Navigating, with your satellite descrambler remote, through a television universe

January 09, 1994|By Diane Werts | Diane Werts,Newsday

Look! Up there in the sky:

It's a bird. It's a plane. It's . . .

250 channels!

Yes, it's satellite TV, strange visitor above our own planet, with powers that far outstrip those of ordinary cable.

It's a tube-lover's dream, that's for sure, as I discovered during my first wander through the back roads of the sky. Recently, with a satellite descrambler remote in my hands for the first time (at my sister's house in the cable-less countryside of rural Michigan), I sat down to take a quick look -- and ended up glued to the sofa.

What they say is true: It's a big, exciting world up there. In addition to all the usual suspects -- the cable channels and broadcast networks -- there are tons of extra channels devoted to particular interests, regional programming and foreign-language shows. Even better: There are wild feeds -- sporadic scheduled or unscheduled video sent from the networks, news divisions and syndicators to the local stations that will air them later.

And they're getting easier to navigate by the minute. They're all listed in both Satellite TV Week and the monthly Satellite ORBIT magazine.

Before you know it, strange terms like transponder, polarity, C-band and IRD (integrated receiver-decoder) make complete sense, as you zip and zap your way through the cosmos.

Some of the wonders:

* All channels, all the time: You're out from under the tyranny of the local cable system. They don't have Sci-Fi or the Cartoon Network? No problem; you do. You can choose whatever you want (and pay to get access to; all the cable biggies are scrambled these days).

Like the NASA channel -- nonstop space missions. Like six different HBOs and three Showtimes. Like the Canadian Parliament (choose French or English). Like Deutsche Welle (we toured a manufacturing plant, in German), or TV Asia (bad Indian films, in Hindi), or the Arab Network of America (soccer, in Arabic).

* Your favorite shows, over and over and over: So you got home just as "Brisco County" ended? No problem. Check out the Fox Pacific time feed three hours later.

* See TV shows before they air: Of course, you could always catch "Brisco County" in the 11 a.m. Sunday wild feed meant for local stations. Why wait? Get the new "Deep Space Nine" Sunday afternoon at 4 or "Seinfeld" Wednesday at 3 a.m. Impress your friends with amazing soap predictions; "Days of Our Lives" goes up at 3:45 a.m.

* Watch backstage behavior: Oooh, this is fun. Remember when Al Michaels got in trouble a few years back for trashing somebody during "Monday Night Football" breaks? Satellite viewers were there.

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