Direct broadcast satellite

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Direct broadcast satellite (DBS) is a term used to refer to satellite television broadcasts intended for home reception.

A designation broader than DBS would be direct-to-home signals, or DTH. This was initially meant to distinguish the transmissions directly intended for home viewers from cable television distribution services that sometimes carried on the same satellite. The term DTH predates DBS and is often used in reference to services carried by lower power satellites which required larger dishes (1.7m diameter or greater) for reception.

In Europe, prior to the launch of Astra 1A in 1988, the term DBS was commonly used to describe the nationally-commissioned satellites planned and launched to provide TV broadcasts to the home within several European countries (e.g. BSB in the UK, TV-Sat in Germany). These services were to use the D-Mac and D2-Mac format and BSS frequencies with circular polarization from orbital positions allocated to each country. Before these DBS satellites, home satellite television in Europe was limited to a few channels, really intended for cable distribution, and requiring dishes typically of 1.2m SES Astra launched the Astra 1A satellite to provide services to homes across Europe receivable on dishes of just 60 cm-80 cm and, although these mostly used PAL video format and FSS frequencies with linear polarization, the DBS name slowly came to applied to all Astra satellites and services too.

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Terminology confusion

As a technical matter, DBS (also known by the International Telecommunication Union as Broadcasting Satellite Service, or BSS) refers only to services transmitted by satellite in specific frequency bands: 11.7-12.2 GHz in ITU Region 3 (Asia, Australia), 10.7 - 12.75 GHz in ITU Region 1 (Europe, Russia, Africa), and 12.2-12.7 GHz ITU Region 2 (North and South America). In 1977, the ITU adopted an international BSS Plan under which each country was allocated specific frequencies at specific orbital locations for domestic service. Over the years, this plan has been modified to, for example, accommodate new countries, increase coverage areas, and reflect digital (rather than analog) technology. At present, numerous countries have brought into use their BSS Plan allocations.

By contrast, DTH can apply to similar services transmitted over a wider range of frequencies (including standard Ku band and Ka band) transmitted from satellites that are not part of any internationally planned band. Nonetheless, the term DBS is often used interchangeably with DTH to cover both analog and digital video and audio services (including video-on-demand and interactive features) received by relatively small dishes (less than 1 meter). A "DBS service" usually refers to either a commercial service, or a group of free channels available from one orbital position targeting one country. In certain regions of the world, especially in North America, DBS is used to refer to providers of subscription satellite packages, and has become applied to the entire equipment chain involved.

Commercial DBS services

The second commercial DBS service, Sky Television plc (now BSkyB after its merger with British Satellite Broadcasting's five-channel network), was launched in 1989. Sky TV started as a four-channel free-to-air analogue service on the Astra 1A satellite, serving the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland. By 1991, Sky had changed to a conditional access pay model, and launched a digital service, Sky Digital, in 1998, with analogue transmission ceasing in 2001. Since the DBS nomenclature is rarely used in the UK or Ireland, the popularity of Sky's service has caused the terms "minidish" and "digibox" to be applied to products other than Sky's hardware. BSkyB is controlled by News Corporation.

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