Cable, Satellite, and Internet TV: Who Comes Out on Top?

According to predictions from television analysis firm Nielsen, the United States will have over 115 million “TV homes” by 2014, up 1.2% from 2013; despite its technological age, television isn’t losing any appeal. But while many of these homes still rely on familiar cable television setups, some viewers are opting for satellite or even Internet TV options. What are the benefits, and which option really gives you the best media for your money?

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Cable Television

Cable TV got its start in 1948 and hasn’t changed much in the last sixty years. Most big telecom providers still use this wired method, and it’s rare to find a new home that doesn’t come with a coaxial cable jack or two. Fiber optic cables are starting to phase out slower coaxial versions, at least for providers, but the basic concept of remains the same: Cable runs directly to your home, with no need for a satellite broadcast or Internet-based signal.

Benefits of cable TV include “package” pricing, which gets you access to a home phone line, high-speed Internet, and cable television for a lower price than purchasing these same services one by one. In addition, weather doesn’t affect cable the same way it does satellite, and a slow Internet connection doesn’t impact cable programming. Many cable providers also offer a selection of high-definition (HD) channels along with their regular offerings.

Satellite Television

Satellite TV emerged as an alternative for viewers who were simply too far from cable providers. Instead of wires, this kind of television relies on signals broadcast from geosynchronous satellites orbiting the earth. Consumers need simply to purchase a satellite package, install a small dish, and make sure the dish has an unobstructed line of sight to the southern sky.

Channels offered by satellite providers are similar to those of cable, and tracking technology has improved significantly, resulting in fewer dropped signals. It’s also worth noting that satellite companies have ironclad contracts with some of the world’s biggest professional sports broadcasters, making this the TV of choice for sports fans.

Internet Television

Internet TV got its start with computers: First it was videos on sites such YouTube, then it grew to include channel streaming and movie download services. The market has evolved to bypass desktops as needed and broadcast directly to televisions using either built-in Internet connections or via Internet-enabled gaming consoles. Big names in the market include Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu Plus, with a host of smaller startups now making an appearance as connections get faster and online file storage gets cheaper.

Internet TV’s biggest draw is programming on demand — that is, customers get to watch what they want, when they want it. Whether it’s movies, television shows, or sports, users aren’t tied to a specific schedule but can access content whenever is best for them. Although cable and satellite providers are starting to offer video on demand (VOD) services and personal video recorders (PVRs) aimed at competing with Internet television, the a la carte nature of Internet TV is winning over viewers nationwide.

And the Winner Is…

Your choice. Cable offers stability and a solid price, while satellite offers freedom from cable as well as channels that might not otherwise be available. Internet TV, meanwhile, has self-programming all locked up. Though it’s too early to declare a victory for any of these three television types, smart money is on a hybrid service that includes a strong Internet backbone.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons