Drawbacks of Digital Satellite - dummies

By Danny Briere, Pat Hurley

Digital satellite services such as DIRECTV and DISH Network offer useful features, but do have some drawbacks. If you choose digital satellite, keep these drawbacks in mind:

  • You might not get local stations. In some parts of the country, you can get a local package that includes most if not all local broadcast stations. In some smaller cities and more rural areas, you still need to get cable or set up a broadcast antenna to pick up local stations.

    You won’t get local stations in HDTV unless you’re lucky enough to be in one of the cities receiving the newer MPEG-4 broadcasts. Most HD-capable DSS satellite receivers have built-in, over-the-air, broadcast TV tuners that can pick up the HDTV signals being sent out by the TV stations in your town.

  • You need a special satellite receiver. You can’t just plug the cable from your satellite dish in to a TV; you need a special satellite receiver. You can share this receiver with other TVs in your house, but if you want to watch different programs on different TVs, you need a receiver for each TV.

  • You need to hook into a phone line. Your satellite receiver has to “talk” back to the service provider to maintain your pay-per-view account and to check for software upgrades. The receivers usually do this in the middle of the night so they don’t interfere with phone calls.

    If you never use pay-per-view or some of the premium sports channels, you may be able to skip the phone line entirely. Check with the provider before you buy in on this if getting a phone line in your home theater is an issue.

  • Your satellite dish antenna must be able to “see” the satellites. It must have a clear line of sight to the satellites, which hover over the equator. Some folks in northern areas (or in Hawaii) might not be able to pick up all the satellites, so they get only some of the channels. Even if you’re in the right spot, geographically speaking, you still need to have a clear view to the south, without hills and trees (or even tall buildings) in the way.

    Stormy weather or heavy cloud cover also can wreak havoc with the satellite signal, which means an unwelcome interruption just as you’re about to find out who the culprit is — and it’s not always the butler who did it!

  • You have to install the system. This isn’t a really big deal for most folks, particularly when free installation deals are constantly being advertised. If you don’t own your home, however, installation could be a deal breaker, so check with your landlord first.

You may run into some resistance from a homeowner’s association, neighborhood covenants, and the like. The FCC ruled in 2001 that these “local” regulations can’t be used to prevent you from installing a DSS dish. The only big exceptions are for safety (for example, you can’t be too close to a power line) and for homes in historic districts. You may also be restricted from attaching your dish to “common” areas such as shared exterior walls in condos. Otherwise, no one can keep you from using a dish if you want to. Check out the FCC Fact Sheet on Placement of Antennas for the long-winded text of this ruling.