The Setup

More and more people are mak ing the switch from cable to satellite TV, and why not? A satellite system can deliver hundreds of TV and music channels digitally with amazingly clear picture and sound quality. And depending on your system and programming package, you can get Dolby Digital surround sound, HDTV movies, blazingly fast Internet access, and more. True, you can get many of the same things from digital cable, but that's only popped up in some parts of the country so far, while you can check out satellite TV just about anywhere.

The small-dish satellite systems for receiving programming from DirecTV and EchoStar's Dish Network are usually professionally installed, often as part of a package that includes the receiver, a dish antenna, and a programming subscription. And that's the way it should be, because installing a satellite dish requires both patience and skill. (Installation of the much larger and more complex C-band satellite antennas is beyond the scope of this article.)

Nevertheless, if you've completed a home-improvement project such as installing a ceiling fan or garage-door opener and aren't afraid to climb a ladder, you should be able to install your own sys tem. Doing so will save you some money (although the satellite ser vices often offer free installation with the pur chase of a program subscription) and give you that warm and fuzzy feeling that always comes with a job well done.

Because of the potential danger involved, though, I have to issue this important warning before going any further: Use extreme caution. Avoid power lines - touching one could cause severe shock or even electrocution! Also, installing a satellite dish might mean going out on your roof. If you have any doubts about any aspect of the installation, do not proceed.

This article can still be useful even if you decide not to do it yourself. I'll tell you how to determine if the location of your house even allows for satellite reception and give you an idea of what to expect from an installation, what questions to ask the installer, and what each piece in your satellite system does. I won't go into every installation and connection option, however, since these can vary widely.

Before you buy a system, make sure you have a clear line of sight to the satellite from where you'll mount the antenna dish.

Where to Put It Before even thinking about buying a satellite-TV system, you need to determine if you have a suitable location for installing the dish, which serves as the antenna that picks up the satellite signal. There must be a clear line of sight from the dish to the satellite, with nothing blocking the path - that includes trees, mountains, and buildings. And you can't put the dish indoors behind a window since the satellite signal won't go through glass.