Satellite Choices

Published 18 years, 9 months past

In keeping with last Saturday’s post on audiences, I’ll post today with a question for the audience.  Well, a segment of the audience, anyway.

It looks like I’m about to switch from cable to a satellite TV provider, partly because of economics but also because I’m just sick of propping up my local cable monopoly, a company I disliked from the moment they arrived in town.  (Hint: their headquarters are in Philadelphia.)

I’m interested in HD programming, since I have a massive new HD TV set up in the newly refinished basement, and I know both DirecTV and Dish offer HD packages.  They also both have DVR, in which I have some interest.  I’m looking to get the best combination of both, and to be with a service that will rapidly expand HD offerings as networks switch over in the next year.  Broadband is not an issue, since I have DSL through my other local monopoly and not through a cable modem.

So—which one would you recommend I get, DirecTV or Dish, and why?

Comments (26)

  1. Eric, if you’re using “that particular monopoly” for phone and DSL, like I am, you might want to look at some of their special offers. I recently received a mailing from them that packages your phone, 1.5M DSL and “Top 60” (DirectTV? — not sure here) for about $83/month, and another package with DSL, phone, cell phone and “Top 120” satellite for about $125/month. For us, even the second option would save us a bundle.

    My bride and I are thinking about it, especially since we’re working on an upstairs room remodel into a nursery…

  2. Switching to DirecTV or Dish is not a good solution in the short term if you want an HD DVR. Both companies are in the midst of a transition to MPEG-4 from MPEG-2 and their HD DVRs will soon be rendered obsolete (The HDTiVo from DirecTV has effectively been EOL for over a year now).

    If you need to switch soon, I suppose I would suggest Dish since they have deals where you can rent the equipment (that way you’re not screwed with a useless HD DVR when the MPEG-4 switch takes place).

    Of course, finding a quality DVR is difficult. I am personally very sad that DirecTV appears to be severing their relationship with TiVo because they make top notch DVR products. As a contrast, Dish’s DVR is serviceable at best, and Scientific Atlanta DVRs (used by Time Warner among others) are utter garbage barely worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as a TiVo.

  3. Sine their acquisition of Primestar many years ago, I’ve been a DirecTV customer and haven’t regretted any of it. Of course I can only speak of their Arizona service, which is seemingly flawless. Either way you go, get the DVR, you’ll wonder how you lived before.

  4. I will tell you my configuration and why I made the decisions I did:

    My wife and I currently have our Internet through the cable company, our phone through Vonage (via the Internet connection), and our TV provided by DishNetwork. We have a two-room DVR setup, one TV in the living room and one in our bedroom. We used to have DirecTV, but we had to switch when we moved into our current apartment. (Our apartment faces the wrong direction for the dish, and while the difference in angles between DirecTV and DishNetwork is only one or two degrees, it was JUST enough that we were able to mount our DishNetwork dish on our bedroom balcony.) We were with DirecTV for just about a year, and have now been with DishNetwork for about a year, so I will tell you my pros and cons for each:

    DirecTV uses the TiVo brand DVR, while DishNetwork uses their own version. When we originally switched to DishNetwork, I was extremely disappointed with the DVR; it just did not compare to our TiVo through DirecTV. However, around last December, they made some MAJOR upgrades to their DVR software, and there is now nothing I miss about the TiVo anymore from a software standpoint.

    One thing that we really liked about our DirecTV TiVo, which DishNetwork’s DVR does not have, was the dual tuner aspect. With DirecTV, we could watch one thing while recording something else on the same TV, because there were two tuners hooked up to the receiver. DishNetwork also has dual tuners, but they don’t feed the same TV. So our living room TV and our bedroom TV are fed by the same receiver, but we have to do a little planning ahead when scheduling recordings. We generally set everything to record on the bedroom TV, because we rarely want to watch live TV in there, so the only time our living room TV is tied up is when we are recording two things at once. With both companies’ DVRs, you can watch something you have previously recorded no matter what is going on with the tuner, so we could be recording Law & Order in the bedroom, Law & Order: SVU in the living room, and still watch a Gilmore Girls off the DVR.

