Satellite Feeds for Dummies
January 12, 2010 6:01 AM   Subscribe

What equipment would I need to receive and record a satellite feed?

Assuming I am given permission by the feed owner, what equipment would I need to have in order to lock onto a satellite feed, view the live feed, and possibly record the feed on a PVR type solution.

I know zip about satellite installations and am just trying to gauge if this would be easily doable. The feed would be from a news/entertainment organization from back in Canada..
posted by smcniven to Technology (9 answers total)
Satellite dish, receiver, recording device*?

*VHS, DVD writer, DVR/PVR, or computer...
posted by jckll at 6:45 AM on January 12, 2010

Read from here down for a basic over view.

This is assuming that this broadcast feed is not encrypted, if it is, you will need the appropriately configured receiver to decode it.

You're also going to need to know the elevation and directional settings for your dish, normally if you're paying for a subscription to a pay-to-view satellite provider their installer will do this for you, in this case you'll need to do it yourself.

This tool can help you work that out, it is likely that the tin can you're getting your feed from will be listed.

From the set-top box/receiver you can link up to a VCR, MiniDV with comp input, or any other recording medium which accepts the output that the receiver provides. There are a wide range of DVR's which have satellite receivers in them.
posted by chrisbucks at 6:46 AM on January 12, 2010

Do you mean old school satellite, like what they use to transmit network programs to different television stations? Or just receiving a particular channel on a cable-tv style satellite provider?

If it is the latter, you would probably need to obtain a receiver box that is authorized to receive that feed. Then a dish with the proper style of LNB (I think) and what direction in the sky to point it at. Usually that's a longitude degree by an azimuth (I think) degree. How high in the sky to point it. From there, the receiver box ought to have a signal meter that allows you to fine tune the antenna.(The LNB, if I have it correct, is the little thing at the end of the arm of the dish. The dish "catches" the signal and focuses it onto the LNB which is actually the antenna. I believe these have to be rotated for the proper angle.)

For the former, pretty much the same thing. Only the signal you are getting might be non-standard or scrambled/encrypted, and you'd need even more specialized equipment to get it.

Depending on the equipment for either scenario, the output would either be regular video that you could feed to a PVR or VCR or analog capture card, or you might be able to hook it to a digital tuner in a PC and grab it that way. Maybe even firewire.

Good luck! Sounds like an interesting project.
posted by gjc at 6:51 AM on January 12, 2010

Just as an observation, I notice that you're in the UK, you might have some difficulties getting (open to be corrected here) North American satellites, as they'll either be below the horizon, or at such a low elevation that you'll have to be in a fairly open / high area in order to see the satellite. Of course, they may be using satellites which service other regions.
posted by chrisbucks at 6:57 AM on January 12, 2010

Thanks chrisbucks and gjc. To add a bit more, I'm trying to see if I can get the host broadcaster's feed for the Vancouver Olympics. I'm waiting to hear back from their local bureau here in the UK to see if they will be able to assist in this endeavour. I had a feeling that the North American satellites might be below the horizon for me but I'm hoping that they use another bird to get their feed from the home office and might be willing to give me access to it.
posted by smcniven at 7:32 AM on January 12, 2010

There are (or used to be, it's been a while since I've looked into it) magazines dedicated to this topic. If you know the satellite that's carrying the feed, you can look up its orbit, calculate the azimuth and declination from your position, and point your dish.

A satellite-reception system consists of, at minimum, four parts:
  • First you have a high-gain antenna, generally a parabolic dish. The size of this dish depends on the frequency you want to receive, which depends on the satellite band. C-band used to be the best for viewing downlink feeds, and that means a fairly big dish, but at least as of a few years ago a lot more stuff was moving to Ku, which only requires pizzabox dishes.
  • The antenna focuses the signal on a Low Noise Block (LNB) amplifier. The satellite broadcast frequencies are so high that they'd be attenuated very quickly in the feedline running from your antenna down to your receiver. So unlike a VHF or UHF terrestrial system, where the first amplification stage is usually down in the receiver, satellite systems put the first amplifier up on the dish. It's called a "block" amplifier because it amplifies and frequency-shifts a whole range of input frequencies at once. Generally it'll shift everything in the desired band (C or Ku) down into the UHF/VHF (I think; I forget the exact frequencies most of them use as outputs). The LNB is powered by a DC bias applied to the feedline by the receiver, or a separate "power inserter" somewhere in the line.
  • Then you have a feedline, basically a piece of (hopefully good) coax cable running from the LNB into your house. Don't skimp on shitty coax, it'll just cause you pain. Buy good stuff and make sure you terminate the ends properly with weatherproof connectors.
  • Then you have the receiver, which takes the signal from the LNB and produces something you can watch on a TV. This could involve either digital or analog processing, although digital is more common now. (I have no idea if anyone is still broadcasting analog downlinks.) In addition to just decoding the signal, this step might also involve decryption (for digital) or descrambling (for analog). And depending on the receiver you'll get various outputs. Probably NTSC on composite and S-Video at minimum, but maybe component. This is where you'd plug in your VCR or DVD recorder.
My information is old so maybe things have changed, but I suspect the basics still hold.

For a good hobbyist system, you really want a dish that has motorized azimuth and declination, so you can aim it at different birds without going outside (or worse, up on the roof). But if you only care about one particular feed, this might not matter.

Also, if you're temporarily mounting a dish out in your yard, an aluminum patio umbrella pole stuck into a 5-gallon bucket full of concrete serves admirably as a mast and anchor, and can be purchased for less than $20 at Home Depot.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:16 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

The suggesion of a 5-gal bucket full of concrete is applicable to small Ku/J band dishes only, not C-band...
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:24 AM on January 12, 2010

This is almost useless, but most NA satellites are over the pacific. But I've been seeing (small) dishes pointed East lately, so there may be some over the Atlantic.

Beyond that, all I can say is that the video has to get to GB somehow, and I presume it is satellite. If the CA broadcasters can't or won't help you, there may be a local video club of some kind that might be able to help you out.
posted by gjc at 6:49 PM on January 12, 2010

gjc - it's not always by satellite, quite frequently it is over dedicated fibre as well. Often a broadcast centre in one place will receive a broadcast via one medium and pass it on via another.

Eg, in the Auckland, NZ broadcast hub content will be received via satellite and then shared on (there are various contractual and reciprocal arrangements) via fibre to the states. Not sure how that works for the USA --> UK but it's probable that content is re-upped to satellites covering Europe after being received via fibre.
posted by chrisbucks at 5:12 AM on January 13, 2010

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