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Cable and satellite TV services can have different offers when it comes to channels, price, and service quality. As a customer you may be very happy with one and very unhappy with the other. You should research both types of TV companies thoroughly before choosing cable over satellite (or vice versa).

With our comparison chart below, you can start to see the difference between cable and satellite TV providers, and how those differences will determine the price you pay.

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Guide to Buying Satellite TV »

Bundles

Bundles »

Bundles that include television service are offered by cable and phone companies. Since fiber-optic is only available in limited areas, the phone companies usually also offer a bundle where the TV component is delivered by a partner satellite TV company. In any case, bundling TV with some combination of home phone and Internet can yield monthly savings. Click below to see and compare bundle offers.

*Terms and conditions apply. See site for full details.

Cable TV vs Satellite TV

Because of the differences in technology, cable and satellite TV have some different capabilities and features. However, you will probably find that a lot of the basic features are pretty similar between them.

The main differences between the two are:

  • Prices
  • Plan variety
  • Equipment and technology

Cable Television Companies

How Cable TV Works

Cable TV depends on a network of fiber optic and trunk cables. These cables transmit TV shows to your TV as encrypted signals. So, cable TV transmits TV shows to your home through a physical connection made up of cables, while satellite TV uses a satellite and satellite dish to transmit shows as frequencies to your home.

Price Difference

Because of the differences in technology, cable can in some instances be more expensive than satellite service. For example, standard service starts at $29.99/month* with Time Warner Cable. By comparison, a digital package with the DISH with more channels costs $19.99/month* for the first 12 months.

Plan Variety

Cable companies are also less likely to offer you a lot of customization when you are choosing a TV service. For example, with Time Warner Cable, you have the choice between the standard TV or the expanded Preferred TV plans. Satellite TV companies usually give you a selection of 4 or more plans with a variety of channels and prices.

This means that you have access to a great level of variety and customization with satellite TV. However, both cable and satellite TV services only offer you a limited amount of control when it comes to choosing individual channels that you want to add to your plan.

Prices for premium channels are also similar: if you wanted to add HBO to your TV plan, it would cost $15.95/month extra with Time Warner Cable, and $19/month extra with DISH.

Cable Equipment and Technology

To use cable TV in your house, you will need to get a receiver which you connect to an outlet in your home through a series of cables and wires. Cable companies may offer promotional discounts on equipment, so look out for sales and special deals.

However, even with discounts, you will probably still need to pay some monthly fees for your equipment. For example, a cable box with Time Warner Cable costs $10.25/month with each additional receiver costing $11.75/month. Time Warner includes installation to two TVs with additional outlets costing $29.99 each.

Because cable TV relies on a physical connection of cables and wires, cable TV is much more durable than satellite TV in bad weather. It is fairly easy for a satellite to get knocked over or moved around in heavy wind and bad weather. Durable cables, on the other hand, are pretty resistant to bad weather.

Cable TV is fairly easy to install, but it can also be time consuming. Cable companies will send someone to install the system of cables and cable boxes for you. However, these appointments can eat up a lot of time and cost extra. Cable companies generally don’t give a specific price quote for their installation services, but installation service can often run as high as $200 depending on the provider.

And you may end up spending all day on your installation appointment. When you make an installation appointment with a company, you pick a day and a range of times. The technician will arrive sometime in that range of hours. This means that you will need to be home during any given 4 or 5 hour period.

Some companies like XFINITY from Comcast give you the option to choose a self installation kit. Depending on your technical skills, this may save you time and money. So, if you think you can handle setting up the system on your own, you can avoid paying as much for an installation service from the company, and you can install the system on your own time whenever it is convenient for you.

It can also be difficult to get cable service in certain locations, especially in remote or mountainous locations. If your house isn’t very close to the nearest cable broadcast station, you could be out luck.

Satellite TV Providers

How Satellite TV Works

When a satellite TV company wants to broadcast a TV show, the satellite company sends the show as encrypted data from their broadcast center to their satellite. The satellite then transmits the encrypted data to your satellite dish, and the dish in turn transmits the data to the receiver on your TV set.

Price of Satellite TV

As we said before, technological differences between cable and satellite TV service providers result in different prices. Satellite TV companies usually offer lower prices on comparable plans.

However, you should note that plans can get pretty expensive with satellite TV. Because satellite companies offer plans with more channels and features, prices can get very high. For example, the Premier Plan with DIRECTV costs $92.99/month for 285+ channels.

Plan Variety

Lots of people choose satellite TV because you can choose from a wider variety of shows and options than you can with cable TV. Again, plans with a lot of channels, features, and variety are more likely to be expensive. However, there are some cases in which you might really want a specific channel that a cable provider won’t have. For example, if you are from New York but you live in California, it might be easier to get Giants games with a satellite TV service than with a cable service.