    The last issue is cost. In that regard, DishNetwork has a slight advantage. The big difference comes when you want extra rooms, as DishNetwork includes the first two rooms in the cost, and because they are fed by the same receiver, you can watch something you recorded in the bedroom on your living room TV. With DirecTV (at least when I was with them), you pay $5 for each additional room, plus (I think) an extra DVR fee for each room if you want the TiVo in them, and you can’t watch something in one room that you recorded in the other.

    Overall, I think when we move into a house, we will stick with DishNetwork, mostly because of the cost issue.

    If you have any questions, Eric, feel free to email me with them if you want.

  5. When it comes to the DVR, I was considering buying a standalone model and hooking it up to the satellite feed. Will that work with HD content? Will it work at all?

    Also, and I didn’t make this clear in the post, what’s up with things like NBC/CBS/ABC HD content, and the other cable networks (like Food Network, etc.) and their HD content? Is it part of the HD pack, or does it just come through automatically, or is it withheld for now and those networks only given out in old-style low-res fuzziness?

  6. I can’t help you on which satellite service to pick, but before you pick a provider, I would warn you in advance that you may have trouble getting a satellite signal to your house given your tree-lined, leafy neighborhood, which is pretty similar to mine. Do you have a clear line to the southwest, at about 285 degrees? (I think that’s what it is in Cleveland Heights.) DirecTV’s satellites are a bit higher from the horizon than Dish Network, but both were blocked by a 40′ maple two houses to the south of mine. I actually should have had them try on my garage, but the bureaucracy of telling them ‘no, really, it won’t work — I saw the installer take a site reading’ isn’t worth the effort.

  7. I don’t know anything about HD, but I don’t think you can beat DirecTV with TiVo. Dual-receivers, being able to watch something and record something else? Do you have any idea how many times there are two things on that you want to watch/record? Friday night at 10 there are like 4 different shows on.

    PLUS! a lot of stations are starting to “overlap” their shows. i.e. ABC which has LOST and Alias. LOST would be on from 8:00 until 9:01, and then Alias will go from 9:01 to 10:01 and then something else from 10:01 to 11:00. Result? You can’t record anything else around those times… unless you have a dual tuner.

    HD seems like something that’s going to be in flux for the next 12-18 months, and prices and technology are going to change big-time. I’m not sinking in any big financial investment into them right now.

    My only recommendation (whoever you go with) is to deal directly with the satellite company, and not another reseller. It took months for my local installer to get their act together (this probably has more to do with the fact that I’m in the middle of really-really-rural Ohio). The nice thing about dealing with cable is that it’s one company, where you can end up dealing with 3 different companies with satellite: reseller, installer, satellite company [DISH/DirecTV].

    Good luck! I wish our local cable company would extend service about 1 more mile so I could get something besides dial-up at home. (Now if you want to hear a strong warning against something, ask me about satellite internet like DirecWay.

  8. Eric, HD content cannot be recorded by a standalone DVR like a TiVo (or ReplayTV). You can record standard definition content (with re-encoding it will be slightly worse quality than the original feed), but you may as well use the standard definition DVR that comes with it.

    As for the HD content, the channel selection is somewhat limited still. I’m not sure what the latest offerings are (my information is a few months old), but if you pony up for an HD (3rd LNB because almost all HD broadcasts are currently done from the 110° satellite) tuner with DirecTV then you get all the “basic” HD. You have to pay more for ESPNHD, DiscoveryHD, and others ($11/mo if memory serves). But once again, all this is in massive flux as DirecTV is in the process of launching several new satellites and upgrading their infrastructure to MPEG-4.

    I suppose the bottom line is how badly do you need this? With the rate of change and uncertainty around HD right now, I would recommend against moving towards satellite until it all settles down.

    I suppose the last thing I’d mention is that although I love my DirecTV (and my DirecTiVo), I do get rain fade pretty badly here in Austin. I probably lose signal about once a month entirely. And if it’s a dark and rainy day, there are frequently MPEG artifacts cropping up in the stream. This is despite the fact that I have nearly maximum signal on a normal day.

  9. Our Satellite TV signals depend on weatherconditions.
    Rain, storm, blizzard etc. sometimes heavily disturb
    I would consider that.

