FTA Receiver

FTA Receiver

A free-to-air or FTA Receiver is a satellite TV receiver designed solely to receive unencrypted broadcasts. Modern decoders are typically compliant with the MPEG-2/DVB-S standard for digital television, while older FTA receivers relied on analog satellite transmissions which have declined rapidly in recent years. Overwhelmingly, FTA receivers are manufactured in South Korea and China.


Mainstream broadcast programming

In some countries, it is common for mainstream broadcasters to broadcast their channels over satellite as FTA. Most notably, in the German-speaking countries, most of the main terrestrial broadcasters, such as ARD Das Erste, ZDF and ORF offer FTA satellite broadcasts, as do some of the more recent satellite rivals such as Sat. 1, 3sat and RTL. The satellites on which these channels broadcast, Astra 1x, are receivable throughout most of Europe.

In the UK, three of the original five terrestrial broadcasters, BBC1, BBC2 and ITV1 broadcast FTA on digital satellite, including many of their regional variations. However, in some countries, it is not the norm for mainstream channels to broadcast on FTA satellite television.

Ethnic and religious programming

FTA receivers are sold in the United States and Canada for the purpose of viewing unencrypted free-to-air satellite channels, the bulk of which are located on Galaxy 25. This provides an alternative option for various ethnic communities to watch television from their native countries without subscribing to an often expensive programming package from a major satellite TV provider. There is also a substantial amount of Christian-based programming available on several satellites over both North America and Europe, such as The God Channel and EWTN.

Rural and hobby use

Over-the-air digital TV signals do not reach very far outside the city in which they are transmitted. FTA Receivers can be used in rural locations as a fairly reliable source of television without subscribing to cable or a major satellite provider. Equity Broadcasting and other programmers use the nearly 30 North American satellites to transmit their feeds for internal purposes. Often these feeds include programming from major network television affiliates, as well as content often carried in over-the-air digital subchannels. These unencrypted feeds can then be received by anyone with the proper decoder. DXers also use FTA receivers to watch the numerous wild feeds that are present on many of those satellites.

Signal piracy

The widespread popularity of FTA receivers is undoubtedly due to the fact that they use the same technology employed by Echostar's Dish Network and BCE's Bell TV. Often, hackers are able to reverse-engineer the software and add the necessary coding to allow unauthorized reception of all channels offered by Dish Network and Bell TV, including premium movies and pay-per-view. Manufacturers, importers, and distributors of FTA receivers do not condone this practice and most will not sell to individuals who they believe will be using their products for this purpose. Use of third-party software usually voids any warranties.

Unlike traditional methods of pirate decryption that involve altered smart cards used with satellite receivers manufactured and distributed by the provider, piracy involving FTA receivers require only an update to the receiver's firmware. Electronic countermeasures that disable access cards have no effect on FTA receivers because they are not capable of being updated remotely via satellite as provider-issue receivers are. Periodically, the provider will change the processes in which encryption information is sent. When this happens, third-party coders will release an updated altered version of the FTA receiver software on dozens of internet forums. Usually, this happens within hours after the countermeasure is implemented, although some countermeasures have allowed the encryption to remain secure for as long as several weeks.

While smart-card piracy often involves individuals who re-program access cards for others (usually for a price), piracy using FTA receivers involves third-party software that is relatively easy to upload to the receiver (a process called "flashing") and is distributed freely on the internet. Websites that third-party coders use to share this software often have anywhere from 50,000 to over 200,000 registered users.

Another method of pirate decryption that has become popular recently is known as Internet Key Sharing (IKS). This is accomplished by an ethernet cable hooked to the receiver that allows updated pirate software and coding to be fed to the unit directly from the internet.

Common features

Installation menu

This is the main control panel that allows the user to configure the receiver to interact with LNBs, switches, motors, and other equipment. The user selects the LNB type, Local Oscillator Frequency, appropriate DiSEqC switch port, and motor configuration. If all the settings are correct for the appropriate equipment, a signal bar showing strength and quality will appear. At that point, the receiver can be used to scan the satellite to detect channels.

Blind scan

There are 63 satellites in orbit over the Americas, 57 over Europe and a further 64 over Asia, a significant number of which will be receivable from any one location. Each of these has a different number of active transponders. Each transponder operates at a different frequency and symbol rate. Many FTA receivers are designed to detect any active transponders and any channels on those transponders. Because they are designed to do this without needing to be pre-programmed with the transponder information for each satellite, this process is referred to as a "blind" scan-- as opposed to a satellite scan, which scans according to pre-set transponder values.

Channel edit/sort

Once a scan is complete, the channels can often be sorted alphabetically, in satellite/transponder order, or in scrambled/unscrambled order. Additionally, third-party software often allows the option of sorting by the channel's Station Identification (SID) number. This is so that the individual channels can be numbered in a way that mimics the lineup of Dish Network or Bell TV. Channels can also be renamed or deleted, either in an on-screen menu or with external software.

