3D requires two things to work properly - a TV that’s specially designed with 3D capability and a program that was made in or converted to 3D format. Everyone watching will have to wear special 3D glasses, a big drawback for this technology.

When available, the 3D effect increases depth perception. Most 3D TVs use an active shutter system where the glasses do the work for you, or polarized 3D glasses, a more passive system. A few of the most advanced TV sets do not require glasses at all, but they are still rare and expensive. Programming in 3D remains fairly limited and almost always costs extra.

Basic TV (Local Broadcast Stations)

Sometimes called “Limited Service”, “A Starter Package” or “Basic Cable”, this is usually a low cost package based on a very small number of channels, most often local broadcast stations such as ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS along with local independent broadcast stations. Some video service providers add shopping channels or a few other networks.

Almost every cable, satellite or phone company offers this basic level of service though they may not advertise it. This basic service usually costs about a $1 per day in most major TV markets. For many consumers, especially those who mainly watch local broadcast stations (which are still the most widely viewed channels), this is a very reasonable and affordable choice. It mixes well with on demand movie rentals and media streaming services.

Cable TV

Cable Television Service began over 60 years ago to provide clear TV reception to areas that otherwise could not receive good off-air broadcast TV signals because of distance or hills. The core idea for cable TV is based on receiving strong signals from the broadcast source and redistributing them to local customers using coax or fiber cable connected directly to an individual’s home.

Cable has grown into an enormous business where about 60% of all homes in the U.S. have some level of cable service. Cable providers offer different pricing levels, features and packages of channels for consumers in communities where they operate. There are about 25 major cable companies in the U.S., with the top few owning about 80% of the cable customer market. Each city usually has only one cable operation in business. Many cable operations also offer Internet, Phone, Mobile and HomeSecurity services, with a combination of these products sold as a “bundle.”

Can I order channels individually?

The short answer is, “not yet.” This is a much-discussed issue with the FCC. So far, there isn’t a way for consumers to pay for channels individually, also known as “a la cart” pricing. There is enormous pressure from consumers who want this option, and equally strong resistance from cable and satellite companies who reject the idea for business reasons.

Can I stream in HD?

The simple answer is yes -- and the quality of the experience is improving all the time. Streaming picture quality varies widely, impacted by device, location, bandwidth and speed of the connection. HD requires more bandwidth than standard definition, which can also cost more if you have a metered Internet service plan that charges you for the data you use. For these reasons, many streaming services let customers adjust the video quality to choose standard or high definition so they can better control delivery costs and the overall experience.

What is Connected TV?

Connected TVs, also called Smart TVs, are a relatively new TV technology that integrates a web browser into a television set. CCTVs can link directly to a home Internet source using a cord or a Wi-Fi connection. Like mobile devices, CCTVs allow direct access to the web and usually offer native Apps (which means an App designed to work especially well on that particular device) for interactive on-demand content, as well as personal and social networking. CCTVs are evolving constantly, and so are the browsers inside them. About 25% of U.S. households have a CCTV, though only about half of them are connected to the Internet.

Customer Service Representatives

Unless you can do everything online, which is possible but not always likely, you will probably need a live CSR. It can often require patience to reach one, so allow enough time before you call. Many times these individuals work in large call centers outside of the U.S. CSRs handle sales, billing, technical problems, programming advice and almost every other thing related to your video service. CSRs are often paid through commission, so they may have sales goals to meet. Be prepared for them to offer you “specials” that may have nothing to do with the channels and services you want -- usually steeply discounted package offers designed to get you into a higher priced package once the discount is over. Many special offers come with restrictions. Be wary of these offers, and don’t be afraid to say “No thanks!” CSRs are often in a hurry, frequently abused by angry customers and sometimes poorly trained. There are many fine CSRs, and many who are less so. You will generally get further by treating a CSR well and focusing him or her on what you want. Be informed and be determined. If you get into a squabble with a CSR, politely hang up and call back. You’ll most likely get a different one who may more effectively help you. Remember, these individuals work for video service providers who may have millions of customers. Don’t expect the very best service, anticipate long wait times and try to keep your cool. These individuals can be incredibly helpful – or not – depending on your interaction.


A DVR is a video recorder that captures videos for later viewing, which can help you get the most value from your video service. DVRs are often built into the set top box used for cable, satellite or other video services, and they usually come with a monthly rental charge. DVRs can be programmed ahead of time (sometimes remotely) or in real time while you're already watching a show. DVRs vary by the amount of storage available. Many now come with HD capabilities.

Fiber-Optic Communications

Some advanced service providers like Verizon Fios and Frontier Communications make use of fiber-optic networks to deliver bundled Internet access, telephone and television services directly to the home using the latest technology, including a modern fiber-to-the-home delivery backbone. The high quality of these video services and the reported speed of the Internet are often praised by users.


HDTV is a TV that provides higher resolution quality than a picture shown in standard definition. At a minimum, an HDTV has twice the resolution quality of a standard definition TV. An HDTV is required to watch HD programming available through broadcast, streaming, downloading or any other source. Picture quality, no matter how capable the TV, is impacted by the HD equipment involved in its delivery (like your set top box), how much the signal been compressed during transmission, and the original production quality.

High Definition

High Definition or HD is simply a higher resolution and richer picture quality than standard TV. Most HDTVs provide 720 horizontal lines and some offer 1080 lines. In order to view a program in HD, an HDTV is required along with programming made or converted to HD, which varies greatly in quality. Downloaded or streamed HD content may not look as good as HD content from networks or DVDs because of the compression necessary to delivery it online. HD video service is most often available for an additional monthly cost.

How can I reduce the cost of my service?

Carefully consider the channels and features you use, because almost all of them come with a charge. Most cable and satellite customers pay for many channels and features they don’t use. The average consumer’s cable bill is around $120 every month just for TV, not counting Internet and phone services. You’ll very likely save money, and probably be happier with your service, if you match the channels and features you’re buying with the ones you actually use. Even when 200-300 channels are available, most people only watch about 10-15 of them. Don’t forget that one of the “right channels” for you may be a monthly on-demand streaming service delivered through your Internet connection. Most often, a combination of services includes a cable/satellite package, Internet service, at least one on-demand streaming service and even off-air broadcast stations. It’s possible to have all of these services together for less than what most people are now paying for video.

How do video service providers decide which channels to carry?

The decision to carry some channels and not others is most often driven by two factors: popularity and cost. When consumers have access to channels they like and watch, they are more inclined to keep paying the cable or satellite bill every month, which means the video service provider can stay in business. Companies that own groups of channels sell their networks to these video service providers at wholesale rates and sometimes include restrictions about how and where these networks can be carried or placed on a channel line-up. This usually results in the widest distribution of the most popular channels and very often secures a place for new or less watched channels owned by the same network. Except for local broadcast stations, there are few restrictions about which channels a cable or satellite company must carry.

How much Internet Speed is needed to Stream video?

The minimum recommended connection speed is .5 Mbps for a good quality experience. A faster connection will only make downloads faster and make streaming better because a higher connection speed impacts the experience. For example, most content providers stream a small amount of programming ahead of what you’re actually watching so the viewer will have a “buffer.” If the connection is poor or even temporarily slows, the dreaded “spinning wheel” will appear while the data stream catches up. Unlike downloading a file, streaming is an active exchange that requires a consistently good, ongoing, reliable connection.

Internet TV

Instead of using a cable, phone line or satellite, IPTV delivers video service via the Internet. IPTV is usually delivered live, time-shifted or through video on demand, which offers the ability to request a show from a stored file. The quality of an IPTV experience is influenced by the available Internet bandwidth, which can vary widely and change throughout the day, and the final connection inside a consumer’s home, which can be subject to interference from other devices and radio signals. AT&T is the most widely distributed video service using IPTV.

