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How Satellite HD Works

Satellite HD Signals and Equipment

Uncompressed video signals require a lot of bandwidth — so much, in fact, that satellites can’t handle receiving and transmitting that much information at the same time. That’s why satellite service providers compress video signals, especially when they’re high-definition video. They use a compression system standardized by the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG).

There are a few different MPEG encoding standards. You’re probably familiar with MP3 files, which are audio files that use the MPEG-1 standard. Until recently, satellite systems compressed video using the MPEG-2 standard, which reduces video size by a factor of about 55:1. Today, DISH network and DIRECTV, the two major satellite service providers in the United States, use the MPEG-4 compression standard. This format is more efficient than MPEG-2 and is better suited for complex, fast-moving images like those in sporting events and action movies.

Before the switch to MPEG-4 compression, satellite service providers could only offer a few HD channels due to the demand on system bandwidth. As cable companies began to develop HD packages, satellite systems had to look for new ways to deliver HD signals to customers in order to stay ahead of the competition. Both DIRECTV and DISH Network have upgraded to the MPEG-4 format, which allows both companies to provide more HD channels by streaming them more efficiently. Unfortunately, this upgrade also means that customers have to upgrade their equipment in order to view that programming.

Satellite companies had designed customer dishes and set-top boxes to receive and convert signals broadcast in the MPEG-2 format. The MPEG-4 format wasn’t at all like MPEG-2, so customers’ existing equipment couldn’t receive and decode the new signals. These customers had a choice to make: stick with the old service and keep their old equipment, or pay money to upgrade and access more HD content. While satellite service providers are currently leaving the choice up to individual customers, in the future all providers will use the MPEG-4 format. At that point, old equipment will become useless.

Apart from the different encoding techniques, satellite HD receivers are similar to standard set-top boxes. The video signal arrives at the customer’s dish and travels through a cable to the receiver. The receiver has three jobs:

  • Decrypt the signal. In order to thwart would-be signal thieves — people who use hacked dishes and receivers to steal satellite service — satellite service providers scramble television signals using encryptioncodes. The companies sell or lease receivers that include a chip designed to decrypt incoming signals. This way, only customers with the right equipment will be able to view incoming signals.
  • Decompress the signal. Compression formats like MPEG-4 make it possible to transport an HD signal from a provider to a customer, but televisions can’t interpret compressed signals. The receiver must convert the signal from MPEG-4 to its uncompressed state.
  • Feed the signal to the television. Once the receiver decrypts and decompresses the signal, it sends it on to the customer’s HDTV.

In the next section, we’ll learn about the state of satellite HD service today.

How did the U.S. shoot down its spy satellite?

On Feb. 14, 2008, President George W. Bush announced theUnited States would shoot down its own USA 193 spy satellite. The U.S. lost contact with the satellite only a few hours after its launch in December 2006 by the National Office of Reconnaissance (NRO). A year later, USA 193 entered into adecaying orbit — moving towardEarth — and would re-enter the Earth’s sometime in March 2008, out of any kind of human control. A missile fired from the U.S.S. Lake Erie hit the satellite at 10:26 p.m. on Feb. 20, successfully destroying the errant bird [source: Gray].

Government officials say that if the gas canister containing 1,000 pounds (453.6 kg) of unspenthydrazine fuel survived the missile strike, made it back to Earth and leaks, it could have posed a health risk. The gas is like chlorine, and causes the same type of lung and throat irritation effects as chlorine — prolonged exposure can mean death. A similar gas canister withstood re-entry following the Columbia space shuttle disaster in 2003. While it didn’t land in an area where it endangered lives, it could have. “This is all about trying to reduce the danger to human beings,” said Deputy National Security Adviser, James Jeffrey [source: The New York Times]. Pentagon officials are confident the fuel tank was destroyed along with the rest of the satellite [source:CNN].

Not everyone buys the United States’ reason for firing on the satellite. Once plans were announced, bothRussia and China cried foul, calling the plan a threat to space security and thinly disguised tests of the United States’ missile defense systems. The two nations saw the mission as an opportune way for America to show “its capability to destroy other countries’ satellites” [source: AP].

Other organizations viewed the missile strike with a critical eye. “There has to be another reason behind this,” Michale Krepon, of the Henry L. Stinson Center on arms control, told The Washington Post. “In the history of the space age, there has not been a single human being who has been harmed by objects falling from space.”

In other words, some speculate the world is watching a chess game play out above the Earth’s atmosphere. In January 2007, China shot down an old weather satellite 537 miles (864 km) into space. Back then, the roles were reversed — the United States filed a formal complaint with the United Nations about China’s reckless behavior.