  10. I’m a directv installer and I used to install dish. I know it pretty much backward and foward. It breaks down like this. Directv is the best way to go. A few things you have to consider.

    On a budget? That’s ok, until you start talking HD and Tivo. Say you choose a 45 dollar package. 5 bucks more per receiver. 5 bucks more for the tivo service. No problem right? Well, you say you want high def. I think that’s an extra 10 bucks maybe 15 for the service. But now you’re being charge for a HD receiver, no longer free. Also if you go the TiVo route, you’ll probably be charged, (some companies offer deals) Not to mention a HD receiver costs about 2-300 bucks. But if you want a high def tivo receiver, you’re looking at 6-800 bucks.

    If you ask me, don’t go the high def route. There is not enough programming in high def at the moment. Plus the prices are going down, the high def tivo just came down from 1000. Local networks offer a few shows in high def and if you subscribe to HD service you get them. Most high def channels are sports. But more are coming.

    You say this is going in your basement? Remember tivo requires two lines of coax cable from the dish. Hope it’s accessible. I’m a nice guy, maybe too nice, but Lord knows most installers are not. If you have any questions, please ask. Don’t get screwed by an installer giving you all these “custom charges’, which do exist, but many are made up.

    Finally, I’ll give you a recommendation. One receiver in your room, one in the family room, and TiVo(no high def) in the basement. You can get away with about 60, w/ no premium channels. I have tons of info so ask away.

  11. I have Dish Network, and cable for my internet. It works out fine. Dish does, in fact, have to have a clear shot at the satellite. And as David said, some installers can be a little sharkish, so watch out.

    The big difference is in what’s offered by each. Check their programming, see if the things you want are offered, and jump in. However, with the dust still settling on HD, and the limited programming available in true HD (I don’t care if one of them says “We’re all HD”, it’s not true… I would go without the HD and rent the equipment right now.

    Now, I am not an expert. But I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

  12. I have a website that provides reviews on comparing DirecTV and Dish Network. I won’t detail the comparison here as you can learn from the website:

    I would personally be inclined to suggest Dish Network as they have a better deal plus the network is getting increasingly popular with new programs.


  13. I’ld pick DirecTV. You can get the NFL package, and get all the games.

  14. I haven’t seen any satellite DVR interfaces, but even if they’re twice as good as Comcast, they won’t gain any appreciable ground on Tivo for ease of use. If I had to choose between Tivo and HD, I’d pick Tivo in a heartbeat.

    I consider client-side storage to be non-negotiable. If you’re relying on the provider’s good graces not to delete those server-side episodes you’ve been saving for a rainy weekend, they’re inevitably going to pull the rug out at some point. You’re using satellite, so to some extent client-side storage is a foregone conclusion, but I’d be very careful about vetting the remote-deletion capabilities of any house-brand DVR.

    All that said, I don’t know why it’s taking Tivo so long to offer an HD/Cablecard product. I think they’re still aiming for early 2006.

    As for Rura’s comment above — I think re-encoding artifacts look pretty bad. A DirecTivo won’t re-encode the way a standalone Tivo will.

  15. I have been a DirecTV subscriber for almost four years now and have a 30-hour DirecTiVo. I have no complaints about DirecTV service (although I am not a huge fan of their parent company for numerous reasons). I even get great reception in blizzards up here in New England.

    When I lived in Florida, I had Dish Network and found them to be pretty horrible. The signal was weak and the programming seemed overpriced to me. Granted, a lot may have changed in the last five or six years, but I am a happy DirecTV subscriber.

    Unfortunately, I can’t speak for the HD end of things, the I love my DirecTiVo. Unfortunately, DirecTV will soon be offering their own brand of DVR and I am not sure if it will be as functional as the TiVo.

  16. Eric,

    I’ve had the Directv HD package since last September. I have a Samsung 46″ DLP and a Kenwood 5.1 DD receiver. These are hooked up to the D* High Def PVR via HDMI and optical audio connects. The PVR costs $299 with a $100 instant rebate when ordered through D*. As to the upcoming switch to MPEG4, D* has said that it will offer an upgrade path for people who have the MPEG2 hardware (otherwise there is a very large class action suit waiting in the wings).

