Satellite -vs- Cable TV
DBS also provides your basic cable channels in SD, up to 250 channels. DBS also carries many of their HD versions. That can number over 400 channels. Then there are the sports channels and special sports pay packages in SD and HD. There’s another 50 channels. DBS also carries several PPV channels in both SD and HD. This adds another 70 to 80 channels. And of course you have the Premium movie channels like HBO, Cinemax, Starz,….etc..in both SD and HD. There’s another 70 channels. In total, DBS satellites have to carry around 4,000 channels of programming. I bet you never looked at it that way.
Remember those transponders on the satellites? Each satellite has 32 transponders. Three satellites have a total of 96 transponders. That’s 96 channels that have to carry 4,000 channels in digital bit-streams. So you may now be wondering how they can pack 4,000 channels into 96 transponder channels?
The answer is simple. A whole lot of digital compression. I mean a rediculas amount of compression. For those who are not familiar with the term compression…. Digital signals are transmitted in digital bit-streams. Millions of coded bytes made up of binary codes… (1’s and 0’s). There is only so much frequency spectrum to fit bytes into a bit-stream. If you want to send more bytes on the same bit-stream, you must compress them.
You actually have to make each byte smaller to make room to add more bytes. Each time you compress a bit-stream, the quality of the data gets degraded just a little. For example… Remember VHS VCR recorders? The slower speeds had lower picture quality. That’s because more information had to be compressed into the same space on the video tape to let the tape pass the heads slower. The slower the speed, the worse the picture quality got. Bytes in bit-streams suffer the same loss as the bytes are made smaller.
DBS is compressing 4,000 channels of data into 96 transponder channels. That is roughly 41 channels for just one transponder channel. DBS providers do not carry the additional digital channels from your local TV stations. Your local stations can broadcast up to 3 additional channels of programming along with their main digital channel. 1,700 stations nationwide could add as much as 5,000 more channels. And DBS does not have the frequency spectrum to more than double the channels they now carry.
Those very high compression rates on DBS degrade the quality of resolution by 10 to 20%. Between the compression rates, and the several frequency conversions we talked about earlier, DBS signals can have as much as a 30% loss in resolution. In other words, an SD picture on DBS is just under the quality of a standard DVD. And a High Definition DBS picture is barely HD at all. Those who watch HD on their DBS think they are seeing true HD, but they are actually watching a picture that is slightly better than a standard DVD up-converted to HD. It still looks good in HD, but there is a lot more loss than you may think there is.
Then there is the weather conditions.
Every time it rains hard or snows heavy, the signal from the satellite is blocked. There are people with their dish mounted on their roof, that go for a few days without TV until enough ice and snow melts from the dish to allow signals to reflect to the LNBF. My old dish was on the side of my home 5 feet off the ground. I remember going out into a blizzard many times in one day to sweep the snow off the dish. That was just a pain in the ass. Period! There are many people who have had frozen pictures because it was windy and the dish was wiggling to much to get a signal. Seriously! The wind stopped people from watching TV?
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