General discussion

Digital Cable vs Direct TV vs Dish Network vs others

Apr 21, 2010 4:34AM PDT

It has been a while since somebody asked: "Which is better?"

I'm looking to sign up for a digital TV service. I have 4 digital TVs. My family really only watches local channels + Disney + Nick + MSNBC + Fox + movies (no sports). I already have Netflix and use Netflix Instant Watching. I've tried Hulu but haven't got into the habit of using it. I hate using cable/satellite boxes but, from what I can tell, I now have to and am getting used to the idea. I hate being nickle-and-dimed with annoying and growing fees. I can afford high priced plans but am not so addicted to TV yet that I have to have a great plan.

Right now, I only have Basic Cable and Cable Internet.

So, what do you recommend? Digital Cable or Direct TV or Dish Network or something else?

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Not possible to evaluate since...
Apr 21, 2010 7:43AM PDT's mostly preference based, and we likely don't share the same cable operator. Comcast, Time Warner, etc. all have their digital cable/HD nuances, and can perform somewhat differently in different areas of the country depending on the franchise and local infrastructure quality. How each one performs will also vary by home/wiring/equipment used. Sat services also can be affected by poor weather Sad. So my recommendation may not mean much since your situation is a bit different.

That said, you can often get slight discounts if you also sign up for CATV from the same Cable HSI provider. YMMV. I would try that avenue first. Such 'triple play' deals may save you a little more yet. There's really no way to avoid fees unless you stick with the bare minimum and/or avoiding paid TV altogether.

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Good points
Apr 21, 2010 8:37AM PDT

Hmm, good points.

I'm in San Jose, CA, if that helps.

My gripe about fees is the odd assortment of box fees, line fees, access fees, transmission fees, FCC fees that are difficult to understand and creep up over time. I prefer to know my costs upfront (if possible) rather than have a bunch of weird junk fees that change each month, even if the base price is low.

Does that help?

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Not really
Apr 21, 2010 10:39AM PDT

Franchise fees/taxes vary by region, and this might not matter unless you were some sort of retiree or on a massively low budget. IMHO they really aren't that difficult to understand if you actually take the time to read what you see on paper.

Generally speaking though, once you get a service installed there is some sort of (fixed) lead in pricing for a year to get you in the door, followed by the regular pricing based on what channels/services you receive. That pricing won't vary much inside of a calendar year, with the exception being cable & satellite providers changing their per channel prices sometimes annually depending on the agreement they forge with various networks. For example, my Comcast bill will go up slightly this Spring. Box rental went down $1-2 but the total channel package cost, at least according to the notice they sent, will go up a bit more than that. Comcast, etc. pass along their increased cost to us unfortunately.

As much as I hate recommending it, you also might look into UVERSE where you live. According to my relative living in SJ, there's more fiber to the home there than in my neck of the woods. Perhaps that would be another option to look at vs Comcast or Satellite.

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Cable, Dish, Direct...or U-VERSE
Apr 23, 2010 10:17PM PDT

I don't know why you hate recommending U-verse. I had DirectTV for over 5 years, loved it, but they wouldn't let me in on ANY deals. I signed on to U-verse last October and love it. The ONLY thing that Comcast offers that is better is their FREE On Demand.

Lastly, though, as everyone says, it all comes down to preference. I, personally, wouldn't pay a nickel for basic cable. IMO, that level of service offers nothing but an expensive way to ensure a clear picture, and nothing else.

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Not a fan of UVERSE because...
Apr 24, 2010 12:09AM PDT most areas (read, not all) UVERSE (still) relies on copper to the home, and overall speeds you see w/ this technology are partially determine by the customer's distance from either the VRAD or CO. Cable high speed providers, especially those who have already switched to DOCSIS 3.0, do not have such strict distance limitations. Also, in some cases, UVERSE can't even sync at mid-tier speeds that the cable providers have been rolling out for a year or more. I won't even get into the hardware problems faced by many UVERSE users. Of course everyone's experiences will differ, I just wanted to point out some of the potential shortcomings switching to a service that the majority of its customers do not fully understand.

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Price Changes?
Apr 24, 2010 12:57PM PDT

Frequent price changes? I can't remember the last time my fees changed withut me making some other change to my service. (Cox Cable)

If you're worried about hidden fees that won't show up until your first bill, ask the sales person before you sign up.

I currenty have two DVRs connected to cable, plus my TV. No special wiring or extra boxes needed.

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Decryption equipment
Apr 25, 2010 2:17AM PDT

The boxes are often required to embed decryption equipment. The signals are encrypted to prevent people from supplying multiple TVs or even multiple people with service using only one account (or even patching illegally directly into the line).

They also have CableCards and DVR/cable box combos that do decryption.

