As the great cable vs. satellite debate rages, which offers the best signal?

Though picture quality varies widely between providers, the HDTV format itself is determined by the broadcaster, not the cable or satellite company.

For example, ABC, FOX and ESPN broadcast in 720p, and CBS, NBC and most HD pay channels broadcast in 1080i. Incoming signals are converted to the native resolution of your set.

For example, if you have a 720p HDTV and are watching an NBC 1080i broadcast, the set-top box or the television itself will convert the incoming signal to 720p for viewing.

According to, the top-rated pay TV providers are (listed alphabetically) DirecTV, Dish, Verizon FiOS, and WOW! (Wide Open West.)

Individual consumers typically do not have a choice between competing cable companies but may have a choice between cable, FiOS or satellite. To see how providers in your area compare, go to and look under the Consumer Telecom tab.

Cable quality and service varies widely from company to company and region to region. A/V buffs rave about FiOS picture quality but don’t seem as impressed by the hardware. My own preference is satellite. I find both satellite providers to have excellent picture quality, value for money is excellent, and their hardware is the best in the industry.

Longtime readers know I have been a happy Dish customer for more than 16 straight years. Earlier this year, I got the Hopper and Joey whole-house DVR system and it has transformed my TV experience.

Comparing an ordinary DVR to the Hopper setup is like comparing videotape recording to a DVR. The tile-based menu interface resembles an iPhone screen, I can program the DVR from any room, and whatever I record is available on all the televisions in the house.

The AutoHop feature automatically skips prime-time commercials and with 2 TB of space and three tuners it is unlikely you will fill the DVR or run into recording conflicts between favorite shows. The Hopper can automatically record up to six prime-time programs simultaneously using the Primetime Anytime feature, and you can install apps (like Pandora, Facebook, Twitter, of the Gamefinder Sports app) to personalize your system.

SRS TruVolume fights volume fluctuations and the Hopper’s integrated Bluetooth wirelessly streams audio to Bluetooth headphones or speakers such as the Cambridge SoundWorks Oontz. You can also access your system remotely to view live or recorded content on your mobile device or computer.

DirecTV’s whole-house DVR option is called the Genie. At 1 TB it has half the Hopper’s recording capacity, but it has two more tuners for a total of five vs. three tuners for the Hopper.

The Genie Recommends feature will suggest and record new programming based on your viewing habits, and you can view past episodes up to five weeks back.

Tuned in late? You can restart programs at the beginning. SRS TruVolume is included and one Genie box works the whole house without additional boxes on each television.