While online video streaming certainly looks and sounds better than analog cable or satellite, is it really an improvement? The three options all provide access to live and on-demand TV, but they vary in important ways. There are much more stations available on cable and satellite TV, and the picture quality is much higher. Streaming services, on the other hand, make watching live TV more accessible, inexpensive, and personalized. Okay, now let’s get down to brass tacks.

Cable vs. streaming: contracts

Streaming providers still operate on a month-to-month basis, with the exception of AT&T TV’s live TV streaming service.

As was previously indicated, cable and satellite providers often demand a one- or two-year commitment from their customers. Even when laid out in black and white, the fact that the price of certain services virtually doubles after the first year of a two-year contract comes across as a bait and switch.

Some cable and satellite providers, however, do offer no-contract plans, although at a higher price. While streaming is now rather open, it’s definitely headed into a Hungry Hungry Hippos-like era of blatant cash grabs.

Cable vs. streaming: channels

Although many cable and satellite TV packages have 200 or more channels, only a handful of live TV streaming services have reached this milestone. In terms of sheer channel count, cable and satellite win hands down, however some of the additional channels (such home shopping and audio-only music networks) may not be ones you really want.

In addition, the sports channel coverage offered by cable and satellite providers exceeds that of streaming services. Although it is improving, live TV streaming still does not provide a standard offering of sports channels across various platforms.

Cable vs. streaming: video quality

Live TV streaming often tops out at 720p, but on-demand services like Netflix and Prime Video may reach 1080p HD and even 4K. Be prepared for the dreaded “b” word: buffering if your internet connection or Wi-Fi signal isn’t up to snuff and prevents you from streaming video at a lower frame rate.

Live cable and satellite TV typically produce 1080p and 4K visual resolution, with a few caveats like cable-to-source lengths or dish vs. severe weather scenarios. Non-professional TV viewers may not notice a difference between 720p and 1080p, but the difference might be rather noticeable to pixel-perfectionists.

Cable vs. streaming: choices

When compared to cable or satellite TV, where you’re stuck with one branded live TV choice (plus a few extras for additional money), streaming TV provides a wide variety of live TV applications and services, and you’re free to switch between them whenever you choose. For example, if you don’t like Sling TV, you may switch to YouTube TV, but you have to stick with Xfinity if you want TV.

On-demand streaming services provide a wealth of new opportunities. In the Roku Channels store alone, there are thousands of applications covering tens of thousands of categories, many of which are free with no commitments or subscriptions. The number of channels you may watch on cable or satellite depends on how many channels you pay for (often between 50 and 300).

Final Thoughts

Compared to the cost of cable or satellite TV, the subscription fee for live TV streaming is far lower. If you want to stream TV often, you should invest in an internet service that provides at least 25 Mbps.

You should stay with cable or satellite TV if you don’t have access to a reliable internet connection. Although they are more costly, the video quality is much higher and there is no buffering, which is a common problem when using a sluggish internet connection to watch a movie.


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