Large-dish satellite antennas pick off unencoded or encoded signals being beamed to Earth by satellites. First, you point the dish to a particular satellite, and then you select a particular channel it is transmitting. The set-top box receives the signal, decodes it if necessary and then sends it to channel 3 or 4.
Small-dish satellite systems are digital. The TV programs are encoded in MPEG-2 format and transmitted to Earth. The set-top box does a lot of work to decode MPEG-2, then converts it to a standard analog TV signal and sends it to your TV on channel 3 or 4. See How Satellite TV Works to learn more.