When it comes to choosing a digital TV provider, unless you live in an apartment complex that gives you only one choice or a rural community with a limited number of providers to choose from, the world is pretty much your oyster. The choices are seemingly endless, but also just as confusing and overwhelming. Should you use a provider that offers complete fiber to the premises (FTTP) service? How about a provider that uses satellite with the highest number of sports packages? Just how important is HD to you, and is it enough that you get your favourite channels? The perfect digital TV provider depends on what your viewing habits and preferences, the weather, and your budget. So when you choose your TV service, consider the following things:
How’s the weather?
If you live in a rainy region like Miami, satellite TV can be very frustrating. I was visiting a friend with Direct TV, and when it started raining we started losing the picture. I live in Los Angeles, so rain is a rare occurrence. But when it happens, my friend can’t even watch TV. Imagine if you live in an area that gets regular rainfall. In this case, I would say that a provider that uses cable or fiber optic technology is your best bet, by default.
How important is HD to you?
Do you want the best looking HD, price be damned? Or are you the type who wants as much free HD as the provider is willing to include in their basic package? Does HD only matter to you if your favourite shows are in HD? That’s the thing about HD—it’s definitely the pinnacle of viewing technology, but we are never really sure just how much we want it when it comes time to pay for it. Different providers offer different advantages, with different price points. So when you’re trying to slice and dice value with actual features, what you really have to ask yourself is that if you will be using the features you are paying and getting a discount for. There’s no point in getting a discount on a feature if you’re never going to use it. Fortunately, all digital TV providers offer a base level of HD channel access, so even with the most basic packages, you will never go without HD. That said, if you’re an HD snob in terms of picture quality, a provider such as Verizon FiOs, which runs on a true fiber optic network (FTTP) or AT&T U-verse (only in some areas—check with your provider if the U-verse in your area is FTTP or fiber to the node FTTN, which is not as fast and delivers a lower quality picture) is your best bet. If price is no object, then fiber optic powered TV is what you want. If what you’re looking for is the most HD channels, period, then Direct TV is the leading provider. And if you’re a sports nut who wants the most premium sports channels in HD, Direct TV will make you the happiest.
How flexible do you want your DVR to be?
Now this is where some digital TV providers shine over the providers that put a higher emphasis on super clear HD that you may or may not even notice. Time Warner Cable has a feature called “Look Back”, which allows you to go as far back as 72 hours to catch a show you completely forgot to record. With all other services, if you forget to schedule the recording beforehand and the show has already played, you’re just out of luck. If you care more about not missing your favourite shows than you do about the difference between HD on cable than fiber optics, then Time Warner is the right choice for you. They also offer another exclusive feature, called “Start Over”, which allows you to start the show again if it has already started playing. Again, with other providers, you’re out of luck if you haven’t scheduled it to record beforehand. In contrast, Dish Network offers the “AutoHop” feature, which automatically skips over commercials on pre-recorded shows and allows you to record the most HD shows at over 250 hours, and the most standard definition shows at over 2000 hours. That’s a lot of TV, but if that’s you, then perhaps Dish is the right provider for you.
How flexible is your monthly budget?
While it’s possible to get deals on fiber optic digital TV, if you’re budget conscious by necessity, then traditional cable providers such as Time Warner, Cox, and Comcast may be the best choice. Time Warner offers the most no-fee HD programming among the various telecom giants, which should be a nice bonus even if they don’t offer the most variety (Direct TV), and even if it’s not fiber optic (Verizon FiOs or to a lesser extent, AT&T U-verse). The Dish Network also offers super bargains on some of their TV packages, so you can get great satellite TV on a tight budget. It pays to shop around, and there are always promotions—just make sure you ask for it when you call their customer service rep before you make an order.
So if you feel overwhelmed and exhausted from mulling over your options, don’t fret. As long as you have a good idea of what you want versus what you need and what you’re willing to pay, choosing the right digital TV provider shouldn’t be problem.