This article is from the Digital Broadcast Satellites FAQ, by Brian Trosko firstname.lastname@example.org with numerous contributions by others.
Generally speaking, not much. Fundamentally, all DSS
receivers deliver the same potentially high-quality video
and audio. All receivers also provide a program guide, which
gives the programming lineup for the next several days, complete
with program descriptions and classifications. These guides
are not "Prevue" channel-style scrolling guides. Rather, they
are completely interactive, giving the user not only the ability
to jump forwards in time, but also the ability to specify custom
guides for certain types of programming (Sports, movies, etc.),
and favorite channels.
What differs between different systems are the menu interfaces
and other bells and whistles.
Sony DSS systems have 32-bit processors to deal with the menu
interfaces, whereas the various systems produced by Thompson
(RCA, Toshiba, GE) have only 8-bit processors. This means that
navigation through the Sony menu system tends to be quite a bit faster
and easier. Additionally, the current Sony systems have the added
advantage of allowing the user to see the picture while navigating
through the translucent program guide, and also do not
block the sound while in the program guide. Thompson system
program guides are opaque, blocking the picture and also interrupting
the sound. Opinions as to which menu interface is better vary widely,
so you should stop by a dealer who has the systems hooked up for viewing.
All current DSS receivers have timers to allow recording of programs
in conjunction with a VCR. Deluxe and Advanced systems also come with
a VCR mouse to send commands to the VCR, which eliminates having to
manually synchronize the VCR timer with the satellite receiver timer. The
Sony Basic system does not include the mouse, but it is available as an