2020 Edition: Should you get satellite TV?

This article originally ran in 2015 and has been updated for the way we think today.

With all the talk about cord-cutting, it’s hard to remember that every day there are people who decide for the first time to get satellite TV. This articles for you folks, the ones who are just thinking about going from antenna or cable to a satellite TV experience. Is it right for you?

The case for satellite over cable

There was a time when satellite TV was quite a bit cheaper than cable, but that’s not always true today. You might find it more expensive compared to the “triple-play” rates you get through the cable company, but if you look at the real costs it’s not really as much more expensive as you thought. Yes, cable does give you those nice bundle rates, but they charge as much as $30 a month for a DVR and $15 a month for a receiver. The costs for satellite are lower and most of the extra fees are waived for the first two years, making the experience comparable in price to cable bundles.

Satellite beats cable in pure quantity

When it comes to programming, satellite generally delivers more channels. Cable systems are dependent on fiber or copper to get programs to your home and that limits the number of channels available. DIRECTV’s channel capacity isn’t unlimited, that’s true, but it’s only really limited by the number of satellites in the sky. There is a firm limitation on the number of channels based on the frequencies in use but it’s much, much higher than cable.

Satellite just looks better

The other common thing you hear is that satellite gives you a better picture and that happens to be true. Cable companies, even ones that use fiber optics, often compress their pictures to fit in less space because they have no choice. DIRECTV and DISH provide the consistently highest quality picture and sound, hands down, and again it’s because they have a lot more capacity to work with.

If you’re interested in something outside the norm, satellite really is the way to go. Both DIRECTV and DISH have compelling international packages with much more foreign language programming than cable companies could hope to provide. It’s not just Spanish either, there are packages for many different nationalities.

Don’t be overcome by fear

And then, there are those two terrifying words: rain fade. Cable companies love to talk about rain fade like it’s this awful thing that’s going to strike you down dead. Yes, let’s clear the air: when it rains hard you might lose picture and sound for a short while. Unless you live in a really bad weather area this is not going to happen more than once or twice a year if your dish is aimed right. The best part about rain fade, though, is that it fixes itself. Problems with cable TV require someone to drive out and fix a broken cable, and that usually means that cable-related outages last much longer than satellite outages.

The real number is 99.6%. That’s satellite TV’s reliability. That’s probably more reliable than either cable or your internet connection.

Get in the game

Finally, there’s sports. DIRECTV specifically is the real leader in sports, and they’re the only ones who offer every single major league subscription sports. No one offers more regional sports networks and very soon DIRECTV will finally catch up in the streaming sports department as well.

The case for satellite over streaming

I know that at this point in time, pretty much everyone streams. There are going to be a few people who don’t get good internet and so they can’t, but I’d be willing to bet that roughly 99% of people who can watch streaming video, do.

So I know I won’t convince you to give up the streaming life and go satellite-only. Maybe when this article was first published but not anymore. But, you’ve probably noticed that you’re paying more for streaming than ever before. Are you really enjoying it more?

Live TV: Satellite vs. streaming

There are a number of excellent live TV options for streaming now. AT&T TV NOW and Sling are both great options that can give you DVR, on demand, and most of the live channels you could get from cable or satellite. But these packages are about the same price as satellite, and they don’t offer the same reliability.

If you’re looking for live TV, you could add an antenna. A lot of people do. But that only handles local channels, not some of the other popular ones like HGTV. That may be fine for you but… it might not.

On-Demand: Satellite vs. streaming

I can’t sit here and tell you that you’ll get every buzzworthy show by watching only satellite TV. Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Prime, and others are working hard to justify the amount of money they’re getting paid. They’re consistently winning awards for their work and people talk about these shows.

I know I won’t convince you to give those other apps up completely but let’s talk price. Netflix, Hulu, CBS All-Access, Disney+… just buy the commercial-free tier of them all and you’re in for about $50 a month. I know you won’t give them up but remember that you can cancel or suspend them when they stop being entertaining. Save your money.

In the meantime, satellite has an ace in the hole.

FREE provider apps if you get satellite

If you have a satellite subscription, you can get the provider apps for free if you get that channel. For example, the HGTV app is free if you get HGTV over satellite. There are dozens of apps and thousands of hours of free content out there for you. You can even get access to the ABC, CBS, and FOX apps to watch live TV over streaming that way. (CBS does have some content for free but you need to pay for original programs.)

Satellite just makes sense…

By splitting up your entertainment spending you make sure there’s always something there for you. Satellite gives you hundreds of channels live and tens of thousands of hours of on-demand. In the rare moment when that’s not enough, spend $20 on a month’s worth of Hulu and Netflix. Just remember to cancel them when you’re done.

We’re all about choice

At Solid Signal, we’re all about choice. Some folks like to go antenna only, others just enjoy streaming. Some want cable TV — and we respect that — but as DIRECTV and DISH dealers, of course we’re hoping that you’ll give satellite a chance. Give us a call at 866-726-4182 and we’ll get you all set up! If it’s after East Coast business hours, fill out this form and our techs will get back to you, usually within one business day.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 5,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.