Friend of our site

MMA Headlines


Bleacher Report

MMA Fighting

MMA Torch

MMA Weekly

Sherdog (News)

Sherdog (Articles)

Liver Kick

MMA Junkie

MMA Mania

MMA Ratings

Rating Fights

Yahoo MMA Blog

MMA Betting

Search this site

Latest Articles

News Corner

MMA Rising

Audio Corner


Sherdog Radio

Video Corner

Fight Hub

Special thanks to...

Link Rolodex

Site Index

To access our list of posting topics and archives, click here.

Friend of our site

Buy and sell MMA photos at MMA Prints

Site feedback

Fox Sports: "Zach Arnold's Fight Opinion site is one of the best spots on the Web for thought-provoking MMA pieces."

« | Home | »

With pay TV subs & UFC PPV buys plummeting, time to look at free (legal) satellite TV

By Zach Arnold | August 10, 2011

Print Friendly and PDF

Our good friend MMA Supremacy recently crunched some numbers on UFC PPV buy rates and the numbers look deservedly lousy, down almost 150,000 buys on average. Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that pay television subscription numbers are also sinking like a stone in a lake. Outside of being able to purchase a PPV, it’s becoming a lot harder for households to justify paying for cable or satellite television.

Which brings us to an old-school method of watching television that used to be popular in the 1980s in the states and is a dominant method of watching television in the Middle East & Europe, Free to Air satellite.

FTA is extremely popular throughout the world because it’s easy to set up and watch. You grab a satellite dish, you get a receiver, and you start watching programming after you aim the satellite in the right direction. There are two types of wavelengths for TV signals: C band (I call it longwave) and Ku band (I call it shortwave). Ka band, which is a more sensitive frequency, is often used by internet satellite providers and is being experimented with by some major satellite companies.

The size of the satellite dish that you want or need depends on your location and what signal you want to pick up. If you are in North/South America and you want to pick up Ku band channels, you can do so on a 1 meter (3 foot) dish. This is generally the size limitation for condos & houses where you have a homeowner’s association (the law that allows you to have a 1m dish in these dwellings is called OTARD). If you can’t find a 1 meter dish in salvage or from a neighbor, you can buy one for around $100 USD. In Europe, it can be in the 70-100 Euro range depending on what size you get.

If you want to pick up C band channels, you need a dish at least 6 feet in size (solid or mesh). You will see a lot of these kinds of satellites on Craigslist or in newspapers where homeowners are willing to give them away or ask for a small amount of money in exchange for you coming to their property and picking them up. If a dish is in good shape and not bowed or completely rusted out of its mind, it’s a hell of an investment. To buy a 6 foot satellite new, the price is around $350-400. An 8 foot dish can be around $500. A 10-12 foot dish can be $700-1000USD. The bigger the dish, the more likely you want to search for a salvage.

For North/South American programming, I would peg the quality of Ku channels vs. C band channels to be about 20/80 in terms of the scale of balance for stations you really want to watch. The one advantage of Ku is that a lot of live events that are beamed to satellites are done on the Ku band, meaning you can do a lot of ‘wild feed’ hunting if you are a hobbyist. A lot of sporting events can be watched in this manner.

Now that we’ve established Ku band and C band, it’s important to note that your set up basically is the satellite dish, the beam pointers (LNBs – Ku or C band or combo unit), and the pole or mount you put the dish on. In order to view satellite channels, take a compass and see if you have a clear view of the South. If you do, you can watch channels and aim your dish. A good site for a generalization of aiming your dish is Dishpointer. If you want to aim a satellite yourself, you can buy a satellite meter for $100-200 and it’s well worth the money in case you need to re-aim a satellite after storm damage. You can also always pay off the local satellite guy to come and aim your dish if need be as well.

There are two kinds of satellites — offset and prime focus.

Offset means you have a couple of arms that stick out to hold the main arm that you place the LNB on to pick up the signal reflection from the dish. Offset is primarily used for Ku band.

Prime focus is a big dish where you have the LNB holder hovering right above the center of the dish. You can only use one LNB on a prime focus dish. To get multiple satellites on a prime focus dish, it must be motorized. On an offset dish, you can have multiple LNBs pointing towards the dish.

In the States, it is rare to find a 6-foot or bigger offset dish but if you can find it, grab it. These can be commonplace in Europe.

There are two types of installation set-ups — fixed and motorized.

