We’re currently two rounds deep into March Madness, and a lot of you likely have TV on the brain. Basketball fans around the world are going to be glued to their couches until the last point of the championship game, and they’d better hope that they’ve got good service.cable_vs_satellite

At the moment, the two main options for in-home television are cable and satellite. Emerging fields, like internet television, are changing that dynamic, but even as numbers of cord-cutters rise, paid TV offerings remain extremely popular.

So popular, in fact, that anyone shopping for a provider may find themselves wavering between the two. Both are widely available, and seemingly comparable. Read on, and we’ll go over some of the differences between the two, and hopefully leave you feeling a bit more ready to make a decision.


Cable systems rely on networks of coaxial cable to transmit television signals to an end user. They first popped up in the 90’s, but have made some serious technological strides. Newer cable systems are often upgraded to provide high-definition TV.

  • Pros

Buying cable TV gets you a reliable connection to a large amount of quality content. Unlike satellite or antenna-based options, cable signals reach you via a physical connection, making them less prone to disruption. While outages are still certainly possible, they’re uncommon, and getting more so as infrastructure improves.

Cable companies are also quick to offer “triple play” packages, bundling phone, internet, and TV services onto one bill, sometimes applying discounts as they do. If you’re in need of all three services, then the cost and convenience of a cable plan might be appealing.

  • Cons

Cost. Cable plans come in all shapes in sizes, but cheap normally isn’t one of them. Satellite plans will generally undercut cable by a decent margin. Customers also need to take care while signing on with a cable company – in many cases, they’ll be initialing a service contract, and can wind up locked into a 12-month agreement if they’re not cautious.


Cable TV relies on cables, satellite TV relies on satellites. An earth-based transmitter sends signals to a satellite, which receives, translates, and sends them on to the receivers of end users. While cable channels long held the edge in terms of content, popular services like DirecTV (http://www.tvproviders.com/directv.html ) have evened that particular playing field.

  • Pros

Cost is often cited as the biggest advantage held by satellite systems. They tend to have considerably lower month-to-month fees than cable, though it’s important to note that they often require multi-month contracts from customers.

Range is also a major plus. Although most major cities currently have cable wiring, customers who live a little off the beaten path may still find themselves without a connection. As satellite TV doesn’t rely on physical delivery systems, it can received by just about anybody with a line-of-sight to a given patch of sky.

Finally, satellite plans usually include more HD channels. Not that everyone loves them, but many users will appreciate the bump in image quality.

  • Cons

The biggest downside to going satellite is reliability. The signals that transmit information through a satellite system can be disrupted by foul weather. Although it’s not frequent, storms can cut into a satellite broadcast.

Head to Head

Picking between satellite and cable is generally a matter of figuring out what you want, and what you’re willing to pay for it. Both provide a wide range of excellent programming, but with very slightly different emphases. According to Digital Landing: “Conventional wisdom is that satellite TV offers more and better for-a-fee sports and entertainment packages, and a broader selection of HDTV channels, while cable TV offers more and better local stations”.

For many users though, this discussion may seem a little dated. Every year, more Americans join ranks of “cord cutters”, and abandon both systems altogether in favor of internet television. But satellite and cable still have their place – if you feel that your home happens to be one of them, then think things through, and start searching for a good plan.

Neal Bricker writes tech articles for a number of publications. An inveterate gadget-freak with a nose for the new and exciting, Neal’s always on the hunt for his next story.