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Choosing the Best TV Provider
For those that have more than one television service option in their area, it's worth spending the time to find the right TV provider. There is the obvious choice between satellite and cable TV, but for people who know they want cable TV, checking out the list of the cheapest options is a solid place to start.
The 4 Best Cheap Cable TV Providers
The 5 Best Cable TV Providers
The Best Satellite TV Providers
What TV Provider Features Matter and Why?
Channels is among the most important feature categories as it addresses the types of channels that are offered by the cable company. Most cable companies will offer a diverse set of news, kids and family, sports, and lifestyle channels, as well as standard local channels like ABC, NBC, PBS, CBS, and Fox. Determining the most important types of channels is difficult, as each customer will have different viewing preferences. For many customers, premium channels like HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, and Starz, will be a top priority. Sports fans will look for a broad offering of standard sports channels, like those in the ESPN family, as well as access to specialty sports networks, and league passes like the NFL Sunday Ticket, NBA League Pass, MLB Strike Zone, and others. The best cable providers will allow customers to choose between several different packages, enabling them to get the cable television channels they value the most. One important factor to consider when selecting a company is the fact that all channels are not available in every area. When selecting a cable TV package, be certain to explicitly check with the cable TV or satellite company to ensure desired channels are indeed available.
- Educational - The company offers educational channels like the History Channel, National Geographic, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and others.
- Entertainment - The company offers entertainment channels like MTV, VH1, CMT, BET, E! Entertainment, Comedy Central, and others.
- International Programming - The company offers foreign-language programming.
- Kids and Family - The company offers channels for kids and family like the Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and others.
- League Passes - The company offers access to league passes like NBA League Pass, NHL Center Ice, MLS Direct Kick, MLB Strike Zone, and others.
- Lifestyle - The company offers lifestyle channels like BIO, Bravo, The Food Network, HGTV, OWN, and others.
- Local - The company offers local channels like ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, FOX, and others.
- Movie - The company offers movie channels like Encore, The Movie Channel, EPIX, and others.
- Music - The company offers channels that play music.
- News - The company offers news channels like CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, The Weather Channel, C-SPAN, and others.
- NFL Sunday Ticket - The company offers the NFL Sunday Ticket.
- Premium - The company offers premium channels like HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, and Starz.
- Spanish Programming - The company offers programming available in Spanish.
- Specialty Sports - The company offers specialty sports channels like the NFL Network, NBA TV, MLB Network, NHL Network, and others.
- Standard Sports - The company offers standard sports channels like the ESPN family of networks, the Golf Channel, regional sports, FUEL TV, Fox Sports, and others.
On Demand refers to the movies, cable programming, and pay-per-view content that customers have immediate access to. On Demand typically includes access to episodes of popular cable programs, free movies, and for those with packages that include premium channels, access to premium programs. In addition, On Demand customers can often take advantage of pay-per-view movies, sports, special events, and adult content. The best cable providers will have extensive On Demand libraries that include new movie releases, a strong selection of older favorites, an impressive catalogue of popular TV series, as well as access to high-profile fights and other pay-per-view events. On Demand is a popular cable television feature that is especially valued by those that like to catch up on an entire series, or for those that appreciate the convenience of quality entertainment from the comfort of home.
- Cable Programs - You can view popular cable programs through On Demand.
- HD Programs - The On Demand service includes HD programs.
- Movies - You can view free movies through On Demand.
- Pay-Per-View Adult Entertainment - Adult entertainment is available through pay-per-view.
- Pay-Per-View Movies - You can view newly released movies for a fee through pay-per-view or On Demand.
- Pay-Per-View Special Events - Pay-per-view special events are available through On Demand.
- Pay-Per-View Sports - Pay-per-view sporting events are available through On Demand.
- Premium Programs - The On Demand service includes series from premium channels that you are subscribed to.
- Spanish Programs - The On Demand service includes Spanish programs.
