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Alternative Satellite TV

Satellite Television in the spirit of The Shortwave!


There's a wider world up there than Sky TV would have you believe. There are dozens of satellites spread across an invisible line in the sky known as The Celestial Equator. Just as on a shortwave radio receiver it's possible to tune across the dial and pick up hundreds of channels of radio from around the world, it's possible to tune across frequency bands of 10-12 gigahertz and across the curve of the celestial equator and to pick up hundreds of television channels and radio channels.

This requires special equipment and some technical tinkering, but how special? and how techie?

Let's start at the bottom end and work up. Take a recycled old analogue satellite receiver and an old full-size satellite dish. An classic videocrypt decoder is also handy, but no card is needed. Incidentally, forget "mini-dish" - that really is a pseudo-fashion idea based on notions of fashionability of matchbox-sized mobile phones. The fact is that a smaller dish receives less signal. Better to have a larger dish! However, with the LNB (Low Noise Block - that's the thing in the middle of the dish), it's possible to use a modern LNB with superior reception to compensate for the inferior mini-dish, and combine it with a large dish and so end up with the best of both worlds.

By using recycled analogue equipment, the fun begins. Spanners are required, and the dish is bolted to a South-facing* wall, and moved across the sky horizontally and vertically. As television satellites are in geostationary orbit they are in effect holding stationary positions 22,500 miles above the earth, and are placed across the celestial equator. Although you can't see them, you can get an idea where they are because the sun seems to travel along the arc of the ecliptic, which is usually not far from the celestial equator.

Setting up an analogue satellite system like this requires a lot of messing about, and is a two person job, and usually involves tuning the channel sweeping of the receiver at the same time as tweaking the dish position. But sooner or later a satellite will be found, a joy perhaps akin to that experienced by anglers.

Make sure you use proper satellite cable and not ordinary tv co-ax!

Neighbours and town councils permitting, it is possible to have an arbitrarily large number of old satellite dishes and receivers rigged up pointing at a variety of skyward directions and tuned across gigahertz of bandwidth. Many strange and exotic satellite television channels can be picked up, giving an insight into different cultures. The ability to understand a smattering of different languages is useful, but not essential. Much as I'd like to offer you a Linguaphone course, it's not a prerequisite of appreciating the diversity that's out there.

Going upmarket a bit, it's possible to get a steerable motorised dish, and a fancy satellite receiver that can steer it. Such equipment can steer across X and Y axes or be of the type that's fixed to a pole and has just one axis. It's worth asking about these at various electrical shops. But if you get a steerable dish, it's best to make sure it is set up properly. They are more tricky, and unlike the earlier example, professional installation is recommended. The larger the dish, the better. As well as being able to scoop up more radio waves, would-be Jodrell Bank lookalikes give a place a futuristic appeal and attract attention too.

The range of a movable satellite system is good. Instead of just picking up what Sky TV want to dish up and feed you, movable satellite dishes pick up all kinds of stuff. I have seen television from Thailand being received in England, and I have heard about desert scenes from unspecified locations being picked up thousands of miles from where they are supposed to be received.

Another thing about this Shortwave principle applied to satellite tv is that it's possible to receive hundreds of television channels free. In the UK a standard TV licence is required, but that's about it. Like Freeview, it's available.

No pay-per-view, no special permission cards, no forced migration to be digital, and no Big Brother spying on you implicit by compulsion to plug the receiver into the phone! The world of alternative satellite tv is a much underadvertised media. Maybe this is because there's no corporate money to be made in it, or maybe the wider reality of it is being hushed-up because it allows people the chance to broaden the mind (see travel) and to see things from many different perspectives and to make their own minds up rather than just accepting local government-controlled propaganda.


* South-facing wall? In the Northern hemisphere. If you're South of the equator, then use a North-facing wall.