Your Complete Guide to Satellite HDTV

Learn more about satellite television and how it works.

A Comprehensive Comparison Between Satellite TV & Cable TV

Satellite TV Buying GuideCan’t decide between cable and satellite TV? This is the modern-day dilemma, as both technologies has their positives and negatives — and in some instances, neither of them proves to be worthy. If you’re not interested to minimize your entertainment needs on streaming video and the internet, here’s a comprehensive comparison chart between cable and satellite.

Cable and satellite TV differ in more ways than just how they transmit television programming. Cable TV will less likely be affected by the weather conditions, but is usually pricier than satellite TV service. Cable might be more convenient for renters and individuals who don’t wish to agree to a long-term agreement. Satellite TV signal might be disrupted by bad weather, but is often cheaper. The availability for cable and satellite TV services also differs; cable TV is limited to the locations where companies offer service (which often times excludes rural areas or new communities in the suburban area), while satellite television can be accessible from anywhere that a dish can be mounted to face south.

Setup & Installation

Cable TV is installed by a professional technician. If you’re looking for anything other than basic cable, you need to rent a cable box and remote from your cable company till you are in an agreement with your service provider. If the cable line in has already been set up in the house — for instance, if you already have Internet service through the same service provider — then under those circumstances you can install the TV service yourself.

On the other hand, Satellite TV involves installing a satellite dish on the roof of your house or along the side of your house. A non-negotiable condition is that the satellite dish must be facing south. This could be a problem if you are living in an apartment with a shared wall on the south-side. Self-installation of a satellite dish may sometimes be rather time consuming. Usually, the hardware should be returned at the time of cancellation of services however, some service providers make an exception if it is too difficult to reach the antenna. Installation charges can be negotiated or even waived, especially if the customer chooses to sign up a long-term agreement.

Cable TV vs. Satellite TV Reception

Cable TV rarely seems to lose reception, except if the whole system crashes or the cable lines are cut off somewhere along their course in to the house.
A satellite TV always gets a clear reception as long as there’s nothing hindering between the satellite dish and the southern sky. And if for instance something stands in the way, like a tree, a building or wires of some sort, aligning the satellite dish slightly can give you a perfect reception. A safely mounted dish with good exposure to the southern sky will never have bad reception, other than during poor weather, where it might probably become fuzzy or lose signal, but is likely to be back as soon as it passes by.

Picture and service quality

One of the key elements of deciding between cable and satellite is image quality. Most people nowadays have a HDTV, so the debate is no longer about standard versus high-definition. Instead now we talk about video resolution — whether it’s 720p, 1080p, or in fact 4K HD.
In many instances, the screen resolution capabilities of our televisions actually go beyond the resolution in which cable and satellite is transmitted. There are several important differences that you’ll need to be familiar with, though.

Cable TV has to deal with the constraints of the coaxial cable it is sent over. Which means your cable company needs to consider this when choosing what resolution to use. High Definition is broadcast at 720p, and in some cases compressed even more due to bandwidth limitations, ABCNews reports. This may mean not-so-High Definition image quality in some cases.

Having said that, satellite doesn’t have the same problems with regards to bandwidth, even though it too has a few bandwidth limits (but not to the extent of cable connection). Almost all of the high definition programming is in 1080p, even though some networks may be broadcast at lower resolutions and/or compressed like cable television. Both Dish and DirecTV are also testing 4K, something which cable technology just is not capable to do due to its restrictions.

Accessibility & Coverage

Cable is limited to homes which are in the service provider’s coverage area. This usually excludes rural areas.
Whereas Satellite TV can be accessible from anywhere, so long as the satellite dish can directly face the southern sky, which sometimes makes it challenging to setup at an apartment that shares a wall on the south-side, or has a huge tree, building or any other hindrance in the way.

Programming Options

While cable and satellite could oftentimes offer a similar lineup of channels (including HBO and Showtime, what you’ll get with basic satellite TV (about 200 channels) is the same as premium cable, which makes satellite TV a better value-for-money option.

Cable may present you with local programming which is not carried by satellite, such as public access stations.
Satellite TV provides both east and west coast feeds and alternate sports programs on networks like ESPN and Fox Sports. Furthermore, it also offers many international channels that cable does not.

International Networks

Cable offers you some international-focused networks, such as channels in Chinese, Korean and Portuguese, however, these channels are all US-based.

Satellite TV enables users to enjoy any free international networks that are picked up by the dish. Satellite TV is mostly a better option for international programming, because it offers custom package options from most regions, like Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. This particular service is one of the main reasons why satellite TV is most liked among first-generation immigrant families in the United States.


We’re all price conscious in most cases, so cost ultimately will play a big part in our decision making. Considering the cable and satellite battle, it’s a bit tricky to evaluate the two due to some gimmicky pricing deals, especially from the satellite service providers.

Here’s also a location where there is likely to be a great deal of variability, so we considered package prices from four cities across the country — New York, Chicago, Detroit and San Francisco — and calculated an average.

Starting with DirecTV’s packages, there are six to choose from:
SelectTM with 150+ channels is $50/month, Entertainment with 155+ channels for $55/month, ChoiceTM with 185+ channels for $60/month, Xtra with 230+ channels for $70/month, Ultimate with 245+ channels for $75/month, and Premier with 325+ channels including all premium channels for $125/month.
Dish offers similar deals, although this company only has three packages with 120, 200, and 250 channels for $50, $70, and $80, respectively.

Different cable service providers across the most popular cities we researched offer three digital cable packages with 140, 220, and 260 channels respectively. 140 channels is billed at $45-$50 per month. 220 channels sets you back $60-70 per month, and the top tier runs $70-90 per month. Which clearly shows that you are not getting a lot of channels for the price you are paying.

Considering all these details that we found about each service’s pricing tiers, satellite TV service still ends up being the better deal, and perhaps even more during the promotional season. Satellite TV is certainly your best choice if price is your main concern.

And the final vote goes to…Satellite TV

After a close comparison, and looking at all the aspects of cable and satellite TV, we feel satellite’s service has an edge over cable. When it comes to price, number of channels, picture quality, reliability, DVR quality, and customer service, satellite TV service beats cable TV service fair and square.
Also bundling always saves money — and choosing a Satellite TV provider like DIRECTV gives you so many bundle options for you to save money and experience a better form of entertainment.
Therefore, make the right choice today by ordering DIRECTV.

What to expect when you order

If you’ve never ordered satellite TV before, the process is very similar to any utility/home service order – phone, electricity, etc. Phase 1 is answering any questions you may have regarding the plans, prices and features. If/when things sound good and you’re ready to order, your customer service agent will ask for your personal information (full name, address, phone and SSN for a soft pull of your credit) and then create your account. From there, you pick an installation date (depending on where you live, as early as the next day) and you’re good to go!

Installation day

During the ordering process, you’ll be given a specific time window on when to expect your installer (if they’re ever running late, they’ll give you a ring). Installation tends to take 1-3 hours, depending on how many rooms are involved and the complexity of the wiring from the outside dish. Once that’s wrapped, the installer will activate your DVR card (specific to your account) and typically call the home base to make sure everything’s working on both ends… i.e., if you change you plan via the on-screen program guide, order pay-per-view, etc. Once confirmed, they’ll then open up the guide and walk you through the basics. These days, the program guides are so intuitive, it’s more of a formality. Couple minutes later, you’re all set :). And remember, if you ever have ANY questions about your bill or service, both DIRECTV and DISH have 24-hour phone and online help readily available. Just refer to the paperwork your installer will provide. Enjoy your new service!