Program Viewing outlines the various features associated with watching both live and recorded television programming. The best TV companies offer the ability to view recorded programs, and many top cable companies support viewing of recorded programs on multiple TVs, in different rooms of a home. A growing trend among the best cable companies and satellite companys is the ability to take live and recorded TV anywhere by syncing programming to laptops, tablets, and mobile devices. For cable households with children, parental controls are an important feature that can limit or block certain programming. Program viewing options are very important as they directly relate to how, when, and where programming can be watched.
- Multi-Room Viewing - You can view recorded programs on more than one TV in your home.
- Parental Controls - The receiver allows parents to block material deemed inappropriate.
- Picture-In-Picture - You can watch multiple channels at the same time on your TV.
- Purchase Controls - You can set controls to limit program purchases.
- Sync to Devices - You can sync your recorded programs to your laptop, tablet, or mobile phone and view the programs without being connected to the Internet.
- View Recorded Programs - You can view recorded programs.
Receiver Type identifies the different receiver models offered by the company. Most cable companies have a standard receiver, HD receiver, and many offer a DVR. HD DVRs are becoming increasingly common, but the best cable providers will provide access to an advanced receiver. These advanced receivers will be particularly valued by those looking for the most innovative product on the market. Receiver Type is an important category, because it has a direct impact on the TV viewing experience. Customers should be aware that some companies charge a monthly fee for these superior receivers, but to most customers, all the features and functionality of the advanced receivers are well worth the additional fee.
- Advanced Receiver - The company offers access to an advanced receiver.
- DVR - The company offers access to a DVR.
- HD - The company offers an HD receiver.
- HD DVR - The company offers access to an HD DVR.
- Standard - The company offers a standard receiver.
- TiVo - The company offers access to TiVo.
Recording refers to the capability to record cable television programming to a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) device. Most cable and satellite companys offer the ability to record a single TV show, movie, event, or even an entire television series. Recording features and storage capacity will vary by device, but the best TV companies provide a DVR that is capable of recording in high definition, standard definition, and can record multiple programs at once. Whether recording live TV or scheduling recordings ahead of time, having access to various recording options can make for a more flexible television viewing schedule. For those that are looking for maximum control over their programs, strong recording features are a must.
- Extended Recording - You can set the receiver to record past the stop time for sports, award shows, and other programs that may run long.
- Multi-TV Recording - You can record programs on multiple TVs throughout the house.
- Record 200 Hours of SD - The receiver allows you to record 200 hours or more of SD programming.
- Record 70 Hours of HD - The receiver allows you to record 70 hours or more of HD programming.
- Record Entire Series - The receiver allows you to record an entire series.
- Record Live TV - The receiver allows you to record live TV.
- Record More Than Two Programs - The receiver allows you to simultaneously record more than two programs.
- Record New Episodes Only - The receiver allows you to record only the new episodes of a given series.
- Simultaneous Program Recording - The receiver allows you to simultaneously record multiple programs.
Television Compatibility specifies whether the cable providers utilize technology that is compatible with high definition (HD), standard definition (SD), and 3D televisions. The majority of cable television customers are interested in watching TV and movies in the highest picture quality available, and most cable companies are working to get as many HD channels as possible. In addition, a trend towards more 3D channels is also emerging. The best cable company will offer all three options to their customers. Most newer model TVs are HD compatible, but customers with older TVs should be aware that HD and 3D content will require TVs designed to deliver that picture quality.
- 3D-Compatible - The company utilizes technology that is compatible with 3D TVs.
- HDTV-Compatible - The company utilizes technology that is compatible with HDTVs.
- SDTV-Compatible - The company utilizes technology that is compatible with SDTVs.
