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Proof That Broadcast TV Picture Quality is Better Than Satellite

By Brian
Published 04/17/2018
 | Updated 04/17/2021

I was at my parents' home with the TV on in the background when I noticed something interesting: their "HD" picture quality was terrible compared to my own TV with a broadcast TV antenna. They had satellite TV from DISH Network.

I have always said on my site that cable and satellite dish providers compress their TV signals, resulting in WORSE picture quality than you can get with free broadcast (Over-The-Air) TV. But I thought this picture quality was ridiculously bad!

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) using an indoor TV 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 Metro 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.

Conclusion

Now, I'm not saying satellite TV is bad in every situation. And, reader Richard points out that DirecTV has better picture quality than DISH, which I corroborated online with another article.

However, I still find it amusing that the picture quality for a FREE TV service is better than one that you pay thousands for every few years. Granted, satellite TV offers a ton of channels, but, you might be able to get the channels you need for 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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Brian Shim, DisableMyCable.com
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Ask a Question or Tell Me Your Story

If you have a question about this article, leave a comment below. I personally read and answer each one. If you want advice on TV reception, leave your zip code. 

When you comment, you'll automatically receive replies by email. Your email address will not be displayed.

I'd also love to hear how you're saving money on TV. Tell me your story!  Thanks! - Brian
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Richard Gozinya
Richard Gozinya
11 months ago

Maybe, I think you need to state what service provider you are comparing to broadcast TV. I have directv and my dad has dish network and there is a huge difference in quality between the two. Directv is much better

disqus_E62BgJ330Z
disqus_E62BgJ330Z
1 year ago

Even back in the analog TV days, TV antenna generally looked better than cable. In fact cable systems often got the local channels off an antenna and rebroadcasted them. Color tones and contrast looked better off an antenna if you were within 40 miles and had a good outdoor antenna, especially on the VHF channels. Now it looks better because there is less compression.

runner81
runner81
3 years ago

As someone who has extensive experience with both satellite and cable, I can say with 100% confidence that cable is far superior, especially when it comes to picture quality. My husband and I had digital cable for many years and I also grew up with cable, but we got roped into signing up for satellite with DirecTV back in 2010. It was fine for several years and we never really had any issues with it, but then AT&T became involved with DirecTV and everything started going way downhill, from the customer service to the quality of the service that we were receiving. The menus and the guide became super slow and wonky and it took forever just to navigate to whatever we were trying to access. After doing some research online, we found that there were MANY other DirecTV customers experiencing the same issue. We also had issues with scheduled DVR recordings not recording when they were supposed to. The picture quality was super grainy and washed out, even with 4K TVs and 4K receivers. It just looked awful. After several service appointments, replacement receivers, and going back and forth with DirecTV/AT&T's corporate office after filing a Better Business Bureau complaint with still no resolution to any of these issues, we finally had enough and went back to cable for the first time in about 8 years a couple of weeks ago with Spectrum (formerly Time Warner). As soon as we switched, we noticed a DRASTIC improvement in picture quality. Everything is so crisp and clear and the colors are rich and vivid, not all grainy and washed out like they were with satellite. Additionally, the menus and guide are very responsive with no lag whatsoever. We also find their on-demand library to be much more expansive than DirecTV's, which we really appreciate. We were actually at a friend's house on Christmas who has DirecTV and it looked HORRIBLE, even on their brand new OLED TV. I tried to adjust their resolution for them to make it look better, but it was still terrible. We highly suggested that they switch to cable! We will never use satellite again. Cable is definitely the winner in our home.

Brian
3 years ago
Reply to  runner81

Hi Runner81,

Thanks for sharing! I haven't done testing of cable vs. satellite picture quality, but I've casually observed that cable seems to have better picture quality than satellite. The point of this article, however, is that free broadcast TV (using an indoor TV antenna) has way better picture quality than cable OR satellite TV.

Best,
Brian

mr.170253
mr.170253
3 years ago

Broadcast TV also has a full 1080p resolution while cable TV caps out at a slightly inferior 1080i resolution, and like you said Broadcast TV is also free of any signal compression giving you not only a better resolution but overall a better looking uncompressed full 1080p picture quality so people with 1080p resolution TVs can take advantage of the maximum picture quality it has. All you have to do to receive the channels is pay a one time equipment fee and best off all after that you actuality get to OWN the equipment unlike the cable and satellite boxes which your force to pay ridiculous equipment rental fees to the company which can add up!

Brian
3 years ago
Reply to  mr.170253

Thanks for sharing!! Even more ways that broadcast beats cable! - Brian

MM
MM
3 years ago

After reading this article, I ordered a flat antenna on Amazon. Ran a channel scan and realized that there were nearly 70 channels for free with amazing picture quality. Cancelled cable the very next day.

Brian
3 years ago
Reply to  MM

Hi MM,

That's great news! So glad it worked for you and thanks for sharing!!

Best,
Brian

David Evans
David Evans
3 years ago

My sat provider is currently having contract issues with a local station. So, I hooked up a low-end antenna. Worked fine and I thought wow that picture looks brighter! So, I flipped to a channel that comes in over the air and from the satellite provider. When I switched the input from antenna to HDMI I was shocked at how much more vivid the antenna picture was.

Brian
3 years ago
Reply to  David Evans

Hi David,

Yes, totally! Broadcast TV picture quality is way better than satellite or cable!

Best,
Brian

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