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After reading a number of messages about HD content and equipment focused on DISH Network and DirecTV satellite services, I thought it might be helpful to some members of this forum to get some information on another HD alternative: the large satellite dish (sometimes referred to as “C-band†or “BUDâ€). So here is a summary of both the equipment you would need, approximate cost, and the programming available. Since this message deals both with hardware and programming options, I’ve posted it to both the Hardware and Programming forums; anyone who would like further information, just ask - I’m not a dealer, affiliated with any dealer, manufacturer or programmer, just a satisfied consumer.


Programming


The reason I wanted to explain the big dish alternative is because of available HD programming. A system consisting of a dish, 4DTV satellite receiver and HDD200 HD decoder currently offers 4 HD channels: HBOHD/East; HBOHD/West; ShowtimeHD/East and ShowtimeHD/West. In addition, Paul Allen’s ASCN network is currently available, although the long-term prospects for receiving this channel are still uncertain.


A subscription to Showtime, which will include not only the east and west HD feeds but also 10 channels of standard definition “theme†feeds (e.g., Showtime Extreme east and west), can cost as little as $7.50/month or $80/yr. A subscription to HBO, which includes not only the east and west HD feeds but also14 channels of standard definition “theme†feeds (HBO Family east & west), can cost as little as $9.50/mth or $105 if paid annually. Thus for as little as $180/yr, you can have 4 full-time HD feeds plus 24 standard-definition “theme†channels from these providers.


There is a wealth of other programming available on the big dish, but since I’m aiming this message at HD users, I won’t go into that here. For more programming info, visit
www.cssnps.com www.turnervision.com


Equipment


OK. Here’s the rub: by “big dish†I am referring to an 8-10' (yes, that’s 8-10 FEET) parabolic dish that mounts on a pole and moves via a motorized actuator to target the many communications satellites aimed at the US. The first issues in considering a big dish installation are aesthetics and legality: do you want one of these in your back yard and can you have one? Do you want one is a simple decision. Those of us with big dishes don’t affectionately call them “BUD’s†(“big ugly dishesâ€) for nothing. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and my BUD is certainly beautiful to me when I watch the many HD and other programs available.


The “can you have one†relates to two items. First, you must have a clear view of the southern sky with no trees or buildings in the way for this to work. You can get an idea whether a big dish system will work in your location by using the sun. In late September/early October for us in the continental US, the sun closely tracks the Clarke Belt where communications satellites are located. If there is a spot in your yard at this time of year that gets unobstructed sunlight from, say, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. local time, you probably have a good spot to install a big dish. The second issue relates to zoning/homeowners covenants. Although FCC rules prohibit zoning restrictions on big dishes, they DO NOT prohibit private restrictive covenants. If you live in a modern subdivision, chances are there is a restrictive covenant (e.g., a contractual agreement) that prohibits you from installing a big dish. Sometimes these covenants can be successfully “broken†in legal proceedings; sometimes you can get your homeowners’ association to grant permission for a big dish installation if you promise to “hide†it as much as possible with landscaping, etc. It never hurts to ask, but my experience has been that if you live in a modern subdivision, you are probably hosed.


To get HD services, you will need a dish and its associated equipment, a 4DTV digital receiver from Motorola, and an HDD200 high definition converter box to go with the 4DTV. A brand new big dish installation with a 4DTV and HD decoder will probably run $2500. If, however, you are a “handyman†type and like to “do it yourself,†you can often find used big dishes for nothing from people who have switched to DISH or DirecTV. A 4DTV receiver is about $700; the HDD200 HD converter is about $400-500; add the cost of a steel pole, concrete, and cable from the dish to your receiver, and you can probably do an installation yourself for $1500. But I caution that the DIY route is not for the faint of heart.


Some Add-Ons for More


OK. Not happy with just 4 HD channels? Fine. You can add a used Unity Motion HD satellite receiver (which will also function as an OTA HD/DTV receiver) for $500 (or a new Integra 910 receiver for $900). This will get you the PBS HD channel, the ABC HD network feeds, and the occasional special like the WGN Cubs game a few weeks back. Still not enough? OK - remember that HDD200 high definition decoder? It also works with Canada’s StarChoice DBS receivers to get StarChoice’s HD content. That content currently includes the CBS HD network programming. A StarChoice Navigo 401 receiver is about $250. Because of favorable exchange rates, a basic subscription to StarChoice that will include the CBS HD programming would be less than $15/month, and would include several different time zone feeds of the CBC, Global Network and CTV to boot.


Let me end by saying that I realize a big dish installation is not for everyone; like CRT front projectors, big dish installations are more expensive and require more maintenance than small-dish services. For many, maybe even most, people, a small-dish service (or no dish at all) is the better choice. But if you really want to have the maximum programming choices available in HD, you might want to at least consider this route.


More info:
www.4dtv.com (Motorola’s web site on the 4DTV receiver)
http://www.delphi.com/4dtv (Delphi’s 4DTV forum - registration required, but free).


John Colombo
 
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