Let’s see what happens when the two largest cable TV and multi-service providers jump into the ring. You might call this a bout between a heavyweight (Comcast) and middleweight (Time Warner Cable) when you consider the number of subscribers each provider has. As of January 2013, Comcast had approximately 22.3 million subscribers in the US, while Time Warner Cable had approximately 12 million subscribers*. TWC is no lightweight, however. While the company’s subscriber base is far behind Comcast, their numbers are well ahead of competing cable and fiber-optic providers.
Comparing the two company’s TV services can be difficult, especially when it comes down to channel offerings. While providers like DirecTV and AT&T can offer more exact numbers in terms of channels and how many are offered in HD, cable providers vary their channel offerings by market. Thus, we can only approximate channel counts and use each company’s promotional materials for the comparison.
We’ll also look at comparable multi-service packages offered by both Comcast and Time Warner Cable (TWC), that provide bundled Phone, Internet, and TV service.
Both Comcast and TWC have various triple-service bundles to choose from. The Starter package for Comcast is currently being offered for $99 per month for the first 12 months of a 2-year agreement. This package includes phone service with Unlimited Nationwide Talk & Text, Internet service with up to 25 Mbps download speed, and over 80 television channels. The service all includes Xfinity On Demand, online protection service Constant Guard, and the Xfinity X1 platform in available areas.
Comcast’s other service packages (there are 5 total) include variations in HD offerings. The packages range from $119.99 per month to $199.99 per month for the first 24 months of a 2-year agreement. All of the plans include the Starter services mentioned above, but vary in number of HD channels and special sign-up offers. Internet speeds cap at 25Mbps download for the $119 HD Preferred package, but bump up to 50Mbps in the other 3 plans.
All of Comcast’s packages include the new X1 platform (if available) from Xfinity, the company’s new “Entertainment Operating System” that has been rolling out in markets throughout the US.
Time Warner Cable has three multi-service packages to choose from. The Starter Plan costs $89 per month, the Triple with Standard plan costs $99 per month (recently dropped from $109 per mo.), and the Triple with Turbo plan costs $129 per month — all of which are guaranteed prices for the first 12 months. Both the mid-tier Standard plan and top-tier Turbo plan offer over 200 channels, with Unlimited Nationwide calling and Voicemail. Internet speed in the Starter plan maxes out at 3Mbps, Standard gives you 15Mbps, and Turbo gives you up to 20Mbps. TWC’s gives you free McAfee AntiVirus software with all three plans. You also get TWC WiFi Hotspots with the Standard and Turbo plans.
Comcast’s download Internet speeds range from 25Mbps to 50Mbps, and Time Warner Cable’s speeds range from 3Mbps to 20Mbps. While it may seem obvious that Comcast offers higher speeds, how can you be so sure without testing them side-by-side in mirrored environments? We also can’t tell if either company is throttling the download speeds, or the “up to” speeds are actually what you normally get.
Instead, lets look at Netflix’s most recent ISP ratings for US providers. In the rankings, Comcast came in 7th with an average of 2.10Mbps, while Time Warner Cable in 8th with an average of 2.05Mbps. Comcast’s position stayed the same as last time measured, but TWC’s improved by 2 positions in the ranking. While TWC appears to be getting faster, Comcast was still ranked higher. Oh, in case you were wondering, Google Fiber led all ISPs with an average speed of 3.50Mbps. However, Cablevision’s Optimum and Cox followed close behind.
HD DVR Service
Who doesn’t want a DVR these days? Both companies provide an HD DVR with service for a flat monthly rate. Comcast offers HD DVR service from $15.95 to $26.95 (although a sign-up promotion will give you 6 free months). Time Warner Cable offers HD DVR service for $22.99 per month. Comcast’s default HD DVR is rated to store 90 hours of shows in High Definition. TWC’s Whole House HD-DVR Service gives you 75 hours of HD recording. (They also offer a less expensive DVR Box and Service that stores 30 hours of HD.)
Comcast has launched the X1 platform in select markets which streamlines and makes the whole TV experience more interactive. The cloud-enabled platform lets you watch live and recorded programming on multiple devices throughout the home, use voice commands to control your TV. But the biggest selling point may be that you can record four shows simultaneously and watch a fifth at the same time. The only caveat is that X1 is not yet available in all Xfinity markets.
