PrimeStar was a U.S. direct broadcast satellite broadcasting company formed in 1991 by a consortium of cable television system operators (TCI Satellite Entertainment Group, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Comcast and MediaOne) and GE Americom, the satellite arm of General Electric, collectively referred to as the PrimeStar Partners. PrimeStar was the first medium-powered DBS system in the United States but slowly declined in popularity with the arrival of DirecTV in 1994 and Dish Network in 1996.
Broadcast originally in analog, they later converted to digital technology. The system used the DigiCipher 1 system for conditional access control and video compression. The video format was MPEG-2. Primestar's satellite receivers were made by General Instrument.
The company was in the process of converting to a high-powered DBS platform when it was purchased and shut down by DirecTV. The Tempo-1 and Tempo-2 DBS satellites acquired by PrimeStar from the defunct ASkyB were renamed DirecTV-5 and DirecTV-6, respectively.
The system initially launched using medium-powered FSS satellites that were facing obsolescence with the onset of high-powered DBS and its much smaller, eighteen-inch satellite dishes. In a move to convert the platform to DBS, PrimeStar, originally based in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania before moving to the suburbs of Denver, Colorado in 1997, bid for the 110-degree satellite location that was eventually awarded to a never-launched direct broadcast satellite service by MCI and News Corporation called ASkyB, or American Sky Broadcasting, named after News Corp's British Sky Broadcasting.
The ASkyB company sold the incomplete Tempo 1 and Tempo 2 DBS satellites to PrimeStar in the process of going out of business. PrimeStar launched Tempo-2 in 1997 but it was not used for many years. PrimeStar stored the other satellite, Tempo-1, until the company and the two satellites were purchased by DirecTV. DirecTV eventually launched the Tempo 1 satellite after years of delays as the DirecTV-5 satellite in 2002. Meanwhile, ASkyB's license for the 110-degree satellite location, and an uplink center, was resold to EchoStar, the parent company of Dish Network. The 110-degree satellite is now named EchoStar West 110 and is the most commonly used satellite, along with 119 as both can be received with a single wide-format parabolic dish, providing signal to North America.
PrimeStar Partners sold its assets to DirecTV in 1999 and all subscribers were converted to the DirecTV platform. The PrimeStar brand and its FSS broadcast platform was shut down. Meanwhile, Tempo 1 and Tempo 2 satellite remained and were renamed DirecTV-5 and DirecTV-6, respectively, and moved to several locations to serve DirecTV customers.
During Primestar's years as a competing satellite television provider, it originally had a 95-channel lineup. However, beginning early in 1997, Primestar announced it would add 65 channels for a total of 160 channels. Primestar, also at this time in 1997, grouped their channels by category, (e.g., NEWS, FAMILY, SPORTS, MOVIES, etc.), and added a color-coded button on the remote for each category. When pressed, it would bring the user to the beginning of that category, (e.g., pressing the orange "FAMILY" button would bring the user to Nickelodeon which was first in that category). Primestar called this feature "Hyper-Surfing". (Earlier remotes that lacked the buttons could instead use repetitive channel numbers to bring them to the desired category.)