Having settled the analogue / digital thing, the next issue is what satellite or satellites you want to point your dish to. There are about a dozen satellites over Europe sending domestic TV, at different locations in the sky; and the dish must be pointed to one or more of these locations. One issue, in addition to it being above the horizon, the dish must also have 'clear line of sight' to the satellites, which all circle above the equator (so look south!). Tall buildings, mountains, or even trees may consitute obstacles to consider. You should also note that some satellites target their signals towards particular regions or countries. Some channels intended for Scandinavia, e.g. can be received only with difficulty (or a large dish) in Italy or Spain, and vice versa. Many or most can however be received with reasonable ease throughout the region.

The two major factors in deciding what satellite to choose, and whether you want to set up a dish that can receive signals from more than one satellite, is language and - for subscription channels - what country you live in. We will discuss in more detail below what you can find on the various satellites. However, the satellites you most probably will be looking for are:

  • From a British point of view, the Astra 2 satellite* is the primary focus: It has all the subscription channels of the Sky package, and a number of free UK channels. Sky subscribers will normally not look beyond Astra 2.
  • From a continental European angle, there are two main satellite positions, Astra1 (different from Astra 2) and HotBird, which are not too far apart in the sky. Each of these have between 100 and 200 channels; with a mixture of European and Middle Eastern content; with an edge for HotBird in terms of number.
  • Scandinavian viewers are divided between two satellites, Thor (mainly Norwegian and Danish) and Sirius (mainly Swedish). Each is dominated by a competing company; it is however very common for Scandinavian viewers to have seutps directed at both these satellites. These two are mainly for subscription channels; there are very few open channels on either of them.
  • Spanish viewers will find some options on Astra, some on HotBird, and yet others on the special Spanish satellite, Hispasat, which is located far away in the west (about 50 degrees west of Astra). It is pretty much impossible to receive both Astra and Hispasat on one fixed dish.
  • Middle Eastern viewers will find some fare on HotBird, which has about twenty open Arabic channels; Astra1 has a handful; but also ArabSat between Astra1 and Astra 2 which adds a dozen or two channels; or TurkSat further east with Turkish fare.
* There is actually not one, but several satellites clumped together at Astra 2 and the other satellite positions; sharing the work. But they are so close that the receiver sees them as a single satellite, thus so will we. The other satellites have much more limited choice, at least in digital; typically a dozen or so channels (such as government and shopping channels), and sometimes duplicating channels already on Astra1 or Hotbird. They may however also contain subscription packages for special markets. Still, most viewers will choose between the half-dozen or so listed above.

For analogue receivers, the choice is much the same, although the total number of channels is much lower. Astra 2 is digital-only, Thor and Sirius virtually so. A few satellites on the other hand transmit only in analogue, including some channels not receivable in open digital, thus Telecom 2B with the major terrestial French channels.

Having made your choice of how many satellites may be of interest, your options are:

  • If a single satellite position is all you want, your choice is of course simple; you install a dish pointing in that direction.
  • If you want to watch more than one satellite, however, you can do it in two different ways. One is to go with a fixed, but slightly larger, dish and install in it two or more receptor elements (a little box called the 'head' or LNB placed just above the centre of the dish, it is this that actually receives the signals), one pointing to each satellite. That is the best option if there are only two or three satellites you want to look at, located fairly closely together.
  • The other, maximalist, is to install a more complex 'motorized' dish, which moves across the sky at the command of your indoor receiver. That is a more expensive choice, but you are then limited by nothing and can scan freely from satellite to satellite. It may also be cost-effective if you are interested in more than three or four satellites.
Motorized dishes were more popular some years ago, as channels were more evenly distributed across satellites, and it was difficult and expensive to have more than two heads installed in a dish together. This has changed in favour of multi-LNB dishes, both because they have become cheaper and simpler, but also because there has been a concentration of channels according to language on a smaller number of satellites, compared to ten years ago. Which is 'better' for multi-satellite setups, motorized or fixed multi-LNB, does not have a clear answer. A fixed dish is always simpler to set up, and cannot 'lose its way' as a motor may do. When you use motorized, you are always aware of what channel is on which satellite, as you will have to wait for 10-30 seconds each time you zap from a channel on one satellite to one on the other, while the dish moves across the sky to the new satellite. Fixed dishes are much more convenient in this, there is no wait, and you will not need to remember what satellite each channel is on.
On the other hand, a motorized dish is required if you want to watch satellites that are far apart (more than, e.g. 20 degrees apart in the sky) without putting up several dishes. It is also more flexible both for checking out more satellites that those you originally installed, including any new ones that may be sent up: with a fixed dish you need to add a new head for every satellite. An LNB may today cost between 50-100 Euro, a motor perhaps 200-300, often less.
The choice is not evident, but perhaps we can suggest that a motorized solution today is more apt for the enthusiast who does not want to 'miss out' on anything, while a fixed dish with several LNBs is a probably more convenient for most users. In particular so when most receivers today can govern up to sixteen different LNBs (on one or more dishes) pointing at as many satellites.