The best satellite TV providers of 2018 are DISH and DIRECTV. Aside from a few evangelical providers, these two companies are the only ones in the game. So which company works better for you? Both brands are available nationwide, so it’s fair to compare their prices, channels, equipment, features, and customer service.
Check out our Best Satellite Internet Services of 2018 comparison for details on satellite internet service.
DISH vs. DIRECTV: Comparison
|Contract terms||Requires 2-year agreement||Requires 2-year agreement|
|Installation||Free (for up to 6 rooms)||Free (for up to 4 rooms)|
|Max HD channels||200+||200+|
|DVR Storage||Hopper: 2TB||Genie: 1TB|
|DVR recording hours||2000 SD / 500 HD||1000 SD / 200 HD|
|Equipment service fees||Hopper included |$5/Joey receiver | $10/Super Joey receiver||Free up to 4 units ($7 for each additional unit)|
|On-demand library||6,500+ titles||10,000+ titles|
|View Plans||View Plans|
Prices vary according to location. Prices above effective 6.22.2017.
We consider pricing to be the most important factor in satellite television, but beyond that we look at contract terms, installation costs, the number of HD channels and on-demand titles, the quality and capability of DVRs and other equipment, and customer satisfaction scores.
Our pick for best satellite TV provider:
We picked DISH as the best satellite TV provider because it has the most transparent pricing, so you know what to expect from your monthly bill. DISH’s clear and consistent pricing won’t leave you guessing what your monthly bill entails. It’s typically cheaper than other satellite providers.
The service itself is reliable, available to just about everyone, and easy for customers to use. On top of that, DISH consistently proves itself to be among the best in the television service industry, including cable and fiber providers.
DISH vs. DIRECTV — Who has the best price?
Pricing and billing top our list, and we assume they top yours, too. We know a broad range of users want the best bang for their buck, but we’re most concerned with transparent pricing. We looked at both brands’ range of packages and installation costs, as well as what fees come with outfitting your home with full-service television.
DISH wins because it has consistent prices, and they’re lower than DIRECTV’s. The company typically offers great promos (as of this writing, DISH offers a year of free HBO with a 2-year contract). For most people, DISH will be a better deal.
DISH makes it easy to budget for two years
DISH’s pricing is locked in for two years, which is usually better for the customer. Most companies, including DIRECTV, tend to increase the monthly package price after the first year. With DISH, you can budget for two years with confidence—the only variables are taxes and user-controlled purchases like add-on packs, premium channels, and on-demand rentals.
The thing that sticks out the most about DISH’s non-advertised pricing is the $10 DVR Service Fee. Although not everyone uses a DVR, it’s commonplace enough that we believe it should be included as part of any new TV subscription. That being said, we believe the value warrants the price.
DIRECTV is great for families
DIRECTV’s pricing is pretty straightforward, the only exception being a Regional Sports Fee, which nearly every TV provider charges. DIRECTV includes service for up to four rooms—a benefit for families or users with multiple TVs.
DIRECTV increases your monthly rate after the first year in a two-year contract. This increase ranges from 54–69% of your monthly bill, which makes quite a difference for most people, so be sure to plan out your budget accordingly.
The only other thing to watch out for is if you get service for more than four rooms, each Genie Mini will have a one-time installation charge of $49. Beyond that, DIRECTV’s pricing is transparent and consistent.
Compare the real cost of DISH and DIRECTV
DISH is cheaper than DIRECTV at face value, but what will your bill look like over the course of two years? It’s fair to compare since both satellite TV providers require a two-year term contract. We’ll break down how your bill looks after you factor in installation, equipment charges, and additional fees.
In this example, we’ll take packages with identical channel counts and assume a household with four televisions, each with DVR service and non-wireless receivers. Keep in mind these are monthly prices without taxes, and your actual price will vary according to location.
