The United Nations declared November 21 as World Television Day, and 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of that celebration. We free-to-air enthusiasts should feel a special pride in that recognition, since we can see TV from over a dozen countries using just a medium-sized satellite dish here in North America.
As the UN puts it, “World Television Day is not so much a celebration of the tool, but rather the philosophy which it represents. Television represents a symbol for communication and globalization in the contemporary world.” Personally, I see it as a corollary to Mark Twain’s quote “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” When you can see that the game shows in Portugal look about the same as ours or that the news readers from Saudia Arabia use pretty much the same format, it’s a subtle reminder that all of us humans are, y’know, just people.
Advanced Television has a nice rundown of the impact of television in various countries around the world. And the European Broadcasting Union created a special commemorative video that I embedded at the top of this post. I feel a special affinity to European broadcasting right now. I’ll explain more in a few days.
Long, long ago, around the time I first started FTABlog.com, I ran an occasional series about what some folks did with old satellite dishes. There were bird baths, squirrel-proof hanging bird feeders, parabolic microphones, tiled decorations, and more that I can’t remember. This video includes the microphone but adds a few more that I hadn’t seen before.
You might argue that this isn’t about FTA, strictly speaking. But I would say that anyone who really gets into the hobby will upgrade to a wider dish one day, and that leaves the question about what to do with the old one. The way I handled one of them was to mount it pointing at one satellite so its channels are available in a snap rather than waiting for a dish motor to turn. Try what works for you!
In my occasional series of FTA questions answered by other people, here’s one of my friends at FridgeFTA explaining how to pick up C-band signals using a Ku-band dish.
There are several challenges to overcome in this project. Ku-band dishes are offset, bouncing the collected signal back to the LNB at an angle. C-band dishes typically use a prime focus LNB suspended on the center of the reflected signal. More important is the sheer signal volume. The typical minimum C-band dish is about two meters wide, which will collect four times the signal of a one-meter Ku-band dish. (A one-meter diameter is just a touch larger than the typical 90cm Ku-band dish, but it’s the largest width protected by the FCC’s Over-the-Air Reception Devices rule that overrides local laws and neighborhood associations.)
Despite these problems, I’ve been able to pick up some stronger C-band signals using a setup very similar to the video above on my 1.2-meter offset dish. Since signal strength varies widely according to geography, it’s hard to say which C-band channels you’d get, but if you don’t mind experimenting, it’s fun to try!
Folks ask me questions about free-to-air satellite TV all the time, typically through the contact page at FTAList.com. So I’ll answer some of them here from time to time, especially if I can find a good video explanation.
A really common question is whether an old Dish Network or DirecTV dish can be converted to FTA. My standard answer is no, partly because the smaller versions of those dishes really are too small, partly because most folks asking the question lack the technical chops to go full MacGyver on an old dish. But if you’ve got the right kind of wide oval dish, the steps in this video seem to work. Enjoy!
Old joke: I can finally afford something I’ve wanted for 15 years – a 2001 Saturn hatchback.
Seriously: What do you do when circumstances change to allow you to attain what you have dreamed about for years, but those same circumstances make that prize unattractive?
When I got started with this TV stuff 10 years ago, the main topic was free-to-air satellite. There were some high-quality channels, but there was also some trash. This led to a frequently asked question, “How much does it cost to run a TV channel? Because I could do better than half of what’s up there.”
For example, White Springs TV ran a steady diet of public domain movies on the transponder that also distributed its parent company’s radio network. It looked like the work of one or two people, and it ran 24/7 for years. White Springs wasn’t trash, but it suggested that shoestring operations were possible.
I remember meeting with a satellite technician at the 2008 NAB Show to try to come up with something similar. He knew where to find some cheap satellite bandwidth and I knew where to find cheap content (more public domain rubbish, at least to start), but then we began to realize that running a linear channel is more complicated then that. We barely knew the words “playout automation,” so we never got to first base with our plans.
There were other bits of information here and there. I bought a copy of Brock Fisher’s 2008 book Start a TV Station. (He also published a 2012 version, but I never read that one.) I found a web page describing how to build a TV channel with mostly open source software components. I even experimented with a rudimentary streaming feed using TVU Broadcaster, a platform that TVU soon abandoned.
