What Is Digital Satellite TV?

Josie Myers

Digital satellite TV is broadcast from a satellite located on orbit around the Earth. A homeowner who subscribes to the service must put a satellite dish outside that picks up the signal and delivers it into the home. Subscribers can receive all major national channels and premium channels, although local channels are sometimes difficult to receive.

Digital satellite TV subscribers need to set up a receiving dish.
Digital satellite TV subscribers need to set up a receiving dish.

The satellites that send the digital signals are located about 22,200 miles (35,730 km) above the Earth. They move with the Earth, in order to constantly remain in the same position relative to the ground. This orbit is referred to as geosynchronous. The satellites receive the initial signal from a broadcast center on the Earth, and then send it back down to the subscribers' dishes. The digital satellite signal is then processed through the subscribers' in-home receivers, and sent into the television for viewing.

Digital satellite TV is broadcast from orbiting communications satellites.
Digital satellite TV is broadcast from orbiting communications satellites.

The receiver is a key piece of equipment, because the code sent from the satellite is encrypted. Without encryption, anyone could buy a black market satellite dish, and hook it up to their television to receive free service. Video is first compressed and then is encrypted, a process that takes place at the initial broadcast point on the ground. When the signal is sent from the dish to the receiver, the receiver decompresses and interprets the signal. The receiver can only interpret the signal correctly if it has been programmed with the correct security codes by the service provider.

Some manufacturers of computer equipment offer digital satellite TV cards that can be installed in computers. They claim that these cards can pick up and decrypt the signals from a satellite TV provider for no charge except the initial purchase price. These cards essentially pirate the signal, and are not recommended because of their legal implications.

The major competitor for digital satellite TV is cable service. There are some advantages and disadvantages to digital satellite service that should be considered for someone seeking to subscribe. The major advantage is availability. Many rural areas do not have access to digital cable service, but have no problem with receiving the wide variety of stations available through digital satellite TV. The major disadvantage is weather related outages. Since the signal relies on a transmission coming from the sky, the service is vulnerable to outages and interruptions during bad weather.

Much like digital cable, digital satellite TV receivers can have the ability to record programs. Many can also pause or rewind live television just like a digital video recorder (DVR) system does with digital cable. To receive the high definition (HD) channels through the receiver, the subscriber must have an HD television, just as with cable.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments


That's the first I have heard of digital satellite TV on a PC. That sounds great, but not worth the risk if it is illegal. Before long, I bet I'll be able to receive satellite TV on my phone or smart watch. I love technology.


Animandel - Having moved around a bit, I have gone back and forth from cable TV to satellite digital television. In my experience, one is as reliable as the other.

My cable goes out as often as I lost the satellite signal with my dish. The only reason I would choose one system over the other is the price. And price varies from location to location, package to package and promotion to promotion. Good luck with your satellite out there in the wilderness.


I recently move to the country. Maybe I should say I moved to the wilderness. Either way, I have no access to cable here. I am too far off the beaten path.

I had a digital satellite TV system installed and so far all is well. However, I have heard tales about how unpredictable the reception can be with storms and sun spots and all those other solar happenings. Time will tell.

Post your comments
Forgot password?