Q. I cut the cord a year ago and it didn’t work for me. Not enough sports. Weak local channel lineup. Glitchy stream with lots of buffering. Overall, not great, Bob. So I am considering getting a dish with DIRECTV. Is that a good move, in your opinion? — Ben, Chincoteague, Virginia.
Ben, you are not the only one to express dissatisfaction with cutting the cord. Although your monthly TV bill can be reduced, so can your TV lineup, and your overall viewing experience. Despite the higher cost, cable and satellite still deliver the most live channels, the most local channels, the most sports, and the best technical performance on the market.
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DIRECTV, which has the NFL Sunday Ticket, and more than 200 HD channels, arguably offers more bang for your buck than any other cable and satellite provider. However, before you subscribe to the satellite TV service, there are a few things you really need to know.
1. Rain Can Knock Out the DIRECTV Picture
I’ve previously written here about the occasional technical glitches that occur on live streaming services such as Hulu Live, Sling TV and AT&T TV Now, among others. Particularly during highly-viewing events, such as a season-ending episode, or World Series game, the streaming picture can freeze, buffer or go out entirely.
But both cable and satellite TV (and the telco TV) services can also undergo picture interruptions, largely due to weather. A heavy storm could knock out your area’s cable system, for instance, causing your TV picture and Internet to go out. This doesn’t happen as often as streaming’s technical snafus. But it does happen.
And it is also true that a steady, particularly heavy rain can block the signal from the communications satellite in the sky to your satellite dish, whether it’s from DIRECTV or Dish. Such an outage is usually infrequent and short, but if you live in an area that experiences more rain than normal, you might see more outages. (Note: Snow can also cause outages, particularly if the snow piles up on your dish.)
Also worth noting: The dishes of DIRECTV and Dish also need a clear southern view of the sky to capture the signals. That doesn’t mean there can’t be any trees near your home, but it does mean that you need some clearance where the signal comes in.
If you’re not sure if a satellite dish is a viable option for you, call either DIRECTV or Dish and ask them to come out to do a feasibility test. They can survey the area and determine if you will be able to receive a sufficiently strong signal to get all your channels. They might suggest shaving some tree branches or doing something a little different such as putting the dish on a pole on your roof to elevate it above the trees so it can capture a stronger signal.
2. DIRECTV’s 2-Year Contracts Can Be Costly
When you begin to review DIRECTV’s offers, you’ll notice that the attractive ones (cheaper prices; free NFL Sunday Ticket) require a two-year agreement. That may not seem like a big deal, but DIRECTV has a termination penalty in their two-year agreements that require you to pay $20 a month for every month you do not fulfill. So let’s say you canceled after a year, you would still be obligated for 12 months times 20, which comes to a $240 penalty.
You may not think you’ll ever cancel. But what if DIRECTV gets into a programming dispute with one of your favorite channels and drops it? (This happens quite often these days.) You might want to cancel DIRECTV and subscribe to a different service that carries it, right? Well, you can, but you’ll be on the hook for that termination penalty.
DIRECTV, like other companies, both in and outside the TV business, use two-year agreements to keep customers from service-hopping. Without them, DIRECTV’s subscribers might switch to another provider every time something bad happens, such as a channel blackout, or an increase to one’s bill. (And DIRECTV will raise your bill at least one time a year. You can bet on it.)
3. AT&T Could Sell DIRECTV
DIRECTV is owned by AT&T, which purchased it roughly four years ago. Since the deal, the satcaster has lost more than two million customers, leading to speculation that AT&T might sell it to another company.
AT&T has denied it’s exploring a sale, but won’t rule it out. So if you subscribe to DIRECTV today, you might see a new owner in the coming months, one that decides to run the satellite service in a completely different way. That could be good or bad depending upon how it’s run. But you need to know that change could be coming.
Ben, hope that helps. Happy viewing!
Have a question about new TV technologies? Send it to The TV Answer Man at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first name and hometown in your message.
— Phillip Swann