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Ever since the introduction of satellite TV technology in the early 1990s, lots of Americans have switched to satellite TV providers from cable or broadcast television. According to the Nielsen 2011 Consumer Usage report, there are currently 95 million people in the US with satellite TV. This means that about 30% of Americans use satellite TV, while 46% use cable.
While there are still more Americans with cable service, it bears noting that according to the University of Chicago, there were only 400,000 satellite users in America in 1994. This means that satellite usage has increased by more than 23650% since 1994. Many customers find that satellite TV offers high quality service for a pretty low cost.
How does satellite TV work?
Satellite TV service depends on a transmission system based on satellites and satellite dishes. Basically, programming sources (channels like HBO, CNN, etc.) give a satellite TV provider license to rebroadcast their TV shows. A satellite transmits the TV shows to your satellite dish which transmits the data to a receiver on your TV set. The receiver translates the broadcast so that you can watch the TV show.
Satellite TV can provide service to a much wider area than cable TV. Cable TV is dependent on a network fiber optic and coaxial cables, limited by the range that its equipment can reach. So if you are in a remote or mountainous area that is too far away from a cable TV broadcast station, you won’t be able to get cable TV service.
Satellites can send data to satellite dishes in virtually any location, which means satellite TV is available to almost everyone. You may experience trouble with your satellite reception if your satellite dish faces the wrong way, or if a strong wind of heavy rain damages your satellite dish. By contrast, cable TV is secure because bad weather won’t hurt a cable buried in the ground except in the most extreme conditions.
Advantages of Satellite TV
Savings with Satellite TV
The primary satellite TV companies in the US are DIRECTV and Dish Network.
Similar Prices? Similar Technology.
Most TV providers, both satellite and cable, are now primarily digital systems. Digital technology is very cheap and easy to use, and it results in higher quality sound and picture.
This means that, in many cases, prices are closer between cable and satellite TV companies than they used to be. For example, DirecTV (a satellite TV company) and Time Warner Cable (a cable TV company) both have standard TV plans starting at $29.99/month.
However, you should be aware that the basic DIRECTV Entertainment plan and the standard Time Warner Cable plan are not really comparable in a lot of ways. In many ways, the digital plan with Time Warner Cable is a better point of comparison for the basic DIRECTV Entertainment plan. The digital plan includes the standard plan and basic cable as well as a host of other shows and features. The digital plan, however, is more expensive than the standard plan. We have included all three of the plans in our chart below to give you a better idea of how these plans compare.
Time Warner also does not include HD DVR in any of its basic plans. A single HD DVR and service costs $21.49/month. This means that you would have to pay extra with cable to get some of the included features of satellite TV.
Included Features: DIRECTV vs Time Warner
|Provider||DIRECTV||Time Warner Cable||Time Warner Cable|
|Digital TV plan||Entertainment plan||Digital plan||Standard plan|
|Cost of plan||$29.99/month||$39.99/month||$29.99/month|
|Number of channels||140+ channels||200+ digital channels and 40 music channels||70 digital channels and 40 music channels|
|HD DVR cost||1 Free HD DVR included (some extra fees if you choose an advanced HD DVR)||$21.49/month||$21.49/month|
|HD channel availability||30+ HD channels included||Free local HD channels and a selection of other HDTV channels||Free local HD channels and a selection of other HDTV channels|
|On Demand Features||4000 On Demand shows at no extra cost||Free On Demand and Movies On Demand (unknown amount)||Free On Demand (unknown amount)|
Coverage Area with Satellite TV
As we stated before, satellite TV can reach a much wider area than cable TV because it depends on satellites rather than on physical cables. This means that if you live in a remote region, you will be able to get TV from a satellite service where you may not be able to get TV from a cable service.
Bundling Services with Satellite TV
You can now combine Internet and phone service with your satellite TV providers, just as you can with cable TV companies. This can be very convenient as you will only have to pay one bill for all of these services, but it won’t necessarily save you money.
Bundling services with DirecTV are hosted by
- Cincinnati Bell
- May work with other companies in your area
This means that your phone and Internet rates are determined by the rates charged by these companies. Some of these companies have notoriously high rates, so you may not be saving any money by choosing a bundling service.
However, bundling with a satellite TV provider will probably be cheaper than bundling with a cable company. For example, a bundle with Time Warner Cable that includes digital TV, phone, and Internet costs $99.99/month. A similar bundle with AT&T for phone and Internet service and DIRECTV for TV service costs $93.94/month. Neither of these prices includes equipment, installation, taxes, or fees. Add-ons like DVRs can make a big difference in the price you pay per month; different HD DVRs come with different fees and monthly prices.
Equipment with Satellite TV
When you choose satellite TV, you will need to consider fees for
- Satellite dish
All of the current offers from DIRECTV include a satellite dish and installation for free. Their current plans also include a range of receivers for free. Right now, you can get a $199 HD DVR receiver for free with any plan. Service for the receiver is $10/month for the first two years, and $20/month after that. Protection plans start at $5.99/month.
The DISH Network, the other major satellite company in the US, is also currently promoting a plan that includes a free HD DVR receiver (the Hopper DVR). Their website doesn’t say whether or not they include a dish with a subscription, but protection plans for equipment start at $7/month.
Cable TV service includes some extra equipment fees as well. With cable TV, you may need
- A receiver
- A cable box
- Outlets for new installations
With Time Warner Cable, cable boxes cost about $10/month per unit. A DVR costs $21.49/month per unit. One cable outlet is included with service, but if you need additional outlets for new or additional installations, they cost $19.99 each.
Warning about Free Satellite TV Service
Avoid any company that claims to offer free satellite TV service. Most likely, companies that offer free satellite TV have found a way to pirate signals from other satellite service providers.
An individual who pirates satellite television can be fined up to $1000 and spend 6 months in prison. Pirating for commercial use nets a fine of up to $50,000 and/or 2 years in prison.
And if you are a student, you could face some other serious consequences as well. Colleges can punish students with expulsion or suspension for running or participating in illegal pirating operations.
Many TV stations offer certain episodes of TV shows for free on their websites or on streaming websites like Hulu. These are a safe, legal way to watch TV for free. Try them instead of pirating satellite TV.