Regardless of the motives behind what has come to be called in defense circles, “the shot,” was an apparent success. So how exactly did the United States pull it off? Read about that on the next page

How Satellite TV Works

Satellite TV Signal

Satellite signals have a pretty long path to follow before they appear on your TV screen in the form of your favorite TV show. Because satellite signals contain such high-quality digital data, it would be impossible to transmit them without compression. Compression simply means that unnecessary or repetitive information is removed from the signal before it is transmitted. The signal is reconstructed after transmission.

Standards of Compression

Satellite TV uses a special type of video file compression standardized by the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG). With MPEG compression, the provider is able to transmit significantly more channels. There are currently five of these MPEG standards, each serving a different purpose. DirecTV and DISH Network, the two major satellite TV providers in the United States, once used MPEG-2, which is still used to store movies on DVDs and for digital cable television (DTV). With MPEG-2, the TV provider can reduce the 270-Mbps stream to about 5 or 10 Mbps (depending on the type of programming).

Now, DirecTV and DISH Network use MPEG-4 compression. Because MPEG-4 was originally designed for streaming video in small-screen media like computers, it can encode more efficiently and provide a greater bandwidth than MPEG-2. MPEG-2 remains the official standard for digital TV compression, but it is better equipped to analyze static images, like those you see on a talk show or newscast, than moving, dynamic images. MPEG-4 can produce a better picture of dynamic images through use of spatial (space) and temporal (time) compression. This is why satellite TV using MPEG-4 compression provides high definition of quickly-moving objects that constantly change place and direction on the screen, like in a basketball game.

How Satellite Internet Receivers Work

In today’s wired world, everything on the information superhighway is just a few clicks away. And as technology advances, more and more people are able to access the Internet and contribute to this virtual community. Many of us have a whole slew of options when it comes to accessing the Internet, including DSL, cable Internet and dial-up.

In urban and suburban areas of the developed world, DSL and cable Internet access are popular because the connections are so fast. Traditional dial-up access is often a viable alternative because it can be less expensive or more accessible. For instance, in rural and remote areas, DSL and cable Internet may not available. That’s because the terrestrial connections required for such services aren’t installed everywhere. On the other hand, all that’s required for dial-up is access to telephone lines.

It may be confusing to learn that DSL isn’t as accessible as dial-up. Although both DSL and dial-up use telephone lines, the DSL technology is dependent on distance. If you’re too far from the telephone company’s central office, a DSL connection won’t work as well — if at all. As a result, many people living in rural areas settle for dial-up in order to connect to the virtual community. But this isn’t their only remaining option.

A lesser known type of access is satellite Internet. Because this connection relies on space instead of terrestrial wires on Earth, this alternative is more accessible than even dial-up. A satellite connection offers Internet to those who live in locations so remote that there are no telephone lines, or even to those who travel in mobile vehicles and boats. However, these Internet users still need the right equipment. When you think of helpful travel gadgets, satellite Internet receivers might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but they certainly come in handy when nothing else will get you connected.

Satellite crash

Two satellites collided in space this week – one of them an active Iridium satellite:

Russian and US satellites collide

US and Russian communications satellites have collided in space in what is thought to be the biggest incident of its kind to date.
The US commercial Iridium spacecraft hit a defunct Russian satellite at an altitude of about 800km (500 miles) over Siberia on Tuesday, Nasa said….
Since the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957, it is estimated about 6,000 satellites have been put in orbit.

Here is a nice simulation of orbital debris:


Update: Space crash debris to orbit Earth for 10,000 years

Most fragments are concentrated near the collision course, but Maj.-Gen. Alexander Yakushin, chief of staff of the Russian military’s Space Forces, said some debris was thrown into other orbits, ranging from 300 to 800 miles (500-1,300 kilometers) above Earth.
The U.S. military already tracks 18,000 objects in orbit, but no one has any idea yet exactly how many extra pieces of space junk were generated by the collision or how big they might be. Space experts say the collision created hundreds of fragments, maybe thousands, if tiny pieces are included.
Meanwhile, there’s no global air traffic control system that tracks the position of all satellites.

“Meanwhile, there’s no global air traffic control system that tracks the position of all satellites.” – let’s hope that gets fixed fairly quickly…

How Satellite Phones Work

Satellite phone systems work very differently depending on the technologies each company deploys. Some companies opt for geosynchronoussatellites, while others use low Earth orbit (LEO)systems. Each configuration, or constellation, has its pros and cons.

