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Frequently Asked Questions about Basic Programming

Can I pick the channels I want, or make up my own package?

This option is not currently offered by the satellite companies. It is becoming a bit of a political issue though, so that may eventually change. This is a more complex issue than it might first appear, because the channel providers (e.g., ESPN) charge differing amounts to the cable/satellite companies. Therefore, if the rules change, you might find that it cost you more to get a menu of specific channels than to get one of the pre-selected packages, particularly if you had a channel of interest that few people wanted.

What HDTV programming is available?

Visit our HDTV page to see what is currently available.

Frequently Asked Questions about Local Channels

Why aren't locals provided for more cities?

It comes down to capacity. The satellites have limited capacity, so the providers are going to leverage it to provide these local channels where there will be the most impact (i.e., larger cities).

Why don't they just carry fewer local channels in some cities, so they can offer my local channels?

This is because of the Federal Communications Commission's must-carry rule. Basically, as of January 1, 2002, if a satellite provider transmits one local channel for a city, they must transmit them all. I grew up in Philadelphia, but now live in Seattle.

Can I get the Philadelphia locals?

No. The transmission area is determined by a city's Designated Market Area (DMA), and Federal law. Each location is assigned to one DMA, and that determines what local channels you get. Another reason is that local network affiliates don't want to be competing against each other.

I live near a qualifying city, but would like to confirm that I am eligible for locals.

Send us an email and we'll check it out for you.

Locals aren't available where I live. What choices do I have?

For most people, the answer is an over-the-air antenna, or a 'lifeline' cable subscription that provides local channels. If you are "unserved", as defined by federal law, you may qualify to receive Network feeds from New York and/or Los Angeles. You can check your eligibility for these distant networks for DIRECTV or DISH here.

I really want CW or MyNetworkTV, but locals are not available where I live, or these networks are not offered in my area. Do I have any other options?

DISH offers a SuperStations package for $5.99 per month. This package includes 5 channels. KTLA (Los Angeles), WPIX (New York) and KWGN (Denver) are all CW affiliates, while WSBK (Boston) is an independent network and WWOR (New York) is part of MyNetworkTV. Note that the first 3 channels were formerly WB affiliates, while the last two were affiliated with UPN.

I travel in an RV (or am a trucker), so obviously I am not in a local area. What options do I have?

The rules have changed in this area, and are now somewhat more restrictive. You can only get the Distant Network Feeds from New York and Los Angeles. To meet Federal requirements, you will have to provide several pieces of documentation, including photocopies of your vehicle registration, commercial driver's license (if applicable) and a Mobile Vehicle Affidavit.

Frequently Asked Questions about Satellite TV

Who offers satellite TV?

There are two major satellite dish providers in the United States. The largest is DIRECTV, with about 16 million US subscribers. DIRECTV is partially owned by News Corporation, who bought their stake when it was sold by Hughes. The second company, Dish Network, is owned by Echostar Communications, and has over 12 million subscribers. For those with more land available to them, the original large dish (C-Band) service is available. This website focuses on comparing Dish Network to DIRECTV.

I heard Dish Network and DIRECTV are merging. Is this true?

Dish Network (Echostar) made a buyout proposal in 2002, which was rejected by the FCC and the Department of Justice as anti-competitive. Hughes (the owner of DIRECTV at the time) subsequently sold its stake to News Corporation. At this point, a combination seems unlikely.

Can I get satellite TV?

Most people can get satellite TV. There are basically two criteria you must meet:

  • An unobstructed view of the southern sky
  • A place to install your dish that meets criteria #1
  • These may sound like they overlap, and if you are a single-family homeowner, they do. It gets a little trickier if you live in an apartment or condominium community, rent a home, or have a picky homeowner's association.

I live in an apartment or condo. What options do I have?

Check with your landlord or property manager to see if you can install the dish on your rooftop. If you can't, the FCC has ruled that you can have a satellite dish on your private balcony, patio or garden. You do not need the approval of your landlord to do this. Click here for the relevant FCC regulation on this issue.

