Photo of the OrbyTV satellite dish

Satellite TV doesn't pop up as an option in many cord-cutting conversations, but a startup called Orby TV is hoping to change that. Taking a page from the prepaid-cellular playbook, the company is offering a satellite-TV service with 40-plus channels for $40 a month, including taxes, with no contract and few add-on fees of the kind that frustrate many cable TV subscribers.

One reason the cost is so low: Orby TV doesn't include local broadcasts from the major networks. Instead, the company bundles an outdoor antenna as part of the package to pull in free over-the-air broadcast channels such as ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC, plus PBS, the CW, and Ion Television. 

That will work fine for many consumers, but antenna reception depends heavily on where you live.  

Additionally, you don't get any dedicated sports channels, such as ESPN, or regional sports networks. And the service right now is missing some popular networks, such as Bravo and Disney (Disney Channel, plus Fox, FX, and National Geographic). 

More On Cable TV Alternatives

Those factors narrow the range of people who might want to switch to Orby TV. But for the right consumer, the service can be a good alternative to stripped-down cable packages and to cable-replacement streaming services such as SlingTV and Hulu + Live TV.

Orby TV launched this spring, at a time when subscribers were fleeing satellite-TV services such as DirecTV and Dish at record rates. According to Leichtman Research Group, in 2018, those two companies accounted for more than two-thirds of the 3 million people who dumped their traditional pay-TV providers in 2018.

Two Plans Being Offered

Orby TV is offering two plans at this point. The $40-a-month basic package includes more than 40 channels, including many popular ones such as A&E, AMC, BBC America, CNN, Cartoon Network, Comedy Central, Discovery, Food Network, HGTV, History Channel, Lifetime, TBS, and TNT.

The $50-a-month Extras package adds more than 20 additional channels, including BBC World News, Cooking Channel, DIY, Nicktoons, and several Spanish-language versions of channels such as CNN, Discovery, and History Channel. The full channel lineups are available on the Orby TV website.

Although there are no dedicated sports networks, you can get some sports via local channels and what's shown on TBS/TNT.

Premium channels cost extra each month—HBO runs $18; Cinemax, $15; Starz, $9; and Epix, $6.

As you can see below, both satellite and over-the-air channels appear in an easy-to-use grid-style program guide.

These packages are competitive with cable-style streaming services that have become popular with cord-cutters. 

For example, DirecTV Now's basic plan costs $50 a month for more than 45 channels and free HBO. Hulu + Live TV offers 60-plus channels, including everything in the $6-a-month Hulu library, for $50 a month. YouTube TV's $50-a-month-plan includes more than 70 broadcast and cable channels. All include free cloud DVRs.

Photo of the OrbyTV program guide.
OrbyTV combines over-the-air and satellite channels into one program guide.
Photo: OrbyTV

Buying a Receiver

To sign up for Orby TV, you'll have to buy a receiver in store or online from Best Buy and Target or from Orby TV's website. 

A basic receiver costs $100; a DVR receiver is $200. The DVR has two ATSC tuners for receiving over-the-air broadcasts, plus two tuners for receiving the satellite TV signals. That allows you to record one show from either source while watching another, or two shows at once if you're not watching TV. The 500GB hard drive DVR can hold about 100 hours of HD programming.

The company advertises freedom from the add-on fees that aggravate many cable TV customers, but it does charge a $4-a-month DVR service fee if you have a programming package.

Adding Orby TV to other televisions in your home requires a $50 installation fee for each set, and you'll need separate receivers. There's no extra programming charge—the monthly packages support up to four televisions.

One unique aspect of Orby TV is that, since you own the receivers, you can play and record over-the-air TV shows, and access recorded satellite TV shows, even if you suspend or cancel the paid-TV programming. You just have to pay a $12-a-month DVR/program guide fee. If you do suspend service, you'll see the live satellite channels in the channel guide, but they won't be accessible until the programming is restarted.

Installing the Dish

Most people will arrange for professional installation of the satellite dish. Installation costs $150, plus tax, and it's handled by MasTec Advanced Technologies, which has a network of installers across the country. Typically, the company will set up the satellite dish on your roof, and then run up to 100 feet of cable to one TV.

Like all satellite-TV systems, Orby TV needs a clear, unobstructed view of the southern sky.

The antenna, included in the package, is attached to the dish, which should help with reception, since roof-mounted outdoor antennas typically get better reception than indoor models.

A self-installation kit, with the dish, antenna, and mounting hardware, costs $85. Keep in mind that installation requires a compass and signal meter, among other tools, and the know-how to properly position and align a satellite dish using coordinates for azimuth, elevation, and skew.

One last financial consideration: Although Orby TV doesn't require it, many people need a decent broadband connection for everything from video chats with family members to watching shows on Netflix, and you can often get a better deal when it's bundled with other services, such as a TV package and a home phone. Cable and telco companies such as Verizon almost always have promotional bundle offers, and DirecTV and Dish partner with a number of broadband companies to create hybrid TV/internet bundles.

Orby TV doesn't currently have this type of deal in place, which means you could save on your TV entertainment only to pay more for your internet connection.