On occasion, where a pay-TV service's encryption system has been very seriously compromised, to the extent that it can be emulated in software and without the presence of a valid access card, hackers have been able to reverse-engineer an FTA receiver's software and add the necessary emulation to allow unauthorized reception of pay TV channels. Manufacturers, importers, and distributors of FTA receivers officially do not condone this practice and some will not sell to or support individuals who they believe will be using their products for this purpose, use of third-party software usually voiding any warranties.
Periodically, a provider will change the processes in which its encryption information is sent. When this happens, illegitimate viewing is disrupted. Third-party coders may release an updated altered version of the FTA receiver software on internet forums, sometimes hours to days after the countermeasure is implemented, although some countermeasures have allowed the encryption to remain secure for several months or longer. The receivers, meanwhile, remain able to receive unencrypted DVB-S broadcasts and (for some HDTV models) terrestrial ATSC programming. The same is not true of standard subscription TV receivers, whereby unsubscribing from a pay-TV package causes loss of all channels.
While smart-card piracy often involves individuals who re-program access cards for others (usually for a price), piracy using FTA receivers involves third-party software that is relatively easy to upload to the receiver and can even be uploaded using a USB device, network, or serial link (a process called "flashing"). Most such firmware is distributed freely on the Internet. Websites that third-party coders use to share this software often have anywhere from 50,000 to over 200,000 registered users.
The most popular software used to configure and sort channels was a database program called Channel Master, which allowed the user to name, number, sort, and delete channels and then save them in a format that can then be written to the receiver. The file created that contains channel information is called a channel list. This channel editor application is not affiliated with the similarly-named antenna manufacturer and appears to have last been updated in 2008. Many older and discontinued receiver models are supported in Channel Master, though most newer and less popular ones are not.
Typically, most FTA receivers can accept an MPEG2 video stream in either PAL-compatible (540/704/720 x 576) or NTSC-compatible (640 x 480) image formats and convert it for display on either a PAL or NTSC monitor. There is some loss of image data due to NTSC's lower resolution. Some receivers also support output to SCART, S-Video, HDMI or component video.
Rarely supported by stand-alone FTA receivers, but likely to be supported by FTA DVB-S tuners for personal computers, are MPEG-4 and MPEG2 4:2:2, variants on the MPEG compression algorithm which provide more compression and more colour resolution, respectively. As personal computers handle much of the video decompression in software, any codec could be easily substituted on the desktop.
These units are superior to DVD recorders for time-shifting HDTV programming, as most DVD units down-convert OTA HDTV signals to standard-definition to match the limitations of the DVD standard. An HDTV FTA receiver with ATSC capability and USB storage can record one channel from a terrestrial or satellite DTV transport stream entirely losslessly, although the on-screen guide for terrestrial reception is often limited and viewing or storage of analog NTSC channels is not supported.
Many receivers will provide options for hardware expansion (such as to add 8PSK reception or DVB Common Interface TV subscription cards) and firmware upgrade (either officially or from nominally third-party sources). Most often, once the individual receiver model is discontinued, this support and expandability rapidly disappears from all sources. The migration of existing feeds to formats such as MPEG-4, HDTV, or DVB-S2 (which many current receivers do not support) may also result in viewers losing existing free programming as equipment becomes rapidly obsolete. Unlike digital terrestrial set-top boxes, most standard-definition DVB-S receivers do not down-convert HD programming and thus produce no usable video for these signals.
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