When you turn on your TV, access the channel menu, and expect to see a high-quality image beamed instantly through, it’s easy to forget the kind of effort that went into making that seemingly simple action possible.
Home satellite TV has not only been influential in our daily lives, but it has afforded us a new kind of luxury and convenience that, to previous generations, was previously incomprehensible. So how did we get to this point? Well, it all started with someone to whom the technology was not incomprehensible:
Arthur C. Clarke and the Original Vision for Satellites
If you have only a superficial knowledge of science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, there’s a good chance you don’t realize just how influential this visionary truly was. That’s evident in Clarke’s vision for a future of Earth-orbiting satellites that would allow wireless global communication if only the plan could be executed in reality. It was.
Clarke wrote an article in 1945 that suggested the possibility of using satellites for exactly the purpose they’re used in TVs today – again, he wrote that article in 1945. Though it would take a little while for satellite technology to catch up to the vision, Clarke was a trailblazer of ideas and we’re all reaping the benefits. (Clarke also envisioned what would eventually become the Internet, but that’s another article altogether).
From Space to the Living Room
Once the technology to launch satellites into low-earth orbit became possible, it was only a matter of time before it was used to enhance the quality of our daily lives in the living room. It all began when Home Box Office (HBO) broadcast the boxing match known as the “Thrilla in Manila” in 1976 using satellite technology. Coinciding with the rise of satellite dish technology that year – technology that allowed people to receive satellite signals in their own homes – satellite TV became inevitable.
This technology was developed by NASA scientist H. Taylor Howard, who initially offered HBO money for the signal he’d been receiving – only to be declined by HBO. Eventually, Howard refined his system and formed a company around it that popularized the use of home satellite dishes.
Initially, satellite dishes were large and expensive. It was only as the technology grew and became more popular that refinements allowed for smaller dishes, cheaper installation, and a streamlined system for paying for satellite TV.
Satellite TV Today
Considering satellite television subscribers now number in the tens of millions, it’s easy to take for granted the amazing space age technology that allows so many of us to view crystal clear video signals in our homes. But that’s where we find ourselves after the space explosion in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s as well as the vision of people like Arthur C. Clarke and H. Taylor Howard. So the next time you turn on your TV to watch a satellite signal, keep in mind all of the effort that went into making the convenience possible. Oh, and enjoy.