    As to the available HD content – its somewhat limited until the end of the year when D* will start rolling out their next generation satellite feeds. D* currently offers Showtime and HBO in HD as well as PPV HD all day. The $10.95/mo HD package includes ESPN HD, UHD (Previously Bravo HD) HDNet, HDNet Movies and Discovery HD (for American Chopper fans especially).

    As far as local HD, depending on where you live in relation to your local station towers, you can hook an OTA (Over the air) antenna up to the HD Tivo box and get your local networks in HD. The Tivo adds these channels to your programming guide automatically.

    The HD Tivo has a 250GB Hard drive and can record up to 30 hours of HD or 200 hrs of SD material.

    One cool thing about D* is that you can change programming over the Internet at will. For example, if you see a show coming up on HBO that you want to view, just order HBO for an evening and cancel it after the show’s over. It costs you a prorated amount of .40 cents to do this and you can archive it to the Tivo to watch over and over again – I don’t think you can do that with cable – but I could be wrong.

    If you need any additional insight or info you, feel free to email me directly.

  17. At least with DirecTV, the Tivo compression is significantly better if you get a combination receiver/dvr box. The DirecTivo box stores the compressed signal from the satellite. The standalone Tivo box has to compress the signal first.


  18. My Dad sells and subscribes to both DirecTV and Dish Network. Both in HDTV as well, though only the Dish Network receiver is a DVR. I also have non-HD DirecTV, though without any kind of DVR.

    If you want the NFL package, you only have one choice, obviously. If you want to watch the games in HDTV, you will have to pay extra.

    Both Dish and DirecTV are launching new satellites to provide more HD content, but right now you are expected to get your local stations OTA (over-the-air, with an antenna), which is fine unless you live in the fringes of the broadcast area. Both Dish and DirecTV add your OTA channels to the interactive guide.

    The Dish Network HDTV DVR works quite well in my experience. The model my parents have is a 2-tuner, 2-output model, but only one of the outputs is HDTV. Basically, it lets you handle two rooms with one reciever.

    DirecTV is now offering a non-TiVo DVR as well, in fact, as I understand it, you have to specifically ask for TiVo if you want it.

  19. I switched just two months ago from my cable company to Dish. I wasn’t unhappy with the cable company, but really wanted HDTV. So I dropped cable in favor of the satellite. I’ve watched HDTV for about half an hour the first day that I got it. I’ve rarely watched it since. I think that I would drop that in favor of DVR. Why either or? Because Dish only offered the free receiver with HDTV only or DVR. If you wanted both that was $400+ upgrade.
    I don’t regret my choice. The picture quality is far superior to anything I had in cable. I kept my cable company for broadband, but would switch to the phone company if decent service ever came to my area.
    I got Dish because of the deal they had at the time, a friend of mine got DirecTV at the same time. If you want to hook up more than 4 TVs then DirecTV is the way to go. My friend has 5 TVs on his Direct system and the opportunity to expand up to six.

  20. In regards to DVRs, I just installed Tivo a couple of weeks ago. They are on sale at the moment (I got the 40-hr for $99) and now offer networking, which sold me since I don’t have a land line.

    But, if you care about hooking it into your home network you might want to wait a bit. The networking capabilities are less than stellar at the moment (like software-limited USB speeds and 802.11b wireless only). I’ve chronicled my experience. I understand that they are rolling out a software upgrade, which should help. All-in-all, I like Tivo and the networking does work.

  21. Eric,

    DirecTV just announced an incredible deal on their HD Tivo unit. What was ~$1000 a few months (weeks? days?) ago is now less than $200. Multiple tuners, etc. Good stuff.

    Here in NC, we get our local HD stations via a good ol’ aerial (sp?) antenna on the roof. Other stations come over the satellite receiver.

  22. When we moved into a new house a few mobths back, I had both DishNetwork and Voom installed . . . DishNetwork (which we have had for eight years) for the family and Voom for myself. When Voom went bust, I replaced Voom with Directv and now have both DishNetwork and Directv in my viewing room.

    I wanted to be able to compare them side-by-side, especially their HDTV capabilities.

