What you see above you is a B-Band Converter. Several years ago, it was a common accessory for DIRECTV receivers and DVRs. Today it is far less common. How that happened, and why, is an interesting story.
It starts with the understanding that things don’t always work out in the order you intend. Orders and designs are placed years in advance, and product deliveries sometimes slip. In this case, we need to go back to the mid-2000s.
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Remember back then, the economy was strong, and high-definition TV was growing by leaps and bounds. DIRECTV knew that people wanted HD, and they wanted a DVR to record it. At the same time, the housing market was booming and more people were buying homes pre-wired with quality RG6 cable. Something needed to be done.
For the matter of more HD programming, DIRECTV had been planning to launch a series of satellites using licenses that it had acquired to use the Ka-band frequencies. These frequencies gave the satellites plenty of room to broadcast hundreds of HD channels. However, the plan would only work if DIRECTV used a (relatively) new compression technology called MPEG-4. DIRECTV did have a few channels in HD at that time but each one used the old MPEG-2 compression scheme that had been around since the early 1990s.
MPEG-2 was capable of compressing a full standard-definition picture into about 1 megabit per second, enough for several hundred channels to be stored in a single satellite broadcast. However, with high-definition MPEG-2 requiring well over 10 megabits per second — as high as 19 megabits for the best quality — that would have meant a fleet of expensive satellites. DIRECTV decided to use MPEG-4 technology to cut its HD programming down to under 6 megabits per second at the best possible quality.
This receiver looked cool then
New compression technology meant new receivers. DIRECTV came out of the gate initially with the flawed H10 receiver and the TiVo-equipped HR10 DVR, but neither supported MPEG-4 compression. So, a new design was created: the H20 receiver and HR20 DVR. All of DIRECTV’s HD receivers and DVRs have based on these initial designs since 2006, which is why your older DVR will still do everything that a new HR24 will.
At the same time, dish technology was changed so that new dishes could see the new satellites and pull down the Ka and Ku band transmissions. Ka and Ku band transmissions were modulated so they didn’t interfere with each other on the cables, and there must have been some plan for the HD receivers and DVRs to read these transmissions. However, another piece of the puzzle came into play.
DIRECTV was growing by leaps and bounds by 2006, as a result of an early-2000s decision by the federal government that allowed them to offer local channels. Prior to that point they offered broadcast network programming only to areas where there were no local channels. New customers weren’t too happy about tearing up their walls or putting extra wires in just to have DIRECTV service. DIRECTV DVRs required two lines in, and most rooms had only one. Something had to be done.
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The answer was the single-wire multiswitch, which was a completely new technology designed to take the output from a satellite dish and translate it so that 9 channels of information (corresponding to 8 tuners and shared guide data) could flow through a single wire. After its introduction in 2007 it became very popular and is the default installation today. However, it required a second set of tuners in the receiver. It’s very likely that DIRECTV believed that single-wire technology would be completely ready before the new, Ka-band HD channels were ready, so they decided not to use the expensive wide-band tuners that would be required for the “non-SWM” system to receive those HD channels.
Of course not everything happens in order. The HD channels launched before SWM adoption became widespread, and when that became clear, DIRECTV put a plan into place.
First of all, they designed the B-Band converter. The purpose of a B-Band converter is to take that HD programming and put it on a frequency that a satellite receiver can see. By making it an add-on part, they saved money in the long term because they only gave them to people who needed them. People with SWM systems wouldn’t need them, and those people who converted from a non-SWM system to a SWM system could easily remove them.
Things got even more confusing
The second part of the plan was to design the H23 and HR23 receivers that would work without the converters. They had tuners that could access the HD channels as well as the SD channels, without the conversion. However, these receivers proved to be expensive to manufacture and later receivers went back to needing the B-Band converters.
Do you need a B-Band converter?
If you already have them and everything is working, then yes, of course. Here’s the easy way to figure it out.
Do you have HD service? In most cases standard-definition service doesn’t require the B-band converters.
Do you have a non-SWM system? Press the DASH button on your remote and it will pop up a window that says “SWiM Connected” if you are. If you have a SWM system you don’t need the B-Band converters. Do you have a Genie system? Chances are if you are in a residential setting and you’ve gotten DIRECTV in the last decade, you do. If you have Genie, you already have a SWM system, that should answer that.
If the answer to both questions is “Yes,” and you don’t have an H23 or HR23 receiver (your model number is usually on a sticker near the access card) then you do need the B-Band converters.
New life for the B-Band converter
There’s one other use for the B-Band converter: ham radio enthusiasts use them to help older radios get different frequencies. Because all it’s really doing is shifting frequencies from the “B-Band” of 250-750MHz and put it on the “L-Band” of 950-2150MHz,” it doesn’t care that these frequencies are over the air instead of over a cable.
No matter why you would need a B-Band converter, you’ll find them fairly difficult to get, unless of course, you shop at Solid Signal.