Friday, December 12, 2008

Versus Week Final Round: Satellite vs. Cable

All this week, Observer columnist Langston Wertz Jr. is writing about popular technology rivalries and trying to help determine which is best for you. The week concludes today with a look at satellite vs. cable TV for home entertainment.

Monday: PS3 vs. Xbox 360
Tuesday: Macs vs. PC
Wednesday: DSL vs. cable internet
Thursday: Wireless or wired home networking

Satellite or cable TV for your home? This is one of the oldest technology arguments out there. If you do not own an HDTV and don’t plan on buying one, both services are about equal and will allow you to watch TV after the digital transition early next year.

But if HD is your bag, or if you think it might be soon, there are a few things you should know.

Cable advantages: “No contract, no equipment to buy” is the cable man’s mantra. Time Warner Cable has superior video-on-demand services and specialized local programming from CMS and News Channel 14 that you can’t get on a dish. There’s also a new feature called “Start Over’’ that will allow viewers to restart shows already in progress so they don’t miss a minute. You don’t need a clear line of sight to the southwest, like with satellite, to get service. And best of all, you can bundle cable, phone and Internet for a discounted price.

Satellite advantages: The picture looks better, especially on non-HD channels (though some cable companies are starting to convert to all digital, like satellite). The selection and variety of high-def content is currently much wider on satellite. The two major satellite providers, DirecTV and DISH, offer more than 100 HD channels, and both carry the NFL Network, which you can’t get on Time Warner. Overall picture quality, especially on non-HD channels, is better locally off the dish.

Knockout Blow: Time Warner’s equipment problems are frequently talked about on message boards, and I’ve experienced them myself. The HD-DVRs, particularly, can be troublesome. DISH and DirecTV equipment tends to run better, be more reliable and the HD choices those companies provide are hard to beat. For sports fans, DirecTV also has NFL Sunday Ticket, giving you access to out-of-market NFL games. Plus, both sat-casters are starting to offer 1080p high-definition movies on pay-per-view, mimicking the sound and advanced picture quality of Blu-Ray. Oh, and satellite prices are cheaper in the long run, too.

Winner: Satellite. Embrace your dish.

34 comments:

AJ said...

I could not disagree with you more. As many problems as I have had with Time Warner in the past, I always dreamed of living somewhere I could finally get DirecTV. Well, 18 months ago I got my wish, and it took another 6-8 months to get it all sorted back out.
I won't go into too many details, but I will say that I was lied to about the final costs, installation procedures, and content. During the week that I had my sat dish, I had 3 outages due to rain (One thunderstorm, and 2 regular rainfalls). After calling nearly everyday during that week about our installation issues, we were finally told we could cancel with no penalty and return our DVR for a refund. However, even though we returned all equipment (except the dish itself, which they would not take back and ended up in the trash) our final bill charged us a $300 early termination fee, and we received a notice that our rebate for the DVR was rejected and DirecTV would not give us our $100 back. After nearly 6 months of phone calls where we were told they would NOT credit us back, one woman who DID credit us back, and then someone else who illegally charged the credit card we used to pay the installation for the termination fee again, after we had finally gotten it credited, and then trying to dispute through our credit card company, I went to the NC Atty General. After a month, our card was credited back for the ETF, and we received a copy of a letter from DirecTV to the AG stating that we had never requested a credit or given them the opportunity to fix our problems. I don't know about DISH network, but that other company is a ripoff. I've heard many similar horror stories about them and the installers they use. TWC might be bad, but the devil you know is better than the one you don't!

RH said...

My cable bill has ballooned in the past month or two. TWC's customer service is garbage, the "new" DVR software is painfully slow and harder to use than the old stuff. For every story like AJ's concerning satellite, I've heard just as many who have never had a problem with their sat service. So, I'm pretty torn as to what to do. If only AT&T would bring their fiber optic TV here, or even better Verizon FiOS!

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with AJ. I switched back when it was announced that you could only get the baseball package on DirecTV. Later they worked it out to still provide it on cable but I was stuck. DirecTV's customer service is the worst I've seen at any company, bar none. I've experienced the same with hidden fees and their other favorite trick is that after you agree to a two-year contract, without warning they extend it to a four-year contract. I still haven't figured out how they did that to me. It just came up when I was on the phone with tech support one time (which is somewhat frequent) that my contract is through 2011 now instead of 2009.

Anonymous said...

I switched from TWC's crummy HD box three weeks ago. I was shocked that DirecTV had free install and free HDTV for the same period that TWC promised. plus DirecTV actually had HD channels. TWC is always promising. ESPNEws is coming. Golf Channel is coming. DirecTV has them and they look, to my eye, better than on cable.

Plus I got rid of those crummy snowy channels on the non-HD tier. My TWC box drove me up a wall. Glad I changed. Now I can't wait for AT&T and hopefully Verizon to get here to test those against DirecTV

James Gracie said...

