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We've just ordered a HDTV, primarily to watch DVDs in widescreen at a higher resolution. I don't watch a lot of TV, don't currently subscribe to cable/satellite, and don't have a PVR. But once we have the HDTV I'd like to see major sporting events in HDTV (eg., superbowl, march madness, nba playoffs, world series, olympics, world cup). So now I have to decide where we're going to get our HD signal: off-the-air, cable, or satellite (directtv, dish, or voom)?


I've been shopping around and reading the posts on avsforum and have come up with the following simplified decision guide that other newbies might find helpful. The guide is completely second hand, based entirely on the opinions of others, since I have no direct experience in these matters. Our local cable company is Comcast. I priced all the premium programming packages to include all major sporting events along with maximum olympics coverage (nbc, msnbc, and bravo) in hdtv.


1. Content. Before choosing a provider, sign up for a free account at titantv.com and see how much HD content each provider really has. It's shocking how little HD programming is available anywhere! For example, on a recent Saturday night Comcast only had 2 HD shows, both movies on premium channels, while local channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS) all had HD programming available for free OTA. Even HD specialty channels like ESPNHD, HBOHD, SHOHD, and StarZHD don't have that much HD programming. That being said, if you want local channels in hdtv, your only choices are cable (if your provider has local channels) and OTA (if you can get the signal). Buyer beware: none of the satellite providers currently offers local channels in hdtv! Some prominent sporting events (eg., olympics, world cup) are not available on local channels, so you'll need to get cable or satellite if you want that content.


2. Risk. If you are risk-averse and aren't sure hd content is worth the expense, cable is your best bet because you can get everything you need without any risk, without buying any equipment up-front, without making a long-term committment. In my area, comcast offers a complete hdtv setup for $23 installation plus $33.05/mo ($13.10/mo basic + $5/mo hdtv + $14.95/mo hd receiver) with no cancellation fee. The next best option is Dish because their equipment is cheap ($50 for the Dish 811 HD receiver, minus a $50 rebate). The worst option by far is the $749 outlay from Voom, unless you got one of their special $399 or $250 offers.


3. Hassle. The least aggrevation and hassle is cable (if your residence already has it installed) followed by OTA (if you are close enough to the tower to use an indoor antenna). For everything else you will either have to risk your own life to install the antenna yourself or you will have to risk damage to your property and wasted time with installation by low-paid poorly-trained "professionals". Avsforum is littered with complaints about satellite installation.


4. Expense. The cheapest provider depends on what content you want and how long you intend to subscribe. For basic HD service (major networks only) the cheapest provider over any time period longer than 10 months is OTA with an indoor antenna ($350 for receiver and indoor antenna), followed closely by cable ($23 install plus $33.05/mo). If you can get local hdtv channels OTA, then the cheapest provider for premium hdtv content is Dish at $556/yr plus $50 for the indoor antenna. Cable and DirectTV are roughly equivalent at $1k for the first year although DirectTV does not provide local channels in hdtv. The most expensive by far is Voom at $749 plus $478.80/yr unless you are one of the chosen few with those $250/$399 offers.


5. Time Shifting. If you want a HD PVR today, you must get Dish. Currently only Dish offers a HD PVR (the Dish PVR-921), but it has received many negative reviews. Both DirectTV and Voom have announced HD PVRs but that is just vaporware until they ship and consumer reviews abound. A year from now the smart money says that DirectTV will have the best HD PVR because theirs is based on Tivo. Cable is far far behind the satellite providers in this respect -- they may not even offer a regular PVR in your area (they don't in mine), and if they do, it is likely to be the abysmal Scientific Atlanta DVR offered by Time Warner, Cox, and Comcast.


6. Quality. There is no consensus on the quality issue. But my overall impression from reading hundreds of posts is that OTA has the best picture quality (if you're in range) followed by cable. Satellite is the worst because they use heavy compression and bad weather can adversely affect your reception.


7. Cable Bile. The local cable monopoly is aggravating to most people, including myself. They raise their rates whenever they want, avoid competing with each other, spend their service fees on lobbying congress to protect their monopoly, provide inferior customer service, choose their content to suit themselves rather than their viewers. It's hard not to feel screwed when you're paying a cable bill, which is why I've been an "indoor antenna bad reception" guy for the past decade. But they currently offer a decent deal on hdtv service, which may be enough to let you choke down your cable bile for a few months.