I get nothing out of encryption; it makes the service harder and more inconvenient to use. But it seems that provider security trumps customer convenience.

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Comcast vs Dish
Apr 23, 2010 11:37AM PDT

My main area of knowledge is comparing Comcast with Dish.

I have satellite (Dish) in 3 different houses. All have big screen HD LCD TVs. After comparing the quality of HD content with 2 friends who have Comcast, I feel that Dish is better. I think if you search this issue, you will find that satellite can deliver a slightly better HD signal if this is important to you. Many Dish receivers have 2 tuners which allow access to the DVR content from 2 different TVs as well as the ability to record 2 shows at once. The second TV cannot display HD however. I think the layout of the menu for Dish is easier and allows skipping forward through recorded events. Comcast's remote needs to be programmed to allow a key to be set to skip forward.

Perhaps the biggest factor is do you have access to the southerly skies to even consider Dish or DirecTV? Also a factor is the Digital Cable providers give a tremendous deal for phone/cable/internet to get you to sign up. Remember, this deal goes away before you know it.

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Apr 23, 2010 1:02PM PDT

Thanks! This is really helpful.

Yes, I have a view of the southern sky.

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Value depends upon how much you can pay
Apr 23, 2010 1:11PM PDT

Regardless of what service you select, you will still need a set top box to decode those precious signals from any provider. Now that broadcast and cable has gone digital, analog signals do not exist except in your home. Chosing a provider depends on your area in the country and what special packages you want/need. Some providers package sports differently, some slanted to baseball/football, others to golf/tennis and so on. Each user must survey each provider and tha packages they want to determine the best price or value.

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Comparing plans
Apr 23, 2010 1:14PM PDT

I have DirecTV with two separate DVRs. This is the only service that allows separate DVRs. The others allow you to record on one TV and view on another, but we do not want that, since my daughter has her shows on another TV. As far as cost goes, they are all very comparable once you include all of the fees. Cable seems to have the most inclusive basic rate. The others have lots a different charges, but the totals are similar. DirecTV has the most HD channels, but it depends on what you want to watch. With what you listed, all of the basic level plans should be sufficient, and the extra HD channels from DirecTV wouldn't affect your watching.

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Apr 24, 2010 5:05AM PDT

I don't know what you mean about the number of DVRs. I have 2 DVR's/Receivers with Dish. They are both dual tuners. Which means they can be hooked up to a potential of 4 TVs...1 HD and 1 SD per DVR/receiver. I'm not trying to push Dish, but the dual tuner really works well for us. One HD TV in the living room and one non-HD TV in the kitchen for example. They are both hooked up to the same DVR/receiver and either can view the same recorded material or watch 2 different shows at the same time. I agree with a previous poster that it depends on what part of the country you live in. More or less HD channels? Okay, but what do you actually watch?

I guess that's about all I have to offer. Good luck with your decision.

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re: Which is better
Apr 25, 2010 9:21AM PDT

I went from Cable to Dish to Cable to FIOS and they all have 'fees'. The answer as to which is better, depends on what you want.

I originally left cable for dish because it was a lot cheaper for the same level of TV service.

I left Dish for Cable because I wanted high speed internet and I needed cable to get it and it was cheaper to bundle it with the TV than to pay seperately for TV from Dish and internet from cable.

I left cable for FIOS, because they offered the same service at a better price, and the TV PQ was better and the Internet faster.

Bottom line is give them all a call and see which one will give you what you want at the best price, including all fees. Then check online and and ask anyone you know who has them what they think of the service. Then last but not least, make sure that you can cancel without penalty for a fixed period like 30 days and get it in writing.

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Comcast Pain in the:
Apr 25, 2010 9:24AM PDT

i have Comcast 4 ever & monthly bill goy up to $200.00 per month after specials ran out. I dropped Showtime to get down to 160.00 per month! trying to ay Comcast bill n line total mess. On line cht ops terrible!

I am going to try Direct TV. My only worry is surfing. I love to quick surf/flash back & from what I have see Direct TV very slow response time? Is that true? I only use one Big TV one room. Will probably take dv. of DTV'v multiple room offer. What say you guys about speed ofsurfing?

Thx, Don G

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You have Comcast, so...
Apr 25, 2010 2:13PM PDT

I can assume to live in the city (vs. rural). I see DirecTv in my area are bundle the internet services with the telephone company which means you will use DSL for surfing. All I can say about dsl is..when it's good, it is good. It's just that it's not always good (personal experience only).

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Comcast Vs. Direct TV
Apr 26, 2010 1:22AM PDT

I forgot to add that I have Comcast bundle. Phone, broadband & TvHD.

