FTA SAT (Free-to-air Satellite)

FTA – (Free-to-Air Satellite)

I’m going to shift gears from Mythtv, and post about my FTA Satellite system at the family cottage. I will provide future posts regarding Mythtv, and how an FTA Satellite system can be incorporated into Mythtv (with scheduling). In this post, I would like to explain what the term FTA means, how it differs from OTA, and provide some resources and general suggestions.

FTA (or Free-to-Air) Satellite refers to satellites that provide “unencrypted” signals. This is NOT to be confused with OTA (or Over-The-Air) dealing with HD Antennas. As many of you may know, satellite providers such as STARDISH, BELL ExpressVU have their channels “encrypted” so that they can charge their customers a monthly fee to have those signals “decrypted”. Usually, they provide or charge their customers for a box to decrypt those signals. Satellites that provide Free-to-Air programming allow people to pick up the signals for free…

Here is a link to a wiki that explains the term FTA SAT in more detail:
[FTA SAT Definition]

We installed an FTA SAT system at the family cottage last summer with great success. For years, we had subscribed to BELL ExpressVU and was very happy with the service, but decided to cancel after 5 years. The main reason was cost. Our family cottage is a seasonal cottage and it was only being used for 5 months out of the year.

When we first obtained Bell ExpressVU, it cost $10 cdn / month and we were allowed 4 free disconnect periods per year. After 5 years, coverage including US networks was $39 cdn / month, and we have to pay for the disconnect periods! I recall the disconnect rate was $15 cdn /month (if ordered via telephone) and $10 cdn / month (if performed via the Internet) – Such rubbish! I felt like we were getting “nickelled & dimed” to death… Thanks for your great service for 5 years, but    Bye Bye Bell… We went without satellite at the cottage for a couple of years…

Then I heard about FTA SAT from another professor at work. I did some research and decided to lay-out $162 cdn and see if this alternative would work at the cottage (it did)… Here is the complete cost break-down (remember, the service is free!… and legal!):

  • 39 inch Satellite Dish – $50
  • ViewSat Light FTA Receiver – $60
  • Linear LNB – $12
  • Satellite Cable – $0 (already used with Bell ExpressVu setup)
  • Analog Satellite finder – $40

Unfortunately, FTA SAT has been given a bad reputation since many of of the FTA SAT receivers can be reprogrammed to “decrypt” those encrypted signals from commercial satellites. This process is considered to be ILLEGAL. I only pick up unencrypted (FTA) signals, hence I am NOT breaking the law.

Question & Answers:

Q: Are you happy with the current system?
A: Yes. In the summer of 2008, I pointed my satellite dish to just one satellite called “Galaxy 18” (formerly called Galaxy 10R), and received 30 english stations including 2 ABC, 2 Fox, 3 Fox affiliates, the remainder were known as RTN (Retro Television Network). There appears to be a lot of repeated stations, but many of those channels are in different time zones, so it was like “time-shifting”!

Just for fun, I listed most of these channels in a spreadsheet with links to their website. Here is the link: [fta_channels.xls]

Note: At the cottage, I was pointing to only one satellite. There are many satellites that are out there, and you can purchase a motor to allow your satellite dish to rotate to a specific satellite in order to receive that FTA signal.

Here is a link for a listing of English TV stations for KU band in North America:
[TV Channel Listings]

Here is a link for a listing of Radio stations in North America:
[Radio Channel Listings]

Here is a link to a broader listing of TV stations:
[Broader Listing of TV Stations]

Q: Is your current system comparable to your previous system?
A. No. I don’t get Canadian content, and I don’t get any of the specialty stations. On the other hand, I get quite a few stations, and this meets the needs of what I need. The kids say there are not enough cartoons or “kid” shows (but you don’t want them watching too much TV at a cottage anyways)…

I am thinking about setting up an OTA (an Over-The-Air) antenna which will pick-up high definition signals for local stations (in Canada and the U.S). This OTA system would then add value to my existing FTA SAT system (i.e. ability for more local channels). The starting price for an OTA system is $29.99 cdn… I may try out an OTA system this summer (2009)…

Q: Is the quality good?
A: Yes. The TV feeds are digital. The quality can diminish in heavy rain storms (but also did with previous Bell ExpressVu system). Depending on the satellite, you can also get radio stations… (apparently, the Galaxy 25 satellite has a GREAT selection of radio stations in digital audio…).

Q: Did you have to constantly adjust Satellite Dish?
A: No.. Once setup, I didn’t need to adjust satellite dish for 2-3 months. In fact, the only time I had to adjust the satellite dish, I returned to the cottage and I had no signal. After playing around with the dish, I discovered that I had unplugged the cable from the wall to the FTA receiver at the end of my previous cottage visit! D’oh!

Q: What annoys you with FTA?
A: Sometimes stations are moved to different satellites. For example, RTN (Retro Television Network) was “pulled” from the Galaxy18 satellite due to its parent company “Equity Holdings LTD” filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. But RTN is apparently on another satellite (AMC 9).If you get a motor (rotor), you can setup your FTA system to point to different satellites. That is what I will be trying to do this summer 2009…

Q: Was it easy to set up?
A: No. It takes patience. After a while, you DO get good at it. C’mon, you should know by now there is no such thing as a “free-lunch”… 😉

I like to think of this as a hobby like “short-wave radio”. In that way, I don’t get stressed-out if things don’t go according to the “plan”. Remember, in my situation, the alternative at my family cottage was NO satellite!

