New to Digital TV: Cable vs. Satellite and ATSC

Discussion in 'Digital Video' started by cwright, Jun 28, 2006.

  1. cwright macrumors 6502a

    Jan 5, 2004
    I already know this is going to be a long post, so bear with me. :eek:
    I've been trying to find the best HDTV service for my new place when I go back to school this August. My family here doesn't have any HD service, and I'm getting really confused with the different options! Here's what I've found out so far from talking to the Cable (Mediacom) and Satellite (DISH Network) providers:

    $39.95 - Basic family cable
    $7.50 - Add Digital HD Tuner box
    $9.95 - Add HD Tier to receive HD programming, BUT they say the only channels available in HD are ESPN, Universal, Discovery, HD NET, and HD NET movies. Seems like kind-of a ripoff to pay $57.40 per month to only get 5 HD channels (which does not include ABC and FOX, the only two i really want. And yes, that's for LOST and 24 :D).

    DISH Network:
    $49.95 - Dish HD Bronze Package (lists all HD & SD channels at the link)
    Now, this service does not include ABC and FOX, and all the other local channels either. You can add the local channels for $5/month, but the rep there also told me that they are not available in HD in my area.
    However, the HDTV tuner that is provided with this service doubles as an ATSC over-the-air tuner. So I can just buy a good antenna and pick up the local channels for free, with some in HD. According to, (here is what they say is available in my area), I'll be able to receive ABC, PBS, NBC, FOX, CBS, and WB in Digital TV stations. Big Question: Because the channels are denoted as DTV, does that always mean that they will be broadcast in HD, or could it end up being Standard Definition DTV? I would have to make sure that I get a good multidirectional antenna to make sure I get everything–any recommendations there would be appreciated too!

    So, it appears that DISH Network is the much better deal: offering 25 HDTV channels vs. 5 at Mediacom, and being compatible with ATSC signals. And it ends up being cheaper than cable too. But, here's the Really Big Question: with the cable service we have here at home, I've always been used to the fact that we can split the cable signal–we can have one line go to the cable box at the main TV in the living room, and several others go to bedrooms where we aren't using cable boxes. I get a sinking feeling that this can't be done with satellite (I forgot to ask them). With DISH Network, are you required to have a tuner at every TV you use the service with, or can it be split like you would a cable TV service? If this can't be done, it would almost rule out satellite TV altogether because we have 5 bedrooms which all need to have a TV hookup. I'd appreciate it greatly if someone could let me know how this works with satellite, and if there's any relatively cheap workaround.

  2. jsw Moderator emeritus


    Mar 16, 2004
    Andover, MA
    As you suspect, you can't split the satellite feed without additional boxes.

    Also, HD channels do not always broadcast in HD; or, rather, what they broadcast isn't high-def. I see this often on local channels, which sometimes are HD but often aren't.

    FWIW, you can get an HD tuner for relatively little $$, which, coupled with cable, might be your best bet. I hate the cable rip-off, but I find it's the best overall if you use multiple sets and don't need a box for most of them.
  3. cwright thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Jan 5, 2004
    You're right–Cable really is a ripoff right now. I am still considering that option too though, to get an ATSC tuner for the main TV and just run cable TV to the bedrooms. It would be nice to have the HD Channels DISH Network offers though...

    I just called them and got some more info:
    They say that for the 5 bedrooms, I could just buy 2 dual-tuner boxes (Model 322) and 1 single-tuner (Model 311) to connect all the other bedrooms to the standard definition channels. I just found that online store that the links lead to–I don't know if that would be a smart place to buy from or not, but the price isn't too bad. And I guess I could just get 5 single-tuner boxes for the same price.

    The rep told me that there would only be a $5 added monthly charge for the extra tuners if they were not connected to the phone line (he said they just use it for updates). As of now we werent planning on having a phone service in the house (we all have cell phones), so we may just deal with the extra $5 or end up adding a phone service if it's cheap enough.

