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Satellite Dish TV Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ 1)
    
1. What is Satellite Dish TV service, and how much does it cost?

Satellite Dish TV service gets its TV signals from satellites in geosynchronous orbit. Because they stay in the same position relative to the earth’s surface at all times, once a satellite antenna (usually, a dish of some kind) is properly aimed, it can be left as-is thereafter. Satellite signals are broadcast from a ground station to multiple satellites, which then broadcast those signals back to the earth across huge expanses of territory. Anybody with a satellite dish (the antenna), plus the proper signal processing gear (a set-top box of some kind, usually called a satellite receiver, is required for each TV set on which you want to watch the provider’s programming) that can “see” a satellite can pick up the signal. A single antenna can feed multiple satellite receivers, but a physical cable is routed from the antenna to each receiver (inside the house, both cable and satellite TV require cables for each TV set).

Satellite providers control access to their networks by including special encryption and encoding in their signals, and tightly controlling the equipment that can read and play back those signals, to prevent unauthorized users from tuning in and obtaining free TV service.

Satellite Dish TV service costs vary, primarily according to the channels that subscribers elect to pay for. That said, both DirecTV and Dish Network (the two primary satellite providers in North America) offer basic packages for $20 to $25 per month. Add-on options for HDTV, sports channels, movie channels, and so forth usually cost anywhere from $8 to $25 per month each (or come in season-long subscriptions for sports such as NFL football, NBA basketball and so forth). Lots of bundles are available in the $30 to $55 a month range, but it’s easy to spend $100 a month or more on satellite TV services, especially if you like sports or movies, or both.

Dish Network offers equipment to subscribers at no charge, including DVR (digital video recording) or HDTV (high-definition television) receivers. DirecTV charges $99 for SDTV DVR receivers, and $299 for HDTV DVR receivers (check for rebates).

2. What is Cable TV service, and how much does it cost?

Cable TV service basically entails running a physical broadband cable into your household, usually some kind of high-bandwidth coaxial cable (though some fiber-optic-based offerings are starting to become available in some markets). Cable TV companies operate various types of broadcast equipment that essentially combine hundreds of analog and digital TV channels into a single cable that can be decoded and interpreted when passed into the right kind of set-top box. Cable companies monitor the hardware attached to their networks very closely, and permit only devices with known physical hardware addresses to access their signals. Though you can buy your own cable equipment in some markets, you can’t use that equipment until the provider reads its hardware address and enables it to work with their signals. As with satellite TV, a set-top box is generally required for each TV set on which you want to watch cable TV signals, and a physical cable hook-up for each such box is also required. Most cable providers also have to ensure that individual hook-ups are “digital ready” before they can accommodate digital set-top boxes and HDTV signals.

Basic cable TV costs are generally in the same league as basic satellite TV costs–again $20 to $25 a month–but cable TV providers are subject to local fees and taxes (satellite providers are not), and you must generally rent set-top boxes from cable providers for anywhere from $3 a month per device (more for those with digital, HDTV or DVR capabilities). In general, the cable company not only controls but also owns the equipment you use to watch their programming. So, basic cable generally costs anywhere from $5 to $10 a month more than satellite for similar service, plus $3 a month and up for each set-top box you have installed. You can omit the set-top boxes on the additional TVs, but you will probably not be able to receive all the cable channels you pay for on those sets.

3. How do the costs compare for Cable vs Satellite Dish TV service?

Most experts generally rule the cost equation slightly in favor of satellite, even when you have to buy the equipment you use to receive (and sometimes, to record) TV, be it standard television or HDTV. That’s because the costs of renting cable equipment generally exceed those for buying satellite equipment over time, and because the regular monthly fees and taxes that get tacked onto cable TV charges also add to the overall cost. That confers only a slight edge, however, and shouldn’t be the only factor involved in your selection.

4. How do costs of equipment purchase compare to rental costs?

When satellite providers offer equipment at no charge, they generally require at least a one-year subscription commitment or a contract of similar duration. When they charge for the equipment, it usually costs anywhere from $49 for a basic standard TV set-top box, to as much as $299 for a set-top box that can record HDTV signals.

Cable operators generally charge $3 per set-top box per month ($36 a year) for basic standard TV devices, and up to $10 a month ($120 per year) for set-top boxes that can record HDTV signals. If you stay with either provider longer than two or three years, the satellite service costs come out somewhat lower than the cable service costs because you’ll typically pay off that equipment somewhere in the second or third year of ownership, as compared with cable TV costs. But such equipment generally needs to be replaced every five to seven years (if not more often for real equipment aficionados), so equipment costs do continue to factor into the overall burden for either type of service.

5. What kinds of equipment are required for cable service? For satellite service?

For both services, each TV set on which you want to watch provider programming requires a set-top box of some kind, which may or may not include any or all of the following: analog TV signals (satellite is all-digital, so this applies only to cable), digital TV signals, HDTV signals, plus digital video recording for standard TV (less expensive, more hours of TV recording per device) and HDTV (more expensive, less hours of TV recording per device). Note that all HDTV programming is digital, and an increasing number of standard television channels are also digital; the FCC mandates that all U.S. TV broadcasts will be digital by February 9, 2009.

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