Fast forward to now. There is so much over-the-top streaming software and inexpensive hardware that I’m sure I could launch that 24/7 linear stream with just a little more research and work. But when I look around, I see that’s probably not the best idea. When it comes to streaming anything but sports, on-demand is what’s in demand, especially with younger viewers. Instead of trying to program 24 hours of mostly filler or reruns, I’d be better off creating individual shows and putting them where they can be streamed or downloaded when someone actually wants to watch them. Now that I can finally achieve my 2008 dreams, I don’t think they’re worth it.
A recurring meme at the 2016 NAB Show was the democratization of video. Equipment and streaming hosts are so inexpensive that anyone can make a movie or a short and show it to the world. The great news is that I have an equal opportunity to dazzle an audience with some amazingly fun content. All I need to do is create it.
This looks a little scary. One of the most attractive English-language features of North American free-to-air satellite TV is the plethora of PBS channels. As you can see here, a modest-sized dish can pick up a half-dozen national PBS feeds plus the statewide broadcasts from Oklahoma, Louisiana and Montana.
One of these days, perhaps not so long from now, that might all change. In advance of next week’s NAB Show, TV Technology ran an interview with Edward Caleca, former senior VP of technology for PBS and currently an “executive consultant” for the network. Caleca said “Stations have been looking for a NRT (non-real time) solution that is a pull model versus the current push model. The current system is delivered on satellite, which is very inefficient for file delivery. The future will be public or private internet.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard someone on satellite say that they’re going to move to much, much cheaper internet-based distribution, but the PBS cluster would arguably have the largest impact if and when it leaves. As always with FTA satellite, the key is to enjoy it while you can.
Did you know that there are over 250 free TV channels that don’t require internet access or a subscription? They’re available through free-to-air satellite via a medium-sized (30-inch) dish and some inexpensive equipment. (When I mention this, newcomers usually look at me like I’m crazy or nefarious. I’m definitely not nefarious, but I digress.) Because there are so many channels, and because they come and go without warning, I created FTAList.com, which is now in its 10th year of operation. FTAList only carries permanent (until they change) TV channels, but there are also dozens of radio channels. My favorite FTA sessions are live feeds of news crews and sporting events, but those are gone within hours; your best bet to find such ephemeral TV is constant scanning or Ricks Wildfeed Forum.
Long-term (over a month) readers may remember that this blog was once known as FTABlog, because its original purpose was to talk about free-to-air satellite news and other FTAList stuff. The last few days, I’ve been checking the skies to update those FTA channel listings. So what the heck, let’s talk again about what’s new on free satellite TV these days.
Over at AMC 21 (125 degrees west), there are more PBS feeds than you can imagine, including some PBS channels you might not get locally: PBS Kids, V-Me, World, Create, and FNX.
On Galaxy 18 (123 W), the University of Washington channel is gone (although available as a live stream on the internet) but KBS World is available again after years of being scrambled. Both were around during the FTA glory days, so I notice them more than some others.
Another channel that emerged after years of scrambling is Macy’s Satellite Network on AMC 15 (105 w). It’s not all that interesting, but there are several Macy’s music channels on the same transponder.
Azteca 7 popped up in a couple of places, Eutelsat 117 (116.8 W) and in Azteca 13’s old slot at Galaxy 25 (93.1 W). Azteca 7 shows some pro football games (in Spanish, of course); it had the Pittsburgh-Denver playoff game last Sunday.
The majority of Ku-band FTA channels can be found on one satellite, Galaxy 19 (97 W), so it also occupies the majority of my updating time. Sadly, I’m not that interested in most of the channels there, either because they’re preoccupied with someone else’s flavor of religion or in a language I don’t understand or both. I’m happy to see Retro TV hanging in there, and I wish more of its sister channels were also available.
So there’s a quick update on some of the FTA changes I saw this month. For more complete channels listings and information about how to watch, visit FTAList. Next time, I’ll return to terrestrial TV, and the best antennas to receive it.