I tend to be pretty brand loyal. I drink Coke products 99% of the time, Burger King over McDonalds, Microsoft over Apple, Trojan over Durex, soap and water over rolling around in a small bowl of dust, you get the point. One product, or type of product, I have been behind for a long time is cable TV over satellite service. While satellite has a superior base technology (it uses friggin satellites!) I have been a proponent for cable service over the dish. I have even worked for the cable industry, quite proudly I might add. Heh, look at that, I added it. With my recent move, however, satellite has found it's way into my life. Seems like a great time to compare services!
I have had every type of cable service imaginable. When you work for the cable company, they treat you good, or treat you well, if you follow those 3rd grade English lessons. In order to best know the product, and properly trouble shoot it, the cable company will give you every channel and as many boxes as you need for free, or deep deep discounts. While I cannot say it is true for the entire industry, it certainly is for the company I worked for, for when I worked there. I have had an HD-DVR, non Tivo variety, since 2004. I have had 4 different types of cable HD-DVRs, different cities and generations and now I have an HD-DVR from DIRECTV.
In terms of picture quality, there seems to be absolutely no difference that I can see between the service offered by cable and DIRECTV for 99% of programming, but there are some minor differences. Cable has a slighty more blocky "digital" look to their standard def broadcasts on many stations, while DIRECTVhas a softer "broadcast" look to the picture. On the HD side of things, the only difference I have seen is that the DIRECTV does a better job at preventing noise in night shots. Normally, in a night setting, the darkness will look staticy and noisy, and this is improved in the DIRECTV broadcasts. Switching from SD to HD signals on cable was seamless, but the DIRECTV box takes an extra 2 seconds to go from one to another. Audio seems a little off on DIRECTV as well, much louder and bassier, with a low treble. This could have something to do with the much larger and more open room I am in, but I have a feeling it's the service. The only other difference I have seen so far is the lack of "digital tearing" you see when the signal drops for a split second. This is those blocks that will appear and the sound goes away for a split second. So far, none of that with DIRECTV. DIRECTV has a slight edge here
The biggest difference so far is the options offered by the digital converters and DVR services. Both let me record 2 shows at once, and have interactive digital guides. All cable DVRs I use have had a superior and much quicker guide, while the DIRECTV guide is slower to respond and takes a few extra clicks to get to some menus. Cable also offers different guide styles, while DIRECTV has only given me a single guide with no variation. The big positive here is that I can create a custom favorites list with DIRECTV, so when I click on Guide, only the channels I select will appear. No more scanning through 800 channels in the guide, I can look at just the 25 channels I watch the most. Overall, the cable DVRs are superior in my opinion, mainly because of the speed, customization and ease of use, but I love having the ability with DIRECTV to load only the channels I want.
I still believe that cable is a better product overall. It is easier to repair, less prone to being damaged or broken, and because so much of it is based locally where you live, can offer a more refined product experience. DIRECTV definitely uses superior technology, and seems much more "high-tech" overall. It is also more costly (gotta buy the equipment, yuck) and generally tougher to repair, but it does offer more channels. At the end of the day, I still prefer cable, but I think I will enjoy my satellite service once I get used to it.
EDIT: Day 3, realize during the Eagles game that there is no picture in picture. Big negative for DIRECTV....