Langston, great work this week. I disagreed with you on some of it, like Mac over PC and a little with PS3 over 360, but you nailed it here. Time Warner sucks out loud. Their always jacking up rates and promising stuff that never appears. They're "superior" video on demand never works or when it does, it's turtle slow. I find Dish's downloads faster, DVR better, customer service EONS better (TWC has worst customer service ever) and I have not had one service call. TWC I had many, forcing me to sit at home many days in that 12-4 window only to have the guy show up at 3:59. Ugh! The (bad) memories.

Anonymous said...

agree that TWC has possibly the WORST service and equipment out there. I have used SAT in the past and had no troubles other than the sometimes unsightly dish. However, I ALWAYS have trouble with TWC. Either we are charged for random items or our bill magically inflated to the HD channels being VERY limited and looking not nearly as clear as SAT. I have also had many issues with TWC service cutting out for random periods of time and having to call the customer service which is a pain. TWC needs more HD with better quality programming, better equipment, cleaner and faster running software, and better customer service. Right now, TWC sucks, period.

mhusak said...

I chose the third option, no pay tv in favor for OTA digital transmission only (see antennaweb.org) and hulu.com. TimeWarner's entry point into "usable cable tv" will still run you $60/month, Dish & Directv while lower if you can work a deal, has better offerings more in line with channels worth watching. But scanning through 90% of the channels offered by TimeWarner/Dish/Directv, are things I would never watch. Hard to justify paying that kind of money for something I only use 10% of. I'd rather spend it on a cup of coffee I can enjoy. Anyways, network channels come in with fantastic 1080p/i Hi Def quality (along with about 20-30 channels of PBS which seems to be in even better quality) . I think at last check I have about 35 channels I'm receiving in South Charlotte with nothing but a set of Rabbit Ears. I can wait until I roof mount my 8x10" powered antenna to see what else get's picked up. My kids are still normal, and don't get picked on at school, I can still engage normal conversations with humans, and our daily lives are still overfilled with instantaneous overstimulated information (and we get most of the televised NFL/college football games). Anyways, for the days and nights there's nothing worth watching, we discovered the best feature of all.. the power button.

Kurt said...

I had DirecTV for years with just regular channels but when I upgraded our TV's to HD I found out their satellites for those channels were behind a stand of trees so I had to cancel and go to TW. What a letdown, we went through three DVR's before we got one that would actually record the shows we programmed and not need to be rebooted twice a week. We constantly have issues where we're watching a show and it just like pauses or something so we miss 10 seconds or so. No NFL Network for me is a huge disappointment. If DirecTV would put HD satellites where I could reach them I'd go back in a heartbeat. To be fair, I love TW's Roadrunner internet service and have very few problems with it.

Anonymous said...

Langston, why didn't you/they run these blogs IN THE PAPER??? I don't read the online much and happened to stumble on to these. I printed them off and put them on my frige. I was about to make a TV decision, after two years of rabbit ears. I was disappointed with TWC so i left them before. I'm calling DirecTV right now to start service on your reccomendation. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

I have Directv HD and for the most part have bee pleased with the service. when I upgraded from non-HD to HD i did experience more stormcloud related outages even though the signal strength is normally 96+. I have seen the offering by ATT, it is called U-Verse and it is quite impressive and it is now being offered in the Charlotte area, albeit on a painfully slow rollout scheduled. They have it at their experience store in the EpiCenter in uptown. With their DVR you can record 4 streams at once and watch the playback on any other set in the house, not just the one you recorded it on. also, it will surf channels as fast as you can press the channel button, lets see cable or directv do that! I can wait until they roll-out my neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

The only reason I don't have satellite is because I don't want to have to rent a box for every TV that I want hooked up. Yeah, it would be 'digital', but most of the channels I watch are in the normal tier, so I only want digital and DVR on one TV. I have a guest room with a TV in it, and that TV is on maybe 10 days a year. With TW, I don't have to worry about getting a signal in there, but with Satellite I either have to pay $5-$8/month for it, or move a box from another TV (which costs $5-$8/month too).

Until all channels are in HD and HDTVs have replaced everything in my home, I see no need for having 'digital cable' in every room.

I go for the fairly cheap plans, so the sports packages don't make a difference to me. Once I add 4 receivers to a satellite package, and factor in the cost of my internet service going up, TW wins.

Anonymous said...

I had directv up until a month ago and had to change to cable(just moved into an apartment). In a month i've had to reboot the dvr a couple times to correct problems and have noticed sluggish response from the box.

As for satellite, I have never had a problem with it over the course of around 3 yrs. If you get premium channels, you have alot more options. Directv has around a dozen hbo's alone(still nothing on) whereas TWC has 3(i think).

