam. The spot beam shoots a signal to the dish. The dish shoots the signal to the receiver on the television.
The satellite guys made other advancements too. They learned that by encoding the signals digitally they could cram more channels into the same bandwidth. So there are over 500 channels being shot across the same bandwidth twenty-four hours a day in both HDTV and standard formats.
So, for unscientific types that were wondering how does satellite TV work, there you have it. A really complex system that works really well.