With a fixed dish set-up, you attach the satellite to a pole that must be level and is cemented into a heavy duty big bucket or the ground (or on the side of your house). The bigger the dish, the more you want a pole/ground setting. Make sure to use a lot of cement/quick dry so that you have a stable set-up to hold the dish in place without moving. The idea for a fixed dish set-up is to be able to have multiple LNBs pointing at it so that you don’t have to deal with a motor and your receiver can scan through the various satellites much faster. Plus, with a fixed dish set-up, if you want to share your reception with a neighbor or neighbors you can certainly do so as long as they have a receiver/receivers as well.

With a motorized set-up, you have the motor attached behind the dish and the motor is mounted to the leveled pole you have set-up. For Ku band dishes (up to 1.2 meters/4 feet), you can generally find a motor for $60-70 USD that will do the trick. Each time a receiver wants to search for a new satellite in the sky, the motor will move the dish through power distributed via coaxial cable. The general rule of thumb on a motor is every second of motor usage = 2 degrees in terms of satellite searching. For C band dishes, because of the sheer size & weight of these satellites you need to use what are called actuator arms. They are either 18″ or 24″ in length depending on the size and you usually buy a power supply box to help send the needed electricity to move the dish. Always buy the strongest actuator arm possible because if you move a big dish around a lot, the arm can get busted if not handled properly.

With a basic understand of Ku vs. C-band, fixed vs. motorized, and offset vs. prime focus, the next important step is to pick the right receiver. You can’t go to Radio Shack or Best Buy to get one, though. Generally, you will have to find a good FTA receiver through a middleman (like Fridge FTA or Rick Caylor) or have a friend overseas pick one up for you. In Europe, there are plenty of FTA receivers. Not so much in the States. FTA receivers are essentially Linux boxes in a self-contained unit and most allow you to do some sort of PVR (personal video recording) functioning with a portable hard drive. On a motorized set-up, PVR isn’t worth a lot. For a fixed dish set-up, it’s pretty slick.

The basic thing to understand about FTA receivers is that, for the longest time, the majority of them dealt with MPEG-2 based channel transmissions. With HD channels and MPEG-4 H.264 video now readily available, newer receivers are able to process channels featuring both old and new quality transmissions. The end result is that the HD picture on an unencrypted FTA channel is better than the picture quality you get for cable or pay satellite HD. Why? Bandwidth reasons. HD channels on cable or pay TV are often compressed because of bandwidth limitations. You can see this phenomenon on display with a regular OTA (over the air) antenna to pick up local channels. You’ll notice the quality of the HD signal for your OTA channels is better than the OTA HD signal on cable. For the pay satellite TV customers, the reason HD signals are compressed is so these companies can have you use their small pizza-pan satellite dishes. The idea being that your small dish picks up the compressed signal and then the pay receiver decodes the transmission. In the real world, those pizza pan sized satellite dishes don’t pick up any Free to Air channels. True FTA is not about signals compressed repeatedly and decompressed by your receiver.

If you want to take a look at what some FTA receivers look like, grab a PDF copy of TELE magazine for free.

TELE magazine issues are 180 pages each issue and you will be blown away by the technology available for someone who wants to watch free, legal television. It’s also a good guide as to what you will be seeing in the future in the States. One thing to note — you’ll notice a ton of FTA equipment is being made in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Europe. The great irony, of course, is that satellite usage is banned in China. In Europe, many FTA receivers have two tuners — one for satellite (DVB-S2) and one for OTA (DVB-T).

The price of a good FTA receiver is about $300 USD but well worth it. Most are pre-programmed with satellite listings already and can be viewed in multiple languages. A lot of the modern satellites also have programming guides embedded in the FTA signal they transmit, so if you’re into recording programs at a certain time you can do so.

Once you have your satellite dish, your LNB(s), your receiver, and whatever else you buy to get everything set-up, it’s time to look the satellites available from your location and pick what you want to watch. North America/South America, the Atlantic, Europe, and Asia. For a sample guide (it’s not entirely accurate but it gives you a good first impression), check out Sathint.

For more detailed guides in North America, check out these links: C Band, Ku band, C & Ku band Pacific, C & Ku band Atlantic.

TELE Magazine has a whole list of channels/satellites worldwide that you can check out in their magazine as well.

Once you pick the satellites you want to aim your dish at, then either have someone with their own satellite meter or you with your meter start to aim the dish Southwards until the meter registers that you have a signal. Meters help you ‘peak’ your dish, meaning maximize the signal reception strength. A site like Dishpointer or your meter will also help you out in terms of skew. Skew is how many degrees to the left or the right you need to slowly turn your LNB to pick up the signal with the pointer.