On Demand Streaming Media Services

Streaming movies and watching TV series episodes using the Internet is getting easier and more popular every day. There are many streaming sources and services available that provide programming of every kind, driven by what you want to watch and how you want to pay for it. Some services have a monthly subscription fee while others are free but the users must watch advertising. Popular streaming services include Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu+, YouTube, iTunes and Vudu. There are scores of others with more specific kinds of movies, TV series and documentaries including independent films, family fare, children’s programming, spiritual guidance, healthy living and foreign language programming. Streaming and on demand choices are growing every day.

Over-the-Air TV

All major networks including ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS and Telemundo operate local broadcast stations in major cities. These stations transmit free digital broadcast TV signals Over-the-Air (OTA) on an assigned channel, very similar to AM & FM radio stations. Most cities also have several independently owned broadcast TV stations. OTA are supported by advertising or contributions, and these are quite likely the same local channels you’re now watching on cable or satellite. If you’re within transmitter range and you mostly watch local broadcast stations, it’s worth investigating the OTA option. Most OTA stations transmit digital signals in standard and high definition. If the broadcast signal is strong and not blocked by hills or other barriers, it is possible to receive OTA stations using an antenna, which usually cost between $10-$80. The kind of antenna needed depends on how far you are from the station’s transmitting tower, with the maximum distance being about 70 miles. If you’re less than 10 miles away, a small indoor antenna may work. For distances between 10-30 miles, an outdoor multi-directional antenna is recommended. If you’re further than 30 miles away, an outdoor fringe antenna is best. Once you find and set-up the right antenna (you may need to test several), the OTA signals are free.

Over the Top

Over the top (OTT) is the delivery of video, audio or other media directly to the consumer’s home using the Internet -- without a middleman like a cable or satellite company involved in the payment, distribution or control of that content. The most famous examples include Netflix, Hulu, WWE Network, Fandor and a host of other growing options. Consumers access OTT content using devices that are connected to the Internet, including computers, connected TVs, tablets, phones, game consoles, streaming media devices (Roku and Google TV) and many others.

Parental Control

Parental control technology is used to restrict access to TV services, video games, mobile devices and many other content sources by limiting the viewer’s access according to age, program content, device monitoring or ratings blocking. Access to controlled content is designated to a primary individual and most often controlled using a PIN.

Pay Per View (PPV)

PPV is the term used when a consumer is charged a one-time fee to watch a movie special event. Originally, all viewers interested in seeing a PPV movie or event had to begin watching at the same time on a predetermined schedule. Video on Demand streaming has mostly taken the place of PPV movies, although special events are often still handled this way. The term is frequently used to describe payment for anything that falls outside of a regular video subscription.

Satellite Internet Access

Much like Satellite TV, Satellite Internet Access makes use of geostationary satellites to offer high-speed data connections directly to consumers’ homes. This is done using three components: the satellite itself, ground stations to relay data to and from the satellite, and a dish antenna at the customer’s home to send and receive the data. Satellite Internet has made incredible technical progress in the last few years, often bringing Internet service to remote or rural areas where it would not otherwise be possible. Two major differences exist between landline-delivered Internet services, however. Satellite Internet sometimes has a short but noticeable delay or “latency” as signals are passed back and forth between the satellite and the home. Also, there are often bandwidth restrictions that can limit the amount or increase the cost of data customers send or receive from a satellite-based Internet service.

Satellite TV

Satellite TV is delivered directly from an orbiting satellite to a consumer’s home using a small “dish” antenna to receive the signal. This technology is known as Direct Broadcast Satellite or DBS. Several national DBS companies offer service throughout the U.S. where it is available in almost every urban and rural area. As long as the customer’s receiving dish has an unobstructed view of the satellite, service is possible. For a usable satellite signal, it’s necessary to have a clear line-of-sight to the satellite. Trees, buildings and local terrain can all impact reception. Companies in the DBS business offer many of the same networks and local channels found on cable, often packaged and priced in a similar way. DBS companies sometimes offer Internet and phone service through partnerships with Satellite Internet Access, local phone companies and even cable operators. About 30% of all TV homes in the U.S. subscribe to Satellite TV.

