FTA Satellite TV
Consider that you'll need to install a satellite dish at least 30" in diameter to get FTA Ku band programming - that's about 2x the size of the smallest (18") Dish Network or DirecTV dishes. Satellite dishes are covered by the FCC's OTARD regulations, which allow for the installation of satellite dishes up to 1 meter diameter (or any size in Alaska), in an area that you have "exclusive use" of. Basically, you can put a FTA dish anywhere you can put an antenna or DirecTV / Dish Network dish.
If you aren't allowed to have a satellite dish where you live, you can stop right here. Otherwise, read on to see if FTA satellite TV is something you may be interested in.
What programming is available on a Ku band satellite dish? Sadly, most of the content on FTA is religious and foreign language programming. Satellite Galaxy 19, for example, carries over 200 unencrypted channels. Of those 200+ channels, I found 9 that I may watch at least occasionally when I fist scanned for channels. But, there are a few gems, and being able to get just one channel that you really like may make it worth your while. For example, my wife is speaks Tagalog, and one of the channels on Galaxy 19 is TFC, "The Filipino Channel". Now, I can get TFC from DirecTV or Comcast - but, I would have to pay for a basic package PLUS an additional $25 a month just for TFC and a few additional channels that would never get watched. In the end, it would cost about $70 a month just to be able to watch that one channel! My cost for a 36x39 dish, receiver, cable, signal meter, and mount came to under $150. So, my payback time is under 2 months. After that, TFC is free.
Take a look at what's available and decide if there's anything that interests you here: http://www.ftalist.com/index.php
So I now get TFC for free. TFC Canada West is currently unencrypted, but - as is the nature of FTA - at any time, the provider may decide to encrypt the signal, remove it, or move to C-band (which requires a large 6' plus dish!). At that point, your system may become totally useless to you if you can find nothing else that interests you on any satellite. Selling your system (on eBay, Craig's List, or one of the many Satellite TV forums) may allow you to recoup about 50% of your investment, however.
So if you speak a language other than English, FTA may be for you. If you are seeking religious programming, FTA TV could be your heaven on Earth. And if you are from the Middle East AND religious, praise be to Allah!
Another group of people who find FTA satellite TV invaluable are those in very remote locations who have no OTA (Over The Air - with a TV antenna) broadcast TV signals, and do not want to pay the cost of paid satellite TV. For these people, the many PBS channels and news feeds alone are invaluable. Even if you have a remote camp or cabin without cable, OTA TV, or even electric service, FTA setups have very low power requirements and can be powered with an inexpensive solar system, or even from your car battery.
So by now you've perused the list of available channels on FTA List, and decided whether or not it's worth your time and money. If you've decided to go for it, you have to realize that there are not many installers for FTA. In fact, you will probably have to do it yourself. This is why many people who have FTA are "hobbyists" and do-it-yourself -ers. It's not always easy to jump into FTA as a clueless newbie, but it can be done. I did it, and you can too. There's plenty of forums online that are willing to help a clueless newbie out. Browse Amazon for receivers and dishes and read the reviews, look at what's available on eBay, join a forum, and ask questions. I can highly recommend the Satellite Guys Forum.
In my next installment, we'll look at the equipment needed for a FTA Satellite system.
- FTA List, an easy to use listing site for FTA Ku-band only channels and satellites.
- LyngSat, the global FTA channel listing source
- DBS Talk, lots of help, especially for Dish and DirecTV
- Satellite Guys, a great place to ask FTA questions
- DishPointer, the best help to point your dish
- LegalFreeToAir, it's another FTA forum
- Fridge FTA Forum, a good place for small-dish C-band info
- Ricks Wildfeed Forum, a great place to find feed information
- FTA Basics and a brief history of the American market
- SatBeams, full of satellite footprints and more
- TELE-audiovision International Magazine
- Wikipedia entry for FTA
- North American MPEG-2 Information
- DMS International, North American FTA equipment wholesaler
- Fortec Star Satellite Systems, satellite equipment company
- MyLocalInstaller, satellite installer directory
- SatHint, a list of C- and Ku-band FTA channels
Online FTA dealers:
- Global Communications
- Sadoun Satellite Sales
- Ricks Satellite
- FridgeFTA Store
- GO Satellite
- Satellite DVB Sales
- FTA Satellite Sales
- DVB Source
- Vi-Tesse Electronics
- Shop 4 FTA
- Granby TV
- Galaxy Marketing
- WS International
Not FTA, but useful:
- TVfool, see broadcast stations in your area
- RabbitEars.info, more detailed OTA broadcast TV information.
- Titan TV, the best online TV listing source for OTA and FTA
- Beeline TV, with links to streaming video from around the world
- wwiTV, another site with links to streaming video from around the world
- ChooseAndWatch, a newer site with with a few more links to video channels
- iDesiTV, just South Asian streaming TV links
- IMDb, home of tons of movie info