For most people, thoughts of cable and satellite services conjure up visions of sky-high monthly bills, complicated channel packages, and restrictive long-term contracts. It’s no wonder there are so many so-called cord-cutters out there, seeking alternatives with an increasingly large selection of streaming services.
But the inconvenient truth that many of these cable refugees have learned is that not only can streaming services end up costing as much or more than the traditional ones they’ve replaced but in a lot of cases, they’re not as easy to use.
The situation has opened a crack in the American TV market into which newcomer Orby TV is attempting to insert itself. It looks and feels like an old-school satellite service, but with a pricing structure and hybrid reception technology that has been formulated to appeal to cord-cutters.
Here’s what you need to know about Orby TV, the latest choice in TV land.
What is Orby TV?
Co-founded by Starz’s former chief revenue officer, Michael Thornton, and former Disney executive Tres Izzard, Orby TV is a prepaid satellite TV company that services the 48 contiguous United States.
If you’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone. Just one-year-old, Orby TV officially launched in August 2019 to remarkably little fanfare. We’ve normally got our fingers on the pulse of all things audio and video, and even we managed to miss its debut.
How is Orby TV different from other satellite services?
As a prepaid TV service, Orby TV doesn’t have any contracts or additional fees. It charges a flat monthly rate for its standard channel lineup, and its customers pay a one-time charge to buy the necessary hardware, which they then own outright.
That simple, no-nonsense approach already puts Orby TV in a satellite TV category of its own, but there is more to the story. Orby TV’s satellite receiver dish comes with a secondary digital antenna for receiving local, free, over-the-air (OTA) HD broadcasts. So, unlike traditional satellite, which delivers every channel from space (and makes you pay for them), Orby TV uses the OTA antenna to pull in your local channels for free while using the dish antenna to receive the paid, satellite-delivered ones.
And whether you pay to receive Orby TV’s satellite-based content or not, the system’s hardware will let you watch all of those free TV channels indefinitely, at no charge.
Another big difference is Orby TV’s channel selection. To keep its prices low, Orby TV offers a much smaller selection of channels and doesn’t offer any dedicated sports channels like ESPN, FS1, or Fox Sports.
There really aren’t any sports?
Despite Orby TV’s lack of dedicated sports channels, subscribers will still be able to get their fill of their favorite teams. “Between the big broadcasters and the Turner Services, we get probably 95% of the highest-rated sports programs on cable television,” Michael Thornton told Digital Trends.
Of the sports you can expect to see, NBA, NASCAR, MLB, and NFL are all well-covered, according to Thornton.
As for why there are no Disney-owned ESPN or Fox dedicated sports channels, well, it pretty much comes down to money.
“With all of the Disney services and all the Fox services,” Thornton said, “you can take them all or you can take none,” referring to the all-or-nothing contracts these companies create with cable, satellite, and internet streaming services. Acquiring some Disney channels might be affordable, but acquiring them all becomes cost-prohibitive and would undermine Orby TV’s focus on being a low-cost alternative.
How much does it cost?
Orby TV hardware:
$100 plus tax one-time charge for the Orby TV receiver (you’ll need one receiver for each TV in your home).
$150 one-time charge for professional installation, which includes the dish/digital antenna array and the labor for wiring one location in your home.
There’s a $50 installation charge for each additional room you want to wire to your antenna array.
There’s also an optional 500GB DVR that replaces the regular Orby TV receiver and costs $200. There’s a $4 per month charge to use the DVR service in conjunction with an Orby TV satellite channel package and a $12 per month charge if you want to use it without a package to record your free, local OTA channels.
Orby TV also lets you self-install the antenna and wiring if you feel capable of doing so, but the company warns that it’s not for the inexperienced, and it requires some specialized tools. The self-install option is effectively free when you buy a receiver or DVR, and you’ll get a satellite dish, antenna for local TV, mounting hardware, and signal meter for correct alignment of the dish. The coaxial cable needed to connect the dish to the receiver or DVR is not included.
It’s worth noting that although the regular price for installation is $150, Orby TV routinely offers discounts, which in some cases can save you as much as 50% on the cost of a system.
Orby TV’s satellite-based programming:
Essentials: A 46-channel package for $40 (taxes included) per month.
Extras: A 70-channel package that includes all 46 channels in Essentials for $50 (taxes included) per month.
Optional premium channel packages:
HBO four-channel pack: $18 per month.
Starz four-channel pack: $9 per month.
Cinemax four-channel pack: $12 per month.
Epix four-channel pack: $6 per month.
Is Orby TV cheaper than other TV options?
It depends. With a base programming package of just $40 per month, it’s certainly cheaper than any offer we could find in Portland, Oregon, from cable or satellite companies. However, though more expensive by at least $10 per month (and often $20 per month after introductory offers expired), these packages usually contained far more channels than Orby TV.
Comcast Xfinity, as an example, offers its least expensive package for $50 per month for the first 12 months (it goes up to $70 per month afterward), but it includes over 120 channels.
So, what about streaming services? Sling TV offers a very competitive, contract-free package called Sling Blue with 45 channels for $30 per month, but to get local ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox channels, you’ll need your own OTA antenna. If you want those channels to show up in the Sling TV interface, you’ll also need a device like the $100 AirTV.
It’s also worth noting that all livestreaming services require an internet connection — and preferably a speedy one for decent quality. That can add a lot to the price of these services if you aren’t already paying for internet access at home.
Which channels can I get with Orby TV?
Extras: All Essentials channels, plus:
Audio and video
Most cable and satellite companies offer packages with a large assortment of HD channels, but as you can see in the list above, with Orby TV, it’s a mixed bag.
Interestingly, even though some channels are presented in standard definition (SD), Orby TV downscales these signals from HD sources, so the original 16:9 aspect ratio is the same across all channels unless the movie or show was originally created in the older 4:3 ratio. “We feel like we’ve got pretty good compression,” Thornton said, “and on some channels, you can’t even tell the difference.”
Of course, all of the local channels that Orby TV picks up via the built-in OTA antenna will be HD, because they’re broadcast using the digital ATSC 1.0 standard.
At the moment, audio quality is limited to two-channel stereo, but this could be bumped up to surround sound in the future.
As a prepaid service, you can suspend your Orby TV subscriptions at any time and renew them when it suits you — with no fees.
The Orby TV receiver and DVR have parental controls that let you block channels or set rating limits using a PIN that you can select.
If you own an RV, you can take Orby TV with you if you buy the self-install kit and an optional tripod mount. The dish and OTA antennas will have to be repositioned each time you change locations.