Particularly of late, cable television providers have been bullying each other on the air and proudly proclaiming superiority in the high-definition department. One would immediately assume that there's some black and white somewhere in this equation, but honestly, things are pretty gray. Hard though it may be to believe, there actually isn't a clear cut answer to this week's Ask Engadget HD question, which comes to us from the bewildered mind of Brian:

"I want an unbiased opinion, and more importantly, the facts. DISH Network is looking more and more like the leading HD provider with its weekly HD additions this past fall. However, now my local cable provider, Comcast, is running ads stating that it has More, More, More HD. My question is simple: who has more HD channels including and not including HD VOD?"

The inability to find a clear cut answer hasn't stopped us from forging ahead in the past, and it won't be slowing us down today, either. Ready to plunge deep into the increasingly murky waters of HD offerings? Join us after the jump as we take a critical look at high-def options from DirecTV, DISH Network, Verizon, AT&T and a slew of traditional cable operators in order to best address the above inquiry.

For starters, it should be pointed out that the primary reason this question is so hard to answer is that the proverbial playing field is far from equal. Cox's offerings in Kansas can be highly different from those beamed to Virginia. Comcast may feel like rolling out a regional sports channel in HD only in specific parts of the country. And if your cable company arbitrarily decides that a local broadcaster is asking too much to redistribute its HD OTA signal, you could be stuck with little choice but to wait for the drama to end.

In case you haven't already caught on, this issue is complicated by the lack of uniformity across providers and across a single provider's numerous markets. Still, the easiest two to line up mano a mano is DirecTV and DISH Network, which stand as the top two DBS providers for consumers in the United States (the country we'll be focusing this article on). We'll kick things off by investigating exactly what the former has to offer in terms of HD.

DirecTV

DirecTV is one of two major satellite television providers in the US of A, and unsurprisingly, it's in a perpetual battle with DISH Network for HD supremacy. As it stands today, DirecTV subscribers across the US can enjoy the following channels in HD:

National HD Channels
  • A&E HD
  • Animal Planet HD
  • Big Ten Network HD
  • Biography Channel HD (bio.HD)
  • Bravo HD
  • Cartoon Network HD
  • Cinemax HD East
  • Cinemax HD West
  • CMT HD
  • CNBC HD
  • CNN HD
  • CSTV HD
  • Discovery Channel HD
  • ESPN HD
  • ESPN2 HD
  • Food Network HD
  • FOX Business HD
  • Fuel HD
  • FX HD
  • Golf Channel HD
  • HBO HD East
  • HBO HD West
  • HD Theater
  • HDNet
  • HDNet Movies
  • HGTV HD
  • The History Channel HD
  • MGM HD
  • MTV HD
  • MHD
  • The Movie Channel HD
  • National Geographic HD
  • NBA TV HD
  • NFL Network HD
  • NHL Network HD
  • Nickelodeon HD
  • The Science Channel HD
  • SciFi HD
  • Showtime HD
  • Showtime HD West
  • ShoToo HD
  • Smithsonian HD
  • Speed HD
  • Spike HD
  • Starz Comedy HD
  • Starz Edge HD
  • Starz HD East
  • Starz HD West
  • Starz Kids & Family HD
  • Tennis Channel HD
  • TBS HD
  • The 101
  • TLC HD
  • TNT HD
  • Universal HD
  • USA HD
  • The Weather Channel HD
  • Versus HD
  • VH1 HD
Local HD channels (only available in certain markets; phone up DTV to see if they're available / coming to your neck of the woods)
  • ABC HD
  • CBS HD
  • FOX HD
  • NBC HD
Regional HD Sports Channels
  • Altitude Sports & Entertainment HD
  • Comcast SportsNet Chicago HD
  • Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic HD
  • Comcast SportsNet West
  • Comcast SportsNet New England
  • Fox Sports Net HD Arizona
  • Fox Sports Net HD Bay Area
  • Fox Sports Net HD Cincinnati
  • Fox Sports Net HD Detroit
  • Fox Sports Net HD Midwest
  • Fox Sports Net HD New York
  • Fox Sports Net HD North
  • Fox Sports Net HD Northwest
  • Fox Sports Net HD Ohio
  • Fox Sports Net HD Pittsburgh
  • Fox Sports Net HD Prime Ticket
  • Fox Sports Net HD Rocky Mountain
  • Fox Sports Net HD South
  • Fox Sports Net HD Southwest
  • Fox Sports Net HD West
  • MSG HD
  • NESN HD
  • SNY HD
  • SportsSouth
  • Sun Sports
  • YES Network HD
Additional HD offerings
  • MLB Extra Innings
  • NFL Sunday Ticket
  • NASCAR HotPass
  • NCAA Mega March Madness
  • NHL Center Ice
  • NBA League Pass
  • 15 HD pay-per-view channels
Needless to say, DTV has quite a lengthy list of HD channels, and if all goes to plan, quite a few more will be added soon. For a current look (updated on occasion by DirecTV) at the outfit's entire channel lineup, click here. [Warning: PDF link]

