Unless you live in an area with only one choice of TV service, you'll have a decision to make: cable vs satellite.
Each option has pros and cons, it's just a matter of what's most important to you in terms of your viewing experience.
In this guide, we're going to look at how the two measure up in terms of key elements like price, equipment and more.
Table of Contents
Cable vs Satellite - Channel Selection
Both TV service types offer the most popular channels like ESPN, Disney, Food Network and others that you'd expect to come with at least some of the package offerings.
Cable vs Satellite HD Channels
Cable vs Satellite Local Channels
Cable has the advantage for local networks. You may get local stations on satellite but they may only be available in higher packages, and some may not be available at all. If you just want all your favorite local news channels and primetime programming in the cheapest TV package you can find, cable has you covered.
Bottom line: Both options offer most of the channels you could possibly want. Your choice between cable vs satellite will come down to your personal watching habits and preferences.
Cable vs Satellite - Equipment and Installation
There are a couple of things to keep in mind in terms of TV equipment and installation.
- Most DVRs have similar capabilities.
- The DISH Network Hopper 3 has double the storage space of most other main providers.
- Whether you choose cable or satellite, the major TV service providers have apps that allow you to view and record content from your mobile devices.
- The two main satellite providers - Dish Network and DIRECTV - provide free installation (this can vary depending on your credit check results).
- Cable installation may cost you up to $90 or more. In some cases, like special promotional offers, you may be able to have the installation fee waived.
- The number of rooms makes a difference. For instance, Dish includes installation for up to six rooms while DIRECTV gives you four. After that, you'll pay extra.
Bottom line: If you love to record, record, record you'll want to choose a provider with extra storage capacity built into their DRV. Outside of that, most of the equipment is comparable. Cable installation will probably cost you whereas satellite probably won't.
Cable vs Satellite - Price
The question of whether cable or satellite has the best price depends, again, on what you want out of your service.
- The best cable TV deals are generally TV and internet bundles.
- If you just want a basic channel selection cable is the cheapest option, as satellite providers don't sell small local packages.
- Satellite is typically more affordable if you want a decent channel selection and don't mind committing to a contract.
- Cable is a good choice if you don't want a contract, however, you'll probably pay a higher monthly price for your package.
Bottom line: Satellite TV typically offers more channels for the same money. Cable, however, gives you cheaper package options if you just want the basics.
Cable vs Satellite - Other Considerations
For many TV customers, their preferred provider comes down to the special features and add-ons, like sports channel packages or premium movie networks. Others put customer service high on their priority list.
There are a few other things to think about:
- Satellite TV takes the cake for availability with service in all 50 states.
- At the time of this writing, HBO and Cinemax are not available on DISH due to a dispute with AT&T. This matters a lot if you're a fan of HBO exclusives. The other big satellite provider, DIRECTV, is a subsidiary of AT&T so they remain unaffected by the cutoff.
- All of the widely available TV service providers give you a wide array of specialty plans like sports, entertainment, and PPV events.
- For sports fans who are weighing DISH vs DIRECTV, the latter provides NFL Sunday Ticket (every out-of-market game every week) with all plans except the bottom two.
- Satellite typically beats out cable in terms of customer satisfaction. In fact, in the 2018 American Customer Satisfaction Index DISH and DIRECTV have higher consumer satisfaction ratings than any other cable company besides AT&T U-Verse.
- This may seem like I'm stating the obvious but it bears pointing out - satellite TV requires a dish on the side of your house. Cable is definitely less of an eyesore if that's a major issue for you.
Bottom line: If there's a specific pay channel you must have, make sure your TV provider of choice offers it. In general, cable TV is a channel surfer's dream while satellite TV is a playground for sports fans and HD/4K connoisseurs.
Of course, no matter how closely you examine the offerings of any given TV provider, none of it matters unless they're available in your area. Find TV providers by zip code using our comparison tool.
You can also compare the details of the best TV providers side-by-side:
- DIRECTV vs DISH
- DIRECTV vs AT&T U-Verse
- DISH vs Comcast XFINITY
- DIRECTV vs Spectrum
- DIRECTV vs Comcast XFINITY
If you've read over the pros and cons of cable vs satellite TV and still aren't quite sure, maybe you should take a look at the best streaming services.
Streaming through services like Netflix and Sling offers a more affordable way to get exactly what you want. That is, as long as you don't subscribe to every single one you can find - that can get expensive quickly!
Ultimately all of the TV providers have something unique to offer. Just make sure you read through the package details and contract terms carefully!