TV Comparison: Cable vs. Satellite vs. Streaming vs. Antenna
Many people wonder what options they have for TV and what the differences are between them. In this article, we’ll break down Cable, Satellite, Streaming, and Antenna TV and let you know how they compare. If you’re trying to decide which TV service might be right for you, keep reading and hopefully this will help you choose!
Cable TV has been around for more than thirty years. It is a very popular way to get access to a wide variety of channels to multiple TVs in your home. A coaxial cable is run into your home and connected to a set-top box, or STB. t involves running a line from a cable TV service provider into your home and connect through an STB or set-top box, which is then connected to your TV. You generally get a lot of channels (100+) over a wide variety of genres with an on-screen guide to help you see what’s on any channel at any given time. Cable is typically set up and supported by a local company with local technicians, so help is generally prompt, personal and friendly. You will typically have one cable TV provider in an area, due to the expense of running and maintaining lines and equipment for providing service, and cable is generally only available in or near a community. It is not a common option in outlying areas. Cable TV is often characterized as expensive and inflexible, due to the high cost programming and a lack of picking/choosing channels. This is due to the contracts required by the programmers and their costs, which tend to rise annually.
Pros: Wide variety of channels, local support, reliable signal, easy to use, can “channel surf” to find something to watch
Cons: Typically the most expensive, not portable, only available on TVs, less flexible on pricing/packages
Satellite TV has been around for more then twenty years. It is like cable, but instead of using wires to a customer’s home, it relies on a small-ish satellite dish mounted to the roof, siding, or on a post in the yard. Satellite TV provides a similar offering to cable but may include more channels and a wider variety of pricing options— which can make things more confusing. Satellite is generally not as dependable as cable, due to the number of factors that can affect reception including storms, wind, snow, and foliage. Satellite providers are not likely to have offices and staff in an immediate area, so customer service is handled through call centers and technicians are often contract employees. While you may get more for your money, compared to cable, you may be subject to contracts, service charges, unreliable service, and other potential headaches.
Pros: Wide variety of channels, easy to use, can “channel surf” to find something to watch, semi-portable
Cons: Still rather expensive, confusing terms/contracts, less support/customer service, requires external dish, only available on TVs
Streaming is the open-air-market of TV services, offering you a nearly unlimited selection of channels and content, over a variety of devices from smart TVs to mobile phones, and a package/price system that is as changing as the weather. There are library content providers like Netflix, Hulu, and Prime where you pay a monthly fee for access to a huge library of shows and movies, package providers that group channels together, like cable and satellite, that you can stream for a monthly fee, and channels themselves that offer streaming for a monthly fee. While you can certainly save money by streaming, you may have to piece together a few different content providers (paying them all separately) to get access to all of the TV shows, movies, and sports that you’d like. Plus, there is a learning curve to each content provider and how to navigate their app as well as learning how to connect and use your streaming devices. And don’t forget that Internet is required for streaming, so if that is your only need for Internet, you need to figure that into your overall cost. Network providers do offer free access to their programs and there are a lot of free apps for streaming available, although the content might not be the most recognizable or popular. TCC has a few different videos on Streaming Basics, which covers content and devices used for streaming. Find them on our TCC Videos page.
Pros: Ton of content to choose from, costs less (in general), use on variety of devices, portable, pick and choose programming/channels
Cons: Too much to choose from, learning curve for apps and devices, must pay with credit card, no support, harder to cancel
The old way of pulling in broadcast signals over-the-air is still a popular way to get TV programming. While the programming is now digital, which means you can’t get a fuzzy picture anymore— it’s either clear or it won’t come in, it has largely been unchanged. The only content broadcast over-the-air is from network providers, including NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, and PBS. Each of them has additional channels that they offer, so you do get more than just those five stations. In most areas, one can expect between ten and twenty stations over-the-air. You do still need an antenna connected to your TV, but in many cases, a newer “flat” style antenna will work. You can still use traditional rabbit ears and aerial antennas for better performance. Other than the cost of the antenna, this type of TV service is completely free. There is just no guarantee what will come in and you do have a little learning curve to perform the “channel scan” on your TV to tune in the stations to your TV’s memory. One note of caution: many antennas will advertise a long reception range (70 or more miles) but we’ve seen an effective range of about 50 miles, regardless of the antenna or whether it’s inside or outside. We’ve also found antennas to perform a little differently, depending on location, so you may need to experiment until you find one that works for your TV and location.
Pros: Free, easy to use, portable
Cons: Limited channels, reception issues, only works on TVs with antenna, no support
So, there are the TV options. What we find is that many people do not just choose one option, but rather combine several options to meet their needs. For example, you could use an antenna to get the local stations and subscribe to Netflix or Hulu or other apps to provide more channel options. Since streaming apps rarely involve contracts or long-term purchases, you can even switch between apps as you watch all the shows you wish to watch or as content changes.
We think the trend is that channel providers are going to move more of their content online, where it can only be accessed through subscription to their streaming service. We are starting to see that in our “watchTVeverywhere” service, which gives you FREE streaming access to over 70 cable channels, just by being a cable subscriber. Some of those channels are starting to limit what’s available online through watchTVeverywhere and instead moving it to a new subscription-based service.
All-in-all, it’s good to know what options are available, think about possible combinations that will work for you, and to keep checking into your options as things change regularly. We hope this article has helped you! If you have any further questions, contact TCC!