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What Is Satellite TV & How Does It Work?

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Believe it or not, the history of satellite television goes back to Russia’s launch of Sputnik in the 1950s and the start of the space race. In the 1960s, the U.S. government began using satellites for military and government communications, and the first commercial satellite called “Early Bird” went into orbit. This was the first satellite ever used to transmit telecommunications and broadcasting services.

By the 1990s, direct-to-home television became much more popular, and people could use satellites to beam the hottest TV shows straight into their living rooms. You can imagine how exciting this was. With the emerging tech came new television service providers (including DIRECTV) and extra programming options, giving people more control over their home entertainment.

Fast forward to today, and you’ll notice that TV has come a long way even since then. We have more viewing options, more channels and more content in general. After all, we can now watch TV and movies from the internet with streaming services … but millions of Americans are still satellite TV subscribers.

Let’s talk about satellite TV, how it works in your home and what sorts of satellites we use to give you the best of entertainment today.

What Is Satellite TV?

Satellite TV is a television service delivered to people via communications satellites.
One of the reasons people still like getting TV from a satellite signal today is because it’s reliable and versatile. Anyone who wants a wide variety of programs may prefer satellite TV to other options.

One of the best things about satellite TV is it is usually available in areas where other types of TV services don’t work. For example, it’s a great choice if you live in a rural area without broadband or cable infrastructure, as you can access more TV and movie content from home easily.

How Does Satellite TV Work?

The communications satellites used for TV broadcasting exist in geostationary orbit and transmit and receive TV signals sent from TV studios or broadcasting hubs. From there, the signals beam straight back down to Earth.

Satellite TV providers install satellite dishes on your property and point them toward the sky. Once the TV signals from the orbiting satellites reach your satellite dish, they run through a cable to the receiver box, which decodes those signals and sends the picture to your TV. Cool, right?

For this to work, the satellite dish must point at the correct satellite without any obstructions (or the reception isn’t good).

Common Types of Satellite Dishes

Satellite dishes have come a long way since their inception, and there are several different types on the market today. Let’s take a closer look at some options you may see and discuss the key benefits of each.

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Offset satellite dishes

Offset satellite dishes receive signals differently than traditional satellite dishes. In an offset dish, the feed horn is in an offset position toward the edge (rather than the center). So, when you look at an offset dish, it may look like it doesn’t point up to the sky at all.

DIRECTV uses offset satellite dishes for all customers. We offer satellite services to millions of Americans every day so you can access the shows and movies you love. That’s why we’re also proud to say DIRECTV has 99% signal reliability, plus our exclusive SignalSaver™ technology that allows you to keep watching during inclement weather.

Major benefits:

  • Durable against inclement weather
  • A wider range of signals than traditional dishes
  • Easier installation thanks to a wide margin of error

Prime focus dish

Prime focus dishes use a special design to capture and amplify satellite signals. Their feed horn is at the dish’s focal point, making the surface area more efficient. They point directly toward satellites in space.

Major benefits:

  • Compact for easy installation
  • Low profile
  • Great signal and performance compared to traditional dishes

Solid dishes

A solid satellite dish is a single, solid piece of material. The “solid” part of a solid dish is the parabolic reflector, which has no holes. These are some of the most common types of satellite dishes for higher frequencies used by broadband or satellite services.

Major benefits:

  • Extremely durable due to its lack of seams or joints
  • Sleek and uniform appearance
  • Easier maintenance due to single material

Mesh or perforated dishes

Dishes you see with small holes in the surface are mesh or perforated dishes. These contain perforations smaller than the wavelengths of satellite signals so that signals can’t leak through. The holes are the biggest selling point for these dishes because they help reduce the effect of wind on the dish.

Major benefits:

  • Excellent for areas with high wind
  • Lighter weight

Motorized satellite dishes

Motorized satellite dishes are unique because they can angle themselves and receive signals from different satellites. Say you’re watching a station signaled from one satellite in orbit and decide you want to switch to a station that comes from another satellite. Instead of having to move the satellite manually, this dish does the work for you.

Major benefits:

  • Conveniently switch between orbiting satellites for more channels
  • Less likely to become misaligned

Wanna give satellite TV a try? Check out our satellite TV packages to access to hundreds of channels, including local stations, national networks and your favorite sports.

How to Select the Perfect TV Provider

Explore the comprehensive guide to discover the best way to select a TV provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much is satellite TV per month?

What is the difference between smart TVs and satellite TVs?

Does satellite TV need WiFi?

What type of signal does satellite TV use?

The content featured on is editorial content brought to you by DIRECTV. While some of the programming discussed may now or in the future be available affiliates distribution services, the companies and persons discussed and depicted, and the authors and publishers of licensed content, are not necessarily associated with and do not necessarily endorse DIRECTV. When you click on ads on this site you may be taken to DIRECTV marketing pages that display advertising content. Content sponsored or co-created by programmers is identified as “Sponsored Content” or “Promoted Content.”

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