(Make sure that when you do your satellite install that you use only fresh RG-6 or RG-11 coaxial cable. Do not use old coaxial cable. You can often ‘short’ your electrical equipment. Avoid this at all costs.)

When you do your satellite install, you must ground your satellite and coaxial cable. Use a ground block. They’re only a couple of bucks and it will save you from your house burning down in case of bad weather. If you don’t know how to do this or aren’t sure if you have a ground block installed, call an electrician. This is important.

What channels are available?

PPV is not available with Free to Air satellite. However, if you want to not only use FTA but also use Dish or DirecTV simply for PPV needs, you can do so. Just keep your set up as it is and buy an LNB to point to the right satellite in the sky that the pay channels are using. Then they will give you a card to insert into their receiver and off you go. You can run both pay satellite and FTA at the same time without a problem.

As for the channels available in North/South America, use the links I provided earlier here. You’ll notice a ton of Brazilian & Mexican channels along with many feeds to sports & entertainment channels that you may have never heard of before or would have to pay a lot of money for access to on a ‘pay tier.’

FTA is Free to Air. This is not about piracy. It’s about legal, unencrypted channels that exist for anyone to pick up and watch. There are pirates, unfortunately, who do try to hang around the FTA scene and get receivers that have card slots so that they can hack the receivers to watch pay channels. It’s stupid & dumb behavior to do so. Don’t do it. Really, in the grand scheme of things, there’s no reason to pirate anything at all when you discover what is available for free that’s legal to watch. Piracy with satellite usage is foolish. You can often spot the hackers immediately online. They often are too dumb to leave enough information behind online so that the FBI or other authorities can bust them. Don’t get caught up in that crowd.

True FTA receivers often don’t have many card slots on them. However, it is commonplace to see many European FTA receivers that do have card slots for Conax, Irdeto, Nagravision, and so on. If someone starts asking you for dongles or add-ons for boxes, stay away from them.

FTA was popular in the States in the 80s and early 90s. The trend died down for a while because of the sheer size of the satellites needed for C-band. Many people who used to be involved in the hobby don’t know what the current state of affairs are. Being able to pick up C-band channels is absolutely gold now. The quality of programming is outstanding.

Where FTA has picked up in great numbers the last few decades is Europe and the Middle East. It was FTA as the avenue in which channels like Al Jazeera have gained incredible market share and exposure. Al Jazeera & Al-Arabiya have not only increased significantly in numbers but also in the amount of content they are producing for viewers across the globe. In Australia, the FTA market is starting to pick up some legitimate steam. In the UK, Sky & BBC are involved in Freesat, which is the usage of FTA for locals to pick up an extraordinary amount of channels for free. These channels are broadcast on a series of satellites called Astra at 28.2 East. Astra 2D, where the real cream of the crop resides, requires a bigger dish but is well worth it to watch the channels.

In Europe, the majority of FTA channels are broadcast in Ku band. The three biggest satellite groups that TV watchers aim their satellites to are:

28.2″ East (Eurobird 1, Astra 2D, Astra 2B, Astra 2A)
19.2″ East (Astra 1H, 1M, Astra 1L, Astra 1KR)
13.0″ East (Hot Bird 6, Hot Bird 8, Hot Bird 9)

There are also channels to be found at 7.2 West on Nilesat, which airs a ton of stations in Arabic & Farsi languages.

With a good sized dish (anywhere from 1.2 meter – 1.8 meter, 4 to 6 feet), a person can conceivably pick up around 2,000 channels & radio stations on an FTA setup. While many of the stations are in different languages (such as German), the programming that you can watch for free includes all the channel brand names that people are accustomed to paying money to watch on cable.

In closing

FTA should be viewed as a hobby. It can sound intimidating, but once you get involved with it you will find yourself shaking your head at all the money you’ve spent over the years on pay television. While the channel selection may not be entirely the same as you’ve been used to your whole life, the amount of quality programming available for free exists in a big way. If you have the time, the space, and the resources to do it, you can save money and also watch a lot of global TV stations that your local television providers haven’t been offering you. It’s not for everyone, but there’s a little bit for everyone who is interested. Start reading up more on FTA, the features and drawbacks, and definitely check it out. FTA combined with an OTA antenna is a very serviceable option for watching TV.

As for watching non-PPV MMA events on FTA, you can. Learn how to hunt wild feeds and you’ll be a happy camper.

If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me here.

Topics: Media, Zach Arnold | No Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Comments are closed.