Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cable or Satellite, how to choose

I got a call from my sister-in-law the other day asking for some advice relating to her consideration of switching from a satellite TV provider to cable. It seems that the cable guys were offering some good discounts and my sister-in-law, like many of us, is always open to a good deal.

Is getting TV from a cable provider better than getting it form a satellite service?

Seems like a simple question, but I’m not sure I can say one is better or even cheaper since it will be different depending on what programming you want and how you use TV.

The national programming offered by both cable and satellite providers is about the same. For sure, there are some niche offerings like the Big 10 Network and the NFL Network that have yet to make it to many cable systems. But if you are looking for the programming mainstays like ESPN, The Weather Channel, HGTV, CNN, The History Channel, Discovery and the like, you will find them both on cable and satellite services. The same holds true for the major movie packages from Showtime and HBO.

The big difference that you will find between cable and satellite TV is how they handle the local broadcast channels, i.e. Ch 5, 9,12, 14,19, 48 and 64. For example, Dish Network® does offer the analog over the air broadcasts of the local stations for an extra monthly fee of about $6.00 DirecTv includes these channels in program packages so the extra amount charged is hard to calculate. Neither offer all the new local digital channels, nor do they offer any of the digital multicast channels provided by local broadcasters. For example, WLWT Digital has a companion weather service that you can watch with a digital TV or on digital cable. You will not find that channel on either of the satellite services. My station, CET, has a High Definition service and the PBS World service. You will not get these on the on DirecTv® or Dish Network® satellite services.

Some of the satellite services will provide an antenna so you can receive the digital over-the-air channels over the air. What a concept!

Cable does provide all the local analog channels in the Basic Package and the digital channels in the Digital Cable Tier. The High Definition services require a special set top box, but that is currently provided at no extra cost by Time Warner to their Digital Cable subscribers.

Cable companies are also required to carry other Public, Educational and Government Access channels. Satellite services are not mandated to do so. Many in our community might watch the Harrison City Council Meetings or the Crosby Twp Trustee meetings. You’ll find them on cable but not on satellite.

When you are making your comparison keep in mind the equipment that will be provided. Many of the satellite set top boxes can “feed” two different TVs located in different parts of the house. Each TV can be tuned to a different channel. On the other hand, a cable box is dedicated to a single TV. So if you have multiple TVs and you want cable on all of them, it will require a set top box for each TV. There are exceptions. Some cable operators offer a service that does not use a set top box. The cable is connected directly to a cable-ready TV. In those cases, you can have multiple TVs watching different channels. You will not get ALL the channels on any of the TVs since the full cable service requires a set top box.

Once you decide what it important to you, then you can calculate the best price. Now, where did that remote go?

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