Since local hdtv channels are must for me, I won't consider a satellite provider until I get a good HD signal OTA and they offer a Tivo-based HD PVR. To get hdtv as cheaply as possibly, you can buy the Motorola HD100 HD receiver from circuitcity for $350 minus $50 rebate, and return it within 30 days for full refund if you don't get good OTA reception. And from my perspective, cable looks like the best newbie bet because you get local hdtv plus premium hdtv from one company with no need to fiddle around with the installation. If you like it, you can return their hd receiver and buy your own to save money after roughly 2 years.


Hope this helps!


01/22/04 Initial post.

01/23/04 Edited to update pricing information and cable bile issue.

01/26/04 Noted general lack of HD content.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by hatchback
We've just ordered a HDTV, primarily to watch DVDs in widescreen at a higher resolution. I don't watch a lot of TV, don't currently subscribe to cable/satellite, and don't have a PVR. But once we have the HDTV I'd like to see major sporting events in HDTV (eg., superbowl, march madness, nba playoffs, world series, olympics, world cup). So now I have to decide where we're going to get our HD signal: off-the-air, cable, or satellite (directtv, dish, or voom)?


I've been shopping around and reading the posts on avsforum and have come up with the following simplified decision guide that other newbies might find helpful. Our local cable company is comcast. I priced all the programming packages to include all major sporting events along with maximum olympics coverage (nbc, msnbc, and bravo) in hdtv.


1. Content. If you want local channels in hdtv, your only choices are cable (if your provider has local channels) and OTA (if you can get the signal). None of the satellite providers currently offers local channels in hdtv! If you want to get full hdtv coverage of prominent sporting events, you need to get cable or satellite -- local hdtv channels will not suffice.


2. Risk. If you are risk-averse and aren't sure hd content is worth the expense, cable is your best bet because you can get everything you need without buying any equipment up-front and without making a long-term committment. The next best option is Dish because their equipment is cheap ($50 for the Dish 811 HD receiver, minus a $50 rebate). The worst option is the $749 outlay from Voom, unless you got one of their special $399 or $250 offers.


3. Hassle. The least aggrevation and hassle is cable (if your residence already has it installed) followed by OTA (if you are close enough to the tower to use an indoor antenna). For everything else you will either have to risk your own life to install the antenna yourself or you will have to risk damage to your property and wasted time with installation by a low-paid poorly-trained "professional". Avsforum is littered with complaints about satellite installation.


4. Expense. The cheapest provider for one year's worth of HD service is OTA (roughly $400 for a receiver and indoor antenna) followed by Dish (roughly $475). If you can get local channels OTA, then Dish would only be $385 plus $50 for the indoor antenna. Cable and DirectTV are roughly equivalent at $1k for the first year. The most expensive by far is Voom at $749 plus $478.80/yr unless you are one of the chosen few.


5. Time Shifting. If you want a HD PVR today, you must get Dish. Currently only Dish offers a HD PVR (the Dish PVR-921), but it has received negative reviews. Both DirectTV and Voom have announced HD PVRs but that is just vaporware until they ship and consumer reviews abound. A year from now the smart money says that DirectTV will have the best HD PVR because theirs is based on Tivo. Cable is far far behind -- they don't even offer a regular PVR in my area!


6. Quality. The best picture quality is OTA (if you're in range) followed by cable. Satellite is the worst because they use heavy compression and bad weather can adversely affect your reception.


So from my perspective, cable looks like the best newbie bet. If I can get a good HD signal OTA, my next decision point will be when DirectTV and Voom lower their prices and ship their HD PVRs.


Hope this helps!
A few comments:


1) DISH (and DirectTV soon) will offer LA and NYC locals of CBS. And DirectTV will also offer FOX. While only some people can qualify to get these. Many of us also can't get and HD from out cable companies. I just wouldn't want anyone new to dismiss any option just because it was what makes the most sense for you. I think right now anyone serious about HDTV needs to do the research you did but for their area. And answer the questions "can I get any HDTV OTA?", "Does my cable company have HDTV?", "Do I live in an area were DirectTV or DISH will give me some of my locals?"
 

