Can I have Picture-in-Picture with Satellite TV?

When we bought our new house a few months back, we also purchased a new widescreen projection TV that has a “Picture-in-Picture” function. Yay, me! At the same time, we decided to go with Satellite TV (DirectTV, in particular) instead of cable.

The problem I’m having is that the PIP feature on the television seems to only work if you choose different channels on the TV itself to view simultaneously. But since the signal is routed through the satellite receiver box, the TV only gets a signal on channel 3. Which means that I have to watch the same thing on both channels when I use PIP.

Now, I know that with cable, you can bypass the box entirely if you have a cable-ready TV (although you won’t be able to watch any premium channels if you do this). The satellite receiver box, however, has a special access card plugged in the back which, I believe, is necessary to unscamble ALL the channels.

Anyway, does anybody have any experience with PIP and DirectTV? Can they coexist peacefully? And, if so, how?

I don’t think I can take another Sunday spent flipping back and forth between the Red Sox and Patriots…


There are a couple of things you could do, neither of which is 100% satisfactory.

  1. Get a set of rabbit ears or a rooftop antenna and hook that to your second input. This will give you PIP on your local channels only.

  2. Pay the extra $5/month and get a second satellite reciever for your PIP. However, this may cause problems using the remote, since both receivers would respond to the same codes. When you change channels on one, both would change.

Hmmm… I was afraid it would be something like that.

I’m a neophyte when it comes to this stuff, so bear with me. I didn’t realize that there was a “second input” that could be used to provide PIP (I thought it was all done within the TV itself). Would it be possible to somehow split the signal coming from the satellite receiver and have one feed go into one input and another feed go into the second input? I’ve never had a PIP enabled TV before, but back with my old TV and cable I remember splitting the signal and using an A-B switch that let me watch one cable channel while recoding another simultaneously. Could somnething like that be done here? Or does that only work with cable signals that do not need a box to be unscambled?


To use PIP you need two tuners. This is true whether you have antenna, cable, satellite, or tin cans & string.

For example, I use PIP for whatever channel I’m viewing on my cable-ready TV, plus a video input for the VCR feed of a videotape.

If a TV has two tuners built in, it can view two broadcast or cable channels in PIP.

In your situation, you correctly grasp that you have only one satellite decoder which your TV perceives as being channel 3. If your TV has a video input, you may be able to route your satellite box into the video input (instead of the antenna input and use channel 3). Some TVs have such a video input and allow you to select the source from cable/antenna to an auxiliary source like a VCR, satellite, cable, etc. Then you can use PIP if you get a decent enough broadcast signal on an antenna to watch one of the channels you want to watch.

You won’t be able to watch two different satellite channels at the same time with your existing equipment. You might be able to do so if you get a second satellite box, although I don’t know the technical limitations or whether your satellite company will accommodate you.

Your suggestion of splitting the signal doesn’t help because you are simply sending the same signal to both inputs.

OK, I understand what you’re saying, but I still can’t quite reconcile it with the fact that I was able to split the cable signal at my old place and with my old TV. I honestly don’t remember exactly how I did it (it was 5 or 6 years ago), but it’s possible that the split occurred between the cable jack in the wall and the cable box (i.e., one line went into the cable box and from there to the TV, and the other line went directly into the VCR). Does that make sense? Again, I assume this would not work because, unlike cable, with satellite TV I believe you NEED the box to unscramble the signal.

The TV is down in the basement with no external antenna whatseover, which means I don’t get any signal whatsoever without the satellite TV. I suppose I can try Fat Bald Guy’s suggestion and get a pair of rabbit ears. Assuming I can get a half-way decent signal, it seems like I could at least watch a local channel on PIP that way.

Thanks for the help!


I agree with the above, you need two tuners if you want to look at two channels @ the same time. Same deal if you want to record one program when watching another. You can call your Satellite TV company & ask what their options are.

I agree with the above, you need two tuners if you want to look at two channels @ the same time. Same deal if you want to record one program when watching another. You can call your Satellite TV company & ask what their options are.

You definitely need two tuners to get PIP. However, many TVs these days are made with two tuners.

In the case of satellite TV many descrambling boxes likewise have two tuners. If you have the cheapo version they give away then probably not but if you bought your own equipment and got something a little better than bargain basement there is a chance the tuner actually has two tuners inside.

Here’s the rub though for satellite TV. Your dish needs to have two pickups. These dishes are oval on shape instead of the standard round you see most places. Usually this is used for HDTV (some dishes even have three pickups) but if you want PIP you need both pickups on the dish. They they work now one pickup = one channel.

Once you’ve got that taken care of you can see about your decoder box.

What everybody else is saying in this thread is right, but I admit it is confusing. Maybe this’ll help.

