August 17 2010|06.19 PM UTC

Alex Gutow

Cable TV v.s. Satellite TV: What Do You Prefer?

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Even with the cost, having hundreds of channels at our disposal is still a necessity for most of us. There are options for how you get these channels though. Cable is the most popular option with satellite coming in at second. AT&T and Verizon also offer U-Verse and FiOS respectively, but these options aren’t available to as many people quite yet. In the debate between cable and satellite, what’s the difference anyways?

The obvious difference is how each one of them inherently works. In the beginning, antennas on homes would pick up the signal from a broadcast tower. However, the further from the tower you got, the worse the signal. Mountains and hills could also easily interfere with the signal. To fix this, people started putting antennas on top of hills, closer to their home, and ran a cable from the antenna to their TV.

Nowadays, cable companies basically collect channels from all over the world using satellites. Local channels (aka closer) can simply send their channels to cable companies using cables. These companies then send out a network of cables to customer’s homes to deliver these channels directly to your television.

Satellite companies follow the same basic idea but with a slight twist. They too collect channels from all over the world at their broadcast center. However, they then beam that information to their satellites and the satellite beams it directly to your dish. The dish you installed sends the content to a receiver and the receiver decodes it and passes it on to your TV.

Here are some other differences (and similarities) between the two options:


Since satellite companies don’t face the same local taxes as cable companies, they can offer more channels for less and almost always win for price. However, if you don’t need very many channels, a very basic cable plan might be the cheapest option for you. Some introductory cable rates may also be cheaper but be sure to ask what the price will jump to after those 12 or 24 months.

Another issue to consider is that some satellite companies will charge a per room fee or only provider you with a receiver that can support 1 or 2 TVs. If you have a TV in every room in the house, it will probably be cheaper to stick with cable.


Cable TV can offer hundreds of different channels (both analog and digital, depending on your package) and offers users many more local channels than satellite, since local stations send their content directly to the cable company.

Satellite can usually handle more channels than cable and all will be 100% digital quality. Many companies are also adding local channels to their offering but it is important to ask the provider about specifics. Large markets may have their channels included in your plan but others may be available for an additional fee.

Both companies offer features like pay-per-view movies, DVR options and on-demand.


Equipment costs is where cable really pulls ahead. Usually, the only equipment needed is a receiver box that is connected to your TV and an outlet. This cost is included in your bill and the equipment must be returned if you ever terminate your service. Set-up is usually also included with your plan.

For satellite, obviously, there must be a satellite dish and receivers. This can be a pricy upfront cost but is often waived if you sign up for special offers or sign a contract for a certain time period (usually 12 months). This dish must have an unobstructed view of the southern sky to get a signal, which can sometimes be difficult for apartments. Some leases will also charge for satellite installation so make sure to check the terms of your lease before making a decision. As mentioned earlier, the first receiver is usually free and will support 1 or 2 television sets. Additional receivers can be purchased from the company.


Cable is only available where there is infrastructure, aka where the cable companies have run cables. This means that many rural areas may not have cable available simply because it was too expensive to send cables out that far.

Satellite does not suffer from these limitations since the signal is sent directly from the satellite. As long as there is a Southern sky and no trees or tall buildings obstructing the view, anyone can receive satellite television.

Customer Service

According to J.D. Power & Associates, cable outages average 3-5% each year as compared to 1% for satellite. Weather related outages for satellite are very rare and the reception quality is almost always better for satellite (especially since all content is 100% digital). In addition, for the past 5 years, satellite companies have been ranked higher in customer satisfaction than any cable company.

Shrinkage readers, have you switched often between cable and satellite providers?  Do you have a preference in your TV provider?  Or are TVs too 1999?

photo credits: Mr. T in DC, wellwin

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Judy May 27, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I’ve had Comcast, I’ve had DirecTv and now have Dish. While Direct was great it got too expensive and now Dish went up over $20.00 without warning me that they were going to go that high.

I was told originally that I would have to have Dish for two years, but raising their fees over $20.00 a month is too expensive. I’m on Disabilities and believe me it’s a lot less than when I was able to work which I did for over three decades.

These companies are just too greedy especially the CEO’s who are as useless as Bull’s t*ts and think they are what makes the companies work.

If there is another t.v. satellite company in the MA area I’d like to know about them.


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