How Does Satellite TV Service Stack Up Against Cable TV?


Satellite TV Compared To Cable TV

For more than a decade, customers who want to get the most from their TV viewing experience have been divided into one of two camps: digital cable or satellite service. Each delivery method has its advantages and drawbacks when it comes to channel offerings, equipment installation and overall costs. The choice between cable and satellite service often has less to do with technology and more to do with what the customer wants from his or her viewing choices.

SEE ALSO: What Do I Need for Satellite TV?

Features And Channels

Both cable and satellite TV services offer most of the major channels, including broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, etc.), so-called ,basic cable, networks (CNN, ESPN, TBS, A&E, etc.) and, for an additional charge, premium cable channels (HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc.). Both systems offer options for pay-per-view movies and sporting events. Satellite providers, such as DirecTV, offer exclusive access to specialized sports programming, including NFL Sunday Ticket and NASCAR HotPass.

Equipment And Installation

While both systems require additional equipment to view broadcasts, the installation of new equipment varies widely between the two methods. For cable TV, viewers need a set-top box that connects to the television in order to receive cable signals. Satellite viewers must have a receiving dish installed on the exterior of the home to pick up satellite broadcasts. The dish must be placed in a specific portion of the house (typically the southeast corner) and must not have any line-of-sight obstructions that could block the signal.

Costs And Contracts

Monthly costs for both cable and satellite TV services can vary due to a variety of factors, such as location, channel packages and extra services. Satellite subscribers usually sign a one-year to two-year contract with the provider and allow users to purchase the equipment. Digital cable providers only allow users to lease the equipment. Although satellite users can often recoup the cost of their equipment in the first two to three years of service when compared to cable, advances in technology often force the older equipment into obsolescence during that time.

Availability And Reliability

The choice between satellite and cable TV service can come down to a choice between availability and reliability. While customers can access a satellite signal anywhere they can place a receiver dish, cable subscribers must live in a location that has the infrastructure to provide the service. However, cable TV signals are less prone to interference than satellite delivery systems, as inclement weather, line-of-sight obstructions, or other atmospheric phenomena can disrupt satellite transmissions.

Additional Services

The latest innovation among satellite and cable TV service providers is bundling services. These providers can offer TV, internet and telephone service on one bill for the customer's convenience. Since many cable TV companies are also telecom providers (AT&T, Verizon, etc.), they can provide the same customer care personnel for each service. Satellite providers often rely on outside telecom companies for their internet and telephone technology, so the customer must contact the outside provider for questions on their other services.

SEE ALSO: Cable Bundling Options You Must Know


Customers, must consider several factors, when choosing between satellite and cable TV. While satellite has a marginal advantage in cost and a bigger advantage in availability, cable has the edge in reliability and service bundling. When customers have clear questions on what they want from their TV viewing experience, they can get clear answers on which choice suits their needs.

Date of original publication:
Updated on: November 10, 2015

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