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Satellite TV vs Cable TV

There is an ever-growing debate among the general public regarding satellite television and cable television. Basically, which one is superior?

Though we’d love to offer a concrete answer, the reality is that the ongoing debate is one that is fueled by two products that are inherently similar, yet fundamentally different. Satellite television is universally available- any household within the service area, be it rural or urban, is capable of receiving the satellite signal. This means that residences that are not in large cities or towns are capable of receiving broadband television access, and for this reason satellite has become an extremely popular choice.

Cable television is generally limited to townships and cities, and they typically do not offer service to rural or remote areas. This is due to the type of distribution system that cable television networks use for their products. Whereas a satellite connection can be hooked up anywhere (DirecTV has even released a mobile satellite TV), you must be in a specific location in order to receive a cable signal. The other limitation is that your house must be designed with cable television in mind, and so your televisions can only be located near cable outlets.

Satellite Television – Technical and Product Specific Information

Satellite providers operate their networks in a similar way as traditional broadcast networks do, as they operate on the same technology. At least, fundamentally they do.

When you plug an antenna into your television you are capable of picking up television stations that are close enough to offer a relatively clear line of sight to the antenna. Since broadcast stations send their signals via radio waves, small obstacles such as trees or even buildings generally won’t prevent a signal from being transmitted. Large obstacles, such as the Earth, pose a larger problem: a radio wave won’t be able to pass through it, and the result is that the signal won’t be received by the intended audience.

This is because the line of sight is broken. Since the earth is curved, and radio signals travel in straight dimensions, once you’ve moved past the direct line of sight of the radio signal you will no longer receive the signal clearly, if at all. Slash forward a bunch of technological innovations and broadcasting standards and you have what is essentially the evolution of broadcast television: the satellite dish.

Satellite companies broadcast their signal from much higher than even the tallest antennas in the world. The satellites sit in a geosynchronous orbit, meaning that they rotate around the earth at the same pace that the earth itself rotates. This ensures that the signal is never broken. The satellite then simply broadcasts a signal over a much greater line of sight, and it is able to reach millions of households. This is why rural areas almost exclusively have satellite television.

Cable Television – Technical and Product Specific Information

Cable television has literally been around for nearly a century, and it has undergone many evolutions during its lifetime. It originally started when people hooked up antennas on the top of large hills and ran cables down to their televisions. This simple idea, which makes complete sense in theory, was then amplified and scaled up to the point where cable television, in one form or another, now reaches over 60 million American homes.

Where satellite television involves a signal being broadcast from a satellite to your home, cable television is a signal being transported along a vast and intricate network of cable systems. Early versions of this type of distribution often resulted in poor-quality video and audio, but innovations in video compression and distribution eventually created a service that was reliable and effective.

The only main downside to cable is that it cannot reach homes that are beyond its service area. If your home is in a small township or a rural setting you will not be able to receive cable. This is the main disadvantage when compared to satellite.

Which One Is Right For You?

The reality is that it comes down to personal preference. If you are satisfied with the services that are offered by your current provider, be they cable or satellite services, you may not have a reason to switch. Satellite television seems to be leading cable in terms of technology and image quality at the moment, but cable television is bound to catch up eventually.

If you live in a rural area or plan on moving to one, you will want to go with satellite. Many times cable networks will try to hook you into a contract, and you may face penalties for opting out of your contract earlier than expected.

As well, the current arena for digital and high definition television is dominated by satellite providers. Companies like DirecTV and DISH Network offer immense amount of high definition content that has yet to be matched by cable providers.

2 Responses to “Satellite TV vs Cable TV”

[…] are torned between Satellite and Cable Television, Kevin Fleming points out the difference between Satellite vs Cable at Satellite TV […]

Dish Chick - September 7th, 2007 at 5:48 am

I think cable is dying out to satellite tv…I have Dish Network and I am happy with it…

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