I have Direct TV and also cable, digital for some channels.
I do not have a HD plasma, (my receiver is HD) but the one I have looks good to my old eyes, and was soft on the wallet. Observations are:
HD programs look better than regular ones, even without the HD monitor. I was able to check this out because Direct TV often has the same movie on two channels, one HD, the other not, and I can switch back and forth between channels.
With satelite, all channels are digital, whether or not they are HD. Picture quality is better for these channels.
Local stations are not available for all locations, yet. I was surprised to find that neither PBS channel included on Direct TV had the programming that I like from my local PBS station. I can still get it over the cable, and they say that local stations will soon be available in my location.
Cable has a way of getting knocked out during thunder storms or when people take down poles with their cars. Direct TV has never been interrupted. Surprisingly, my signal strength was unaffected by about one inch of snow clinging to the lower third of the dish.
With cable, you can get broadband connection for your computer.
CATV is highly dependent on where you are--who your provider is and how far away from the headend you are. In my old house, I had Comcast digital CATV and thought it was terrible. So, when I moved, I ordered DirecTV and was very excited by the prospect of improved quality. Unfortunately, it took waaay to long to install, and in the interim, I ended up with digital CATV again because I needed the CATV broadband service and the digital add-on was a cheap promotion that would tide me over to the DirecTV install. In my new house, the digital CATV seemed much, much better, but at the time they didn't have HDTV channels, so I cancelled when the DirecTV got installed.
I hated DirecTV. For channel surfers, the channel update is sloooow, regardless of the box you use. After a year, my DirecTV contract expired and my Comcast system started carrying about 8 channels of HDTV, so I switched back. I'm much happier with digital CATV than DirecTV, and I have yet to see any outages (its been about a year).
Bottom line, you can have a good CATV signal and you can have a bad CATV signal. You can have a good DirecTV signal, and you can have a bad DirecTV signal (depends on foliage and how well the dish is aligned). If you don't have a good DirecTV signal, you will have weather outages--I know people who can predict the weather by when their DirecTV starts cutting out, and I had some issues with high winds.
On the plus side, I think CATV switches faster and has a better HDTV line up, but that is my taste (not a sports fan) and my CATV provider. On the minus side, the DirecTV folks can go integrated Tivo, and there is now an HDTV Tivo. On the plus side, I don't have to run a lot of coax through my house and my CATV is available in all rooms (you need two runs of coax to support Tivo and multiswitches for multiple rooms).
As with most things, its a matter of taste...
HDTV is definitely worth it, however!
Edesilva...You are absolutely right that the local cable provider can make or break cable, and your house's suitability for dish location can make or break satelite.
I bought my own satelite hardware and installed it myself without any problem whatsoever. It took me a couple of hours. My signal strength is in the mid 90's, which is considered very good. The ideal dish location, from a reception point of view, happened to be ideal from a cosmetic point of view (hidden away on a back roof). Not everyone will be this fortunate.
I have Directv and it is very good, but you might want to look at Voom they give you everything free and include an antenna for local channel HDTV feeds. No long term contract either. The only downside is no PPV and no NFL sunday ticket. No NFL sunday ticket was a deal breaker for me. Hope you don't have this addiction.
The first thing you need to get a handle on is the availability of what we call OTA (over the air) High Definition broadcasts. I seem to remember addressing this earlier and perhaps in a thread that you either started or were a part of. Then again, perhaps not so here goes:
If you can get a decent OTA signal, this will seriously aid you in your decision. I live in one of the five major metropolitan areas that Beta-tested High Definition broadcasting more than five years ago and, such being the case, most of the bugs have been worked out to the extant that networks like ABC can now alert us of the ten movies per year(!) that do not come in High Definition. You get the best audio in OTA broadcasts. My local PBS station's concerts are fantastic in High Definition.
The problem with OTA is that they broadcast in UHF frequencies and this means that you must be able to receive an unobstructed signal from the antenna to your home. Again, I am lucky as I live on a hill and I can see the mountain from which almost all of the HD signals come from. So, a very simple $35.00 Terk antenna mounted on my attic window sill does the trick without any amplification. I collected $$ from the siblings and I installed a plasma monitor, Direct TV and anantenna for my wife's Father in Northern Indiana and his antenna reaches almost twenty feet from the top of his house. He also prefers OTA over Satellite and this allowed him to cancel cable.