Only downside for satellite is the quality of the local sat. contractors. I've had 2 contractors who both did an excellent job, but independent contractor's quality varies widely(some are worthless).

TWC also doesn't tell you that you only get a digital signal where you have a converter box, satellite has one on every tv(have to pay extra though). So watching hbo in the bedroom with TWC is out unless you want to spend extra on a box.

Satellite wins hands down in my opinion(at least directv does).

Anonymous said...

OTA (Over-The-Air) digital antenna's are a great option for those who only watch mostly ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, UPN, PBS and don't want to pay $60+ for cable. You also get a MUCH better clarity in the signal and the picture is a lot better than the compressed digital signals that TWC sends through. Plus, it's free.

In DISH Hell said...

I gave Dish as a xmas present to my fiance'. We have been in Dish agony for 3 years now. First, they mounted the dish on the small roof overhang off the entry way (huge eyesore). That well thought out plan backfired when they had to come back out a week later and move it because it was a foot away from a power line up there. They were back a week after that "grounding" it because the man who installed it never did it in the first place.

We then bought a house together and moved his service out to the sticks (and I sadly said good by to TW). The first year consisted of daily lost signals. Recorded programs were always cut because the signal was lost. One of the repair man said that it was never grounded (hmmm.. where have I heard that before?). Also during the first year, we swapped out 3 broken receivers. By the end of the second year, we had swapped out 2 more no longer functioning receivers. After 2 years and 50 million phone calls to customer service... I just gave up. I currently live with recorded programs that have "glitches" in them. they say they are an hour long, but after a minute... it stops and won't let you go any further. I live with programs that don't record even when an hour earlier you saw it in the scheduled list to record (false sense of security). The list goes on and on. The last blow was when we bought a new (our first) flat screen TV. We were disappointed to find that the picture doesn't look right regardless of the size settings. TV customer service told me to call Dish. Dish says that I need to upgrade my receiver... which is a $50 fee. Oh but don't worry.. they can waive that if I sign another 2 year contract.

I'm free of my current contract and I'm looking to get the heck out of Dishland at this point. Currently doing my research while looking to get the best deal from TW possible. To all you Dish fans... go play the lotto because you have some really great luck!

Bluto said...

I have been very happy with DishNet. Indeed it can be frustrating on the rare occasion it is raining extremely hard - Overall beats TWC hands down.

Dish has all the PPV Sports packages except NFL - so if it's that important then get DirecTV.

Also - it is important to get an installer that knows what is going on. Initially we had problems and it was due to slackers acting like experts doing the install. Once we got an experienced technician to get it going - - all has been well.

As with all equipment, it will age/become obsolete, and fail. Yes it cost out of pocket, but they usually have trade-in deals where you are not paying full price, and I imagine it ends up being no worse than monthly equip rental to the cable co.

Anonymous said...

be patient, don't sign any long-term contracts with anybody, and wait for U-Verse.

Anonymous said...

Don't get U-Verse. It's a mess - you think you have trouble now with TW and the Sat's - AT&T has double the issues.

sucker said...

The newer TWC software is horrible compared to the old. Its slow, ugly, and for some reason gives you LESS details about movies. LAME

GrubbDawg said...

I cannot live without my Direct TV. I got it in 1999 and have had NFL Sunday Ticket and Center Ice every year. Their HD is amazing and they have more channels then anyone else. I also get all my UFC fights in HD and the NFL Network in HD (Time Warrner doesn't even have the NFL Network in SD).

I have no idea why anyone would go with cable. There are so many Direct TV deals out there that it would be stupid not to do it.

I have Time Warrner for my cable modem and their customer service sucks!

Every time I call Direct TV, they treat me like a king. It may be because I get a ton of programming and they see my account when I call but it still makes me want to stay.

Anonymous said...

TW's advertising that you don't have to pay extra for HD channels is not entirely accurate. In order to get HD channels, you must have digital cable service which you have to pay extra for! What a scam!

Luv The Satellite said...

It's true the weather can affect DirecTV service a bit, but for 99% of the time, it's pretty darn good. Much better than cable, which seems to go out a lot. Can't beat the DirecTV channel selection. If you're getting an HDTV for Christmas, you should seriously consider a satellite tv service -- SO many more channels! Customer service is good -- again, MUCH better than the cable guys. I think with pricing/fees, you just have to ask a lot of questions when you order to make sure you understand if any terms are subject to change. But you can almost always find good deals on the web. This site seems to have a few good ones: www.directstartv.com

Anonymous said...

I agree with most are saying here, DirecTV is king, Dish is second and TWC is garbage. Poor service, poor customer service, etc, with cable. I hate it for those with line of sight issues. I will say for $5 per room, adding a DVR is pretty inexpensive with the sat companies.....My only gripe (Rick Thims do you hear)...why isn't this stuff iN THE PAPER!!!