Time Warner Cable’s TWC TV product lets you watch live TV on your tablet, PC, or smartphone anywhere at home and is comparable to Comcast’s multi-platform viewing. However, their Whole House HD-DVR service only lets you watch one live show and record another at the same time. Or, record two shows at once.
Both Comcast and Time Warner Cable boast over 200 channels in their top tier service packages. As far as HD channels, the number can vary according to market so it’s really difficult to do a specific comparison. Comcast does have more HD channel package options, including HD Preferred, HD Premiere, HD Complete, and HD Preferred Plus. But that doesn’t translate to having more HD options.
Comcast’s Starter package provides over 80 channels. Their HD Premier and HD Complete boast over 200 channels, with approximately 110 HD channels**, give or take a few, including local networks.
Time Warner Cable’s Starter triple service package gives you over 70 channels, while the Standard and Turbo packages each offer over 200 channels. We found that TWC provides about 106 HD channels*** including locals when we used a zip code geographically close to the Comcast comparison.
According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), Comcast ranks #4 with a 62/100 rating while Time Warner Cable ranks #2 with a score of 60/100 in BusinessInsider’s 2013 list of “most frustrating companies in America.” In the list, Comcast received the second lowest TV service rating while TWC received the worst, which was a 3-point decline from last year, according to ACSI. To flip things around a bit, Comcast received the worst ISP rating while TWC received the second worst. As far as phone, well, both companies did horribly in the ratings.
Both companies include special offers for new customers. While Comcast gives you 6 months of a free HD DVR and service, TWC will sell you 6 months of HBO and Cinemax for $10 per mo. or Cinemax free for 3 months. Both companies also offer rewards credits when signing up. Comcast is offering prepaid Visa cards up to $250. TWC is offering Visa Reward Cards valued up to $200 when switching from another provider.
There are so many options and add-ons for TV service and Phone/Internet/TV service that a direct comparison can get pretty complicated. What we did was compare Starter plans from both companies with only the default services but with the inclusion of a required Internet modem and must-have HD DVR.
The Comcast Starter plan costs $99 per month for the first 12 months with a 2-year agreement. (After 12 months, the service costs $119.99 for the remaining year.) The $99 plan forgets to mention you’ll need a digital voice modem, offered for $7 per month. That brings the price up to $106 per month. And, although Comcast includes free HD DVR service for the first 6 months for new customers, the service will range from $15.95 to $26.95 for the remaining 18 months. So, in the worst-case scenario, during the second year of your agreement you’ll be paying $153.94 per month (with HD DVR service).
Time Warner Cable, although the monthly plan is promoted as just $89.99, is actually $95.98 per month once you add an Internet modem (although, you can purchase your own modem if you like). Once you add in HD DVR service ($22.99 per mo.) your monthly charge will be $118.97 (for 12 months).
Winner: Time Warner Cable
Comcast Xfinity vs. Time Warner Cable Score Chart
|Triple-Service Bundles||Tie||In terms of service, both Comcast & TWC offer similar packages. Comcast’s choices, however, could be streamlined down to 3 or 4 rather than confusing customers with 5 options.|
|Internet Service||Comcast||Based on nothing else but Netflix ISP rankings.|
|HD DVR & Service||Comcast||Because 90 hours of HD is a lot more than 75 hours!|
|Features||Comcast||Because X1 is way more advanced (if available).|
|Channels||Tie||Because it’s too hard to do a direct comparison, and a difference of a few channels shouldn’t the tip the scale.|
|Customer Service||Comcast||Based on American Customer Satisfaction Index.|
|Special Offers||Tie||However, if TWC wants to be more competitive they should give you the HBO and Cinemax for free for six months rather than charge $10 per mo.|
|Prices||Time Warner Cable||Because that Comcast two year plan just seems too long and complicated with 3 variations (and 2 price increases) throughout the agreement.|
Sources: Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Netflix, BusinessInsider
**Comcast HD channels listed under Spokane, WA
*** TWC HD channels listed under Albion, WA
Jeff Chabot has a background in web development and design, as well as working in broadcast television as a studio engineer, lighting director and editor. He frequently writes about technology, broadcasting, digital entertainment, and the internet.