I have problem w/way Comcast invoices. They bill you one month in advance when they don't know what services you might use! Then charge you a late fee, 7.00! I was so pissed I almost wrote my Congressman, Rooney about their advance billing & late fee. It's like the electric or water company charging you for usage they don't know what it will be. I realized Rooney has more important stuff than my cable bill!

I was jut wanting to know how slow is Direct TV surfing??????? Vs cable which is fast.

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Not certain if what you describe is correct
Apr 26, 2010 2:35AM PDT

This does not sound correct. I'm not aware of any late fee as you've described in this scenario. I have the same Comcast 'triple play' services you do, with the only difference perhaps being possible lack of premium channels. They only bill in advance for the package you are currently signed up for, which is not illegal and typical, if you compare to other services like Directv. OTOH, you *are* billed after the fact for things like PPV/On Demand movies, etc. Setting up automatic payments that don't match what you owe based on such usage patterns could potentially draw a late fee however.

FWIW, my dad's older Directv receiver changed channels as fast as my Comcast HD DVR box. I can't imagine the newer ones would be any different with better hardware under the hood/faster processors/etc.

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late fees
Apr 26, 2010 5:43AM PDT

Thx for the reply. My detailed Comcast invoice when I can get one in writing list a late fee of 7.00$ up from 5.00 six months ago. Billing in advance is NOT "typical". Note your electric bill or water bill from your utility companies. Comcast bills one month in advance!

Want to get away from Comcast ASAP & good news from you on same surf speed. Hope it works out.

Thx again for the response.

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Think about it- water not the same
Apr 26, 2010 3:45PM PDT

Even if you had good testing equipment, there would be no way you could use the *exact* amount of water or electricity per month. In this sense, there's no way you could be billed correctly like Satellite or Cable can since they aren't measuring a quantity other than the exceptions of PPV/On Demand I've Listed. ATT wireless & Verizon also bill one month in advance- it's nothing particular unique anyway.

Also keep in mind they often are passing along higher prices set by the networks they buy content from. Your local governing bodies also set up such cable franchise agreements. Being proactive in the local/village politics can at least help you stay in the know for upcoming developments.

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Definitely true with service changes
Apr 26, 2010 3:26AM PDT

I don't like the "bill ahead" model, either. If a zillion other companies can survive billing customers after the month, I don't see why cable companies can't. Talk about having trust issues.

"Bill ahead" turns into a disaster when you change/cancel services during the month. They have to credit back a pro-rated part of your previous service, then possibly pro-rate the new service, apply it to your balance, bill you for a month ahead. If you change a couple of times, it's hopeless to figure out.

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Cable, Satellite
Apr 26, 2010 10:53AM PDT

I have cable. My friends have satellite (one has Dish, the other DirecTV). They receive a lot more HD channels than I do, which is good, but here's why I stayed with cable:

1) DVR. My cable DVR is not TIVO. It is made by Scientific Atlantic. It allows me to have Picture-in-Picture, which is great when I'm keeping track to two simultaneous sports games. I don't think my friend's TIVO DVR has picture-in-picture (I could be wrong).
2) On Demand. The cable On Demand choices seemed better than satellite. I think my friends need to download their On Demand show before watching it. I can watch On Demand on cable in real time.
3) I have too many TVs for satellite. I have 3 HDTVs which need HD boxes, 2 SD TVs that require regular cable boxes and 1 kitchen TV that only needs basic cable (this TV simply had a "free" coax plugged in). Satellite was WAY too much money to connect all of these TVs. All TVs except the kitchen TV has the full movie channel choice and premium cable.
4) They all preach "low" introductory prices. They all raise their prices after 6 months. I need to call my cable company every 6 months to ask for a renewed contract.
5) Cable has internet service. I don't use mine for internet, but this may be an important option for you.

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Cable has a contract?
Apr 26, 2010 3:30PM PDT

Which provider do you have, Dan? At least I haven't heard of such contracts with Comcast- they're all month to month w/o any long term agreement AFAIK. They do have promotional periods though. Every 6-9 mos. I call and have them add the latest discounts that normally last 3-6 mos. You get more wiggle room if you have their triple play though.

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Cable Provider
Apr 27, 2010 7:45AM PDT


Mine is Charter. You are correct in that they do not offer "long term" contracts, only 6 month promos. I wasn't clear. The 6-month promos are what I need to renew and argue over each time. The only long-term contract they offer is a 2-year term, but you need to use Charter for cable, phone and Internet, which I wouldn't do. All providers offer intro rates, then they plan on everyone forgetting about them and paying the higher prices after 6 months. I often forget, but then call after I see an extra $40 per month on my bill.

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Apr 27, 2010 8:00AM PDT

I'm surprised you have to argue though. After I let two or three months go by and politely request the lastest promotional rates, I've only once had Comcast pause.

