How to Align a Satellite Dish Without a Meter
By Fred Decker
There's a lot to be said for sitting back and relaxing while a professional installs your satellite dish for you. Unfortunately, the novelty wears off after you've paid for it a few times. Learning to align your own satellite dish can save you hundreds of dollars over the years, and isn't especially difficult. You'll need to orient your dish for the correct up-and-down angle, or elevation, and its left-to-right angle, or azimuth. Getting great signal is easiest with a commercial meter, but all you really need is your receiver, a television and a helper.
Select a location for your dish, and perform the physical installation. Common choices include the roof or a side wall. If you don't want to install the dish directly to your house, or don't have a suitable location, set up a vertical pole nearby. Your chosen location should have a clear line of sight facing south, and be free of obstructions.
Run a length of cable from the dish to your living room, or another room containing a television. Hook up the cable to your receiver and your receiver to the television. If you're uncertain how to do this, consult the manual that came with your receiver.
Turn on the television and receiver. Enter the receiver's "Setup" mode, and navigate through the menu options until you find the signal strength screen. This will vary from receiver to receiver, so consult your manual if it's not obvious. For example, on a DirecTV standard receiver, the sequence is: "Menu," then "Parental Settings, Favs and Setup," then "System Setup" and finally "Satellite."
Station your assistant in front of the television. If you have walkie-talkies or mobile phones, use those to communicate back and forth. Otherwise open a nearby window, so your helper can call out to you as you adjust the dish.
Obtain the correct elevation and azimuth settings for your dish from your provider's website or customer service line. A variety of dish pointing tools can also provide you with that information, based on your ZIP code.
Return to your dish, and call to your helper to ensure you can hear each other. Look at the mount for your dish, and you'll see markings for its angle of elevation. Loosen those bolts with a socket wrench, and adjust the bracket to the approximately correct elevation. Tighten the bolts again.
Refer to your notes for the correct azimuth, then use a compass to locate the correct bearing. Turn the dish physically in a slow arc, until it's pointed in approximately the right direction. Ask your helper to shout when the signal-strength indicator begins to move.
Turn the dish in one direction, just a degree at a time, and wait for your helper to respond after each movement. Repeat, until the signal strength peaks and then begins to fade again.
Move the dish slowly back in the other direction, until your partner tells you the signal has once again peaked. Tighten the bolts on the mount to finalize the azimuth.
Loosen the elevation bolts slightly, so you can angle the dish, and repeat the process until you've got the elevation fine-tuned. Your signal strength should be at least at 80 for a usable installation; 100 or better is ideal.
- For dishes that track multiple satellites, there is a third setting called "skew." It's an angle that describes how the dish and its LNB are positioned relative to each other. Skew settings will be marked on the mounting brackets. Set the skew before moving on to the rest of the process.
- Some dish-pointing utilities, such as the phone-based Dishpointer, can assess whether obstacles will interfere with your signal. If you're unable to get your signal into a suitable range in the dish's current location, move it to a new spot with a better line of sight and then repeat the pointing procedure.
- If possible, choose a location that provides a degree of shelter for your dish, and will not expose it to falling leaves or other debris. That'll cut down the likelihood of needing to realign your dish on a regular basis.
- If you set up your receiver and a portable television near the dish, it's possible to perform the alignment without a helper.
- Be safety-conscious while you're installing and aligning your dish. If you're on your roof, put down a mat or other textured surface to improve your footing. If possible, rig a safety line to protect yourself from falling. If you're installing on a side wall or a pole, use a sturdy ladder and ensure that it's stable before climbing. Scaffolding is even better, if you have the option.
- Avoid power lines when situating your dish.
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.