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Cable vs. Satellite TV: Which One Is More Reliable?
Hint: cable is more reliable (and less expensive)
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Cable TV vs. satellite TV: which is cheaper? More entertaining? More reliable? Better for you?
We think cable television is generally a better pick over satellite. It costs less and is less glitchy. But if you live in a rural area or don’t want to pay a lot extra for a DVR, then satellite is a better choice.
Cable TV pros and cons
Satellite TV pros and cons
Cable TV vs. Satellite TV: Prices
Cable television tends to be more affordable than satellite television. The maximum price for cable is about $140, while satellite runs as high as $160.
Our recommended cable TV providers are in between $30-$60 per month for 75 to 125 channels (although Optimum does offer a lower-priced, 50-channel plan).
Meanwhile, satellite TV starts at about $80 for one hundred-something channels. Specifically, DISH charges $79.99 for 190 channels while DIRECTV charges 65.99 for 165. (Yes, the US has only two major satellite providers. Can someone say duopoly?)
Generally, you get more channels for less money with cable, making it the more cost-efficient option.
Cable TV vs. Satellite TV: Channels
You typically get more channels at lower prices with cable than with satellite, but the number of channels isn’t necessarily the most important thing to consider.
You also want to think about what type of channels your service offers and their quality. Some channels are available only with DISH or DIRECTV.
Verizon TV is your best bet if you’re mainly interested in how much content you can get. You can get 425 channels for $110 a month.
If you care more about content type and quality, that largely depends on the individual service and package, not whether you have cable or satellite. You can check out our review for a full breakdown of the channel lineups of Dish and DIRECTV, but there’s some content you can only get when you have a satellite dish.
Cable TV vs. Satellite TV: Installation
Comparing a cable and satellite setup is similar to comparing a landline and a cell phone. Cable television relies on physical cables, while satellite programming uses a satellite dish to pick up signals.
If we had to pick based on installation alone, we’d say cable is the easier, more reliable choice for most people. Satellite television is more prone to interruption.
You see, cable providers offer more flexibility and require less equipment to install—usually a single outlet, coax cable, and set-top cable box. If you live in a multi-dwelling unit (apartments, townhomes, etc.), you can usually install cable without running into any issues. You can even do it yourself if you have the know-how. Once you’re done, because the signal runs through the cable, interference will be minimal.
Satellite providers have to install a dish on the outside of your house, and the dish must point in the right direction and be free of debris. If the slightest thing goes wrong, it can interfere with your signal. We remember some fuzzy watching in our DIRECTV days.
On the whole, it’s safe to say cable is easier to set up and will have fewer technical issues.
Satellite television can be a saving grace for rural area folks who want live TV but don’t have access to cable service providers. On top of that, satellite television is available nationwide, so even if you move, you can keep the same service for years.
Cable TV vs. Satellite TV: DVR
You can get DVR service with either cable or satellite providers. However, satellite TV DVRs tend to be cheaper than cable TV DVRs. DIRECTV plans even include the Genie DVR.
Now in most cases, even with the added DVR fees, you’ll pay less with cable than with satellite. But if you’re already leaning towards satellite or don’t like cable’s surprise surcharges, then it makes sense to rejoice over the low satellite DVR fees.
DVR storage capacity
|Xfinity||X1 DVR||20–300 hrs./mo.||$7.50–$20.00/mo.|
|Spectrum||Spectrum TV DVR (built-in)||35–80 hrs./mo.||$4.99–$9.99/mo.|
|Fios||Fios TV DVR||50–200 hrs./mo.||$0.00–$30.00/mo.|
|Optimum||Cloud DVR||25–150 hrs./mo.||$9.99–$21.99/mo.|
|Cox||Contour Record 6 DVR||250 hrs./mo.||$10.00–$30.00/mo.|
|DISH||Hopper DVR||125–500 hrs./mo.||$5.00–$10.00/mo.|
|DIRECTV||Genie DVR||200 hrs./mo.||Included|
Data effective 02/08/2023.
If you aren’t familiar with DVRs, they’re digital video recorders that will record live TV for you to watch later.
Not everyone needs a few hundred hours of DVR space a month. If you’re recording one or two shows every week, even 20 hours is probably enough. But if you have several people in your household watching multiple shows, it’s wise to invest in at least 100.
The NFL Sunday Ticket is officially moving from DIRECTV over to YouTube TV for this year's 2023 NFL Season.
Details about how Sunday Ticket will work on YouTube TV are still emerging, but if you want to stay up to speed, check out our NFL Sunday Ticket review.
Cable TV vs. Satellite TV: Which is better?
For most folks, cable television is a better choice than satellite. It’s cheaper and less likely to have signal interruptions. But there are still reasons you might prefer a satellite dish, like if you live in a rural area or want a more affordable DVR.
- Price: Cable. Cable costs quite a bit less than satellite.
- Channels: Tie. You tend to get more channels with cable, but some content options are satellite-only.
- Installation: Cable. Cable is easier to install and is more reliable because it’s hard-wired, while satellite is more complicated and susceptible to whims.
- DVR: Satellite. Satellite DVRs are typically cheaper than cable DVRs, and they come with plenty of recording hours.
Find the best streaming service for you.
Cable vs. satellite TV FAQs
Neither a cable provider nor a satellite provider would be our first recommendation for TV lovers in today's world. Most popular TV shows are readily available on streaming services.
Subscribing to a handful of streaming providers is just as much as a basic cable TV package and much less than a satellite plan.
Xfinity TV is our top cable provider recommendation. It’s cheap, it’s one of the best ways to watch March Madness, and it has a pretty dope DVR setup. What’s not to love?
Satellite TV signals can be accessed from almost anywhere, offering more rural areas better coverage. You'll receive a wide variety of channel options as well as high quality video signals. Satellite DVRs are also typically cheaper and better than cable DVRs.
The difference between cable and satellite TV is the type of signal they use to connect to your TV. Cable TV uses a cable and is often a more reliable signal, whereas satellite TV uses a satellite dish, and can be interrupted by bad weather.