Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) Communications Key Terms

Learn DBS key terms about equipment, technology and programming

DBS (Direct Broadcast Satellite) communications is the distribution of audio and video via satellite. A DBS satellite must be strong enough to send the signal directly to a small- or medium-sized dish or dish antenna. These dish antennas are commonly on homes or businesses, but signals also go to antennas that allow home and vehicles to receive satellite radio. Unlike the national broadcasting networks like ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX, DBS doesn't require a broadcasting facility near the user. The images are transmitted directly from the satellite to the customer.

Dish, or dish antenna

For customers to receive DBS, a dish antenna is required. This is more commonly known as a dish. The dish antenna for standard satellite programming is an 18-inch circle. The dish antenna required for high-definition programming is an oval dish that measures 18 inches by 20 inches.

Broadcast Satellite Service, or BSS

Broadcast Satellite Service (BSS) is a less common term referring to Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS).

Satellite receiver, tuner

A satellite receiver is what connects your dish antenna to your television. All video and audio received by the dish travels through the satellite receiver to the television or stereo. Even though most people refer to it as a satellite receiver, it's also known as a tuner.

Aspect ratio, high definition

DBS is available in standard definition and in high definition. The ratio of the width to the height of an image determines the aspect ratio. An aspect ratio of 4x3 is a standard definition picture. An aspect ratio of 16x9 is a high definition picture. High definition programming through a DBS provider usually costs more than standard definition programming.
Glossary: Satellite and Computer Technology offers a definition of aspect ratio and explains the difference between standard definition and high definition. HDTV Pub.Com talks about HDTV reception via satellite.


The most common types of resolution are 720p and 1080p. Manufacturers are slowly discontinuing televisions that support 720p because 1080p is the optimum resolution. 1080p is a type of high definition resolution. If satellites offer 1080p resolution, it means it's a high definition picture with a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels.
CNET compares the difference between 720p and 1080p. also compares the two types of resolution and even offers pictures so you can clearly see the difference.

Specialty channels

One of the benefits of DBS is the wide variety of channels available through satellite. Many of these channels aren't available over the air or even on cable. Channels that meet the needs of a certain niche are called specialty channels. Movie channels and foreign channels fall into this category. Customers should expect to pay more to subscribe to specialty channels.
Specialty channels are one reason to choose DBS, according to Satellite Technology, and are discussed in more detail at 

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