Is high speed Internet access available with satellite TV?

Higher speed Internet is available over satellite, but is offered by companies other than DISH and DIRECTV, requires additional equipment and is priced separately. Satellite is not as fast as other high speed options, so DSL or cable modem are preferable, in our opinion, if they are available where you live.

Where is satellite TV available?

DIRECTV and DISH are only licensed to broadcast in the United States. The programming options discussed on the other pages of this site include the options available in the 48 continental states. Somewhat modified programming options are available in Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. These two services are not available internationally, although DIRECTV does have a division that broadcasts programming to parts of Central and South America. For more on that, visit http://www.directvla.com.

Frequently Asked Questions about Movie Packages

What is available?

Both DIRECTV and DISH offer multiple channels of HBO, Cinemax, Showtime and STARZ! on a monthly subscription basis.

How much do these channels cost?

Prices vary. Visit our Movie Packages page for current packages and pricing.

What about pay-per-view movies?

Both services offer numerous pay-per-view movie options. The price for most movies is about $4.

What about adult programming?

Adult programming options are available. Some are on a monthly basis, others on a per-movie or per-time block basis.

Frequently Asked Questions about Equipment

I want satellite TV on 2 or 3 or 4 TVs. What do I need?

You’ll need to buy a dish system with a primary receiver, and then one additional receiver for each TV after the first. In most cases, with current equipment, you can hook up to 8 TVs to a single dish system, although the installations get more complex as you add more TVs. Sample configurations:

  • One TV with one receiver
  • Two TVs with two receivers
  • Three or more TVs with same number of receivers

What programming do I get on these additional receivers/TVs?

The way it works is that you sign up for a programming package from your satellite provider, DISH or DIRECTV. As you’ll see elsewhere on this site, that selection will include a basic programming package, and any optional programming, such as HBO or local channels. For $5 per month per additional receiver (after the primary receiver), the selected programming package will be replicated, meaning you can watch that same programming on different TVs, independent of each other. Exception: If you order a pay-per-view event, it is only available on the receiver on which it is ordered.

What if I don’t need different programming on different TVs?

There are ways to split the signal between the receiver and the TVs you wish to hook up. For example, click here. If you go this route, you should purchase an infrared device so that your remote can control the receiver attached to the dish.

I have DIRECTV. Can I switch to DISH and use the same equipment, or vice-versa?

No. While you can keep the same wiring, the receivers are incompatible.

Is it true that you can’t record one program while watching another?

This used to be the case, but is becoming less of an issue with the dual-tuner DVR receivers now available.

What about Personal Video Recorders, like TiVo?

TiVo is compatible with either DIRECTV or DISH, but must be purchased separately. Both DISH and DIRECTV offer their own DVR equipment, usually for free (although there is a small monthly service charge), for new customers.

What other features of the receivers are notable?

Most receivers offer an on-screen channel guide to see what programming is currently on and coming up. Parental controls enable the user to block adult channels, or any channel for that matter.

What about this requirement that a phone line needs to be attached?

The phone line is needed to order pay-per-view and certain other events. If you do attach a phone line to your receiver, keep in mind these facts that often concern people:

  • You can use your regular phone line; a new one is not required
  • Your regular phone line will not be interfered with. If you are on the phone when the receiver tries to access your phone line, it will try again later
  • If you don’t have a jack near your receiver, there are wireless jack solutions available

Frequently Asked Questions about Sports Packages

Why is NFL Sunday Ticket, only available on DIRECTV? What about MLB Extra Innings?

DIRECTV has an exclusive contract with the NFL to broadcast NFL Sunday Ticket. DIRECTV pays the NFL about $700 million a year for this right. The current contract expires in 2010, but will likely be renewed before then.

Is the YES Network available?

The YES Network is available on DIRECTV; and will be available to subscribers in the New York metropolitan area. If you live outside New York, you can get YES through the DIRECTV Sports Pack, although programming will be subject to the blackout rules.

