Wireless Wizard Wes Reports the Pros and Cons of Satellite and Cable Television.Satellite vs. Cable Watching television just isn’t the same these days. More than 500 channels are available for your viewing pleasure. But before you make up your mind about what to watch this evening, you’ll need Goalsearch’s help in deciding where to get your home entertainment. Yes, it’s time to decide between cable and satellite and find the right fit for you. Satellite and cable companies are in fierce battle for your money. They bombard consumers with heavy advertising and promotions—anything to win your business. We evaluated satellite and cable networks on several fronts to help you get better reception on what’s available and make an informed decision. Here’s a summary of how they compare. In a Nutshell: Programming: Tie Price: Satellite (Winner); Cable (Loser). Equipment and Installation: Cable (Winner); Satellite (Loser). Customer Service: Tie Availability: Satellite (Winner); Cable (Loser). Features and Extra: Cable (Winer); Satellite (Loser). Our terms “winner” and “loser” should not be misconstrued. We want to emphasize that in each category there is middle ground, in which you might find that a “loser” option is actually better for your needs. Read on to find out what’s best for you. Programming We had to declare a tie here. Both satellite and cable companies have expanded their services to bring you practically everything television has to offer. While satellite offers more alternate channels, like FOX Sports and ESPN, cable can match it with enough variety to please all tastes. Our sports viewers, however, may opt for satellite. Sports stations often cover two events simultaneously but split their coverage in parts of the country. West coast viewers, for example, might normally see Stanford vs. Berkeley, while southerners are watching Texas vs. Oklahoma on the same network. Satellite companies now offer feed that allows subscribers to view either telecast regardless of where they live. Remember that satellite has limited and more expensive options when it comes to those local channels, like ABC, NBC and public television. Cable can offer you these without hassle, but you can expect to pay extra ($5-$20/month) to get them from your satellite. And you often can’t get every station. Price Satellite takes a lead here—slightly. Unlike local cable companies, satellite networks don’t pay taxes levied by city and state governments. And they don’t fret about millions of miles of coaxial cables or fiber optic lines either. This translates into some possible savings for the consumer who chooses a basic level of service. J.D. Power and Consumer Reports found a 41% increase in cable costs between 1998 and 2003, compared to a low 8% difference with satellite. Cable counters this, though, by offering cheaper programs for those who don’t want to be part of the 500-channel universe but instead have local programming and something simpler. Basic packages will cost you about $40-$60/month for satellite and $20-$70/month for cable. Contact the companies for precise figures. But don’t set your heart on anything quite yet. You possibly face more expenses… Equipment and Installation Yes, those dish appendages you see on rooftops and balconies can be an eyesore. And they can also cost a day’s work—in more ways than one. That’s why we’re awarding this category to cable. Cables networks are as extensive as telephone lines in most residential areas. Installation is simple. A technician comes by your house or apartment building, sometimes not even needing to come inside, connects some wires and—zap!—you’re connected. Cable installation, however, becomes a little more complex if you desire digital cable or its equivalent. More about this in “Features and Extras.” A satellite customer must first have a place on the exterior of the building cleared for a mounted dish. A satellite needs to face the southern sky; line-of-sight is everything. You’ll want to be wary of large trees and severe weather, of course, because these will disrupt your device’s reception. Apartment tenants often must make special deposits for possible damages dish installation can cause. A dish will be routed to receptor boxes in your home. Your costs here will fluctuate because some networks include dish and installation in a package deal. Others will give you the option of hunting down a dish yourself and using their broadcast service. Your choice here all depends on whether you have a good back, a ladder and nothing obstructive between your home and outer space. Customer Service Again we must declare a tie. Cable companies are local and have the advantage of a real place you can visit to pay your bill, exchange equipment and submit a face-to-face compliment or complaint. You are more likely to speak with people. Satellite companies have prospered on digital customer services. That means more website forms, e-mails, recordings and the like. We did some research of our own by calling 3 of the country’s largest satellite and cable companies at different times of the day. We found that satellite companies have longer telephone hours probably because their customers are scattered across the time zones. Cable companies had shorter wait periods on the telephone, day and night. Yet we found the internet sites of the satellite companies to have helpful forms and FAQs for those who have a simple request or question. Availability By far we note that satellite is a more widely available service. Cable companies face the limiting factor of their underground networks. Satellites have the southern sky. No contest. Features and Extras If you’d like to supersize your television experience with more channels, on-demand movies, and internet bundles, your best bet is cable. Cable offers the popular digital or “high definition” programming, which requires you to purchase or rent a descrambler box to accompany your television set. The difference is that you get crisp, digital, state-of-the-art viewing. Though, this is a luxury that isn’t cheap. You can expect to fork out up to $75 for installation and parts. But that’s a savings compared to digital satellite packages that can coast $400. Another appreciated feature is a TiVo-like digital video recorder built into your box. The feature allows you to zoom through commercials and view programs that you missed. This add-on costs cable subscribers roughly $10 per month, where it’s available. Satellite customers should plan on paying $250 or more for the technology. You’ll also see $5 monthly charge as well. Bundling is the word of the day among telecom companies. Now you can enjoy the service of integrated phone, internet and television programming all in one bill, with a chance of some savings along the way. Satellite and cable companies alike offer these features, often teaming up with long-distance carriers and internet service providers. Cable wins out on this one because of its excellent, high-speed cable-internet combos, starting at $40 a month. Final Analysis Shop around. The market is competitive and diversified enough that even the most persnickety customer will find what he’s looking for—even at an affordable price. Whatever the drawbacks and advantages of either option, every customer has the greatest advantage: choice. Winner: you.