Cable vs. Satellite TV: Which one is more reliable?

In the battle of cable vs. satellite TV service, there is no absolute winner. The biggest differences between cable television and satellite television service are installation, price, and equipment.

With both choices, you’ll have access to local channels and live TV for watching sports and news. You get access to HD DVR service to record shows for later (or on-the-go viewing in some cases). Plus, more providers are integrating streaming services like Netflix and Hulu into their native platforms.

Find the best TV packages near you.

Installation

Winner: Cable

Cable providers offer more flexibility and require less equipment to install—usually a single outlet, coax cable, and set-top box. If you live in a multi-dwelling unit (apartments, townhomes, etc.), you can usually install cable without running into any issues.

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. On the whole, it’s safe to say cable is easier to set up and has fewer technical issues over its lifespan.

Heads Up icon
Don’t rule out satellite television.
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.

DISH and DIRECTV offer competitive pricing, a ton of channels, and some of the best HD DVR service out there. Both The Hopper DVR and Genie HD DVR rank as some of the best DVRs for letting you record, watch, and store more shows than most cable providers can offer.

And at the time of writing, DIRECTV is still the only service with NFL SUNDAY TICKET.

Pricing

Winner: Satellite

Pricing and bundling options seem designed for confusion, so choosing between cable and satellite television is a daunting task.

Here’s a breakdown of packages from a few different carriers:

Cable TV vs. Satellite TV cheapest price comparison
ProviderConnection TypeMonthly priceAvailable channelsLearn more
DIRECTVSatellite$59.99$134.99*330+View Plans
DISHSatellite$59.99$89.99290+View Plans
Cox TVCable$25$69.99140+View Plans
Xfnity TVCable$49.99$104.99^260+View Plans
Spectrum TVCable$44.99$104.99200+View Plans
Data effective 11/19/18. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
* For 12 months with a 2-year contract, paperless bill, & autopay. Price increases for months 13-24.
For 24 months with a 2-year agreement and eAutoPay.
For the first 12 months.
^ For the first 12 months. Some packages require a 1-year contract.

Many cable packages don’t require long-term commitments. You pay a higher monthly price, but for commitment-phobic consumers, a plan that lets you opt out at any time is more appealing than the one- or two-year commitments required for most satellite packages.

On the other hand, satellite tends to have a better price per month than cable, and under ideal conditions, satellite HD reception will be better. Both services have tiered package and pricing options.

Price Tag icon
Just want basic TV service?
For bare-bones service—a minimum number of channels, no premium (HBO, SHOWTIME, STARZ) channels, and no HD—satellite service is generally cheaper than cable.

High definition

Winner: Satellite

High definition is where it’s at. You didn’t stand in line for twelve hours on Black Friday to score a discounted 60-inch UHD 4K TV to watch some fuzzy reruns of Friends. You have standards: high-definition standards.

Satellite generally has a better selection of national HD channels, while cable has a better selection of local HD programming. So if you want the most popular channels in the best quality, go with satellite.

Some HD channels are included even in basic packages, so when you call to set up satellite TV service, see if you can wrangle in some HD movie channels along with your bundle.

Channels

Winner: Tie

Both cable and satellite offer a vast array of channels. If you’re after premium channels, you may be able to find them offered for free for a limited number of months from both satellite and cable.

Alternatively, you could also pay for a premium (read: expensive) package to get those channels consistently and forever.

With both satellite and cable, though, you can tailor a package that meets all your viewing requirements.

Because the big cable and satellite providers are under continual pressure to deliver programming tailored to customer demand and have to compete with each other, they’re constantly updating their paid content.

No matter which option you choose, expect to have thousands of available movies and shows available for purchase with your cable or satellite TV subscription.

And what about channel selection?

Satellite providers are generally stronger for national news and sports, while cable is usually better for local news. Here’s the deal though: with channel selection, it comes down to the providers, not cable vs. satellite TV service.

We recommend sitting down and making a list of your favorite shows and channels, then making sure that the cable or satellite package you select includes them. It’s not rocket science, but you don’t want to be locked into a contract and suddenly realize you don’t have MTV. Because no one can live without Teen Mom.

Customer satisfaction

Winner: Tie

ASCI (American Customer Satisfaction Index) research indicates that the standard for customer satisfaction for television service is generally low. No cable or satellite provider scores above 70 (out of 100), and the average score is 62.1

That being said, this year, both U-verse TV and Fios (Verizon Communications) ranked higher than the satellite providers DISH Network and DIRECTV, but the satellite companies ranked higher than the rest of the cable TV companies.2

Equipment

Winner: Cable

If you go with cable television, you have to install wiring inside your house.

The wiring runs from a trunk line in a neighborhood (within a mile of a subscriber’s home) and goes into a connection point to your home, typically a small exterior box. From there, the cable extends to your wireless router and then to a set-top box next to your TV set.

The bottom line is this: if you have cable, no one can tell.

With satellite, however, your home will need a satellite dish attached to the roof or side of your home. While dishes can be positioned unobtrusively, they’re still somewhat unsightly. And because they’re exposed to the elements, you can bet they’re much more likely to be damaged in poor weather (or from a stray baseball).

Overall pick

Verdict: Cable for most, but satellite for rural customers.

Cable generally offers more flexibility and requires less equipment to install, plus it tends to offer a wider variety of packages. Also, cable doesn’t require customers to commit to longer-term (one or two-year) contracts, so if you want tons of options without the commitment, cable’s your best bet.

For those who live in rural areas where it’s difficult to get cable, satellite is always available as long as you have a good view of the southern sky.

Satellite is also probably the better way to go for tech junkies and national sports fans, especially if you’re not averse to having a dish attached to the outside of your home. Just remember, satellite is prone to weather interference and generally requires a longer-term commitment.

Whether price is top priority or it’s all about customer satisfaction, we’ve got you covered. Check out our picks for the best cable and satellite TV providers below.

Now that you know, here are your next steps.

Considering cable? Check out our top ranked providers.

COMPARE CABLE PROVIDERS

Satellite better suited for you? Check out our top ranked providers.

COMPARE SATELLITE PROVIDERS