When you're looking to expand your television options and selection, there are three obvious options: over-the- air, satellite or digital cable. They all offer a selection of television stations, but when you really come down to it, what s the difference?
Over-The-Air (free channels)
Subscription: None needed. You will need an antenna to access the channel signal and a digital-to-analog converter box if you have an analog TV .
DVR Compatible: Yes. There are several DVR options that work with over-the-air signals. Look for a unit, like the TiVO Premiere, that specifically states that it works with over-the-air broadcasting.
On June 12, 2009, television stations across the U.S. switched their broadcasting signal totally to digital. This switch made analog TVs and antennae obsolete. However, with a digital-to-analog converter box, your analog TV can access digital programming. Richard Schneider, owner of Mr. Schneider's Antennas Direct, took advantage of the switch and now sells antennas that can access those free channels with ease. He says, the number of channels varies based on the area, from about 90 stations in Los Angeles to about 25 in St. Louis. On average, viewers get 30 to 45 channels, as long as they don't live in a canyon or deep valley and are within 65 miles of a transmitting tower. Once you have a converter box and an antenna, you ll be able to watch local broadcasting channels absolutely free.
Hardware: Satellite dish
Subscription: Yes. Satellite television comes with a subscription fee. Extra content, like pay-per-view or on demand, cost an additional fee.
DVR Compatible: Yes. Satellite companies often offer a DVR to their customers for an extra fee for the unit and for a monthly subscription fee.
Satellite subscribers each have their own satellite dish that communicates with the provider s main satellite hub. DirecTV subscribers are told that their dish must have a clear view of the southern sky, unblocked by trees or buildings. You can install the satellite dish yourself, or a representative from the satellite company will come to your home and install it for you. The average home only needs one satellite dish to serve every TV in their home. Be wary of the plethora of channels, and be sure that local broadcast stations are included in the quoted price some companies charge extra. The biggest downside to satellite TV is the service s sensitivity to weather conditions. Rain and snow can both cause disruption in the service.
Hardware: Cable-wired home and a set-top box
Subscription: Yes. Cable companies charge a monthly subscription fee and often a one-time setup fee.
DVR Compatible: Yes. Cable companies often offer DVRs specific for their service. You can also use a third-party DVR like the TiVo Premiere 4 or Magnavox MDR515H.
Digital cable is probably the most common television subscription. It upgrades your viewing experience to HD video. With most cable services, you can bundle telephone, internet and TV all in one price. The biggest downside is that you usually need a set top box for each TV you would like connected to the service, and each box has a monthly usage fee.
There really is no right or wrong choice. Pick the service that works best with your family s budget and entertainment needs. Whichever selection you do choose, be sure to include a DVR in the mix so you can record live TV and never miss your favorite shows (or watch a commercial) again.