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Just a couple of quick responses:


Hassle: Cable can be a big hassle AFTER installation even though it's less painful on the front-end. I dumped cable because of lousy customer service and constant price increases.


Quality: Not all areas have better cable PQ than satellite. In my area, a friend did a side-by-side picture comparison on his widescreen with cable on one side and satellite on the other and the cable picture was far worse; less vibrant color and actually fuzzy. (comcast cable vs directv).


I recommend people use the hints listed and then look at their own situation to determine which is the best course of action.
 

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I agree completely with your analysis. While some would argue that the satellite HD picture is superior to cable's HD picture, the difference is likely to be minimal. It comes down to programming availability for me. Cable in most areas is likely to offer all the current locals in HD in a relatively short timeframe (i.e. 1-2 years). In my area, Time Warner is missing only ABC and the WB - they have everything else already. They also just released the HD-DVR from SA. Comcast's HD-DVR availability will likely not be far behind.


As an aside, it sees to me that the only thing pushing satellite to offer these new upgrades like the HD-DVR250 from TiVo is cable's HD potential. Conversely, the only reason cable cares about getting us HD is so we don't move to satellite. As long as both prosper, the consumer will win!!
 

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One positive about Dish Network is that after the one year commitment you get to keep the equipment but dont have to subscribe to the standard def package in order to get HD.


If you don't subscribe to the standard pack, you pay a $5.00 per month service fee plus 9.99 for the HD package.


If you can get ota network Hd, then you have most of the HD that is out there.


Roy
 

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My BEST PQ is satellite. Specifically Discovery HD Theater. C-Band HD.

Blows cable,OTA, & little pizza dish PQ AWAY!!!!!HBO HD East & West

is also a "clean" feed. So when you recommend cable over satellite it REALLY depends on YOUR version of satellite, after all, where do you think the DSS and cable folks get their signal from????You guessed it....1st generation C-Band!!! :)
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Quote:
Originally posted by MackenzieIII
A few comments:


1) DISH (and DirectTV soon) will offer LA and NYC locals of CBS. And DirectTV will also offer FOX. While only some people can qualify to get these. Many of us also can't get and HD from out cable companies. I just wouldn't want anyone new to dismiss any option just because it was what makes the most sense for you. I think right now anyone serious about HDTV needs to do the research you did but for their area. And answer the questions "can I get any HDTV OTA?", "Does my cable company have HDTV?", "Do I live in an area were DirectTV or DISH will give me some of my locals?"
It's important to distinguish between "local channels" and "local hdtv channels". AFAIK, no satellite provider will give you local hdtv channels regardless of where you live.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by hatchback
It's important to distinguish between "local channels" and "local hdtv channels". AFAIK, no satellite provider will give you local hdtv channels regardless of where you live.
Except some channels in NY and LA on dish and directv.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
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Originally posted by royrose
One positive about Dish Network is that after the one year commitment you get to keep the equipment but dont have to subscribe to the standard def package in order to get HD.


If you don't subscribe to the standard pack, you pay a $5.00 per month service fee plus 9.99 for the HD package.


If you can get ota network Hd, then you have most of the HD that is out there.


Roy
That sounds like a fantastic deal because it would let you buy the Dish 811 HD receiver for $179.88 (12*$14.99) along with a year's worth of premium hd content. I just called Dish and they wouldn't let me get the HD package without the basic "top50" package, so my minimum entry point for Dish is $34.99/mo. How do you get theDish HD package w/o their top50 package?
 

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There is a lot of useful information here. However, many decisions are based on prior experience. In my case, there is almost no chance that I would ever deal with a cable company again. On the other hand, my experiences with DirecTV over six years have been very positive.

The offset to this is that now DirecTV is dragging its heels (appararently) on adding new HDTV channels, including locals for most of us, whereas some cable companies are going gangbusters. But I am willing to wait for a few months more to see what will happen.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by hatchback

AFAIK, no satellite provider will give you local hdtv channels regardless of where you live.
except some stations in New York, L.A., Boston, Detroit and Seattle
 
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