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’s Xfinity) 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 Xfinity, 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 (see our DirecTV or DISH 2015 comparison), 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 XFINITY and TWC have various triple-service bundles to choose from. The Starter package for XFINITY 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 50 Mbps download speed, and over 140 television channels. The service all includes XFINITY On Demand™, online protection service Constant Guard, and the XFINITY platform in available areas.
XFINITY’S other service packages (there are 5 total) include variations in HD offerings. The packages range from $119.99 per month to $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. Plans are also available at similar pricing with a 12 month lock on price without an agreement. Internet can vary up to Extreme 505 Mbps if you upgrade your package.
All of XFINITY’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 $109 per month, 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 30 Mbps, Standard gives you 50 Mbps, and Turbo gives you up to 50 Mbps. TWC’s gives you free McAfee AntiVirus software with all three plans. You also get TWC WiFi Hotspots with the Standard and Turbo plans.
XFINITY’s download Internet speeds range from 25Mbps to 505 Mbps, and Time Warner Cable’s speeds range from 3 Mbps to 50 Mbps. While it may seem obvious that XFINITY 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, XFINITY came in 7th with an average of 2.10Mbps, while Time Warner Cable in 8th with an average of 2.05Mbps. XFINITY’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, XFINITY 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.)
XFINITY 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 XFINITY’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 XFINITY 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.
XFINITY’s Starter package provides over 140 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 Standard service package gives you over 70 channels, while the Preferred and Turbo packages each offer over 200 channels. We found that TWC provides about 100 HD channels*** including locals when we used a zip code geographically close to the XFINITY comparison.
Both companies include special offers for new customers. 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 XFINITY Starter plan costs $99 per month for the first 24 months with a 2-year agreement. The $99 plan forgets to mention you’ll need a digital voice modem, offered for $10 per month (unless you own your own). That brings the price up to $109 per month. So, in the worst-case scenario you’ll be paying $116.99/mo. plus taxes (with HD DVR service).
Time Warner Cable, although the monthly plan is promoted as just $89.99, is actually $97.99 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 ($10 per mo.) your monthly charge will be $107.99 per month for 12 months plus taxes and other fees.
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.