Helping my dad deal with Charter right before he threw in the towel and switched everything to ATT was a bit of a nightmare though. For some reason they started charging him for an additional HD DVR box he did not use or own(!) I was probably transferred a dozen times among CS & tech support before they finally refreshed their screen like I politely suggested to remove the 'phantom' DVR in question (LOL).

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Apr 27, 2010 8:44AM PDT

I've had issues with my reception since last year. After dozens of tech people at the house, and afer each doing something different with no success, they finally admitted last June that they had a bad circuit board in a pole box. This year, with the problems still happening and after I paid for their HD DVR, I threatened to pull out and go with DirecTV. Finally the problem became severe and many people complained. It looks like the problem has been fixed and Charter gave me the HD DVR at N/C for a year afer I complained again. I'm keeping my fingers crossed about the problem. I'd go with DirecTV in a heartbeat if I could get the same price for all of the channels and TVs I need connected.

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First recommendation...
Apr 27, 2010 7:26AM PDT

First, I would recommend running the cable directly to your digital televisions and scanning for digital channels. Those that contain a QAM tuner should provide you with your locals in HD.

Second, the quality of the installation will determine the quality of the performance of your system. Everything from reliability to picture quality is contained in the details of the installation.

So, if you have no problems with your current provider, you might want to stick with them.

If you really are interested in lowering cost, I would suggest Dish Network. As far as quality goes, when installed correctly, Dish has some of the best picture available. I also prefer the "user friendliness" of the remotes, program guide, and the DVRs. The drawback is that (like the rest of the providers) the emphasis is on speed of installation vs. quality of installation, and you may have some issues.

Changing channels and surfing times are somewhat variable. They can vary from "WOW" to "what is going on here?" Slower channel changes occur in systems that need to have the dish peaked or are losing signal quality due to high noise in the system.

I hope this helps!

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Direct TV Vs Comcast & billing issues from Flashg/Don
Apr 28, 2010 1:31AM PDT

Hi Guys, thx for all the thoughts. been busy w/other stuff just getting back to this issue. I'm not in the city, Sewall's Point Fl a burb of Stuart. Closest 7/11 or food 3 miles not counting restaurants!

Any how Comcast DOES bill/invoice me one month in advance. Also charges a 7.00 late fee if you are late w/your payment. As I stated earlier I can't get on line to pay my bill & "Live Chat" folks get frustated and "Leave The Room"! when they get pissed. The electric or water company doesn't bill in advance because they don't know how much you will use. Neither does Comcast! I'm detailing here-in cause i'm going to turn this into a Word Doc & send to the CEO of Comcast & Ge/NBC who have been on Tv all morning telling everyone how great Comcast stock is@ I.e. Joe at "Squawk Box" CNBC!Still not sure of what to do, swith to Direct TV or stay w/Comcast. I want a bundle and fast surfing like I have now w/Comcast but don't want the Comcast attitude!

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Your reply is hard to follow
Apr 28, 2010 3:25AM PDT

Your point is.....(?)

(I think we've already covered this stuff.)

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Excellent Opportunity
Jan 30, 2011 6:55AM PST

I have a great basic package with Dish Network that gives me the Disney Channel, locals, the Nick's, and News and it is really affordable. I started working at Dish Network after World Savings sold to Wachovia and my world went into chaos. When I realized how much cheaper I could get the channels I needed I switched from Direct TV. I've been so happy with the service and have not regretted my decision since. One of the offers that really makes me happy is the fact that I get free HD for life on my basic package with Dish which was not happening with Direct TV. Plus if I wanted to take advantage of the glory of HD I would have been paying something like $99-199 per box with Direct which was not something I could afford. With Dish I was able to get 3 HD boxes free with installation and my TV's are all vivid, beautiful crystal clear! I'm so happy I'm with Dish.

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Dish vs Brighthouse
Mar 1, 2012 11:54PM PST

I am currently with Dish. I got with them because they offer the international channels for my family (Italian and German).
I thought from switching from Brighthouse that my bill would be less. The plan fee is, but it is more like a bait and switch. They get you on a service fee on their (free) receivers. My bill with BrightHouse was $85 for Basic Digital TV and Fast internet. My bill with Dish is $85 for just Basic Digital TV. Both have a charge of $6 for DVR service. The channel lineup is comparable but the channel guide and dvr use is clunky at best with Dish. Brighthouse wins there, theirs is smooth.. Dish has Sling Box capablity unlike Brighthouse but it interferes with my Powerline Network but not many people would this be an issue with. Dish online is way above Brighthouse for account management and Remote services. Overall though I will be going back to Brighthouse when my contract is done. I haven't even subscribed to the international channels that I came over to them for. Go figure.

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