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History of FTA

Common FAQ's and Guides

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Old 09-28-2007, 05:39 AM   #1
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Default History of FTA

MPEG-2 Reception

Basics and A Brief History In the American Market


Asia and the Pacific Rim were the first places in which MPEG-2 free-to-air reception was used on a large scale. The difference between those markets and America was that prior to the mid 90s, it took literally very huge antennas to get even a few dozen channels...making TV reception of many channels an impossible dream. MPEG-2 technology was a breakthrough that allowed great reductions in per-channel transmission costs. Mass consumers in those regions never had the chance to spend lots of money on more costly analog equipment. Their first exposure to satellite TV was more often than not in a digital format. No 15 to 20 year learning curve of various stages of analog receivers prior to going to digital, like we did here.

So the Asia-Pacific market was a test bed on how to get it right, with costs coming down due to companies from the Far East trying to compete for the huge mainland Chinese market. Then Europe....now America.

Hyundai was the first receiver brought into the U.S., with its early versions of the HSS-100 series of receivers. Wholesale cost was around $700, it had a memory limited to 99 bouquets, or groups of channels, and the graphics only worked in the PAL video format. Viewing on our NTSC format required a direct connection to a VCR or monitor and some programming tricks to "make" an NTSC picture. We have come a long ways in the last three years, with many significant improvements in design of receivers, and great increases in memory capacity.

MPEG-2 is a worldwide satellite transmission standard for digital broadcasting. It is the wave of the future, because of the simple economics that can allow 8 or even 10 video signals to occupy the same space as one channel of analog transmission. Just as some analog signals can be scrambled for subscription use, digital channels can be transmitted either scrambled or in-the-clear. In-The-Clear is known in the digital TV world as FTA or Free-To-Air. Since it is a worldwide standard, there are more MPEG-2/DVB (digital video broadcasting) channels available in places such as Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, than presently found in the American market. National public broadcasters in other parts of the world have adopted MPEG-2 as a cost-effective way to distribute their signals on limited budgets.

Spread of free MPEG-2 signals into North America has been previously hampered by the dominance of the Digicipher 2 video standard made by the former General Instrument (now Motorola Broadband) group. Receivers such as 4DTV and other versions of the Digicipher 2 actually have the letters MPEG-2 stamped on them, but are not compatible with the rest of the world. The difference comes in the way that signals are layered together, especially in the encryption process. It has given the Digicipher 2 a protected monopoly in America. Scientific-Atlanta's PowerVu system is more closely related to MPEG-2, and it has a lion's share of digital channels in the rest of the world. It helps that the worldwide PanAmSat satellite system works closely with Scientific-Atlanta in promoting this digital alternative. What is unique is that when signals are NOT addressably encoded, the PowerVu system can be viewed in-the-clear (or Free-to-Air) on most consumer MPEG-2 digital receivers. Several DBS systems in North America use the MPEG-2 platform, and when they choose NOT to encode channels, signals are also available in the same manner. These include Echostar's DISH Network, Canada's Bell ExpressVu, Mexico's SKY MEXICO, and the former Sky Vista and AlphaStar...once on Telstar 5 but now out of business.

This unusual mix of compatible free-to-air systems has presented the opportunity for a great number of channels to become available to North American viewers. There are always a few channels in the transition between in-the-clear and subscription transmission mode. The ultimate goal in many cases is for a subscription service, but some channels have been in-the-clear for months and even years before reverting to scrambling. When a channel goes into that mode, arrangements are usually available with one of the small dish DBS services to sell a subsidized priced receiver when making a long-term commitment to a subscription. We shall concentrate on the channels that continue to transmit in a free mode.

A great number of the channels available free-to-air in MPEG-2 are those from other countries. Such availability is contingent upon somebody paying the bill for satellite transmission across the ocean, and then retransmitting to the North American market. In some cases, the North American signal is made available on one of the small-dish systems such as DirecTV or DISH Network for a monthly fee, but the incoming feed from overseas is left in the clear. The reason is primarily economic, with the logic that very few people will go to the trouble of installing a large C-band antenna in this day and age to view one free channel, when they can have it delivered by alternative methods for what some might consider to be a reasonable fee. Problem is that this "free" reception sometimes gets too popular, and the bean counters at DISH Network decide to encode the incoming international feeds, thus forcing all to subscribe. This happened recently with Polish services, then Russian, and who knows what next. A great number of Arabic channels are presently in the clear...a few are incoming feeds for DISH Network, and several others are sponsored and paid for by different governments in Arabic countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The latter wish to make their signals available around the world to expatriates as well as the rest of the world..as a window into their culture. These governments pay to keep these signals available free of charge to individual viewers with satellite equipment. Such benevolence goes against the U.S. model of commercialism and paying for TV, but it helps explain why some languages are readily available here and others are not. Somebody has to pay to get it on satellite, and if a country or a language does not have either a sponsor or an adequate number of paying customers, then it will likely not be available to our market.


We cannot guarantee the permanent availability of any particular channel. These receivers are primarily designed for the hobbyist; to allow hundreds of additional channels to become available via satellite. This is not the same as, and not a replacement for a 4DTV digital receiver. It should be considered as a supplementary way of getting additional channels otherwise unavailable---no more, no less. Please do a little homework by studying sources such as the Lyngemark Satellite Chart at http://www.lyngsat.com/.

These lists will show current in-the-clear (free-to-air) channels, if you are looking for particular information on the status of a channel or service. Any channel that is now part of an otherwise subscription service but temporarily in free mode should be considered as NOT available on a permanent basis...unless you pay a subscription fee and have hardware for that service. Other broadcasters could be approached individually with an Email, requesting info on what their future plans may be with regard to subscription or free status. The Lyngemark Satellite Chart listed above has Email links and contact information for many channels around the world. Otherwise, do as most hobbyists do...enjoy the free show while it lasts. The number of channels continue to grow, so if your favorite Free-To-Air service goes away or switches to subscription, chances are better than not that something else will soon come along that tickles your fancy.

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