    Anyone think this would be a worthwhile way to go? Or should I stick with Cable and an ATSC tuner?
  4. iJon macrumors 604


    Feb 7, 2002
    I take it Cox isn't in your area. Down here Arkansas they have taken great strives with their internet and cable television. They give us in HD: ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, ESPN, Discovery, Universal, MHD, INHD, INHD2, Starz, HBO and Showtime. Only thin we are lacking is TNT, ESPN2 and FOX.

  5. cwright thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Jan 5, 2004
    Nope, it looks like I'm stuck with Mediacom or DISH. And I can't stand Mediacom!!:mad: Their "deals" are terrible, their service sucks, and you can never get through to anyone when you call them. The two customer service numbers they provide on their website go directly to busy signals 24/7 and I have to sit on hold for 20 minutes (like I am right now) to talk to a tech support guy just so he can transfer me to the correct number (which he won't give me) and sit on hold AGAIN.

    I wish we had Everest Cable. I hear they have a great service, and they have some good packages too.
  6. theBB macrumors 68020


    Jan 3, 2006
    Most HD programming on regular broadcast networks (NBC, CBS et al.) is digital. but not really HD. TV shows are usually not widescreen and the resolution looks as low as regular digital cable channels. They are probably just upsampling what they already have, which means the effectively the quality is not all that great. Better than analog channels, much better than over the air analog, but not worth an expensive HDTV. The real HDTV stuff is usually for sports broadcasts, so if ABC or Fox is not included in your cable package, I'd say no way. More than half the HDTV football broadcasts are on those channels.
  7. theBB macrumors 68020


    Jan 3, 2006
    My cable company encrypts HD channels, so you cannot split the cable to watch those channels in the bedroom. You gotta pay them extra.
  8. Lebowski macrumors 6502

    Oct 10, 2005
    Phoenix, AZ
  9. bowens macrumors 6502a


    Jun 19, 2006
    Trenton, FL

    Dish Network has so many more HD channels than DirecTV. I would definately go with Dish. Visit a local store that sells antennaes and ask them about what kind you would need. They will be able to tell you best. You can split the satellite signal if you don't mind watching the same thing in all the rooms. If you want different programming ask about the dual tuner receivers. How many rooms do you want in HD? If just one I would go with 1 622, 1 222, and 1 311. That would feed you 5 rooms all with separate programming. The only problem with that is it would add $10 to your bill.
  10. Kid Red macrumors 65816

    Dec 14, 2001
    I assume you have an HDTV? I guess the best is cons first, then compare pros.

    Pros-Doesn't crap out in storms, some cable is not as compressed as satellite meaning higher rez HD picture
    Cons-Will be expensive, need full package to get premium HD channels, you need a HD box in every room for HD/digital channels-otherwise it's all analog. Most cable company's include local HD channels, if yours doesn't I'd be shocked. If they don't, then they most likely will shortly.

    Dish has the best plan, however, many HD channels have been complained about. Both Dish and DTV will be compressed more then cable (in some cities) and you need a box in every room to get anything.

    So when you look at the price, figure you need 5 satellite boxes at what $6 each a month? With cable, at least you'd get basic analog cable in every room for free and just get one HD box for the main HDTV.

    So while cable is expensive, for me it's the better deal right now because in BrightHouse doesn't compress their HD feed like satellite so I receive a better HD picture. If all things were compressed the same, I'd go with Dish because they have more HD channels, but for 5 TVs it would cost more then cable.

    D=Digital. Digital channels are simply digital, they aren't analog. That means the sound is a little louder and the picture is a tad cleaner. If it now HD. HD is HD, everything else is digital. You need the digital converter box to receive digital channels or HD converter box for HD/digital channels.