Satellite TV Equipment and Technology

This technology eliminates some of the problems associated with cable TV. For example, because satellite TV doesn’t depend on physical cable connections, satellite service is available to a much wider range of customers. This means that satellite TV is available in most parts of the US, basically to anyone with a satellite dish, so some of the people in remote areas who can’t get cable TV can get satellite TV without issue.

Initial installation may be more expensive with satellite service than initial installation with cable TV. Satellite dishes can be costly, so if your plan doesn’t include a satellite dish and installation, you can end up paying a good deal extra for these services. However, a lot of companies will include a satellite dish and installation for no extra cost, so just be sure to read the fine print.

However, satellite TV doesn’t always work well; your dish has to sit outside which means that satellite TV service isn’t as weatherproof as cable TV service. Heavy wind may knock over or damage your satellite dish which will ruin your TV service.

Lots of satellite TV plans include a DVR or HD DVR which allows you to easily record shows, set parental controls, watch shows from any room, and access On Demand programs and movies. Cable companies may also offer your a free DVR when you buy a TV service plan. With both satellite and cable TV service providers, you will usually have to pay a monthly fee for the DVR even though the DVR itself is included at no extra cost. Service for a DVR costs around $10+/month with either cable or satellite service.

In Short: Pros and Cons of Cable and Satellite TV Service

  Cable TV Satellite TV
Plan XFINITY® from Comcast with On Demand DIRECTV Choice Extra Plan
Cost $44.99/month for 12 months* $39.99/month for 12 months
Is it the cheapest plan with that provider? Yes- when choosing Digital Economy TV No, DIRECTV’s cheapest plan is $29.99/month.
Included Channels 160+ channels with access to 100 HD channels, includes basic cable. 205+ digital channels with 50+ HD channels, includes local channels.
On Demand Features Includes On Demand, website specifies "thousands" of shows and movies you can access for free. 7000 On Demand shows and movies free.
Installation Starting at $15.00 Free
Equipment $17.95/month for HD DVR receiver service. Cable boxes cost about $9.95/month depending on your area. I$10/month for receiver service. $20/month after 2 years. Satellite dish included free.
Weather Durability Generally very good. May be affected by downed lines or power outages. Not as reliable. Heavy wind and bad weather can damage or knock down a satellite dish.
Access in Remote Regions Not very accessible for most people in remote regions. Often the only service available to people in remote areas.

 

Time Warner Cable Terms

*Starter TV from Time Warner Cable w/ HBO® $29.99/mo for 12 months

All services may not be available in all areas. Subject to change without notice. Some restrictions may apply. Installation fees may apply. Offers valid for new residential customers only. Promotional rates apply for 12 months. After 12 months, standard local rates will apply. All prices exclude applicable taxes, fees and one time charges. See other applicable terms and conditions below. To receive all services, Digital TV, remote and lease of a Digital set-top box required. Some services are not available to CableCARD customers. Not all equipment supports all services. HD set-top box and HDTV set required for HD service. All services may not be available in all areas. Subject to change without notice. Some restrictions may apply. Installation fees may apply. Offers valid for new residential customers only. All trademarks are the property of their respective owners TM and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Time Warner Cable and the Time Warner Cable logo are trademarks of Time Warner Inc. Used under license. ©2014 Time Warner Cable Enterprises LLC. All rights reserved.

 

XFINITY from Comcast Terms

*XFINITY Digital Starter TV: Offer ends 09/30/14. Restrictions apply. Not available in all areas. Limited to new residential customers. Requires subscription to Digital Starter TV service. Equipment, installation, taxes, and fees, including Broadcast TV Fee (currently up to $1.50/mo.) extra, such charges and fees subject to change during and after the promotion. After 12 months, or if any service is cancelled or downgraded, regular rates apply. Pick a Premium offer limited to Showtime, Starz, Cinemax, and HBO. Not available to customers who previously subscribed to the selected premium or with any packages which include the selected premium. After 12 months, the regular monthly service charge for each selected premium channel applies. Comcast's current monthly service charges range, based on area, as follows: Digital Starter TV, from $50.99 to $71.99, and Showtime, Starz, Cinemax and HBO, from $14.95 to $19.99 each (pricing subject to change). TV service limited to a single outlet. May not be combined with other offers. Limited Basic service subscription required to receive other levels of service. On Demand™ selections subject to charge indicated at the time of purchase. 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee applies to one month's recurring service charge and standard installation up to $500. Call for restrictions and complete details. ©2014 Comcast. All rights reserved.

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