Anonymous said...

These TW supporters gotta be TW employees! I had TWC, swithed to DTV and loved it. Moved and switched back to cable to get high speed internet. HATED it! Switched back to DTV and got DSL. Now TWC offers Roadrunner in my area without having to use other TWC services, so I have DTV with NO problems and much better tv, and I have RR with TWC and still challenges with TWC service. BTW, in using DTV for about eight years (cumulative), I had one outage for couple of hours. I've had more Duke Power outages!!

Anonymous said...

What contract? I have HD DirecTv and no contract. Whats up with that gibberish?

Anonymous said...

HD OTA (over the air) has MUCH better picture quality than satelite or cable, and best of all, it's FREE! For my family, we are happy to settle for fewer (but better quality) HD channels and save the $$ for Red Box or Netflix. I just feel bad for the folks in smaller markets that don't get all the HD OTA channels that we do...

Anonymous said...

I have been with TWC for many years and looked this year at going to DirectTV because of the NFL package they were offering. My problem is I would need a converter box for each of the 6 TV's in my house that currently use 2 through TWC. After spending 45 minutes on the phone (The longer you talk the more discounts they seemed to give) and then being told they would need my Credit Card information before they would email me a quote. I knew then something was not right and stayed put. I don't know of any company that needs to charge a credit card for a quote.

Anonymous said...

I would not touch TW Cable if it was offered for free. Worst customer service ever. Non stop problems and issues. It simply is not worth the constant hassle..even if free!! And the quality? PLEEEEASE....If you compare TW to direct tv or dish, you will be blown away at how much better SAT is. TW Cable STINKS!!

Anonymous said...

You do have a contract with DTV and dish..unless you have been there long enough that your contract is expired. I think DTV is a year for req DTV and a year for HD/DVR...oh yeah...if you go buy your box at Best Buy it aint yours until your contract is met...if you try leaving early,you have to pay a termination fee, even if you bought the box at BB or Walmart or Circuit City.

Anonymous said...

The contract length for the HD/DVR is 2 years. If you sign up for the regular DTV(single cone) it is 1 year.

Anonymous said...

"All folks saying good things on here about TWC are TWC employees." That's a good one.

Thanks Langston for telling the truth. Sat is better. I'm a TWC employee and I have always kept sat in my home. I tell the boss its' because my wife can't miss a Jets game. Yeah, right.

Steve said...

I had DirecTV in Catawba Co., and the quality was pretty good, but the signal went away even during moderate rain. The 5.1 digital sound was great on the shows that had it. I paid extra for a service plan, so I had receivers replaced several times under the plan. Each time, they'd send me a receiver that was not comparable with the one I had bought, and then they'd have to replace that one. Every time they sent one, they started my contract over.

When I moved to Gaston Co., I got the 25-channel version of Time-Warner Cable. The price went up 20% in the first year. I had a billing issue, and they told me that I really needed to give them somebody's SS number, but not my own, and they wouldn't tell me what former resident of that address the number belonged to. They said I could take my SS card to one of their offices, but they couldn't tell me where the nearest office was. I thought about upgrading to more channels, but decided that finding my SS card and finding their office (since they couldn't find it) was more trouble than it was worth. I used the antenna for the bedroom TV anyway. When I got a small HD tv for the bedroom, I enjoyed the great over-the-air HD pictures on 36 and 3, and sometimes the multiple channels for 30 in Rock Hill, but I couldn't get WSOC, WTVI, or WUNC. So I hooked the cable up to that set. Now, without a converter box I can get the multiple digital feeds of WUNC, etc.

I've not considered getting their HD box for it, though. Last year we got Mother a HD tv for Christmas. She has TW in Shelby, and continues to have frequent issues with the cable box. So I guess I'll stick with my local-station plan.

I'll be retiring in Davidson, and already have MI-Connection there. They are upgrading the system from the sub-par Adelphia equipment, and their system is supposed to be very different in a few months. If they do a good job with that, I'll probably get a HD package from them.

Allen said...

I have had Directv for nearly five years now. I have had my signal go out just a handful of times a year, usually during those crazy summer storms with crazy winds. I get clear channels especially local channels. I've moved twice and had no troubles with moving the dish or service. I bought a regular unit and a DVR from best buy and I couldn't be happier. (I love my Tivo) I also don't any lease fees due to the fact I bought mine. They do have fees for HD and DVR services but its only five bucks. I couldn't be happier with my service. Also for being with them for so long the gave me STARZ and Showtime free for four months.

Krissy said...

If you are sick of dealing with the Time Warner Cable Customer Service (if you are lucky enough to even get someone on the phone) then I recommend DirecTV. Rated number 1 in customer service, not only will you receive the respect and honesty you deserve as a customer but also more variety in your programming than you could have ever imagined. www.directstartv.com is the place to go for your DirecTV!

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