Will streaming make the cable superfluous at some point?

Everything about satellite reception

Why direct satellite reception at all?

There are currently four different ways of receiving classic television and radio programs in Germany:

  • Direct satellite reception, i.e. reception using a satellite dish (DVB-S and DVB-S2)
  • Terrestrial, i.e. reception via room or house antenna (DVB-T2, VHF and DAB plus)
  • Cable TV (DVB-C)
  • Internet television and radio (IPTV and radio streams)

A surprising number of people have never dealt with the question of the reception path; they simply use what was in their apartment when they moved in or what the electrician installed for them without being asked. There are even supposed to be people who don't even know how their television program gets into the house.
The full-service providers (cable and telephone companies) are also not exactly helpful with their vaguely worded advertisements. The impression arises that customers should be deliberately kept stupid so that they can be more easily ripped off. Independent information is all the more important.

Each of the reception channels has technical advantages and disadvantages. More important than the technology, however, are the number of free channels and the total costs incurred for reception. These things differ greatly from country to country.

In Germany, direct satellite reception has been the reception method with the best price-performance ratio for many years - at least for equipping new buildings. A subsequent switch from cable to satellite reception also pays off in many cases; Here, however, a major role is played by how extensive the required receiving system is, who is installing it and at what price. Do-it-yourselfers who do everything themselves almost always save money by retrofitting. On the other hand, if you commission a specialist company to carry out the retrofitting, you should obtain offers and calculate them precisely.

Direct satellite reception gives the user the greatest freedom when it comes to the capabilities of the reception system, the selection of special channels and the choice of the receiving device. The disadvantage of this freedom is that there is no full-service provider who provides the inexperienced customer with a fully configured receiving device in the living room and is responsible for its function. Satellite reception demands the responsible viewer, who independently informs himself about the possibilities.

Advantages and disadvantages of the individual reception channels
over satellite You can get over 60 German-language TV channels in standard digital quality into your home without registering and without a monthly fee (not counting the numerous regional versions and billboard channels). There are also the public broadcasters in HD quality and a large number of radio programs. With a corresponding expansion of the reception system, many foreign-language channels are added.
For the reception of the private channels in HD quality ("HD Plus") you unfortunately have to pay an annual fee and live with various restrictions, but this option should be dispensable for most viewers; the same channels can be seen unencrypted in standard quality. There is also real pay TV (Sky) via satellite, which is encrypted from the outset and subject to a fee.

The program selection of German-speaking channels via the digital Cable television (DVB-C) is slightly lower and costs monthly fees. In return, you save yourself the installation of a satellite system. The strongest argument against digital cable television was initially the "basic encryption" of the private broadcasters (also in standard quality). However, it was banned by the Federal Cartel Office for the large broadcasting groups RTL and Sat1 / Pro7. Other private broadcasters followed suit for reasons of equal opportunities. Even if this step was involuntary on the part of the cable provider, the biggest disadvantage compared to satellite reception has disappeared. So now you can finally use the built-in DVB-C tuner of the television set without restrictions and no longer necessarily have to be talked into an extra box or a CI-Plus module.
However, many foreign channels are still only encrypted in the cable and can only be received for an additional fee - including those that are freely receivable via satellite. (And some foreign channels that private individuals can receive freely via satellite are legally not allowed to be fed in by cable providers.) You also have to pay extra for private channels in HD quality in the cable (but that's exactly the same via satellite).
The antiquated analog television according to the PAL standard has now been banned from practically all cable networks. At the same time, the feeding of the FM radio stations was also terminated. You can now only receive cable radio via DVB-C; this is technically a bit more complicated, but offers a larger selection of programs.

Then there is the DVB-T2 reception Antenna. Since the broadcast standard was changed from DVB-T to DVB-T2 in Germany, broadcasting has always been in HD quality. At the time of the changeover, new receivers often had to be purchased because the DVB-T tuners on the existing television sets could no longer be used. On the other hand, if you buy a television today, it usually already has an up-to-date DVB-T2 tuner.
Currently, only the public broadcasters can be received freely anywhere via DVB-T2. There are private channels only in a few metropolitan areas - and even there only encrypted and for a monthly fee.
Terrestrial radio in Germany mostly still works according to the analogue VHF standard. The switch to the digital standard "DAB plus" has started some time ago, but the FM stations will certainly continue to exist for a few years. Digital radio via DVB-T2 is technically also possible, but is hardly practiced in Germany.