DISH Network

Most recently, DISH Network has upped the ante by whipping out a reasonably priced HD only package -- something we high-def junkies have been craving for ages. Additionally, the satcaster announced at this year's CES that it was planning to launch three new birds within the next dozen months and dish out HD locals to 100 markets. Currently, here's what DISH's high-definition lineup looks like:

National HD Channels
  • A&E HD
  • Animal Planet HD
  • Animania HD
  • Big Ten Network HD
  • Cinemax HD
  • Discovery Channel HD
  • Equator HD
  • ESPN HD
  • ESPN2 HD
  • Family Room HD
  • Film Fest HD
  • Food Network HD
  • Gallery HD
  • GamePlay HD
  • Golf Channel / Versus HD
  • HBO HD
  • HD Theater
  • HDNet
  • HDNet Movies
  • HDNews
  • HGTV HD
  • The History Channel HD
  • Kung Fu HD
  • MHD
  • Monsters HD
  • National Geographic HD
  • NBA TV HD
  • NFL Network HD
  • NHL Network HD
  • Rave HD
  • Rush HD
  • The Science Channel HD
  • Showtime HD
  • Starz HD
  • TBS HD
  • TLC HD
  • TNT HD
  • Treasure HD
  • Ultra HD
  • Universal HD
  • World Cinema HD
  • WorldSport HD
Local HD channels (only available in certain markets; phone up DTV to see if they're available / coming to your neck of the woods)
  • ABC HD
  • CBS HD
  • FOX HD
  • NBC HD
Regional HD Sports Channels
  • Altitude HD
  • Comcast SportsNet Chicago
  • Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic
  • Comcast SportsNet West
  • Fox Sports Network Prime Ticket
  • Fox Sports Network Rocky Mountain
  • Fox Sports Network Arizona
  • Fox Sports Network Southwest
  • Fox Sports Network West
  • Fox Sports Network Midwest
  • Fox Sports Network South
  • Fox Sports Network Florida
  • Fox Sports Network Ohio
  • Fox Sports Network Northwest
  • Fox Sports Network Cincinnati
  • Fox Sports Network Pittsburgh
  • Fox Sports Network Detroit
  • SportsTime Ohio
  • SportsSouth
  • SportsNet New York
  • Sun Sports
  • Fox Sports Network North
  • Sun Sports
Additional HD offerings
  • NBA League Pass
  • NHL Center Ice
  • 5 HD pay-per-view channels
After browsing DISH Network's list of HD options, it's clear that DirecTV has the edge between the two in terms of quantity. 'Course, DISH Network does provide a bit more in terms of variety, but what lineup suits you best is really a matter of personal preference. For a current look (updated on occasion by DISH Network) at the outfit's entire HD channel lineup, click here. [Warning: PDF link]

Moving on, we're taking a glance at the two largest fiber providers on US soil: AT&T and Verizon. It should be noted that many U-verse users have been frustrated by the inability to receive more than a single HD channel at a time, but alas, a scant 13 states even have access to FiOS TV. It's glaringly apparent that both of these services are still in their infancy, and as they expand their reach to more of the nation, we've all ideas the competitors will start feeling the pinch even more.

AT&T's U-verse

Nary two years old, U-verse is still a stumbling, bumbling baby in the world of cable operators, and it's got the flaws to prove it. Still, the price is right for many consumers, as a mere $10 upgrade per month nets you 43 HD channels -- which again, you only can watch one at a time, unfortunately. Nevertheless, here's all 43 spelled out for easy digestion:
  • HBO East HD
  • HBO West HD
  • Cinemax East HD
  • Cinemax West HD
  • Starz HD
  • Starz West HD
  • Showtime HD
  • Showtime West HD
  • The Movie Channel HD
  • A&E HD
  • ABC HD
  • CBS HD
  • Big Ten Network HD
  • ESPN HD
  • ESPN2 HD
  • Food Network HD
  • FOX HD
  • Fox Sports Network Midwest HD
  • Fox Sports Network North HD
  • Fox Sports Network Southwest HD
  • Fox Sports Network West HD
  • HDNet
  • HDNet Movies
  • HD Theater
  • HGTV HD
  • The History Channel HD
  • Lifetime Movie Network HD
  • MHD
  • TBS HD
  • TNT HD
  • Universal HD
  • WealthTV HD
  • YES HD
  • Animal Planet HD
  • CNN HD
  • Discovery Channel HD
  • Golf Channel HD
  • Science Channel HD
  • TLC HD
All in all, we suppose 43 high-definition options ain't too shabby for a service so young, but it still has quite aways to go before it's taken seriously by HD aficionados. For a current look (updated on occasion by AT&T) at the outfit's entire HD channel lineup, click here.

