Consider this a crash-course introduction to some of the best cable TV providers out there. When we say “best,” we mean in comparison to other TV services. Cable TV is far from being a perfect service, especially when it comes to customer service, so temper your expectations (we grade on a curve!).
|Comcast Xfinity||$49.99–99.99/mo.||140–260+||View Plans|
*First-year or promotional price.
There are other TV providers, such as RCN, Mediacom, Suddenlink, but we didn’t include them in the “Best Cable TV Providers” because either 1) they are not widely available or 2) they did not meet our criteria. We determined which cable TV providers are the best (or better than most) by comparing prices, contracts, fees, channels, DVRs, and availability.
Comcast Xfinity cable TV
Xfinity might have the best cable TV deals around.
|Digital Starter||$49.99/mo.||140||View Plan|
|Digital Preferred||$59.99/mo.||220||View Plan|
|Digital Premier||$99.99/mo.||260||View Plan|
Comcast’s Xfinity TV service costs less than most other cable TV providers we’ve reviewed. For example, Xfinity’s Digital Starter TV plan starts at $49.99 a month for 140 channels, which is $15 a month less than Cox’s Contour TV plan ($64.99 a month for 130 channels) and Spectrum’s TV Select plan ($64.99 a month for 125 channels).
The Digital Starter TV plan also includes every channel of the top 25 cable TV networks (ESPN, AMC, The CW, USA, TNT, Discovery, etc.) except Univision. If you’re a cable TV hound, you won’t need to worry about missing out on the most popular shows and channels with Xfinity’s service.
Comcast Xfinity also offers TV plans without a contract, which is an option we really like having. If you do choose no-contract Xfinity service, it adds on about $10 a month, but it’s worth it for some people who can’t make a commitment (we’ve been there).
Another plus for Xfinity is it delivers some not-too-shabby equipment. The Xfinity X1 DVR isn’t our first choice for DVR, but it comes close. The X1 can hold about 100 hours of recordings (in HD), and it can record up to six shows at once, which is more than enough for most of us. It also includes some cool features, like a voice-controlled remote and Netflix integration. (Be sure to check out our review of the Xfinity X1.)
We don’t like additional fees, and Comcast Xfinity has its fair share. There’s a broadcast TV fee (up to $7 a month), a regional sports fee (up to $5 a month), and more additional fees (so says the small print). We’d rather have it so any fees are included in the monthly service price, but almost all TV providers do this, so we can’t fault Comcast too much.
We haven’t mentioned customer service with other cable TV providers, but we think we should emphasize that Comcast customer service is known for being especially terrible. We understand if you’re not surprised—Comcast has earned its reputation. However, many of us still use Comcast Xfinity because it’s the best of what’s available (most people have access to only one or two cable TV providers in their area).
- Good: Xfinity offers plenty of channels for a better-than-average price.
- Bad: Xfinity has a few fees and lackluster customer service.
- Full review: Check out our full review of Comcast Xfinity.
Cox cable TV
Cox TV is trying something new, but its service is still a mixed bag.
Cox changed the way it sells TV, and we think that’s a good thing. Cox used to sell a handful of TV plans with a seemingly arbitrary set of channels, but now Cox has narrowed down its selection to two TV plans: Contour TV and Flex Starter. And each TV plan comes with a slew of customizable add-ons (Cox calls them “paks”).
We almost always prefer having more customization in cable TV, so we don’t mind Cox breaking down its TV plans into something that allows for more flexibility.
Cox’s Record 6-HD DVR costs more than a DVR should—it’s $19.99 a month. That’s twice the price of Comcast Xfinity’s X1 DVR. The Record 6-HD DVR can also (you guessed it) record six shows at once, which is not bad, but the Xfinity X1 DVR can do the same for half the price.
It’s not just the price of the DVR that bums us out—the total price of Cox’s TV service is higher than other cable TV providers. By the time we got to check out, we were looking at a monthly charge of $93.48 and a one-time charge of $20.00. And that did NOT include the broadcast surcharge ($4.00 a month), regional sports surcharge ($2.60–$6.00 a month), or “other fees.” We didn’t even get any of the add-ons (“paks”), which range from $5.00 a month to $15.99 a month.
With the DVR price and other added fees, Cox doesn’t look so good after our more positive first impression. Also, it doesn’t get any extra credit for contracts because it requires a one-year commitment for TV service.
- Good: Cox lets you customize your cable TV experience.
- Bad: Cox’s prices are higher than we first thought.
- Full review: Check out our full review of Cox TV.
Spectrum cable TV
No-contract TV service is Spectrum’s biggest selling point.
|TV Select||$59.99/mo||125||View Plan|
|TV Silver||$79.99/mo.||175||View Plan|
|TV Gold||$99.99/mo.||200||View Plan|
Charter Spectrum and Time Warner Cable have combined into a single service: Spectrum. We’re still not sure how much the merger has affected its TV service, but we’re naturally wary of big brands getting bigger because it usually doesn’t mean good things for customers (less competition never benefits the rest of us).
For the moment, Spectrum still delivers an on-par cable TV experience, and some may consider that a good thing (we will for the time being) because at least it hasn’t ended its no-contract service.
Spectrum doesn’t require a contract for TV service, so we definitely like it for that reason. However, once you get past all the no-contract hype, there’s not too much more to get excited about.
By the time we got to check-out, our monthly cost for Spectrum TV service was up to nearly $60 a month, with a one-time cost of $34.99 (see image). It’s not the worst pricing we’ve seen, but it certainly doesn’t make us feel all warm and fuzzy.
Also, we didn’t get to pick which DVR we wanted. With Spectrum, you get either a Motorola or a Cisco DVR, but you won’t know which you’ll get until it arrives. We don’t like this, and we’re not excited that the most either of these DVRs holds is a meager 45 recording hours.
- Good: Spectrum doesn’t bother with long-term contracts.
- Bad: Spectrum doesn’t let you pick your DVR, and its pricing is “meh.”
- Full review: Check out our full review of Spectrum TV.
Optimum cable TV
Optimum’s no-contract TV service isn’t too shabby, but limited.
|Optimum Value||$64.95/mo.||260||View Plan|
|Optimum Select||$74.95/mo.||340||View Plan|
|Optimum Premier||$104.95/mo.||445||View Plan|
We like Optimum TV because it doesn’t require a contract for TV service. Also, its TV plans offer a pretty hefty selection of channels—Optimum’s introductory plan (Optimum Value) includes more than 255 channels. The only problem is you probably can’t get Optimum service where you live.
Optimum has extremely limited availability. Its TV service is available only in the tri-state area. So if you can get your hands on it, by all means give it a try. However, most people will likely have to pick between big-name cable TV providers with more accessibility.
- Good: Optimum offers plenty of channels with no contract.
- Bad: Optimum services only three states.
- Full review: Check out our full review of Optimum TV.
Recap—the best cable TV providers
We sorted through more than a dozen cable TV providers to highlight some of the best. We considered pricing, fees, contracts, and more to determine which cable TV provider deserves your attention. Overall, we can say this about each:
What do you think?
Did we miss something? Which cable TV provider do you think is the best? Tell us what you’re thinking in the comments. We’d also love to hear any questions you might have.