If you can't get a decent OTA signal then you are probably better off with cable and the whole god-awful monopoly service that comes with it.
One thing you can do is go to www.antennaweb.org and follow the prompts to see what kind of antenna you might need in your area. You still must test the results for yourself as UHF is really strange in that twin, look-alike houses sitting next to each other either can or can't get the same decent signal. Also, www.avsforum.com will tell you who is broadcasting in your area and when they will be capable of getting you HD signals in your area.
So, again to answer your question, if you can get good OTA then Satellite is good. If not, cable is your answer. finally, While my Father-in-Law has direct TV, I have Dishnet and I prefer Dish over DirectTV.
Hey Warren ..I had both cable and sat at the same time.. and now I have only one. And its not cable..Tom
Hey Tom, I had both at the same time too, and now I have only one. And its not DirecTV. It all depends on your signal quality--I had SAT A, B, and C in the high 80s to high 90s and I still get better PQ from Comcast. YMMV.
OTA is free, and that is a *good* thing, in the words of a notable convict. If you bought your set now, it probably doesn't have an OTA tuner--buying one will set you back a couple hundred on an open box special. I'll second UncleJeff's recommendation of antennaweb.org. It will tell you who is on air in your area and what kind of antenna you need to pick them up.
This weather thing related to Direct TV is going to be the deal nixer. Snow on dish? Heavey rain? This is a drag, and seeing that the dish may have to go on top of my roof: not a good thing. Not a big TV watcher, but do like to watch DVDs. No problem with reception, there. Thanks for your feedback guys. I'm staying with my cable service and their HDTV package. If the HD picture (unlikely -neighborhood friends love it) ) does not deliver, I'll check into the Direct TV package.
Just finished my usual 5 mile run. This time, I ran through my town looking for dishes. LOTS! This, is a good thing. My neighborhood is really quite unique, being on the ocean and surrounded on the other sides by water, as well. Only one way in and out of town. If there's a lot of dishes that must mean something. I'll knock on a few doors and see. Many, have the dish near the top of their chimney. Snow melt? That's, a good thing. Got some homework to do. thanks again, warren
If comparing satelite networks, (Direct TV vs Dish Network) check into the dish angles for your locality. Where I live, Direct TV has an elevation angle of 30 degrees, whereas the Dish Network needs 11 degrees. (I don't know why they are different, since all the satelites are in synchronous 22,000 mile orbits). Anyway, 30 degrees makes it a lot easier to see over trees and other obstructions.
You are right about all the video sat services being in geosync orbit over the equator, but... The difference in elevation angle relates to which equatorial slot the licensee has. If the satellite is longitudinally equatorial, but latitudinally coincident with the pacific ocean, an Wash. DC viewer is going to have to use a significantly lower elevation angle to "see" that satellite as compared to one that is latitudinally coincident with DC.
I think both services' websites have calculators for zip codes to show you the direction/azimuth for their sats for your area. (I think Echostar requires two dishes for "full" service, inc. HD channels; DirecTV requires three satellites, but due to their orbital slots, you should be able to get away with a single elliptical dish with 3 LNBs--if you want the bulk of the HD stuff, you need the third LNB). Then you need to get on your roof with a compass, a protractor, a level, and a drinking straw. ; )
I think people use their chimneys for mounting b/c its easier than drilling holes through your roof, and generally its also the best high unobstructed view.
The best picture is over the air HD and its free..Hd network off air decoded thru a sat box looks better than cable network hd..At a store I ran we could abcd Direct TV, Dish, Insight cable, and off air hd going thru the tv's built in hd tuner..Tom
Edesilva...The dish has a built-in level, and the adjustments have angular scales, so all you need is a boy scout compass. Clue me in...what is the drinking straw for?
This is pre-actual ownership to see if you can get it. You get on your roof with the compass, you figure out the direction of the satellite, you use the level and the protractor to figure azimuth, lining the straw up on the protractor, and then you look through the straw to see if there is a big building or tree in the way... Frankly, I just got on my roof, eyeballed it, and said "yeah, this will work." For areas where large trees exist, or where you are attempting a ground install, or shooting between buildings, the whole compass/protractor/level/straw thing is more accurate.
The whole thing made me recollect an episode in my neighborhood as a kid where the cops were trying to figure out who shot a bunch of bb's through a window. They stuck drinking straws in the bb holes and looked through them. The all lined up with one particular window in a neighbor's house...