I was at a relative’s home with the TV on in the background when I noticed something: their “HD” picture quality was terrible.

They had satellite dish TV – one of the big one services (I won’t mention which, but you know it).

I have always said on my site that cable and satellite dish providers massively compress their TV signals, resulting in WORSE picture quality than you can get with free broadcast (Over-The-Air) TV. But now I had proof. I snapped a photo of the local ABC station’s logo, then went home and did the same on my own TV (of similar size and type, and in the same city) which was using an antenna.

Here are the results.

Direct Comparison

First, check out the satellite TV image:

Image from satellite dish TV service

Image from satellite dish TV service (click to see larger version)

Notice how jagged the curves and letters are. The “abc7.com” text is especially crappy. The signal is coming from the satellite box’s HDMI output to the TV.

Next, check out the same logo on my TV using an indoor Cable Cutter Aerowave antenna, which is one of many OTA (Over-The-Air) TV antennas available now:

Image from broadcast TV

Image from broadcast OTA TV (click to see larger version)

Not only are the edges and curves smoother, but there is also less “halo” effect in the broadcast TV image. The halos are a result of video compression.

Zooming In

It might be hard to see the difference if you’re looking at this on your phone, so let’s zoom in.  Check out the “abc” logo:

ABC logo comparison with satellite dish picture on left, broadcast TV on right

ABC logo comparison with satellite dish picture on left, broadcast TV on right

Noticed the jagged edges of the round logo and letters in the satellite dish image. Notice the blotchy appearance of the round logo highlights on the top and bottom.

Next, let’s take a look at the “abc7.com” text, which is especially egregious on satellite:

abc7.com text with satellite dish image on top, broadcast TV image on bottom

abc7.com text with satellite dish image on top, broadcast TV image on bottom

Which one would you rather watch?  Can you believe the top one costs over $75 per month and the bottom on is free?

The satellite dish image shows lots of artifacts here, all the result of compression:

Problems with satellite dish image

Problems with satellite dish image

It looks like the satellite image has worse than half of the resolution of the broadcast TV image. So, if you have a fancy 4K TV, you’re pretty much not getting any additional benefit out of it over a regular HD TV if you’re watching TV from a satellite dish.

Note that all of the images are unretouched; I’ve not altered them in any way other than zooming in.

Now, I’m not saying satellite dish TV is bad for everyone, because not everyone lives in an area that has broadcast TV signals, and of course satellite offers more channels than broadcast TV. However, you should be aware of what you’re paying for. You might be able to get better picture quality or less money by using an antenna along with cheaper services like Sling TV.

Let me know your thoughts below! I hope you found this comparison helpful. – Brian

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If you have a question about this article, leave a comment below. If you want advice on TV reception, leave your zip code. I try to reply to all comments. I hope this article was helpful to you. - Brian

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