Cable and satellite TV are different in more ways than just how they deliver television programming. Cable TV is less likely to be affected by the weather, but is typically more expensive than satellite TV service. Cable may be more suitable for renters and people who do not want to commit to a long-term contract. Satellite TV signal can be disrupted by bad weather , but is usually cheaper. The availability for cable and satellite TV services also varies; cable TV is only available in areas where providers offer service (which sometimes excludes rural areas or new communities in the suburbs), while satellite TV is available anywhere that a dish can be installed to face south.
|Cable TV||Satellite TV|
|Introduction (from Wikipedia)||Cable television delivers television programs to subscribers via radio frequency signals transmitted through coaxial cables or light pulses through fiber-optic cables.||Satellite television delivers programming via communications satellites and is received by an outdoor antenna, usually a parabolic reflector called a satellite dish.|
|Equipment||Cable box and remote||Dish and box|
|Installation||Visit from technician to install the junction box into your home.||Visit from technician to install a dish on the roof.|
|Availability||Only in areas close to network providers (usually unavailable in remote or rural areas)||Anywhere in the US|
|Contract||Month to month||Usually a year|
|Providers||Comcast , Time Warner Cable, Sudden Link, Cablevision, Cox, Charter||DISH Network, DirecTV|
|Bundle services||Readily available||Available sometimes|
|Cost||Around $65 per month for non-HD, or $70 for HD||Around $45 for non-HD or $65 for HD|
Cable TV requires installation by an expert technician. If you want anything beyond basic cable, you are required to rent a cable box and remote from your cable provider till the terms of your service. If the cable line in is already installed in the home — for example, if you already have Internet service through the same provider — then under most circumstances you can install the TV service yourself.
Satellite TV requires the installation of a satellite dish on your roof or the side of your house. A non-negotiable condition is that the dish has to be facing South. This can become a problem if you live in an apartment with a shared wall on the South side. Self-installation of a satellite dish is usually quite time consuming. Typically, the equipment needs to be returned upon termination of services but some companies make an exception if it is too difficult to reach the antenna. Installation fee can often be negotiated or even waived, especially if the consumer signs up for a long-term contract.
Cable TV vs. Satellite TV Reception
Cable TV rarely loses reception, unless the entire system goes down or the cable lines are severed somewhere along their route into the home.
A satellite TV gets a clear reception only when there is nothing between the satellite dish and the southern sky. Anything that stands in the way – a tree, building, wires, even heave rain can interrupt service. Sometimes, moving the dish even slightly can interrupt the precise alignment of a dish and can affect reception. A securely mounted dish with good exposure to the southern sky will rarely have bad reception, other than during bad weather , where it can become fuzzy or lose signal completely, but will be back as soon as it passes.
While all packages for cable TV vary in price, basic cable costs about $30 per month. All things considered, satellite offers around 200 channels, the premium equivalent of cable, for almost the price of basic cable. Below are the price for various packages by Comcast (cable) and Dish TV (satellite):
Comcast Xfinity price list for various packages
Dish TV price list for various packages
This video compares the cost and services offered by Comcast and DirecTV:
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Cable is only available to homes that are in the provider’s coverage area. This often excludes rural areas.
Satellite TV is available everywhere, as long as the dish can directly face the southern sky, which makes it difficult to install at an apartment that shares a wall on the south side, or has a big tree, building or any other obstacle in the way.
While cable and satellite may often offer the same channels (including HBO and Showtime, what you get with basic satellite TV (about 200 channels) is the equivalent of premium cable, which makes satellite TV a better value-for-money option.
Cable may offers local programming not carried by satellite, such as public access stations.
Satellite TV offers both east and west coast feeds and alternate sports programming on channels like ESPN and Fox Sports . In addition, it also offers several international channels that cable does not.
Cable offers some international-focused channels, such as channels in Chinese, Korean and Portuguese, but these channels are all US-based.
Satellite TV allows users to watch any free international channels that is picked up by the dish. Satellite TV is usually a better choice for international programming, as it offers custom package options from most parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. This service is the reason satellite TV is more popular among first-generation immigrant households in the US.
Cable companies are more likely to bundle Internet and phone services with television subscriptions, although some satellite companies have started offering such bundles as well. Generally, bundles are cheaper with cable, and the price of a bundle is most often made attractive and less than what each service would individually cost.
Most cable companies offer month-to-month contracts , allowing you to cancel or upgrade at any time. Satellite companies often tend to have contracts that can last up to one year, much as a few ‘pay-as-you-go’ options are now available.
Popularity of Cable vs. Satellite TV Subscriptions
This chart from the New York Times shows how cable TV subscriptions have declined from 2008 to 2013, with a corresponding rise in satellite TV and Internet streaming services like Netflix .
Change in the number of subscribers to cable TV, satellite TV and Internet streaming services from 2008 to 2013. Source: The New York Times
Alternative Streaming Options
Many cable companies, such as Comcast and Time Warner, allow users to stream their cable TV to their iPads, laptops , phone or Kindle Fire .
DirecTV also offers satellite streaming to iPad and other portable devices.
- Dish TV (satellite) packages
- DirecTV (satellite) packages
- Comcast cable TV packages
- Time Warner cable TV packages