Set Top Box

A STB (sometimes called a converter or receiver) is the common name for the hardware box that controls a customer’s access to cable, satellite or telephone services. STBs have become very sophisticated and handle signal security, content control, on demand access, two-way communications and many other functions. Many STBs collect data about the consumer’s viewing habits, some deliver targeted advertising and others block advertising altogether. The most advanced STBs handle HD, 3D, IPTV and a host of other innovative service functions, sometimes wirelessly. STBs are most often “rented” by the month, with ownership retained by the video service provider. An STB is usually needed for every television in the home, and each STB has a monthly rental fee, which adds up quickly if you have more than 1 TV in your home.

So many channels and nothing to watch?

There are probably many things you’ll want to see – but they may not be shown at the moment you want to watch them. That’s why video on demand and Internet streaming services are taking off like wildfire. So are connected devices like Roku that let you access channels through the Internet and mobile devices that let you watch TV away from the big set – like connected tablets and phones. It’s also possible to get more value from the channels you have when you plan ahead and record shows using a DVR. Valuable sources like Here is TV plus interactive program guides and favorites/search features let you find things you want to watch. When you find something interesting, record, download and stream it so it’s available you’re ready to watch!

Streaming Media Devices

Also called digital media players, these are the consumer electronics devices that connect a TV or video projector to the Internet and allow consumer to request music, pictures or videos using an Internet connection. Apple TV, Google TV and Roku make some of most widely used devices, and they allow streaming from sources like YouTube, Netflix, Vimeo and Spotify. Features and capabilities vary widely by manufacturer, as does the cost of the device and the consumer’s access to different content sources. Approximately 10% of all homes in the U.S. now use a streaming media device to deliver on-demand content, and this number is expected to grow very rapidly over the next few years.

Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD)

SVOD refers to any service where a consumer pays a fee, usually monthly or annually, for on demand access to a collection of movies, series or other video content, available at any time via an on demand delivery. The consumer can watch as much or as little of the what’s available but still pays the “subscription” price. Netflix is a well-known example of SVOD.

TV Everywhere

TV Everywhere offers consumers access to some networks for streaming and live TV using an Internet connection to a computer or connected device -- but the consumer must first “authenticate” or “verify” that they are paying for a subscription to that network through a traditional cable or satellite company. Networks require this proof so they can make sure the consumer is paying for their content. TV Everywhere can make networks more accessible to viewers, however networks that embrace the TV Everywhere model do not have a direct relationship to the consumer. Customer information, payments and network access rely on an ongoing link to the cable or satellite company.

Why is my choice of video service providers so limited?

It may seem like there is little choice, but consumers have never had more service options available to them. Most communities only have one cable company in the local area, but almost every home in the U.S has access to video services from a number of other sources including satellite and sometimes from the local phone company. Even almost every rural home has at least two satellite service choices available. The trick is finding the right package of channels and services for your home, depending on what you watch, at the best possible price. There are also plenty of streaming video options available when you have Internet service, and free over-the-air digital broadcast stations using an antenna.

Why pay for many channels when I only watch a few?

The simple reason simple - video service companies only offer groups of channels, or “package.” These companies have to pay for the right to carry each network, including local broadcast stations. To make this profitable, the cable and satellite companies group channels into “packages” for optimum pricing and revenue. Sometimes big networks strike deals to get all of their channels into packages, so the cable and satellite services have to find a place for them. Except for international programming or premium networks or sports channels, your ability to individually buy channels from cable or satellite companies is very limited. Until you can buy them individually, you’re best option is to find a package focused on the channels you actually watch, which will most likely save money.