The cable signal includes ALL channels. If you split it, you still have ALL channels. It is up to the tuner to separate out the one you want. Once that is done, the other channels are no longer there.

The tuner can be in the set or external. If the tuner is in the satellite unit, you can run that signal to multiple sets, but it is still only one channel.

I believe the satellite companies have a receiver (that’s basically just a tuner) designed for households with 2 TV sets that want to operate each independently (but share the same dish antenna). That’s exactly what you want – the PIP is functionally equivalent to two TV sets sharing the same screen. They usually charge more for both hardware and service (you’re getting 2 tuners and viewing 2 channels) and you may need to run some more wire, but it’s possible.

And they’ll love you as a customer!

Musicat: Well, for what it’s worth, we actually do currently have two receivers running off the same satellite dish – one for the new TV in the basement, and one for the old TV in the living room (and yes, we pay an extra $4.99 per month for the privilege).

I’m assuming that “cable-ready” TVs have a built-in tuner that can receive the cable signal without needing a box. Presumably, if a TV has two internal tuners, as Whack-a-Mole states, it would be possible to use PIP with cable TV simply by splitting the signal into two separate inputs, right?

The question is, assuming my new TV has two tuners (I don’t know if it does, and I’ll have to check when I get home tonight), can I somehow split the signal from the satellite dish and/or the receiver and use the PIP feature that way?


My television does have PIP capability built-in. In my case the cable comes from the wall into the tuner (in my case the tuner is separate from the TV…just how they built it as most TVs the tuner is inside the television itself). On the back of my tuner is a tiny, 2 inch long piece of cable. The cable from the wall plugs into the back and the little cable bridges two cable hookups nearby. Essentially this is doubling my cable into the same box. The tuner takes care of the rest and can tune two separate channels simultaneously.

In the case of satellite TV the satellite tuner has to be the one doubling the signal. Even if you split the cable from the satellite tuner to your TV and even if your TV has dual-tuners it will not matter. You’ll get PIP but it will be the same channel on both pictures. Your satellite descrambler box must be the one to have the dual tuner inside of it.

I have looked further for info on needing to have two pickups on the satellite dish itself (in addition to dual tuners in the descrambler box) if you want PIP to work. So far I haven’t had any luck finding definitve info on this. However, this is how it was described to me a few years back when I was attempting the same thing. I have noticed that satellite tuner systems for sale that boast PIP capability come with a dish that has dual-LNB pickups (although in some cases the pickups are in the same housing and look like a single unit).

Not true. The oval-shaped dishes are for systems that need to pick up multiple satellites, but a “Dual LNB” round dish can send two signals, assuming that you have two cables coming out of the dish. And I think a vast majority of the round dishes sold today are Dual LNB.
One would think that simply splitting the cable from the dish to the receiver would let you use multiple receivers, but that doesn’t quite work. The signal is polarized, and each cable coming out of the dish can only carry one polarization at a time. By having two cables coming out of the dish, each cable can carry a polarization, which would cover the full spectrum of channels.

If you have more than two receivers hooked up to one dish, you can buy something called a “multisplitter” which has two inputs and multiple outputs, that basically figures out which polarization each receiver needs and routes the correct polarization signal to the correct DirecTV receivers.

No, because when you use a DirecTV receiver, your TV isn’t using its own tuners to give you your programming; it’s using DirecTV’s tuner. Your TV’s tuner is only using one of its tuners to get the decoded signal from the DirecTV receiver to your screen. But the DirecTV receiver can only output one channel at a time. So if you split the cable out of the DirecTV receiver, you’ll just get two cables carrying the same signal.

In theory, a DirecTV receiver could be designed to have PIP, but you’d need to have two inputs (because of the polarization that I talked about above) in order for it to work with all channels. And while the DirecTV/TiVo combo units have two inputs for different reasons, they don’t use it for PIP.

So your only options are (1) get two DirecTV units, one for each of your TV’s tuners, and somehow figure out a way for the remote control signals to not interfere with each other, as well as other logistical problems; or (2) invent a DirecTV receiver with two inputs that has PIP functionality, and let the DirecTV receiver deal with the PIP, not the TV.

Oh, the confusion! Let me take a crack at clearing this up.

Some (cheap, crappy) PiP TV’s have a single tuner, but another set of inputs you can use for the PiP function. This was typically connected to a VCR, which (of course) has its own tuner. So, what you’d do is split your cable or antenna signal, send one directly to the TV and the other to the VCR. If you turned on your PiP feature you’d be watching the TV tuner’s signal in the “main” window and the VCR’s in the PiP window. You could change channels with the TV remote to change the “main” window’s channel or use the VCR’s remote to change channels in the PiP window.

