Dish Network vs. Comcast

Week of May 22, 2005

Q: I am thinking of changing from cable TV to satellite and would like to know what you think about Dish Network verses Comcast. I’ve seen a lot of advertisement spam and snail mail about Dish that promise the world, and I need the real word form some one I trust.

-Barry Werber, Pittsburgh, PA

A: Subscription TV has become quite complicated, but I can tell you a bit about the industry in general and relate my own experiences with both vendors. I subscribe to both Comcast (cable TV and high-speed Internet) and Dish Network (satellite TV).

First of all, how many services do you want, and how important are they to you? Cable companies offer high-speed Internet and increasingly, phone service. You can bundle them together in packages to save money.

Satellite TV is pretty much a television-only service- but what great television! I have had Dish Network for eight years and could not be more pleased. For the serious audio/videophile, I think satellite is the way to go. The picture is 100% digital, unlike digital cable, which is a hybrid analog/digital system. Satellite picture quality is exceptional and I can recommend Dish unhesitatingly based on my own experiences, and discussions with friends who have DirecTV tell me they are a great choice, too.

With satellite you tend to get more channels at a lower cost than cable, but if you have more than three televisions cost can match or exceed that of cable TV. Dish Network offers a “Digital Home Advantage” program that provides equipment as part of your subscription, making it very easy to subscribe. DirecTV still requires purchase of equipment, but offers exclusive programming such as NFL Sunday Ticket (a subscription that makes every NFL game available to you no matter where you live).

Overall, I give Dish Network top marks and can unhesitatingly recommend them. Both DirecTV and Dish Network have perfect scores for Performance and Reliability at jdpower.com- scores higher than any cable company. In fact, DirecTV and Dish have the top rating in every single category!

My experience with Comcast has been mixed, though positive overall.

I have found the picture quality of cable to be somewhat below satellite TV, though it is getting better. This is especially true of the standard definition channels viewed on a high definition television. Everywhere I have seen standard definition cable on an HDTV, it has looked noticeably fuzzier than satellite service.

My high-speed Internet has experienced a lot of “network connectivity problems” in the past, which is one reason I can report on their customer service department. I found it ironic that cable uses reliability in all kinds of weather as a selling point against cable, but my high-speed Internet has spent more time out of service in a month than my satellite TV has been rained out in eight years.

I may have had a lot of contact with them, but my experience with Comcast’s customer service department has been exceptional. They are available 24 hours a day, the representatives are very friendly and I have never had to wait long for someone to come on the line.

In an industry rife with complaints, Comcast seems to be trying exceptionally hard to deliver the best TV experience available, and they deserve a lot of credit for it.

Comcast’s recent partnership with TiVo is a fine example of this. While all cable companies have digital video recorder service, Comcast was the first (and so far the only) cable company to enter a relationship with TiVo, the industry leader. Kids’ videos on demand at no charge is another recent Comcast addition that tells me they really care about their customers. What a wonderful offering for overwhelmed parents!

If you have an HDTV and subscribe to digital cable, Comcast will provide an HDTV cable box at no charge. If you order digital video recorder service, they will provide you with a two-tuner HDTV DVR at no additional charge- and when it is time to upgrade, they will switch you for a new box- at no charge. Satellite can’t match that convenience, and anyone who has shopped for a satellite HDTV DVR knows how very expensive this equipment can be.

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