Account Management specifies some of the account management tasks that can be completed online and identifies the different ways customers can pay their bill. Many customers will probably prefer to pay their bill online, but some will be more interested in traditional payment options like phone or mail. The best TV companies will also have retail locations with authorized dealers that allow customers to pay in person. Those interested in managing their cable TV or satellite TV account online will appreciate the ability to create an online account, where the payments and subscriptions can be monitored and managed. Because Account Management deals with paying bills and other central features, it is a fairly important category.
- Automatic Payments - You can set up your account to automatically make a payment.
- Manage Subscriptions - You can manage your channel subscriptions online.
- Online Account - You can create an online account to view and manage your TV account.
- Online Payments - You can pay your bill online.
- Pay by Mail - You can pay your bill by mail.
- Payment Preferences - You can change your payment preferences through your online account.
- Phone Payments - You can pay your bill by phone.
- Retail Location Payment - You can make a payment at a local retail location.
- View Transactions - You can view a history of transactions on your account online.
Customer Service and Support refers to the different ways customers can reach out to the cable company for assistance. Support via telephone and email are the most common methods of customer service, but the best cable company will also offer support through live chat and on social media websites. When it comes to customer service, cable TV and satellite companys have struggled to maintain positive reputations. There are cable providers that are exceptions to the negative perception, but overall, the industry is in need of drastic improvement. Low quality customer service and support is one of the major reasons there are very few five-star Cable TV and Satellite companys.
- Customer Service - The company has a Viewpoints.com customer review score of 3 out of 5 or higher for customer service.
- Email/Ticket - The company has an email or ticket system dedicated to support.
- High Customer Service Score - The company has an average customer service score of 4 out of 5 from reputable customer review websites.
- High Reliability Score - The company has a reliability score of 4 out of 5 from reputable consumer review sites.
- Live Chat - You can contact the company for support through live chat.
- Phone - You can contact the company by phone to get support.
- Social Media - You can contact the company with questions through social media websites.
Installation is a straightforward category that deals with scheduling and installing a cable or satellite service. The most important feature in this category is the installation window given by the cable and satellite companys. TV companies have a notoriously bad reputation for making customers wait around all day for the installation technician. The best cable provider will allow customers to schedule installations online and provide installation windows of four hours or less. The majority of cable companies require a professional technician to install all equipment, but some do offer self-installation kits. In home service is a fundamental characteristic of customer service, making Installation a very important category.
- Installation Window - The company has an installation window of 4 hours or less.
- Professional Installation - The company offers a professional installation option.
- Schedule Online - You can schedule an installation time online.
- Self Installation - The company offers a self installation option.
Program controls are the different options available to navigate through cable TV programming, typically including the function to pause and rewind live TV and fast-forward through recorded TV. Most cable companys offer pause and rewind functions to ensure that viewers never miss a line of dialog or any split-second sports plays. The fast-forward function can be particularly useful for those with a DVR who want to skip through commercials in recorded shows. The best cable companys take program controls a step further by making it possible for tech savvy viewers to use an iPad or tablet device as a remote control.
- Fast Forward Recorded TV - The receiver allows you to fast forward recorded TV.
- iPad/Tablet Remote - Your iPad/Tablet interfaces with the receiver and can be used as a remote.
- Pause Live TV - The receiver allows you to pause live TV.
- Program Management - You can schedule, update, or delete recorded programs.
- Rewind Live TV - The receiver allows you to rewind live TV.
Receiver Display refers to the on-screen information that the cable receiver displays on a television screen. This information includes a menu to navigate on-screen options and the all-important channel listing with details on program scheduling. The best cable providers will also provide viewers with options for quick access to sports scores and advanced search features. Though this category is not directly related to the operation of the receiver, the display features can greatly add to the ease of use when browsing show listings and managing scheduled recordings, making Receiver Display a fairly important category.
- Advanced Search - You can use the guide to conduct an advanced search.
- Channel Listing - You can access a channel listing that details program scheduling.
- Menu - A menu exists to help you navigate the system.
- Sports Scores - The guide provides quick access to sports scores.
