March 6, 2002

Digital Cable, The Last Best Hope for Good TV

I'm sure everyone who watches TV, even a little bit, has seen the competing commercials the satellite dish companies and digital cable companies put out. The satellite people say they are better because you get more channels for less money, great sports and movie packages, and crystal-clear reception. The cable people say they are better because you get a lot of channels, great packages, easy Pay-Per-View, you don't have to buy any equipment, you get local channels included, and you can watch different stuff in different rooms without special equipment. Since we're moving to a new place, we decided to weigh the pros and cons of these different systems before making a choice.

I have a coworker who has a DirecTV satellite dish. He loves it. He says he gets every channel, including all the sports and premium movie packages, a whole plethora of foreign-language channels, plus all the regular stuff for about $80/month. The only drawback for him is that it tends to go out in a bad thunderstorm. He says it's definitely more "bang for the buck" than you get with digital cable. You also have to buy a dish for about $100, a receiver for each of the TVs you want to hook up, and those are $50-$100 each, plus specialized equipment for HDTV reception and various things. This does sound pretty good, but I was leery of all the up-front costs for equipment when I wasn't sure we need all those channels. I did some research online into Dish Network, which doesn't require you to buy the equipment, you can lease it, and their prices are basically the same per month as DirecTV. Both require more per month for local channels to be included.

I have another coworker who has AT&T Digital Cable. He is satisfied with it. He had DirecTV before, but had trouble with billing and stuff, so he switched to cable, and he says it's fine for what he uses it for. Considering cable is about the same monthly price as a dish, and doesn't require buying or leasing expensive equipment, we decided to try that first. When I called to sign up, I was told they're running a special that gives their gold package for the first 6 months of service at the same price as the bronze package, which is what I would have gotten (the cheapest digital package). There was no contract, so if we want to switch to satellite we can do that at any time. You do have to get a box connected to every tv that will get a digital signal, which is kind of annoying, but here's the kicker.

Digital Cable appears to mean really nothing more than a fancy on-screen online tv guide, and a few "digital" channels. Like 10. And they're all top-notch, can't live without channels like "Style" and "Game Show Network." Oh yeah, and you can easily order Pay-Per-View. Swell. I'm considerably unimpressed considering all the hype from the commercials, but I should be used to stuff like that by now. After all, cable and network TV are both just scams to get you to watch commercials. What goes in between the commercials (the shows) is filler. PFFT!

Published: March 6, 2002
Editor: stacy

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