Facts for satellite viewers


This is archived content from Digital TV Facts. For up-to-date information on the digital TV transition, see the federal government’s site,

By Steven Sande, Digital TV Facts

If you have satellite TV service from Dish Network or DirecTV, the signal you receive is already digital. So in that sense, at least, you’re ahead of the game.

One caveat, however:

If, like some direct-broadcast satellite (DBS) customers, you still need a separate antenna to watch local stations, you may need to make some arrangements before analog TV broadcasts end on Feb. 17, 2009.

Local channels, beamed from space

DirecTV and Dish Network already offer a package of local stations via satellite in many areas. If your satellite TV subscription includes local channels, your current analog or digital TV will continue to work just fine.

The DBS companies are currently rolling out packages that provide broadcasts from local digital channels, including high-definition programming, via satellite to viewers in the nation’s largest TV markets. HDTV packages require a newer, HD-capable satellite receiver. To watch in high-definition, you’ll need an HDTV. (Your DirecTV or Dish Network package may not include every local station, however, especially when it comes to the new “multicast” channels offered by some local broadcasters. An exception is Alaska and Hawaii, where multicast carriage is mandated.)

Viewing local channels over the air

If you don’t get local stations from your satellite TV provider, and you plan on using an antenna to get local channels over-the-air (OTA—sometimes called “off-air”), here’s what you should know:

If you have a standard analog TV, you will still be able to watch local stations if you get one of the newer satellite receivers (including some DVR models) that includes an ATSC tuner. (ATSC stands for the Advanced Television Systems Committee, which established the digital broadcasting standard used in the U.S. The combined receiver allows you to get both satellite and OTA TV through a single box—thereby avoiding the clutter and added complexity of adding a separate set-top converter box for OTA reception.) New receivers are available for DirecTV or Dish Network.

If you have a digital TV, you can also go that route. Or, if your digital television includes an ATSC tuner (sometimes called a “digital tuner” or “digital ATSC tuner”), it is already equipped to receive over-the-air broadcasts.

Also: Many OTA viewers will need better antennas. A household that gets acceptable or marginal analog TV reception with an indoor antenna may need a good outdoor one to receive digital broadcasts.

Buying an HDTV? You can probably skip the tuner.

If you’re shopping for an HDTV, most Dish Network or DirecTV subscribers who plan to stick with satellite service and subscribe to an HD package will find little reason to purchase a television that includes an integrated tuner, which can add to the cost.

For continuing updates on the transition to digital TV, including details about local-channel packages from DirecTV and Dish, see Digital TV Facts: The Latest.

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