Signing Up outlines the different ways that new customers can sign up for a cable or satellite account and addresses some of the common contract features. The best cable provider will simplify the signup process and allow new customers to start new accounts online, by phone, or in person at a retail location with an authorized dealer. Those that are new to cable or satellite television contracts should be aware that many cable TV and satellite companys offer contracts that increase in price over time. In addition, many companies require a credit check if certain TV packages are selected, though in some cases, this can be avoided if the new customer pays a fee. The ability to easily sign up for a new account and navigate these contract features makes Signing Up a moderately important category.
- Authorized Dealers - You can sign up for an account in person through an authorized dealer at a retail location.
- No Credit Check Required - The company does not require a credit check in order to obtain an account.
- No Lengthy Contract Requirements - The company offers contract options of one year or less.
- No Price Increases - Monthly rates do not automatically increase at certain intervals (i.e. at the six-month or one-year mark).
- Online - You can sign up for an account online.
- Phone - You can sign up for an account by phone.
Additional Services are the amenities offered by the cable company that extend past traditional cable services and include features like international packages and satellite radio. Some of the top cable companies have responded to an increasingly international customer base by offering Spanish and other foreign language packages. For bilingual customers, these custom packages can be highly appealing as they feature channels entirely in a second language. In addition to these foreign language packages, some companys are able to offer satellite radio, a great asset to those looking for streaming radio content. Although Additional Services is a slightly less important category overall, for some customers, the absence of these specialized programming options will be a deal breaker.
- International Packages - The company offers international packages with foreign language channels from around the world.
- Satellite Radio - The company offers access to satellite radio.
- Spanish Cable Packages - The company offers Spanish cable packages.
Bundled Services identifies the option to combine a cable or satellite TV package with one or more other subscription service with the same provider. The best satellite and cable companys also offer phone and Internet services, and combining, or bundling a combination of services together often results in savings. With many companys offering streaming of movies and shows to mobile devices, opting for cable and Internet packages from the same provider can make for a more streamlined home entertainment experience.
- Internet - You can bundle TV and Internet services.
- Phone - You can bundle just TV and telephone services.
- Triple Services - You can bundle TV, phone, and Internet services.
Learning Materials are the resources provided by the TV company to help customers get more comfortable with the cable service and equipment. When determining which cable company to select, features like an online FAQ section and a user forum can be valuable resources to getting questions about the cable provider answered without having to directly speak to a customer service representative. Learning how to use a new remote and navigate a receiver can be tricky for some customers, and user guides can be a great asset. The best cable provider will have detailed user guides that are accessible online. Learning Materials is a less critical category, but these features do contribute to the overall customer experience.
- FAQ - The company has a list of answers to frequently asked questions.
- Forum - The company has an interactive forum where users can post questions and answers.
- Knowledge Base - The company has a knowledge base of detailed help articles.
- User Guide - The company has a user guide or training manual.
- Video Tutorials - The company has video tutorials.
Mobile refers to all of the cable or satellite TV features made available through use of the TV company's native iPhone app or Android app. Many of the best companys offer the flexibility to watch streaming TV shows and movies anywhere using a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Additional mobile conveniences offered by top companys include remote management and viewing of DVR recordings, and even bill pay. Mobile is not the most important category, but for busy viewers on the go, mobile features make it possible to never miss the latest sports game or a favorite show.
- Android App - A native Android App is available.
- Bill Pay - You can pay your bill through the mobile app.
- Favorable App Store Reviews - The company has a combined 3.5 stars or greater for their iPhone and Android apps.
- iPhone App - A native iPhone App is available.
- Manage DVR - You can schedule, record, or delete programs on your DVR with your mobile phone.
- On Demand - You can access On Demand on your mobile device.
- Set Parental Controls - You can set parental controls with your mobile phone.
- Stream Live TV - You can stream live TV to your laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
- Watch Recorded Programs - You can use your mobile device to watch programs recorded on your DVR.