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Digital Divide: Cable Vs. Satellite

February 17, 2009

With the switch to digital television, many consumers are considering cable or satellite to improve their reception, but it can be difficult to know how to get the biggest bang for your buck.

The crispest, clearest picture comes from high-definition programming, and when it comes to HDTV, satellite has the edge, according to Marc Cook, the general manager of Abt Electronics.

"DirecTV has a dramatic edge in high-definition channels. They have a higher count of channels," Cook said.

But snow or ice can wreak havoc on a dish.

"When it was snowing, it would just go out all the time," one former satellite subscriber said.

Still, experts say satellite has a slight edge in picture quality.

Cable bundle packages may be a bit cheaper, but they come with a cost.

"Your picture is probably going to be sharper with a DirecTV signal than a cable signal because with cable you have a lot of signals fighting in one wire, and then they're all being pulled out at the other end," Cook said.

Then there's all that equipment. That's where cable triumphs, Abt Electronics president Michael Abt said.

A satellite dish needs to be installed on the southwest corner of your home, which may not be possible. And then there's all those converter boxes.

"With cable, you don't even need to have a box on every TV," Abt said "Whereas DirecTV, you really need to have a box on each TV."

Panasonic took things a step further: no boxes, no wires. The "true two-way" television has a cable box built in.

"You want to just put a TV up on the wall, have all the functionality of a cable box, without actually having to have a cable box, this is the perfect solution," Cook said.

If you're a commitment-phobe, cable may be the way to go, with one caveat: pricing.

"With cable, there is no commitment, however their pricing tends to fluctuate. When you first sign up with them, they may give you more aggressive pricing for 6 months," Cook explained.

So, what's the best deal? Experts say that in general, satellite TV offers more channels per dollars.

"You're contracting in a specific price, which is a nice thing. You don't have to worry about price increase month after month or year after year," Cook said.

But if you're looking for just the basics, cable is the clear winner.

"For $10 a month, you can get basic cable which are all the main stations you can get now, with the free TV, and a few more," Abt said.

If you're considering a switch, first contact your current service provider. They may offer you better pricing to keep your business.

©2009 NBC Universal, Inc. All rights reserved.

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