What are the blackout rules?

The blackout rules are pretty complex, and vary from sport-to-sport. This is true whether you have satellite TV, cable, or neither. Specific to satellite TV, however, are the regional sports packages listed on the sports page of our site. You should know that, as a general rule, most professional sporting events carried by the regional sports channels are subject to blackout outside the local market. If you are a big pro sports fan, don't get this package assuming you'll be able to flip around to every game in the country --- you'll be staring at a lot of blank screens. Click on the Seasonal Sports Packages link to learn about how to get a much broader selection of professional and college sports, although those are also subject to occasional blackout.

Frequently Asked Questions about HDTV

Why do I need a different TV?

HD signals are different than the analog signals used in standard televisions. You'll need an HDTV to display high definition's true resolution. Note that these new HDTVs are backwards compatible... you will still be able to receive all standard programming just like you get on your current TV.

What is HDTV?

High definition television is a digital format for broadcasting TV signals. The standard TV transmission broadcasts 480 lines of information at a time, while HDTV sends up to 1,080 lines. This leads to much better quality in the picture and coloring.

What is an aspect ratio?

Analog television has an aspect ratio of 4 x 3, which basically refers to the rectangular nature of the picture... 4 units wide, 3 units high. The aspect ratio of HDTV is a widescreen 16 x 9, matching that of movie theater screens. That is why the HDTVs you see have a different shape relative to standard TVs. Note that HDTVs can be adjusted for different aspect ratios, so if you are watching a show that is in standard definition, you will still be able to watch it in the 4 x 3 format.

When will the transition to HDTV be complete?

The transition to digital signals from analog will continue over the next few years. By February 17, 2009, all signals are to be digital and broadcasters will return the old frequencies to the government. (This spectrum will be auctioned by the FCC beginning in early 2008. Some of it will go to emerging technologies, and some of it will improve the communication abilities of public safety agencies.) Note that there are several kinds of digital television, including (in order of quality): Standard Definition TV, Enhanced Definition TV, and true High Definition TV. While all signals should be digital by later this decade, the amount of programming actually broadcast in HDTV will only be a subset of this, probably determined by consumer demand for this level of quality.

How do locals work with HDTV and satellite TV?

2006 is the year that DIRECTV and DISH began to offer significant numbers of local channels over satellite, with more locations to be added this year. You'll be able to receive those HD locals, where available, with HD equipment and a subscription to the provider's local channel package. Alternately, you may be able to receive these channels over the air via an HD tuner in the HD satellite receiver you buy and an antenna attached to your HD satellite receiver.

What kind of antenna do I need and what local channels are available?

A listing of currently operational HD broadcast channels can be found at this FCC page. Note that the capture of HD signals via antenna are subject to the same issues as regular signals: Distance and topography can affect your ability to receive the signal. Note also that while some antennas are being marketed as best for picking up HD signals, the reality is that a decent set of "rabbit ears" with a 75 ohm. connection should do fine. We bought a $20 antenna, and it works great on our HDTV.

What is an HDTV monitor?

When shopping for an HDTV, you may notice that some TVs are HDTV monitors (sometimes called HD Ready), while others are full HD sets. A full HD set has a built-in decoder, and is all set to receive any local over-the-air HD signals with just the addtion of an antenna. The HD monitor, on the other hand, is kind of like your computer monitor, and will need additional equipment to receive television signals. In both cases, however, if you want satellite TV, you will need the satellite HD system, which will function as your HD converter for satellite signals. What this means is that if you are going to get HD satellite TV, you don't need to purchase a full-blown HD set... an HDTV monitor will do fine.

How do HDTV signals affect sound?

The digital signal of HDTV is integrated with 5-channel digital surround sound, providing the type of sound + picture experience you get with DVD players or in a theater itself. Note that a set of surround speakers is generally required to take full advantage of the home theater experience.