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Satellite TV vs Cable TV

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Satellite TV vs Cable TV:   Which is better for you?  It depends on where you live and what you’re looking for.

Dish Network and DirecTV are direct broadcast (DBS) satellite TV providers. DBS differs from cable in receiving the satellite signal directly via a dish at your home or business. Cable TV providers also use satellites to transmit their signals, and dishes to receive them. If you’ve ever driven past the headquarters of your local cable TV company, you may have noticed several large satellite dishes on the grounds. The cable company sends the signals it receives on these dishes, through miles of copper wire or fiber-optic cable, to the homes or businesses of its subscribers. DBS service effectively “cuts out the middleman”, eliminating the need to lay miles of cable to your neighborhood. The only cable in a DBS satellite TV system runs from the dish on your home to the receivers (set-top boxes) inside.

In either case, the satellites that transmit the signal are in what is called “geosynchronous” orbit. This means they move in sync with the Earth’s rotation, so they always remain directly above the same spot on Earth. Once the dishes that receive  the signals are aimed and locked into place, they never need to be moved.

As you weigh satellite TV vs. cable TV, bear in mind that each brings its own benefits and drawbacks.


AVAILABILITY:   Satellite TV is available in more areas. Cable TV is rarely available outside of urban areas, where the cable companies have laid hundreds of miles of of copper or fiber-optic cable. Satellite TV is available nearly everywhere in the continental United States, because it doesn’t depend on the location of the neighborhood cable lines. The only exceptions stem from the need for a clear line of sight to the southern sky. Sometimes trees or other obstructions can block the signal, though this  is rare.

Apartments are a separate case. Because few tenants have south-facing balconies or porches, and because installing satellite dishes on apartment buildings requires landlord permission, which is seldom granted, apartment living often means that cable is the only realistic option for multi-channel TV.


PRICE:   Satellite TV usually costs slightly  less than cable for similar channel packages. Also, cable TV providers usually charge in advance for their equipment, while satellite providers lease theirs for qualifying customers. The leases require long-term commitments, though, usually one or two years, with penalties for early cancellation. Still,  Dish Network and DirecTV will waive the penalties for the rare customers who leave because of bad service. Overall, the price difference in satellite TV vs. cable TV is small. For similar equipment and channel packages, the difference averages less than ten percent.


QUALITY AND RELIABILITY:   Both satellite TV and cable  TV deliver a sharp picture and clear sound. Satellite TV is usually slightly better, though you will need a sharp eye and ear to discern the difference. Dish Network and DirecTV were ahead of the cable companies in offering all-digital channel lineups, though most cable companies have caught up. A few regional cable operators, though, still offer a mix of digital and analog channels.

Both satellite and cable TV systems can be affected by severe weather. Satellite TV service may fail under heavy rain and lightning, though service will return when the storm passes. In most cases, satellite TV service outages last for only a few minutes. Cable TV service is unaffected by ordinary storms. If an area is flooded, though, or if the cable lines are cut, service may be interrupted for entire neighborhoods, even for entire cities, and it may not be restored for several days, or even for several weeks.


EQUIPMENT AND FEATURES:   In weighing satellite TV vs. cable TV, you will want to compare equipment and features. The differences, though important, can be subtle. Almost all satellite and cable TV providers have invested heavily in equipment upgrades recently. Most now offer video-on demand, whole home HD DVRs, the ability to transfer streaming video to mobile devices, and other features that were unheard of a few years ago.

Dish Network’s Hopper-Joey System and DirecTV’s Genie are the state-of the art whole home HD DVRs, but Comcast’s XFinity X-1, Verizon’s FiOS   AT&T;s U-Verse, and Time Warner Cable’s TWC Maxx are not far behind, and some cable companies offer TiVo units which are very competitive with the most advanced satellite receivers. For now, though, the satellite providers are ahead. Dish’s Hopper has the Auto-Hop feature, with which you can skip the ads for an entire prime time lineup automatically, without ever having to press the fast forward button. No other provider offers a similar feature.


BUNDLE SERVICES:    In weighing satellite TV vs. cable TV, consider other services you can bundle with TV. Bundle deals can save you considerable time and money.

Cable  companies took the lead in combining TV service with internet and phonee. Satellite companies didn’t offer these services at first. Dish Network and DirecTV  have formed partnerships with telecoms to bundle internet and phone service, though, and Dish now offers its own satellite internet service.

With satellite bundled services, rates for internet and phone will be set by the partners. A few charge very high rates. In most cases, though, bundling the services through a satellite provider will cost about the same as, or slightly less than, bundling the same services through a cable provider. For example, Time Warner Cable charges $99.99 for a bundle including cable TV, digital phone, and broadband internet. For a similar package, with its own TV service and AT&T phone and internet, DirecTV charges $93.99 per month.

Bundling your services through cable is generally more convenient than bundling through a satellite provider, since all three services come through the same “pipe”. This has a potential drawback, though. If severe weather, or some other cause, interrupts any of your services, then all of them are likely to be interrupted.

(Editor’s Note:  Compare satellite TV vs. cable TV at Bundle Deals, and order any services with just one phone call.)