    Both are good services but at this point in time, DishNetwork has superior picture quality and more HD channels. Dish bought the Voom channels. I’ve got both of the HDTV receivers DishNetwork now offers, an 811 (non-DVR) in the family room and a 942 (two-tuner DVR) in my room. The 942 is amazing, The picture quality with the 942 is superior to any receiver I have ever had. What impressed me most with the 942 is that the non-HD channels have a lot more “pop” than with any other receiver. Also, with the dual tuners you can watch and record different channels simultaneously.

    The Directv HD DVR unit has similar capability to the Dish 942, recording 200+ hous of SD and 25+ hours of HD, with simultaneous watch/record ability. The picture quality is also excellent, just doesn’t have quite the pop that Dish has. Directv does, however, have NFL Sunday Ticket and Dish does not.

    I think the truth is that you’d be happy with either service. They’re both really good, I think, and so much better than cable. I’m going to maintain basic HD packages on both. I don’t want to lose either of them until I see how the upcoming conversion shakes out.

    As was mentioned by others the conversion from MPEG2 to MPEG4 is not far away. Both DishNetwork and Directv will be changing to a different video compression standard in the near future, and when that happens all of the current MPEG2 equipment will be useless. It’s probably not a good idea to invest too much in fancy MPEG2 DVR/TIVO units at this point in time. It’s anybody’s guess what the sat companies are going to offer when the new equipment comes on line.

  23. Just switched from Dish Network back to Cable because I bought an HD set (Toshiba 52″). Dish wanted me to pay $400 to upgrade to an HD box (no DVR), whereas they’re offering new customers the HD box free. I have a problem with this. It represents a trend in the service industry–take faithful, existing customers for granted and pull out all the stops for new customers. My bill also had a way of growing in small incrementsI’ll curtail the rant now. Anyway, I had 2 DVR’s. Both were a little quirky–e.g. occasionally stuck in record mode, locked on one channel, etc. Charter offered free installation for four rooms, one HD box and another digital (non HD) box and ALL of their programming for $46.99/mo. Their Moxi (HD) box is an additional $9.95/mo, but they are back-ordered right now. Right now I have a Series II Tivo box hooked up to my Cable box, and Tivo’s tuner seems to degrade the signal a bit. I think that anyone who tells you that you’re going to see a dramatic improvement in quality with satellite is not being completely honest. I’ve switched back and forth several times. I had Dish Network when they started about 15 yrs ago. I paid $1500.00 at the St Louis Home Show when Echostar was introducing it (oops). Anyway, I don’t see any demonstrable difference in signal quality between the two, but it is a certainly that you will lose your Dish signal in bad weather– “bad” meaning anything that obscures your southwestern exposure.

    By the way, currently DirectTV has better HD programing than Dish Network, but neither of them can give you local channels in HD. Cable does give you local channels. I have 10 HD channels with Charter and they’re adding 3 more on 9/15. When I discontinued Dish Network svc (30 days ago) they were offering 5 HD channels. I am on the waitng list for Charter’s HD Moxi box. I’ve heard good things about it. Honestly- I’d suggest going with DirectTV before Dish. I really felt that the longer I stayed with Dish, the more I was taken advantage of.

    Good luck.

  24. DirecTV is the way to go. Soon you will be able to store what ever you recorded on your computers hard drive,+ the picture quality will outperform cable+ with cable when you sign up for theire freeHD cervice you get a beat down HD box with bo HDMI output and only 1 Composite output. On top of all that DirecTV will launch a few more satellites into space giving you moreHD chanels and regular chanels.

    i am an installer myself and I install Plasma/LCD home Theater, DirecTV, Dish Net, and cable. And from experiance it’s worth paying a couple of extra $$$ for DirecTV service.

    Next to DirecTV would be DishNet simply because it also is 100% digital , and will outperform cable, but if you leave they wan’t you to take down the LNB’s or else they will charge you $$$. And theire customer cervice blows, because most of the time you will be talking with someone from India.

    Well, thats my oppinion take it or leave it it’s up to you.

  25. What are my options if my apartment doesn’t face the right direction to get a good signal for the dish?

  26. “What are my options if my apartment doesn”t face the right direction to get a good signal for the dish?”
    – Check your lease agreement and see what you own as a tenant. Or google a FCC Fact sheet on Placement of Antennas.

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