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Tech Report – FiOS vs. Cable

If you live in New York City or one of the 12 states in which FiOS TV is available, you have probably been bombarded with those FiOS commercials. You know, the ones where a slightly overweight, red-bearded cable installer played by Matt McCarthy gets one-upped by the slimmer, hipper FiOS installer played by Jim Annan.

The commercials have set-off an intense round of claims and counter-claims between the two groups of service providers, with Verizon lined up on one side and the clearly-offended cable companies on the other. However unlikely, the ads also appear to have sparked an uprising from their respective customer bases, with blogs, consumer advocacy sites, and even their own customer service sites full of stories of misleading marketing messages and poor service.

So what’s the real story? Does FiOS deliver a better experience than cable? Is it true, as Verizon claims, that there is HD on FiOS and then there is everything else?

Well, the #1 problem for Verizon – and the biggest complaint by far from bewildered TV watchers – is that FiOS isn’t actually that widely available. Even in New York City, where the ads seemed to have reached saturation coverage, there are large swathes of the City and surrounding areas that can’t receive the service. Verizon says it will have the whole City wired by 2014 but that’s five years from now!

One of the claims in the commercials that really stands out is FiOS’ ability to deliver over 100 HD channels. However, while it’s true that FiOS offers a minimum of 114 HD channels in all its markets, cable has been catching up fast. Time Warner passed the 100-HD mark in February, Comcast has over 100 HD channels available through its “World of More” upgrade package, and the other cable providers around the country are not far behind.

When it comes to picture quality, Verizon’s claim that FiOS is the best may have some merit. FiOS uses something called MPEG-4 H.264 compression to deliver its signals, while cable uses old-fashioned MPEG-2 compression. They also pull dedicated fiber optic direct to your home, free of the digital hiccups and traffic issues that can affect most cable services.
FiOS also offers 1,400 HD video-on-demand titles, most of them for free. This is several times the HD titles that are usually available through cable on-demand services but, again, I would expect cable to catch up fast.

As always, any argument over the overall value of competing services comes down to price and your TV provider is certainly no exception. The problem with price comparisons is that they are so hard to do. Verizon’s Triple Play packages (phone + FiOS TV + FiOS Internet service) start at $109.99 per month, which compares favorably with most cable + phone packages but they require an annual agreement with penalties for early termination. Other complications arise when there are multiple TVs in multiple locations.

A couple of good things that appear to be coming out of the continuing ad wars is an improved product from both sets of providers and better customer service. Something to keep in mind when the fake installers make their next inevitable appearance in your living room!

Comment by streetbobslo, posted 10/19/2010, 6:38 AM:

Apples to apples verizon offers faster internet guranteed speed than cablevision. This is huge. Up to 15mps cable versus definite 15mps verizon.
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