    ONLY OTA channels (or local channels) show HD shows in primetime. Premium HD channels are HS 99% of the time with the exception of HBO and Showtime which for some reason show 4:3 programs every now and again. An antenna is only for satellite or if your TV has a built in HD tuner. If you get cable, you will need no such antenna. I have cable and get about 11 HD channels, 2 HD converter boxes and cable in a 3rd room with HBO/SHowtime for about $90 or so.
  11. QuarterSwede macrumors G3


    Oct 1, 2005
    Colorado Springs, CO
    Ever thought of Voom? All of its content is in HD.

    Here is a pretty good review of the service.

    Edit: Eh, after a little research Dish HD apparently uses Voom's HD content ... all of it. So go with Dish Network if you're looking for satellite.

    I can tell you one thing. I would get Dish Network if my apartment faced the South. Right now I have Cox cable which is fine but the price of cable is insane for the content. I really wish you were allowed to pick only the channels you want. Most of the crap I don't even watch or like.
  12. cwright thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Jan 5, 2004
    Interestingly enough, a rep at DISH Network told me that their signals are generally compressed less than those provided by cable services. He also said that "newer technology in recent years" greatly reduces the risk of service outages in storms. But then again, this guy is employed by DISH Network, so you have to take it with a grain of salt.

    I asked another rep at DISH Network about adding more TVs, and I have concluded that it is way too expensive. They quoted me $435.42 (!) to activate the service, with 1 HDTV tuner and 5 SDTV tuners (2 dual tuners and 1 single tuner). Then they want $70.95 per month for the service (DISH HD Bronze package to the HDTV, and standard definition channels to the other TVs. That does NOT include the local channels, which they want another $5 per month for, and cannot provide them in HD (I'm hoping I can get them all for free via an ATSC tuner).

    The Mediacom Cable service in my area also does NOT offer the local stations in HD. So if I went with cable, I'd have to buy another tuner box to get ATSC signals. This would be cheaper, and I'd be able to split the cable signal between all the bedrooms, but I'd also miss out on all the HD programming DISH offers, and I'd lose the on-screen guide.

    If I were to go that route, could I just add a Tivo or ReplayTV to get DVR features and an on-screen guide? And in that case, can those be operated without a phone line connected? (I don't think we'll be installing a phone service).

    And by the way, we do have an HDTV. 120" diagonal! :)

    Sorry for so many questions... this whole Digital TV thing is far more complicated than it should be!
  13. Counterfit macrumors G3


    Aug 20, 2003
    sitting on your shoulder
    I think it will take me a while to forget his little bit I overheard one day at a RadioShack (which sells DISH network systems): A customer walked in, and started talking about satellite dishes to an employee, and the employee asked "Do you have a metal dish or one of the newer plastic ones that craps out in the rain?"

    I almost started laughing right there. :D
  14. Chip NoVaMac macrumors G3

    Chip NoVaMac

    Dec 25, 2003
    Northern Virginia
    Man, I can only think how much worse things will get as we move closer to the elimination of standard broadcast.

    IMO becuase the "industry" has it hands so far deep into the pockets of politicians at all levels - we as consumers will be the ones being screwed.

    BTW, just when I thought that Comcast was the media devil; I am shown that there are others that strive to be worse. Sorry for your plight cwright
  15. zflauaus macrumors 65816

    Nov 19, 2004
    Isn't Dish and DirecTV going to be encoding HD video with MPEG4? Wouldn't that mean they would release new hardware? Or did they already do that?

    Link to upcoming MPEG4: Here
  16. jdechko macrumors 68040

    Jul 1, 2004
    I have DISH network at my house (though not HD, so I can't comment on the quality/quantity of HD). But I just wanted to chime in about the signal crapping out in storms. It's a load of crap. We've had it for about a year, and have had several severe thunderstoms at my house (including some hail). We've only experienced an outage during the hail storm. Overall, we're pretty satisfied with DISH. We have the top 60 programming and dual tuner DVR for about $45 a month. We're considering adding HD to that as well.

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