Choosing a Satellite TV Decoder
The Satellite TV decoder, receiver, or descrambler as sometimes it is called, forms an integral part of your digital satellite TV system setup; the latter also includes the outdoor satellite dish antenna, and equally important, a subscription to a satellite TV service provider to get access to the required satellite programming.
Therefore, a first step in choosing a satellite TV decoder is to choose your satellite provider. Currently, your choice is limited to DISH Network and DirecTV. This will definitely narrow the choice of satellite receivers you can opt for even though both DirecTV and DISH Network offer an extensive choice of models ranging from the basic standard set-top-boxes that costs less than $70, to high-end multi-tuner satellite TV receivers with HD support, built-in hard-drive, and a full range of digital video recording (DVR) features to record movies and TV shows.
In addition, both service providers constantly come up with various promo packages through which eligible customers may get a complete satellite TV system, including the satellite receivers for free. Generally, if the hardware on offer is not exactly what you want, there is always the option to upgrade to a receiver of your choice. Such free offers however are generally subject to a service commitment of between one and two years.
Regardless of how you get your satellite receiver, you always have a few decisions to make before proceeding with your purchase:
Choosing Your Satellite Receiver Options: Important features to look for
Pretty much everything you need to know about satellite TV decoders boils down to features since with the right receiver, you can do a lot more than just watch satellite TV programming. We therefore present you with a list of features worth considering when planning a satellite TV receiver purchase.
Once you decided on what you want, all you have to do is call the satellite TV service provider of your choice and proceed from there. Someone from the company will surely walk you through and explain the various options available. However, knowing beforehand the features to look for will put you in a better position to choose your satellite TV decoder.
The Basic Satellite TV Receiver
The basic receiver is the entry-level set-top-box that allows you to watch satellite TV programming - based on your subscription, in standard definition.
This type of satellite TV set-top-box comes with a comprehensive program guide to see everything scheduled on all channels for days at a time. Some basic receivers even come with built-in games that you can play on your TV.
With the advent of digital TV and the increasing presence of high definition plasma and LED/LCD HDTV sets in the home, HDTV programming is becoming more popular than ever. And the latest MPEG-4 AVC encoding used by the TV broadcast industry means even more local and national HD channel programming.
However, to receive high definition satellite TV programming, you need an HD-capable MPEG-4 compatible satellite TV decoder. This will then present the incoming satellite HD programming to the TV in either 720p or 1080i.
As indicated in our introduction to, you will still be able to receive the present lineup of MPEG-2 HD channels with your older HD receiver, but you need to upgrade to an MPEG-4 compatible satellite TV decoder if you want to watch new local and national HD channels. Both DISH Network and DirecTV offer discounts on HD upgrade bundles to make the transition less painful.
All entry-level satellite HD-receivers include a standard definition tuner to handle channels not broadcasting in high definition.
Equally important, some satellite set-top-boxes include a built-in ATSC tuner to receive local network content already broadcasting in HD via a rooftop TV antenna. Normally, the built-in program guide in these hybrid satellite TV receivers would integrate the information for over-the-air and satellite TV programs, for seamless switching back and forth from satellite to over-the-air TV channels.
Note: You will gain nothing with an HDTV capable digital satellite TV decoder unless it is connected to an HDTV set. However, if you are in the process of upgrading to a new HDTV set, then you should always get an HDTV MPEG-4 enabled satellite TV receiver.
Satellite TV receivers equipped with a digital video recording (DVR) option like featured at the top of this page and the featured on the left, allow you to capture your favorite movies and sporting events on a digital drive to view later at your convenience.
Although you can certainly add your own dedicated DVR to your home entertainment system, the integration of a built-in DVR with a satellite TV decoder certainly brings in a few significant advantages over the two-piece setup apart from saving valuable space in your equipment rack.
While an integrated DVR would not have all of the functionality of an advanced dedicated recording system, a satellite TV decoder with an integrated DVR still allows you to pause, rewind and fast-forward live TV.
More important however, is that with an integrated DVR, the functionality of the satellite receiver electronic program guide (EPG) would be well-integrated into the DVR's recording menu/scheduling system, thus making recording of future shows quick and easy.
Some of the more advanced DVR-equipped satellite TV decoders would even follow your viewing pattern to predict and tag for you, shows through the receiver EPG, that are similar in nature, to make it easier for you to either watch these live, or have the receiver record these for you.
One final advantage of an integrated DVR-satellite TV receiver is that thanks to the different offers by both DirecTV and Dish Network, an integrated solution comes for significantly less than you would have to pay for a stand-alone DVR from TiVo.
Any digital satellite TV receiver can be used in a home theater setup. However, some of the cheaper satellite TV decoders lack the necessary audio and video connections on the back of the unit to support the highest quality home theater experience.
For the latter to be possible, your digital satellite TV receiver should at least include an S-video output for standard definition, and component video or preferably an HDMI connection for HD programming. It should also incorporate a digital audio connection for Dolby Digital Surround if it does not include an HDMI output.