Geosynchronous satellites (also called GEO orbit orhigh earth orbit satellites) follow the Earth as it spins, meaning that they pretty much remain in a fixed location in the sky. They maintain a high altitude orbit, at around 22,000 miles (35,000 kilometers), and they’re always centered above the Earth’s equator.

These are huge, powerful satellites and just one of them can serve a large geographical area on the Earth’s surface. With a constellation of only three or four satellites, a company may provide service for most of the globe. As such, these satellites are designed to handle large volumes of data, meaning they’ll work not only for voice calls, but also for video streaming, file sharing, texting, television and much more. Inmarsat and Thuraya are two established companies that use geosynchronous configurations.

One downside of geosynchronous satellites is that their high orbits mean significant transmission delays of around 250 milliseconds one way, or a quarter-second round-trip. So when you’re speaking to someone, you may have to wait for a few moments before they answer your questions. Or you may hear a disconcerting echo, which can be frustrating.

Also, their small numbers put these networks at somewhat greater risk for outages. When one satellite requires maintenance (or malfunctions), an entire section of the world may lose service until the issue is resolved. Because geosynchronous satellites hover mostly above the equator, they don’t provide much coverage for the poles.

One of the biggest caveats to geosynchronous systems is related to size. To make a connection with these satellites you need a device that’s roughly the size of a notebook computer; much of that bulk is comprised of a directional antenna. You also may need to calibrate the antenna and then point it towards the satellite in order to receive the best reception.

On the next page you’ll read more about the perks and prices of picking a particular sat phone technology.

How Satellite Phones Work

Cell phone technology marches relentlessly forward. What were once luggage-sized bricks that made only voice calls are now slender smartphones with capabilities limited only by your imagination. Well, your imagination … and your signal. Cell phones require cellular towers, which connect with varying (and often disappearing) signal strength. In those places where cell phones dare not wander — that’s where satellite phones prove their mettle.

Satellite phones boldly go where cell phones can’t. They let you make phone calls from almost anywhere because their primary infrastructure is literally out of this world. Satellite phones don’t rely on a terrestrial cell phone network. Instead, they beam their data directly to and from satellites orbiting Earth.

That technological leap unleashes satellite phones (or sat phones) from the bonds restricting their Earth-based brethren. Thus, they are the communication devices of choice in areas with minimal or non-existent cell coverage, such as sparsely populated or poor countries, locations where governments restrict cell and Internet access, or where natural disasters wreck ground-based systems.

In satellites systems, phones aren’t always referred to as phones. Instead, many people call themterminals. No matter the name, they’re the necessary end-user device that you need to connect to a satellite.

As with cell phones, terminals have all basic phone features. Yet, even though they are heavier and bulkier than cell phones, they aren’t brimming with the nearly endless capabilities that your smartphone has. Instead, a sat phone is a stripped-down phone that you’ll primarily use to place calls or send short text messages.

You might wonder how a satellite phone is different than the GPS (global positioning satellite) capability that’s built into so many contemporary smart phones. GPS doesn’t let you make calls or send texts; instead, it’s simply for determining your location on the planet. Armed with GPS data, your phone can map your way to a distant city or find the closet Chinese restaurant. A sat phone, on the other hand, lets you make calls and transfer data via its satellite connection.

Keep reading and you’ll see how satellite systems are sometimes superior to cell networks, and how not all sat phone configurations are the same.

Apple readies first significant Apple Watch updates, ’TVKit’ SDK for Apple TV

Nearly a month after the release of the first-generation Apple Watch with Watch OS 1.0, a proven source has disclosed a collection of upcoming Apple Watch software and hardware updates. Currently in development, the features seek to enhance Apple Watch security, connectivity with other Apple devices, health and fitness features, Wi-Fi capabilities, and integration with third-party applications. Additionally, Apple is also priming major updates for the Apple TV in both the hardware and software departments, including Apple Watch integration. Below, we detail what users can expect from Apple Watches and Apple TVs in the future…

First, Apple has been working on a feature dubbed “Find my Watch” for the Apple Watch, which as the name implies will allow a user to track a Watch’s location, as well as lock or remotely wipe it if it is lost or stolen. The premise of the feature is very similar to Find my iPhone for iOS devices and Find my Mac for OS X computers. Apple was developing the feature long before the Watch shipped, but implementing it for an iPhone-dependent device forced the company’s engineers to consider more novel connectivity solutions.

