DSS? DVB-S2? What are these things?

My friends, let me tell you something. There is a virtually limitless stream of initials and acronyms associated with satellite TV. Today we’ll look at two you might not have heard about, even though they are a part of the satellite TV system you enjoy.

DSS

DSS stands for “Digital Satellite System.” Yeah, that was a stretch. But sure, it says what it does and does what it says. Back in the early 1990s, direct-to-home satellite, also called Digital Broadcast Satellite (DBS) was a theory, not a fact. People all over the world were looking for ways to take a relatively small dish and get satellite service. The dishes at the time were up to 15 feet wide and required special skills to get even a single channel.

Back then, Hughes Electronics, a subsidiary of GM, wanted to be the first company to offer DBS to customers in the United States. They worked with USSB, a company that aggregated the programming, and Thomson, a company that made electronics under the RCA name, and developed the whole system from scratch. Lest you think that Hughes did nothing, by the way, they developed the satellite itself. They didn’t build it, but they did develop it.

Thomson (which later changed its name to Technicolor) coined the term “DSS” for receivers that worked with the DIRECTV system which launched in 1994.

Today DSS technology is still used for DIRECTV’s standard-definition channels. Eventually, all of those will be retired.

DVB-S2

I’ve actually talked about DVB-S2 before. It’s one of several standards used in Europe for satellite TV. In Europe, countries are closer together and it makes sense to have one standard that works for several countries. This lets people in fringe areas get channels that they want, and helps electronics manufacturers standardize their products.

The core of all the DVB standards is DVB, which is an open digital broadcasting standard which is maintained by an international group of broadcasters. Originally there were only three standards: DVB-T, for land-based (terrestrial) broadcasting, DVB-C for cable television, and DVB-S for satellite. Although these technologies shared a lot, the specifics of doing two different kinds of broadcasts meant there had to be two different standards.

DVB-S2 was an evolution of the original standard and allowed for more effective and efficient HD broadcasts. It’s used throughout Europe.

Most satellite TV in Europe comes straight from governments. It is free to citizens. Satellite systems there must be easy for people to use. In Europe, it’s common to use a round dish that’s easy to aim, and to get the parts you need at local home stores. That’s not true in the US, where for-profit companies provide satellite service.

In the US, satellite TV is most definitely not free. AT&T’s satellite service, DIRECTV, uses a version of DVB-S2 for its HD broadcasts. However it makes tweaks to the technology so that you couldn’t use off-the-shelf equipment that people use in Europe. A lot of this is due to the need for so many HD channels. It’s also to make sure that you can’t pirate anything.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.