Satellite vs. Cable

With two different technologies available to consumers to receive television broadcasts, here are a few thoughts to consider:

Which is Better Satellite or Cable

The answer to the question, which is better satellite or cable?  Well, it depends.  Not the answer you wanted to hear, but it is nevertheless the correct answer.  To answer the theoretical question we would have to first make sure that we are comparing apples to apples.  Comparing analog cable to the digital satellite offerings of Dish Network or DirecTV?  No contest there, digital satellite wins going away.  But if you were to compare Dish and DirecTV (DBS) against digital cable, well that is another story. 

Assume both digital cable and DirecTV or Dish Network are broadcasting a 1080i quality high definition television signal, (this is currently the highest quality broadcast signal that cable TV companies, Dish or DirecTV are using).  We will assume that the fiber-optic portions of the cable network have had perfect terminations at all ends of the fiber runs.  We will also assume that we have had perfect terminations on all coaxial cables used.  Finally we will assume that the optical node (where the signal is passed from the fiber-optic cable to the coaxial cable) is right in front of our test house, and the house is receiving a direct feed with no further amplification.  With the satellite TV hook-up we will assume the prefect setup; there are no atmospheric disturbances, storms, solar flares etc.; the satellite dish has been aimed at the Dish Network or DirecTV satellite spot on; and there is perfect transfer of the satellite TV signal into the coaxial cable.

Under the conditions stated above, and my understanding of the digital technology, (I build and run computer networks), the DirectTV or Dish Network implementation would be better than digital cable by a slight margin.  Please take the aforementioned statement with a huge grain of salt, the conditions are impossible to achieve, and you would not be able to see the difference on your TV.  The satellite systems and the cable providers both are delivering a 1080i quality high definition television signal.  The difference would come down to the coaxial cable.  Generally speaking the cable run from the optical node to our test house will be longer than the run from the satellite dish.  No wire has perfect signal transfer, and the loss increases with the length of the wire.

My understanding of wire and signal transfer as well as the logic and equipment needed to properly aim a satellite dish at a satellite 22,000 miles or more away, leads me to conclude that perfection is not at all achievable.  To aim at a satellite that is 22,000 miles away with perfect accuracy requires knowledge of exactly where you are in relation to the satellite, and a whole lot of hardware and software that the installer will not have!  Even if by some fluke the dish was aimed bang on, you then have to hope nothing moves (like the section of the house the dish is attached to settling, throwing the aim off).

With a cable network you have the same types of challenges.  A perfect fiber or coaxial termination is not achievable, and your chances of getting a direct coaxial feed from the optical node, is somewhere between slim and none.  The on-going argument between the cable and satellite camps of which is better at this point in time, is more theoretical than practical.  To the best of my knowledge, no one has tested enough satellite or cable installations at the point where it really maters (just before it goes into your TV), to quantitatively say the mean or median signal loss from the transmission to the termination point is “X”.  I can assure you that based on their design, an exceptional digital signal can be delivered to you through either satellite or cable networks.