Q: Any Tips Based on Your Experience?
A: Plenty. There is no shortage of advice, and sometimes advice can contradict other advice. Here are some important things that I have learned regarding FTA:

  • Location, Location, Location. Before trying this, do your homework. Use the “Satellite Dish Look Angle Heading Calculator” (see links at bottom of this post) and get some compass locations for the satellites you are interested in. This website also tries to display a satellite image of your location for a rough guess of where to point the satellite dish. You can also use a compass to see if your property has any clear “line-of-sight” to the satellite angles. The best type of compass for this task is the type that you see through a “peep-hole” to read the angle…
  • Place in higher, stable locations. Don’t use a fence. Placing unit on a higher place like the second story bolted to the frame of your house. At our family cottage, the dish points out towards a lake, so I don’t have to worry about going higher.
  • Place FTA Receiver and TV by Satellite Dish. The best method when searching for a satellite is to have the FTA receiver and TV beside you to see the results for yourself. People have also used a netbook with a wireless connection running VNC to view signal and quality settings remotely (if you have an FTA SAT card installed on your computer). If all else fails, then use a PCD (portable communication device), walkie-talkie or simply shout. It has been my experience that other people may not be a “keen” as you in this endeavor (i.e. just use the first suggestion if possible)…
  • Don’t completely tighten fasters on Satellite dish. Allow for some movement, yet allow fasters to be relatively snug. You need to be able to move the satellite dish, and yet not have it move if there are gusts of wind.
  • Use Satellite finder to get approximate location of satellite, then make TINY, SLIGHT movements
  • Appearances can be deceiving. For satellites having lower angles to the ground, you may be worried if the dish appears to be pointing into the ground (or in my case, water). Don’t worry about that as long as you can connect to the satellite.
  • What satellite am I pointing at?There are a lot of satellites that are grouped within a small area. It is common to think you are pointing a a satellite, but get the wrong one. If you lock on a satellite, your FTA receiver should indicate the name of the satellite. This is another reason why you should have your FTA receiver and TV close to your dish when searching for a satellite…
  • WAIT 5-10 seconds between TINY, SLIGHT movements to allow the FTA receiver to update the SIGNAL and QUALITY values. On my system, once you get green bars for signal and quality, you have a lock. The SLIGHTEST movement can obtain or lose a lock. When you get a lock, then immediately perform a SATELLITE SCAN on your FTA receiver!.
  • Don’t get too excited about good SIGNAL only. It is a combination of SIGNAL AND QUALITY that is important.
  • PATIENCE. If you are getting tired or frustrated – take a break. I have had more success if I return after taking a few short breaks…

Q: How do I get into this?
A: You need to use as many Internet resources as possible. Below are just a few of the resources that I found useful… (Prices may have changed from last year)…

(A word of caution: Retailers love to sell the product, but not offer support. Owner’s manuals are very basic, and requires most useful information to be obtained over the Internet… Don’t be afraid to use IRC chat lines…)

Hardware: [Satellite Dish] [Satellite Cable] [FTA Receivers] [Linear LNB] [SAT Finder]

Setup / Support:
[Sat Locator (Under Heading “Satellite Dish Look Angle Heading Calculator”)]
[FTA Help Topics (scroll Down below picture of store…)]
[Tips & Tricks]
[FTA Forum]

IRC: Server: irc.freenode.net Channel: #fta


~ by Murray Saul on February 27, 2009.

11 Responses to “FTA SAT (Free-to-air Satellite)”

  1. Just passing by.Btw, your website have great content!

    Making Money $150 An Hour

  2. Thanks, just wait. I have a lot to say about these topics and how to customize your Linux account – I could go on for months / years. I am trying to make a new post once a week, and I know I have plenty to say…

    Murray Saul

  3. Very good information

  4. I finally set up my FTA dish on Sunday only to find that all the good English stations on Galaxy 18 at 123w were moved on Saturday. They are now on Anik 3f at 118.7w. Unfortunately they are all now C band channels and are not compatible with a linear LNB. It will now require a 6ft dish with C band LNB to recieve them. Apparently the company responsible for broadcasting them has gone bankrupt.
    I guess OTA is now the only way to go.

    • I haven’t been to the cottage to verify this, but I will be this Weekend.
      The best channel (Retro Television Network) was apparently moved to AMC 9
      (both east and west feeds), which are still KU band.

      I have set up an OTA antenna, and getting Retro Television Network on and off…


  5. I managed to find Retro, looks interesting. You should also be able to get White Springs TV on Galaxy 27, 129w. Old movies and made for TV movies.
    Good luck this weekend.

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  7. Ah, This is great! Puts to bed
    many misnomers I’ve heard

  8. I go to college in Canada and we just now are
    learning about this in the classroom. Thanks for helping me with the last little bit of my report.

  9. I just saw something about this on tv. It talked the same things you wrote about.

    I go to college in Canada and we just now are learning about this in the classroom.
    Thanks for helping me with the final part of my
    Thanks for the outline of television stuff.
    I definitely think that cable television is going to go away.
    Or at least have to change with the times.
    Internet television is definitely the wave of the
    future. As internet speeds get quicker, everyone will be
    watching their shows on sites like this.
    What does anyone know about this? I think there’s a lot more to the subject
    I was just watching this on TV today. They talked about the same things you wrote about.

  10. Nice Suggestion about the Free to Air. I like Fta receivers very much I am using megatvi that is the latest technology.

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