NOTE: After reading this article below, click here to see an update one year later, in which I explain how Cignal is now better than Dream.
I have finally gotten Cignal (website, wikipedia) satellite HD television in my home and I am simply thrilled with the high-definition picture. I'm apparently only the 10th person on the island of Mindanao to have HDTV. Installation price (includes dish, HDTV box, first month's subscription fee, HDMI cable, and setup/installation) was 9,200 ($195) for me in Jasaan; 500 pisos less for folks in CDO. Monthly fee is 1,290 ($27) with the high-definition package. (The standard definition package only costs 6,200 ($132) pisos to install and 390 ($8) pisos per month.)
Currently, I only have 4 high-definition channels to watch. Well, there really are 7 channels of high(er) definition, but I only watch 4: (1) History HD, (2) FX HD, (3) VOOM HD, and (4) HBO HD. There is also (5) Star Sports HD (but only partly... 50% is broadcast in standard definition), (6) a Sony Channel which often broadcasts in HD, but I haven't seen anything worth watching on it yet, and (7) a Disney Channel which seems to have a high quality picture that might be an upgraded standard definition signal (but I haven't really looked... all cartoons and stuff). ESPN HD is on the way... there is a place holder in the channel listing.
I also have Dream Satellite (website, wikipedia) here at the house as well (installation cost 6,490 ($138) pisos and monthly fee 650 pisos ($14)), which gives me the ability to do a side-by-side comparison of the two products. (Really side by side: My 60-inch Sony HDTV allows me to view two signal inputs side by side on the screen.)
So, here is my personal comparison review of Star Satellite TV versus Cignal Satellite TV:
(A) As far as the standard definition television broadcasts go, Cignal only has 20 channels on offer, and they aren't good at all (for me). You get all of the standard Philippine channels as you would expect (plus a couple of new ones) plus HBO, Cinemax, CNN, AXN, 2nd Avenue, Bio, and cartoons. No Discovery, History Channel, or sports at all. However, there is Pinoy Box Office.
(B) Dream Satellite has 38 standard definition channels on offer. Here, you get (in comparison to Cignal) the addition of National Geographic, Discovery, History channel, Animal Planet, BBC News, and sports, but you lose HBO and Cinemax.
Here is my summary:
THE CHANNEL LINE-UP
If you don't have a high-definition TV yet, you have no reason to get Cignal... EXCEPT: (a) it has several extra Tagalog channels that Dream does not have, (b) it's cheaper, and (c) it has more movie channels. If you get Dream, you will have more channels to watch... especially if you are a sports fan, or a fan of educational/documentary programming. Oh: The on-screen program guide for Cignal is vastly better than Dream. With Cignal, you can watch TV in the upper left corner of your screen while you browse, while Dream completely cuts out all video and audio while you look around at what is on. Also, Cignal provides you with a brief summary of what is on each channel as you scroll by it, while Dream requires you to click and expand the listing before being able to see that information.
Cignal is simply better. Every channel that we viewed side by side had crisper edges, brighter colors, and less noise. Also, during several rain storms, the Cignal signal has not been cut off while Dream has. You can click on the photo below to see the large version of the two broadcasts (Cignal on the left). One word of qualification though: The Cignal signal is passing through an HDMI connection, while the Dream Satellite is going through an RCA connection. This may provide an improved Cignal picture that you may not experience on your own television if you use an RCA connection with Cignal. Also note that the two broadcasts are not perfectly contemporaneous: Cignal is about 1 second ahead of Dream, hence the images are not exactly the same.
Since purchasing Dream 6 months ago, my channel lineup has decreased by 4 channels, and no channels have been added. In the 3 days I have had Cignal, I've already had one new channel start broadcasting. Cignal satellite is partnered with Smart here in The Philippines, and seems to be the stronger and growing business. I currently don't have the same confidence in Dream. And also, Cignal has high-definition, which really is the future. Of course I can't predict too much about the future, but based on what was, what is, and what obviously will be, Cignal is better-positioned right now for growth and progress.
Personally, for standard definition television, I think that Parasat Cable (website) at 1,150 pisos ($24) per month with 96 channels is the best deal if you can get it. For the person who wants to pull out all the stops and have it all and are not particularly cost-sensitive, I would recommend getting Parasat and Cignal HD. For those of you limited to only satellite options, Dream and Cignal both have their pluses and their minuses. You'll have to make your own choice based on the details I've laid out for you here.
A FINAL NOTE
This article was written on October 7, 2009. All information provided in this review is constantly changing and may not be correct at a later date. Please use the links provided to confirm the current prices or channel packages, as they may have changed since this writing.
UPDATE ONE MONTH LATER:
Complaint: Most of the HD channels (Disney, ESPN, Star Sports, National Geographic, Star Movies) are actually broadcasting the majority of their programming in standard definition (or occasionally 720P which on my 60-inch screen looks a little better than SD, but is patently not HDTV to anybody who watches in my house). So, you're expected to pay approximately 100 pisos per channel per month for high definition that isn't even high definition. Though it's not Cignal's fault that ESPN (especially ESPN) and the other channels are broadcasting SD content on their HD channels, it's still a bit of a scam to be calling them HD channels.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Avoid Cignal HD unless you are willing to shell out more than 100 pisos per channel of fake high definition (except for The History Channel HD which broadcasts 100% true 1080i HDTV, and HBO HD which is about 90% true 1080i HD). That, combined with Cignal's very poor standard-definition lineup makes it rather difficult to justify choice.
At some point in the future, Cignal may (probably will) have enough SD and HD channels (real HD channels with real HD content) to justify signing up, but for now, hold off on the purchase. (And that is exactly what happened: Cignal doubled their HD lineup in October of 2010. See here for update)
National Geographic has gone to full 1080 HD, joining History HD and HBO HD... a step in the right direction. Still waiting for ESPN, Star Sports, Disney, Sony, and Star Movies to go from "pretend" HD to full HD.