We just finished a major update of our popular chart of HD programming compared and the new winner, in terms of national and local HD channels, by our count, is Fios TV. Bringing a hefty 83 such channels to bear in the New York City area, the fiber-optic-based TV service from Verizon comes out ahead of perennial satellite champions DirecTV (67 channels) and Dish Network (68) as of today.
The key here is our definition of "national and local." The big three all tout HD channel counts near or above the nice round number of 100 in their advertising campaigns, and by our count of "total channels," they all come more or less close enough, but we took a closer look at the channels themselves, and broke down national and local channels we consider important. That includes local broadcast channels like PBS (which neither satellite service offers), ABC and Fox, premium movie channels like HBO and Max (formerly Cinemax), and the myriad niche channels from ESPN to Mav TV to Palladia to World Fishing Network. We specifically exclude Regional Sports Networks, exclusive channels like Voom (which is only available on NY-area provider Cablevision), and duplicate feeds of premium movie channels, such as HBO (east) and HBO (west) carried by DirecTV and Fios.
Feel free to argue with our methods in the comments section below, but the goal is to even the playing field and call the various providers on their inflationary channel accounting. It's also sadly true that many so-called HD networks don't actually carry much HD content--but they have the potential to, and will probably carry more actual high-def going forward.
Our chart is necessarily local. We compare the HD channel lineups available near the CNET New York offices from the aforementioned big three, along with cable providers Cablevision (Long Island), Comcast (New Jersey) and Time Warner Cable (Brooklyn and Queens). That leads to some important points.
First off, your local cable service will likely have different HD channel lineups--in the case of TWC and Cablevision, you're likely to have fewer HD channels than we enjoy in the NYC area. Right now CNET just doesn't have the resources to collate all of the cable services nationwide for comparison in a big chart.
Second, availability is local-within-local. Just because Fios is available, according to the Web site, in the Manhattan zip code of 10013, doesn't mean you can actually get it in your building. The build-out and availability of Fios will take years in New York City, as it has in other parts of the country. The same goes for satellite, of course; many buildings don't allow dishes, for example. Also, perhaps because Fios is available in Queens and Brooklyn more widely, Time Warner Cable offers more HD channels in those boroughs than in Manhattan, so we used the TWC channel count for Brooklyn and Queens, not Manhattan.
That's a lot of caveats, but at the end of the day, we still think it's valuable to provide a snapshot of the true state of the HD channel-quantity race as it stands today. Expect more updates to the chart as the providers roll out additional channels in the coming months. Thanks to Matthew Panton for heavy lifting on the chart updates.
Note: CNET is a wholly owned subsidiary of CBS.
What do you think? Do stratospheric HD channel counts matter to you, or are 50-odd HD channels enough? Is your cable provider delivering enough high-def, or are you considering a switch to satellite or Fios TV?