Cable vs. Satellite TV: Which One Is More Reliable?

Hint: cable is more reliable (and less expensive)

Brianne Sandorf
Mar 02, 2023
Icon Time To Read3 min read

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 vs. Satellite TV: Prices

Winner: Cable

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).

Cable TV provider prices
Provider
Price
Channels
Details
Xfinity$20-$68.5*10-185
Spectrum$59.99145-150
Verizon$60-$12969-425
Optimum$35-$12550-420
Cox$56-$14675-250
Data as of 04/05/2023. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
* Pricing for some packages are for the first 12 months. Some packages require a 1-year contract.
Price with Auto Pay + taxes & equip. charges
Prices exclude taxes, surcharges, usage-based charges, certain equipment, and other fees or charges, which are subject to change.

Meanwhile, satellite TV starts at about $80 for one hundred-something channels. Specifically, DISH charges $84.99 for 190 channels, while DIRECTV charges $69.99 for 90 channels. (Yes, the US has only two major satellite providers. Can someone say duopoly?)

Satellite TV provider prices
Provider
Price
Channels
Details
Dish$84.99-$114.99^190-290
Directv$59.99-$159.99°75-150
Data as of 04/05/2023. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
^ All offers require credit qualification, 2-year commitment with early termination fee and eAutoPay.
° All prices include $5 Autopay & Paperless Bill discount, which may take 1-3 bill cycles to begin (pay $5 more per month until discount begins). New approved residential customers only. 24-mo. agreement required. Offers may be discontinued at any time.

Generally, you get more channels for less money with cable, making it the more cost-efficient option.

Cable TV vs. Satellite TV: Channels

Winner: Tie

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.

Cable TV vs. satellite TV channel comparison
Provider
Max channels
Details
Xfinity185
Spectrum150
Verizon425
Optimum420
Cox250
Dish290
Directv150
Data as of 04/05/2023. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.

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

Winner: Cable

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.

Two satellite dishes on the roof of a house (4)

On the whole, it’s safe to say cable is easier to set up and will have fewer technical issues.

Don’t rule out satellite
Heads Up

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

Winner: Satellite

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.

Cable and satellite DVRs
Provider
DVR
DVR storage capacity
Price
XfinityX1 DVR20–300 hrs./mo.$7.50–$20.00/mo.
SpectrumSpectrum TV DVR (built-in)35–80 hrs./mo.$4.99–$9.99/mo.
FiosFios TV DVR 50–200 hrs./mo.$0.00–$30.00/mo.
OptimumCloud DVR25–150 hrs./mo.$9.99–$21.99/mo.
CoxContour Record 6 DVR250 hrs./mo.$10.00–$30.00/mo.
DISHHopper DVR125–500 hrs./mo.$5.00–$10.00/mo.
DIRECTVGenie DVR200 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.

NFL Sunday Ticket is now on YouTubeTV
Megaphone

The NFL Sunday Ticket is officially moving from DIRECTV over to YouTube TV for this year's 2023 NFL Season.

To find more details about how Sunday Ticket will work on YouTube TV, 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.
Now that you’ve picked between cable and satellite, what about streaming?
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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. 

Brianne Sandorf
Written by
Brianne Sandorf
Brianne has a degree in English and creative writing from Westminster College and has spent 6+ years writing professional, research-based content. Before joining Reviews.org, she wrote safety and security content for ASecureLife.com. Her pieces and quotes are published across the web, including on MSN.com, Social Catfish, and Parents.com. Hobbies include wearing a seatbelt, wearing a life jacket, and keeping her arms and legs inside the ride at all times. Contact her at brianne@reviews.org.

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