Will you need a new LNB for DIRECTV’s 4K broadcasts in April 2016?

No you will not. (But…)

The big “but” is that you will still need a new LNB in the long run. It seems like that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it does if you think about it and you just have to work through the whats and whys of it.

It all comes down to bandwidth.

See, there’s nothing specific about 4K programming that should require a new LNB. In fact, an LNB has no idea whether it’s receiving HD programming or SD programming or 4K programming or whatever. This has always been true. In the past, you’ve upgraded to a new LNB not because the old one couldn’t receive HD, but because the old one couldn’t look for where the HD is.

OK, I understand that makes no sense. So I’ll go back to the beginning.

In the beginning of DIRECTV’s service, there was one satellite. That didn’t turn out to be enough, so they added another, and another, and another. Pretty soon the orbital “slot” got pretty full. So DIRECTV got a license for more orbital slots. At the moment they have four slots for English-language programming and another one for international programming. They designed a dish that would look at more than one location.

And then, they realized that the actual frequencies they were using were getting crowded. So DIRECTV made an unprecedented move — they bought literally all the licenses for broadcasting in the “Ka” band of 26.5-40GHz. That’s right, no one else in North America can use those new frequencies. This gave them room for a lot more HD channels, and they started moving those channels to Ka-band broadcasts.

That takes us to where we were at the beginning of 2016. There are two satellite locations with Ku-band (the older frequencies) and two with Ka band. But that still wasn’t enough, believe it or not. In order to deal with 4K, DIRECTV hatched an aggressive plan. They would use the frequencies they normally use to send stuff to the satellite, except the satellite would send stuff to the home. It’s called Reverse DBS and I talk about it here.

In order to use Reverse DBS, you will need a new LNB. There aren’t more satellite locations, but now there’s a whole new set of frequencies to listen to.

Eventually, DIRECTV’s 4K programming will move to these new frequencies and you’ll need that new LNB. But just not today, not in April 2016. (If you’re reading this at a later date, that may have changed.)

Why don’t you need the new LNB right away?
Let’s look at the math. DIRECTV’s satellites have a fixed number of “transponders.” Those transponders receive broadcasts from DIRECTV’s broadcast centers and retransmit them to your home. Here’s where you get into the real math.

You can fit between 4 and 6 HD channels on one transponder.
You need 2 whole transponders for one 4K channel.

Right now, because NFL Sunday Ticket isn’t running (that’s the biggest single use of bandwidth) there’s enough room to put 4K programs on the regular transponders your dish already gets. Eventually (like, you know, September) that won’t be possible and DIRECTV will move 4K to transponders that use the Reverse DBS frequencies. That’s when you’ll need a new dish.

Does that make sense? Leave your questions or comments below.