Best Cable TV Providers

The best TV experience starts with picking the right cable TV provider.
  • Better than most
    3 out of 5 overall
    View PlansRead full review
  • Trying new things
    3 out of 5 overall
    View PlansRead full review
  • No contracts ever
    2.5 out of 5 overall
    View PlansRead full review
  • Good but limited
    3 out of 5 overall
    View PlansRead full review

OVERVIEW:

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!).

The best cable TV providers

ProvidersPricesChannelsDetails
Xfinity$49.99–$104.99/mo.*140–260+View Plans
Spectrum$44.99–$104.99/mo.**125–200+View Plans
Cox Communications$64.99/mo.*140–250+View Plans
Optimum$59.95–$104.95/mo.220–420+View Plans

Data effective 10/18/18. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
*For the first 12 months w/a 1-year agreement
**For the first 12 months

There are other TV providers, such as RCN, Mediacom, and 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.

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Xfinity cable TV

Xfinity might have the best cable TV deals around.

PlansPrice*ChannelsDVRDetails
Digital Starter$49.99/mo.140X1 (60 hrs.)View Plan
Digital Preferred$59.99/mo.220X1 (60 hrs.)View Plan
Digital Premier$104.99/mo.260X1 (60 hrs.)View Plan

Data effective 10/4/18. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
*For the first 12 months w/a 1-year agreement

The good

Xfinity TV service starts at a lower cost than most other cable TV providers we’ve reviewed.

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 HBO.1 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.

Xfinity also offers TV plans without a contract, which is an option we really like having.

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.)

The bad

We don’t like additional fees, and Xfinity has its fair share. There’s a broadcast TV fee, a regional sports fee, 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 Xfinity too much.

We haven’t mentioned customer service with other cable TV providers, but we think we should emphasize that Xfinity customer service is known for being especially terrible. We understand if you’re not surprised—Xfinity has earned its reputation. However, many of us still use 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).

Summary—Comcast Xfinity

  • 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 Xfinity.

Cox cable TV

Cox TV is trying something new, but its service is still a mixed bag.

PlansPrice*ChannelsDVRDetails
Contour TV$64.99/mo.140+Contour Record 6-HD (340 hrs.)View Plan

Data effective 10/18/18. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
*For the first 12 months.

The good

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 one TV plans: Contour TV. You can then customize your package with 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.

The bad

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 monthly DVR service fees and receiver fees, as well as an installation fee.. And that did NOT include the broadcast surcharge, regional sports surcharge, or “other fees.” We didn’t even get any of the add-ons (“paks”), which range from $10.00 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.

Summary—Cox

  • 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.

PlansPrice*ChannelsDVRDetails
TV Select$44.99/mo125Motorola or Cisco (21–45 hrs.)View Plan
TV Silver$84.99/mo.175Motorola or Cisco (21–45 hrs.)View Plan
TV Gold$104.99/mo.200Motorola or Cisco (21–45 hrs.)View Plan

Data effective 10/18/18. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
*For the first 12 months.

The good

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.

The bad

By the time you add on DVR boxes and service fees, plus installation costs, your price could be a lot higher than advertised.

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.

Summary—Spectrum

  • 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.

PlansPriceChannelsDVRDetails
Optimum Core$59.95/mo.220+Multi-Room DVR (75 hrs.)View Plan
Optimum Select$74.95/mo.340+Multi-Room DVR (75 hrs.)View Plan
Optimum Premier$104.95/mo.420+Multi-Room DVR (75 hrs.)View Plan

Data effective 10/18/18. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

The good

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 220 channels. The only problem is you probably can’t get Optimum service where you live.

The bad

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.

Summary—Optimum

  • 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 for 2018

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.

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Sources

1. Statista.com, Leading ad supported broadcast and cable networks in the United States in 2017, by average number of viewers