The most popular software used to configure and sort channels is a database program called Channel Master, which allows the user to name, number, sort, and delete channels and then save them in a format that can then be written to the receiver. The file created that contains channel information is called a channel list. Many older and discontinued receiver models are supported in Channel Master, though most newer and less popular ones are not.

User settings

Most FTA receivers give the user the option of configuring the language, aspect ratio, TV type (NTSC/PAL), and time settings.

Parental control

All FTA receivers contain a parental lock feature.

Electronic program guide

An on-screen program schedule can be accessed that also contains descriptive information about a selected program.

PVR functions

A few high-end receivers feature the ability to record programs, pause, and review live TV. Often, a hard drive is not included when the unit is purchased, which allows the user to install any desired hard drive. Most newer units, however, are equipped with a USB port that allows the user to connect a portable hard drive.


A few high-end receivers feature HDTV. These usually include an ATSC over-the-air digital television tuner and MPEG-4 support. A few HDTV units allow for the addition of a UHF remote control. However, an 8PSK module can be installed in place of the UHF remote and allows the receiver to decode the format used on most Dish Network high definition programming.

Legal issues

Because FTA receivers are sold specifically for free-to-air use and do not include any illegal software when shipped or sold, purchasing one is not illegal. The market for ethnic and religious channels that do not require subscriptions is significant enough for them to have a legitimate use. Thus, combatting piracy involving FTA receivers has been difficult using legal means.

In July 2007, Echostar filed a lawsuit against Viewtech, an Oceanside, California-based importer of the popular Viewsat brand, alleging that Viewtech intentionally makes it possible for third-party engineers to write software that allows unauthorized access to Dish Network programming. Among the reasons cited in the lawsuit to support that claim is the fact that, according to a legal brief, "Free-to-air channels do not offer the same type of popular programming found in subscription television packages (e.g. HBO, ESPN, etc.). Instead, 'free-to-air' television channels typically include limited religious, ethnic, business, music, information, and advertising content". According to Echostar, this type of programming is not widely popular enough to justify the estimated 2 million FTA receivers that have been sold in recent years. Echostar also alleges that authorized Viewsat dealers frequently advertise on websites used to share information on how to gain unauthorized access to programming.

Viewtech has since filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, saying that the company plays no active role in the theft of Dish Network programming. Viewtech says that manufacturers and distributors cannot be found liable for the piracy of end-users. The company also claims that Echostar cannot sue Viewtech for violating copyright law because Echostar does not hold rights to the content it delivers.

Echostar has since filed similar lawsuits against Panarex, a North Hollywood, California-based company that imports the Pansat brand and Freetech, a San Jose, California-based company that imports the Coolsat brand.

Lawsuits have also been issued against individuals as well. Robert Ward (allegedly known on FTA web forums as thedssguy, Veracity, and TDG) is named in Case number 8:08-cv-00590-JSM-TBM in Tampa, Florida. Ward's attorney has filed motions to dismiss two counts of the suit, alleging wrongful conduct. A lawsuit has also been filed against Andrew Bates (known as Snaggs) in Canada. A lawsuit against a person using the handle BlondeBitch is filed in case #- 08-CL-007372 by Bell TV and 08-CL-007373 by Echostar.

David Fuss, the owner of ftaworld.com, a popular online FTA receiver store based in Toronto, Ontario, was raided under an Anton Piller order in April 2008. Fuss is alleged to have provided financial backing for a number of FTA receiver brands, including Ariza, Cooltec, Homesat, and Pantec (many of which are knockoffs of the most popular Coolsat, Viewsat, and Pansat models). He is also alleged to have provided third-party software for those brands that allowed customers to receive Dish Network and Bell TV programming without paying subscription fees.

July 7 2008, Viewtech filed a Counter Claim, Case 3:07-cv-01273-W-AJB, against Echostar, now known as DISH Network, an Anti-Trust suit, alledging wrongful conduct on the part of Echostar, citing numerous violations of, Sherman Anti-Trust Act, Clayton Act, Cartwright Act, as well as California Business and Professions Code, and Trade Libel. Viewtech also charges Dish Network with selling ethnic programming that would otherwise, be free of charge with an FTA receiver unit, despicable business practices, unfair competition, and violation of California's Unfair Trade Practices Act. Viewtech has demanded a Jury Trial, praying for relief, for restitution, statutory penalties and injunctive relief from these violations.

Echostar LLC, now known as Dish Network LLC has filed for an extension of time to respond to the above allegations, and a Jury Trial is to be scheduled sometime in the future.

Popular brands

*Fortec Star

Peripheral equipment

*Satellite Dish

See also

*Galaxy 18
*Galaxy 25
*Satellite TV
*Equity Broadcasting
*Dish Network
*Bell TV
*Pirate decryption

External links

* [http://www.lyngsat.com/freetv/index.html Free to air TV channels]
* [http://www.lyngsat.com/freeradio/index.html Free to air radio stations]
* [http://www.sharpc.com/cm Channel Master official site]

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