And a fourth reception channel has been added in recent years: TV via Internet (IPTV), which is mainly offered as an addition to (V) DSL contracts and thus competes with cable television. It supplements the VoD offers ("Video on Demand", e.g. online video libraries and media libraries) with the option of live broadcasting. In addition to fee-based complete IPTV packages, there is a large number of free radio streams that can be played with computers or special receivers; no registration is required and the bandwidth requirement is low by today's standards. Free TV live streams that can be viewed freely on the Internet without registering have so far been rather rare; this is mostly due to copyright reasons.
In the long run, IPTV and VoD could replace cable TV and even some of the satellite reception. It can be assumed that the television of the future will only be broadcast linearly where it is sensible and necessary (e.g. live broadcasts of major events). The rest will be available "on demand" at any time; There is then no longer any technical reason why one should always watch reports, films or TV series at a set time.
However, IPTV stands and falls with the available Internet bandwidth and the underlying network infrastructure. For families with several televisions, today's offers are only attractive if the download bandwidth available on site offers enough reserves and not every single reception box has to be booked for a fee. IPTV also still suffers from the linear basic structure of television; everything is still broadcast linearly, although many programs would be better off on VoD. That will only change once fast fiber optic cables are available across the board and the television providers have restructured their offers.

Is satellite reception more complicated than cable TV?
Unfortunately, in its early days, direct satellite reception gained a reputation for being very complicated, while cable TV was considered particularly foolproof - and such prejudices persist for a long time. In fact, the assessment goes back to the time of analogue reception: thanks to a manageable selection of programs and integrated cable tuners, analogue cable reception was always very easy, while satellite viewers had to deal with external receivers and their additional remote controls. The recording of programs was also very easy and independent with the analog cable tuners of the VHS recorders and DVD recorders, while satellite viewers could only record via the recorder's AV input - which was a considerable disadvantage, especially for programmed recordings.

In the digital age, however, the ease of use of cable, satellite and terrestrial has become completely the same: Modern television sets have built-in DVB tuners for cable, antenna and satellite reception; For older televisions you need the right set-top boxes (receivers) - regardless of which reception path you use. You can record digital television on an integrated hard drive of the receiver or on USB media; this does not even require additional devices.

A reception system (dish, LNB, multi-switch, etc.) is required for satellite reception, the installation of which is undoubtedly a little more complex than the distribution of a cable television signal; But this is a one-time purchase that in most cases pays off in the long term. Cable television no longer has any practical advantages over satellite in day-to-day operations.

Which reception path should I choose for new buildings?
Anyone planning a new house has to think ahead for 100 years and more. But nobody can predict exactly how the television market will develop in the future. As already mentioned, satellite reception has the best price-performance ratio of all reception channels - and is therefore a clear recommendation for "initial equipment". But maybe at some point satellite reception will become unattractive and cable TV more attractive again? Or both become uninteresting because fiber optic Internet access with its limitless possibilities makes television in its current form superfluous?

One of the foreseeable developments is its increasing importance wired communication channels in homes because wireless data transmission frequencies are limited; Already today there is a threat of frequency shortages in densely populated areas (e.g. the WLAN networks of neighbors can interfere with one another). Added to this is the fear of many citizens of increasing radiation exposure. Generous equipment with communication cables and conduits is therefore important for every new building - so that everything stationary (i.e. everything that does not have to be wireless by nature) can be handled by wire in the future. Unfortunately, this is often neglected in the planning phase and takes revenge later.
Ideally, the time will come at some point when it is sufficient to distribute a single thin fiber optic cable in the house, which then enables all types of (picture) telephone services in addition to the familiar Internet applications and transmits all previous consumer media. But we are not yet able to lay cables whose specifications will not be established for many years.

The best thing you can do today when planning a new building: not to believe that the status quo is the measure of all things, and you have provided for the coming decades with a good reception system. That may still have been possible in the early years of the Federal Republic, but technical advancement has accelerated ever since.

In concrete terms, this speaks in favor of setting up a large, star-shaped television distribution system using coaxial cables (e.g. 4 connections per apartment, more for larger apartments), starting from a central point in the basement. Such a star cabling can later be used either for direct satellite reception, cable television or terrestrial broadcasting. A flexible mixed operation is even possible, e.g. B. when some residents prefer to have cable TV and others prefer to connect to the community satellite system.
Now and then, installers argue that thanks to the further development of the Unicable standard, star-shaped cabling can be dispensed with. In practice, however, Unicable still has various restrictions - which you may only notice later when you want to expand the system. From my point of view, I can only urgently advise against this strategy. Unicable is and will remain an emergency solution.
There are already home builders who are enthusiastic about technology who do not use coax cabling at all. After all, you can already use the computer network for TV reception with Sat-over-IP - and maybe in the future our TV programs will come entirely from the Internet. Nobody can yet say whether this strategy will work. It is definitely ahead of its time (and accordingly risky). The probability is not small that these homeowners will become dissatisfied in a few years and then have to retrofit coaxial cables using the surface-mounted method.

Regardless of whether it is a coaxial cable or not, whether it is a star distribution or not: A generously laid out, star-shaped computer network made up of LAN cables is recommended for every new building without exception; it would be short-sighted to neglect this with a view to technologies such as WLAN and PowerLAN.
And either all cables should be laid in conduits (so that they can later be replaced by more modern cables), or in addition to the loosely laid cables, sufficiently thick conduits must be provided for later expansions. "Foresighted construction" now costs a little more money (e.g. concealed installation of thick conduits is more expensive than installation of cables directly in the plaster), but it will definitely pay off in the long term.

Author: Andreas Beitinger
Last change: August 2019

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