It takes a lot of steps to get programming to bounce off the satellite to your television. The good news is that most of those steps are completely out of your control, so you don't have to worry about them. Still more good news: Most FTA reception components work great out of the box.
So what do you do when you run into problems? Take a look at some of these typical situations and try their solutions. If you've got a problem that isn't here, or if you know why a solution won't work, let us know so we can give you a hand and add more advice here.
The problem: I've set up everything the way the manuals said, but I'm not seeing any channels. My receiver says that it's getting good signal strength but no signal quality.
This is the most common problem in setting up a new system. In almost every case, it boils down to one simple issue: Your dish is not pointed where you think it's pointed.
First, you can generally disregard signal strength when setting up a system. You can get a signal strength reading if you point your dish at a brick wall. What really matters is signal quality.
So why is your dish pointed wrong? You might have relied on the dish's elevation indicator, which is usually at least a little off. You might have forgotten to include magnetic declination when you used your compass find the azimuth. You might have even tried to line up an offset LNB to the direct elevation angle instead of recognizing that the signal will bounce down off the dish to its LNB.
Here's how to fix it:
The problem: A channel that I've been watching for weeks is suddenly gone.
The first test is a sanity check; can you still see other channels on that same satellite? If not, the problem may be a cable break or a moved dish.
If the equipment's okay, try a new blind search on the same satellite. Sometimes channels will hop between transponders or just acquire a fresh set of PIDs. If you're lucky, you'll find it in a new place.
Otherwise, it's time to go online. Check discussion forums and channel lists to see whether anyone's mentioned any changes to that channel. Sometimes the information will only verify that it's gone. Once in a while, the channel will turn up on a different satellite. Good luck!
The problem: On some channels, I can't hear anything on my TV.
The most common reason for this problem is that some channels use AC-3, also known as Dolby Digital. With the right audio processor, AC-3 can provide 5.1 channel surround sound, but if you have a receiver limited to DVB stereo sound, it won't know how to handle AC-3.
Most modern FTA receivers (especially those that handle HD channels) have built-in AC-3 decoders. Some other receivers can pass out the raw AC-3 signal, often through a S/PDIF port, to be used as an input in a general-purpose AV receiver.
Some channels provide multiple versions of their audio. For these, you can select the Audio button on your receiver's remote and select from the provided choices.
The problem: I want to turn my dish to a satellite that isn't listed on my receiver.
Satellites change their names sometimes. More accurately, the folks who operate them change the satellites' names sometimes. Other times, satellites get replaced after they go bad, get old, or move. You and your receiver shouldn't really care what a satellite is named. What you should care about is where to find it.
For example, consider the slot at 97 degrees west. For years, the satellite that carried lots of international programming there was called Telstar 5. Then it was renamed Intelsat Americas 5, or IA-5. Not long after that, a merger led to another renaming, to Galaxy 25. Finally, Galaxy 25 was replaced at 97W by Galaxy 19, while Galaxy 25 moved to 93.1 degrees west just to be confusing. So if you want to watch something from 97W, your receiver might call it T5, IA-5, Galaxy 25, or Galaxy 19. What matters is how to make your receiver point your dish to 97W.
If your receiver doesn't have an exact match for the satellite position you want, most receivers have some way to add a new satellite or edit an old, unused satellite slot to be what you want. It's not something you do every day, so the satellite editing option is usually buried in the middle of other little-used settings. Poke around your menus until you find it, or search the web for more information about your receiver model.