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Cable or Apple TV? Head-to-Head Competition for Home Entertainment

If people are looking to have a TV service other than cable, one alternative is the Apple TV®, which Apple introduced back in 2007. Though Apple has not yet begun to market it as heavily as its other products, the company sold $1 billion worth of Apple TVs in 2013 alone. Apple also has a new model currently in development that is rumored to be enhanced and possibly even come with a gaming system. But which is better—Apple TV or cable? Read on to help you decide which option is better for you.

Hardware and Price

Both cable TV and Apple TV are set-top boxes you set up near your television, though cable TV will likely have an actual cable that runs to a cable outlet on your wall. An Apple TV costs roughly $100, while a cable set-top box generally comes with the original setup and monthly bill charges, which can vary from provider to provider and is also based on the number of channels that you order. As for monthly costs, Apple TV can be free if you don’t need access to any subscription-based channels. Cable, on the other hand, will always come with a monthly bill, which varies by provider, number of channels, and other features, such as DVR. DIRECTV offers a basic package with around 130 channels, ranging up to a more advanced premium package with approximately 285 channels. Another provider, Comcast, has a Limited Basic package with only local channels, as well as more advanced packages with around 200 channels. In short, cable TV costs can vary depending on several different factors, particularly the number of channels you want.


In general, most cable TV packages offer more channels than Apple TV, which has about 50 channels, including some that are country-specific. This is likely one of the biggest factors in your decision. Also, don’t think that just because you bought an Apple TV means you’ve totally escaped subscriptions. Certain channels available on Apple TV either require certain channel-specific subscriptions, like Hulu, Crunchyroll, or MLB.TV, or even cable TV subscriptions, such as Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD and some of the ESPN, NBA, and HBO Go channel content. But you can find plenty of channels that do not require subscriptions as well. ABC, for example, provides free, on-demand access to ABC programming, including full episodes and clips for most of the channel’s nationally-shown programming. Bloomberg is a 24-hour business news channel that features live and on-demand videos from Bloomberg News. PBS provides on-demand access to content from the channel, including local and national programming and shows rebroadcast from the BBC. Crackle, owned by Sony, features free, older Sony movies and TV shows plus shorter-form original content. KORTV is a hub for live and on-demand Korean television, including 10 free live TV channels, eight premium live TV channels, movies, pay-per-view shows, and electronic game competitions. As for sports, ESPN has internal channels and features video highlights from sporting events. NBA includes free NBA scores, standings and game highlights, and NHL is similar to NBA but for pro hockey. All three offer additional content if users pay a subscription. ACC Sports is a video-heavy channel that mainly focuses on sports in the Atlantic Coast Conference, particularly college sports such as football, basketball, and baseball. Intermittent channels are also available, such as Apple Events, which streams temporary live and on-demand access to recent Apple media event videos. Also, iTunes Festival is a channel design by Apple that streams live and on-demand videos from the iTunes Festival, but it disappears from Apple TV not long after the festival ends. Some of these channels are also offered on cable TV, but many other channels are not, such as Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu. Computers allows users to access all of the media stored in any of the iTunes Libraries that are synced to the Apple TV’s network, including music, videos, and podcasts. Flickr enables users to browse multiple user accounts one at a time and can even use a search feature to look for other content. Similarly, iCloud Photos allows users to stream photographs from the Internet as well as other synced Apple devices. iMovie Theater shows movies created with iMovie that are shared with the app’s Theater feature. iTunes Radio offers station-based streaming services that can be synced between other Apple devices on a user’s iTunes account. What you will get on cable TV, however, are the bigger movie channels (if you pay a subscription), besides HBO Go which is also on Apple TV, channels like Food Network, Comedy Central, and Cartoon Network, and more options for local television. Apple TV is somewhat limited to these and a few dozen other channels, whereas cable TV can offer hundreds of channels depending on your subscription.


Cable TV can often come with a DVR, which allows users to record and watch programming when they’re not able to watch it live or when they want to watch it again later. Apple TV does not have a DVR per se, but with channels like Hulu, it can provide access to some TV shows, though users will have to wait a day for the content to pop up while a DVR’s content is more instantaneous.

The Verdict

Whether you decide to go with cable TV or Apple TV (or some other alternative) is going to be based on several different factors, including price, hardware, channels, and additional features, and you’ll have to figure out which is best for you, your entertainment preferences, and your economic situation. With cable you might pay more, but you do get more content than you might with Apple TV, though even Apple TV has some channels that require a subscription. Consider your choices carefully, and enjoy your home entertainment to the max.   Find Cable TV providers in your area:
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About the Author

John Dilley is an endless source of new ideas. With a background in both sports and music, he offers a unique perspective. He has written for The Daily Utah Chronicle, Filler, and has contributed content to several commercial websites.

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