Verizon's FiOS TV

Just marginally older than U-verse, Verizon's own fiber-based TV service has managed to grab over one million customers during its 2+ years in business. Furthermore, it boasts HD VOD, which only a few other carriers -- regardless of medium -- can trumpet at this time. Sadly, the HD lineup is sorely lacking, but here's what you can expect as of today:
  • TNT HD
  • NFL Network HD
  • HDNet
  • HDNet Movies
  • Universal HD
  • HD Theater
  • WealthTV HD
  • National Geographic HD
  • MHD
  • Food Network HD
  • HGTV HD
  • A&E HD
  • Lifetime Movie Network HD
  • Discovery HD
  • ESPN HD
  • ESPN2 HD
  • HBO HD
  • Cinemax HD
  • Showtime HD
  • The Movie Channel HD
  • Starz HD
We'll go ahead and assume that the short list mentioned above will encourage most HD freaks to turn a cold shoulder to FiOS TV, but don't let this alternative (nor AT&T's U-verse, for that matter) fall completely from the back of your mind. It's practically inevitable that the fiber carriers will beef up their offerings, improve their hardware and become bona fide competitors in not-too-distant future.

Cable companies

From here, things get a whole lot less simple. Outside of satellite and fiber, the only other mainstream option for American boys and girls is tried and true cable. Unlike the previous two mediums, this particular one is home to a plethora of rivals including Bright House Networks, Cox Communications, Mediacom, Time Warner Cable (Disclosure: Engadget is part of the Time Warner family), Comcast, Wide Open West, RCN, SuddenLink and Charter -- and we're just getting warmed up. Without getting into the nuts and bolts of why each carrier can (and often does) offer up a different set of HD options across different markets, you can rest assured that what one cable company offers in your town is probably vastly different than what's offered by the same carrier 2,000 miles away. This little predicament, as you can easily surmise, makes it practically impossible to select an undisputed HD champion out of the bunch on a national level. Sure, we've heard all sorts of lofty promises from these guys, but just because one provider makes good and offers up an HD newcomer in one locale doesn't mean that you'll be seeing it anytime soon.

Conclusion

The long and short of "who has the most HD?" is this: it's probably DirecTV (as of right this moment, that is), but until you call up your local cable provider and DTV, it's impossible to say for certain. Beyond that, we'd also like to offer up this tidbit -- the aforementioned question is probably the wrong question to ask yourself. After all, what good are 100 HD channels if the ones you crave aren't included? This is most clearly illustrated when scouting out HD locals; it's rather hard for an HD junkie to bite on a satellite carrier when neither offer local networks in HD and their domicile is too far away to receive those stations free over the air. In this case, one may be better suited with the resident cable carrier who offers fewer high-definition channels but a higher percentage of stations they look forward to watching. Additionally, one should consider all the extras -- HD VOD, subscription packages (i.e. MLB Extra Innings), HD pay-per-view options, etc. -- before blindly picking a carrier based on how deep its lineup is.

In case you've still not pieced it together, there are simply too many variables to safely say that one provider is right for every fan of HD. Unfortunate though it may be, making the best choice for your viewing habits requires a good bit of research on your end as you scope out all available options and weed out those that simply don't make your cut. Hopefully, a good bit of that homework has been completed for you here, but feel free to shout out any first-hand experiences that you feel could help millions of others make a better choice when choosing their HD provider. We're lookin' to you to spill the beans on picture quality, customer service, uptime, perceived value -- the down and dirty details that can only be found by interrogating others.

Data gathered for this article was current at time of publishing and is subject to change. Please reference the links within for the most up-to-date listings and features from each individual carrier.

Got a burning question that you'd love to toss out for Engadget HD (or its readers) to take a look at? Tired of Google's blank stares when you ask for real-world experiences? Hit us up at ask at engadgethd dawt com and keep an eye on this space -- your inquiry could be next.

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Ask Engadget HD: Does cable, satellite, or fiber provide more HD?