Satellite TV Providers and Options

If you live in the U.S. and want satellite TV systems in your home, you have basically two choices. Yes, there are other providers out there, but for most viewers, DirecTV and DISH Network offer the most choices for the least money, although Pegasus and Voom are fast becoming major contenders in the satellite television industry. Competition being what it is, both DirecTV and DISH Network offer similar services and constantly adjust to add features and outdo their rivals. So how do you choose between the two? A side-by-side comparison of the services and prices shows some differences that help customers decide which service best fits their viewing needs. But first, a little background on each provider might be helpful.

DirecTV

The company known as The DirecTV Group is made up of four main units, which include DirecTV U.S., DirecTV Latin America, PanAmSat, and Hughes Network Systems (HNS). As a group, the organization serves over 12 million U.S. satellite TV customers and another 1.5 million subscribers in Latin countries. Through PanAmSat, they operate a fleet of 25 satellites capable of providing satellite transmissions to 98% of the world. And Hughes Network Systems operates a satellite-based consumer broadband Internet access service known as DirecWay. This component of Hughes has over 180,000 subscribers. HNS is also one of the largest manufacturers of DirecTV set-top receivers. The four different aspects of The DirecTV Group give the company a large, comprehensive base of direct and indirect satellite customers. Their partnerships with technology leaders such as AOL, Microsoft, and TiVo also add to their customer base.

There are plans for improving and expanding services in efforts to attract more customers. Hughes Network Services is developing SPACEWAY, a more advanced satellite broadband communications package that is expected to provide customers with more affordable high-speed, two-way data communications. SPACEWAY is expected to be introduced in 2005.

DirecTV has been actively working to increase the number of markets where they offer local programming. In January of this year, the company added 18 new markets that will receive local channels via the DirecTV(R) programming service. By year-end, the company plans to offer local channels in a minimum of 130 markets, representing 92% of U.S. television households. Continued marketing and development of their HDTV and DVR products will also be a part of their plans to expand their customer base. Two different basic dish designs and several different manufacturers provide DirecTV consumers with a number of dish options.

DirecTV subscribers have a choice of two basic dish designs for their satellite service. The round dish is the more common 18" design that has been popular across the country. The oval dish or low noise blockdown (LNB) dish is able to receive information from more than one satellite and is required for those who want to receive local channels, HDTV, or Spanish language programming.

Popular manufacturers of DirecTV compatible dishes include Hughes, Sony, Phillips, and RCA. Current DirecTV sales and deals offer the satellite dish and other equipment for free with a one-year commitment. It could cost anywhere from $50 to over $200 to purchase the DirecTV compatible dish separately.

DISH Network

EchoStar Communications Corporation and their DISH Network service are Hughes Network’s top competitors. Headquartered in Englewood Colorado, EchoStar has been a leader in the satellite TV industry for over 20 years. The company, founded by Charlie Ergen, began as a distributor of C-band cable television systems and filed for a Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) license in 1987. The company received broadcast access in 1992, launched its own satellite, EchoStar I, in 1995, and introduced DISH Network in 1996.

Today, the company has 9 satellites, and through DISH Network, provides over 500 channels of video, audio, and data satellite services to over 8.5 million customers in the U.S. In addition to satellite television services, DISH Network customers can also receive high speed Internet, Interactive TV (on demand programming), and High Definition TV (HDTV).

HDTV is EchoStar's latest innovation, which reportedly delivers extraordinarily sharp pictures and integrated sound by digitizing television programming. Broadcasting all DISH Network programming in wide-screen format and transmitting up to 10 percent more pixels, HDTV provides a clearer more proportionate picture.

In August of 2003, EchoStar was the first company to offer a satellite receiver with a built-in digital video recorder (DVR). A DISH Network standard DVR receiver allows viewers to stop, rewind, fast forward and record up to 60 hours of live TV programming. More advanced receivers provide enhanced services.

DISH Network services can be purchased on-line or through a local retailer. Unlike its competitor, DirecTV, DISH Network offers equipment installation. This service usually involves a fee, but often is offered at free or reduced rates through special sales promotions.

The equipment needed for DISH Network satellite TV is basically the same as for DirecTV service. You need a dish, a satellite receiver, and the access cards. Depending on the type of satellite TV you want, you have several choices for equipment. Whether you want standard satellite TV or Digital Video Recording (DVR), or High Definition (HD) options, you will need a dish. Each type of service requires a different dish, but that is determined for you when you choose your package.

A Comparison

So how do the two leading satellite television services compare? Both offer over 200 channels and Pay Per View selections, DVD recorders, HDTV and seven HD channels each. But from there, things differ somewhat. Here’s a side-by-side listing of the different packages and the services provided. Look them over and decide which satellite TV service is best for your budget and viewing needs.

DIRECTV
Free receivers included with price plan
HDTV Receiver:$399
Dish included
Lowest price plan: $36.99 per month
Highest price plan: $87.99 per month
Satellite Internet: Yes

DISH Network
Receivers are free to $149 depending on selection
HDTV receiver: $449
Dish inluded
Lowest price plan: $24.99 per month
Highest price plan: $77.99 per month
Satellite internet: No

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