Newer TV’s have two independent tuners - it’s almost like two separate TV’s in one box. You hook up your cable or antenna to the TV, it’s split internally and sent to the two tuners. Your TV’s remote can change channels in either the “main” window or the PiP window - no VCR or other device needed.

Even newer TV’s have a multitude of inputs - composite video, S-video, coax (for cable/antenna), and two tuners. The “main” window or the PiP window can be assigned to any of these, so you can be very flexible about what’s displayed where.

When you throw a satellite receiver into the mix, things get a little complicated. The TV’s internal tuners are now essentially useless (note to nit-pickers: I’m simplifying the case and disregarding the possibility of using it for cable or antenna use at this point). Your satellite receiver is most likely connected to one of your A/V inputs (composite or S-video, and stereo audio). The satellite receiver is where all the tuning happens now, and it’s only capable of receiving one channel at a time from the satellite. So there’s no way to watch two satellite channels, even with PiP, without a second receiver. What’s coming out of the receiver is only a single channel and no amount of splitters or funky wiring can change that.

If you really want this to work you’re going to want two receivers. They’ll have to be connected to two different A/V inputs on your TV. You’ll then assign one set of A/V inputs to the “main” window and one set to the PiP window. You can then change channels on each receiver independently and watch two different things in each of the windows.

This is a common enough thing that some receivers support a function whereby two identical receivers can be controlled by a single remote. It’s basically done by assigning one arbitrarily as “receiver 1” and the other as “receiver 2.” The remote then has a switch or button to select which receiver you want to control.

I hope this helps clear things up. It can be confusing at first, but it’s really all fairly simple once you get your mind around it. If I’ve been unclear about anything let me know and I’ll try to clear things up.

Pestie: Sadly, you (and others) were very clear, and basically confirmed what I feared.

Shoulda stuck with cable, I guess :frowning:


Not true.

Here is just one satellite receiver that has PiP buit-in. Yes, there are two tuners inside the box but you only need to deal with one box and one set out outputs from that box to the TV. In this case the box takes care of the PiP and not your TV (regardless of whether or not your TV has PiP).

If you search around you can find MANY other satellite receivers that’ll do PiP.

Well, according to this site, the problem is that satellite signals, unlike normal cable signals, are digital and therefore “need to be reconstituted by a set top box of some kind before your TV will recognize them.”

This is why I can’t simply split the signal before it reaches the box and plug one line directly into the TV and the other line into the box.


Maybe this explanation will help.

The satellite receiver IS your tuner. Not your television.

In ‘ordinary’ circumstances a television will be the tuner for cable or over-the-air broadcasts. Satellite television is different. The cable company can restrict the channels you get at the pole outside your house that brings the cable in. Obviously satellite television cannot do that. Their signal is broadcast to the entire United States at once. in order to restrict who gets to watch their signal they rely on a special tuner that everyone must buy. Your satellite receiver is hooked up via phone line and uses a coded card to identify you. Every night your receiver phones the provider and checks its status to be sure the account is valid and to give you the appropriate channels. These boxes are proprietary to the satellite provider so you do not see them built into televisions. Rather, the technology is licensed to manufacturers who build the satellite receiver (and the manufacturer must comply with the regulations laid down by the satellite provider to ensure their security measures are in place).

As a result, with a satellite system, your TV becomes a monitor and does little else. All of the tuning and so on happens inside of the satellite receiver. Any fancy stuff you want to do will per force be determined by the receiver and not your TV. High definition, Dolby stereo, surround sound*, PiP and so on need to be supported by the receiver and your television, no matter how fancy, has little say in the matter.

*NOTE: Surround sound likely is not handled by the receiver but passed along via an audio output to your stereo to let your stereo handle the surround sound decoding. Your recevier still needs to be able to extract the audio portion of the signal and throw it at a stereo however.

I agree with everything you say, except for this. When I signed up for DirectTV, they asked me to connect a phone line to the box so I could order pay-per-view movies and sporting events. Since I had no plans to order pay-per-view movies and sporting events and, more importantly, have no phone jack anywhere near the TV, I told them I wouldn’t be doing this. They said OK.


I’m not sure about Dish Network, but for DirecTV, while you’d only need one output, you’d need 2 inputs from the dish to the box in order to get PIP.

That’s true. DirecTV only needs a phone line for those special features. All other stuff is done over the satellite. If you have the DirecTV/TiVo combination, however, you need it connected to the phone line so it can call every day. (although, if for some reason you disconnect the phone jack, it’ll keep going for two weeks before giving you a warning message saying you need to connect it and make a call)

I’d just like to say that I’m a real tech-head & videophile and I’ve found that PIP is probably the most useless feature ever. The only reason its still around is that it looks really cool in the showroom.

In over ten years of having it I’ve used it a grand total of once. I was watching a tape of something while waiting for a certain guest to appear on a talkshow.