Given the Apple Watch’s reliance on an iPhone, Apple plans to implement Find my Watch via what’s currently known inside the company as “Smart Leashing.” According to a source, the Watch will use its wireless signal to establish its location relative to the iPhone, and will optionally be able to notify a user if the iPhone is accidentally left behind. “Apple wants to give [a user] a tap or a light notice if it thinks [he or she is] accidentally leaving [the] phone somewhere,” according to the source. The source cautioned that the Find my Watch and Smart Leashing features could be farther off than others in development, as they may require a more capable and independent wireless chip in a next-generation Watch.


Health and Fitness

Apple is also making progress on updates to the Watch’s health and fitness apps. Using the current-generation Watch hardware, the company is currently experimenting with a way for the heart rate sensor to notify a user about an irregular heart beat. However, our source warns that this feature might never ship due to potential liability concerns and governmental regulation.

Multiple sources indicate that Apple has created a roadmap of health features that it wants to add to the Apple Watch over the next several years, but settled on initially including only a heart rate monitor after other functions, such as as an oxygen saturation monitor, did not work precisely. Apple hopes to add a blood pressure monitor and sleep tracking features in the near future, with glucose/blood sugar sensors scheduled for the longer term.


Third-Party Apps

Besides working on allowing developers to build native, full-speed apps for the Apple Watch, Apple is working on allowing third-party watch face “Complications,” according to our source. Complications are the small widgets indicating activity levels, battery life, alarm clocks, upcoming calendar events, and the current temperature on many of Apple’s included Apple Watch clock faces. Our source says that Apple is currently testing a new version of Watch OS that notably includes a set of Twitter Complications. For example, a small Complication could display a count of unread Twitter mentions, while a larger view could show the text of a recent Twitter mention.

Apple TV

Apple plans to market the current Apple Watch as a primary input device for the next-generation Apple TV, in addition to the “fancier” remote control that will be bundledwith the new device, according to sources. In line with earlier reports, our sources indicate that the new Apple TV box will be unveiled in June with deep Siri integration and third-party application support. Our sources add that a new version of Xcode, known as “MuirTrail” internally, includes a new feature called “TVKit” for developers to build third-party Apple TV apps.


As expected, the new box will also integrate with Apple’s upcoming “Live TV” cable-replacement service, but it appears that the service will launch after the hardware. Current next-generation prototype Apple TVs are still loaded up with cable subscription-dependent apps, according to a source. Sources who have used internal next-generation Apple TV development units say that prototypes are about “twice as large” as the current Apple TV box, but the shipping product is expected to be slimmer than the current puck-like version. Internally, the new Apple TV hardware is said to be codenamed “J34,” and the operating system is known as “MonarchTide.”

While there is no clear indication as to when any of these software features will debut, some of them could make their way into Worldwide Developers Conference announcements in June. Besides new versions of Watch OS and the new Apple TV, Apple is preparing to announce iOS 9 (codenamed “Monarch”), OS X 10.11 (codenamed “Gala”), and iOS 8.4 alongside the new “Apple Music” streaming service based on the acquired assets from Beats Music.


Lenovo’s New 4G LTE-Enabled Android 4.4 Smartphone Powered By 4000mAh Battery

Check out this newly launched 4G LTE-enabled Android 4.4 smartphone ‘P70′ from Lenovo for the Chinese market. Measuring 8.9mm thick and weighing 149 grams, this mid-range smartphone packs a 5.0-inch 1280 x 720 HD IPS display, a 1.7GHz octa-core MT6752 64-bit processor, a 700MHz MaliT760-MP2 GPU, a 2GB RAM, a 16GB of expandable internal storage (up to 32GB) and dual micro SIM card slots. Powered by a huge 4000mAh battery, the handset sports a 5MP front-facing camera, a 13MP rear-facing autofocus camera with LED flash and an FM radio, and runs on Android 4.4 KitKat OS. Connectivity-wise, the P70 provides 4G LTE, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 and A-GPS. The Lenovo P70 is available now in China f

New Behind the Scenes Video

A new behind the scenes video for The Order: 1886 has just been released. In video 5 of Ready At Dawn’s Behind the Scenes series, the developer discuss the technology behind the engine of The Order: 1886. As a quick reminder, The Order: 1886 introduces players to a unique vision of Victorian-Era London where Man uses advanced technology to battle a powerful and ancient foe. As Galahad, a member of an elite order of Knights, join a centuries-old war that will determine the course of history forever. The Order: 1886 will be released exclusively for the PlayStation 4 on February 20, 2015. Watch the trailer after the break.