DISH's America's Top 120 vs. DIRECTV's ULTIMATE
|DISH's America's Top 120||DIRECTV'S ULTIMATE|
|Channel count: 190||Channel count: 240|
|Advertised first-year price: $49.99
Advertised second-year price: $49.99
|Advertised first-year price: $75
Advertised second-year price: $128
Installation: Free up to 6 rooms
Equipment: Hopper DVR + 2 Joeys + 1 Super Joey*
HD technology fee: None
Broadcast TV fee: None
Regional sports fee: None
Installation: Free up to 4 rooms
Equipment: Genie DVR + 3 Genie Minis**
Equipment fees: None
DVR service fee: None
HD technology fee: None
Broadcast TV fee: None
DVR service fee: $10
Equipment fees: $14 for 2 Joeys
Equipment fees: $10 for Super Joey
Regional sports fee: $3.63
|First bill estimate: $83.99
2-year average bill estimate: $83.99
|First bill estimate: $78.63
2-year average bill estimate: $105.13
|View Plan||View Plan|
*Super Joey required for additional tuners. If selecting wireless Joeys, add $25 one-time leased equipment charge.
**To make the Genie Minis wireless, add a $99 one-time setup charge.
Both providers require the two-year agreement. Although DIRECTV is cheaper for the first year, the second-year price increase makes a big impact. While the difference between DISH’s $83.99 and DIRECTV’s $105.13 doesn’t seem like much at first, over two years you’re looking at a difference of $463.80 for about the same service. You will save even more ($240) if you don’t require service for a fourth television—that’s where the Super Joey adds an extra $10 per month to DISH’s bill.
We’ll use these same packages for another example: if you only need service for a single TV with DVR, going with DISH will cost $69.99 per month, whereas DIRECTV will still cost $105.13 per month. After two years, that’s a difference of $799.80—for that kind of money you could buy a nice 4K TV. Plus, with DISH you get a free year of HBO, which is a $180 value. Pound for pound, DISH is a better deal.
Premium channel prices
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Both DISH and DIRECTV come with three months of premium channels free, so even if you don’t know what premium channels you want yet, this trial period allows you to get an idea of which channels you won’t want to drop. Set up your cancellation prior to the actual expiration date so you don’t accidentally incur additional charges.
If you are a premium channel die-hard in it for the long run, it’s good to know that each channel costs $15 per month from DISH, whereas DIRECTV groups HBO, Showtime, STARZ, and Cinemax together for $53.99 per month.
DISH takes the advantage with premium channel pricing because it includes HBO free for one year. If you compare getting the four popular premiums from DISH and DIRECTV over a two-year contract, you’ll save about $54 with DISH, and even more if you only want one or two premium channels.
Our package recommendations
DISH: America’s Top 250
If you’re looking for a package with more channel options, DISH’s America’s Top 250 gives you 290 channels for only $79.99 a month. To put this into context, DIRECTV charges $75 for 240 channels. Even better, your price won’t change after the second year, unlike the other aforementioned provider’s pricing.
Installation is free, along with premium channels like HBO and Showtime. For news junkies, you’ll also get less common coverage through BBC American and CSPAN2. The sports gurus will love not only the usual suspects like ESPN and ESPN2, but also a few of Comcast’s sports networks, too. And it’s only $15 more to add on the Sports Pack with NFL RedZone and other 24/7 coverage channels. Plus, the included SIRIUS satellite radio channels can help you relax to some jazz at night—or start a dance party in your living room.
DIRECTV’s CHOICE with NFL SUNDAY TICKET
Battle of the DVRs: DISH’s Hopper vs. DIRECTV’S Genie
Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) not only record TV programs, but they also act as your receiver. You can control live television by pausing, rewinding, or skipping ahead.
When you compare the DISH Hopper 3 to the DIRECTV Genie, you’ll find the brands have a lot in common: the ability to record single or multiple shows at once, large amounts of storage, 4K resolution capabilities, and more. So what makes the Hopper 3 and Genie different? For the average user, not much.
|DISH Hopper 3||DIRECTV Genie|
|Main DVR receiver $ or included||Yes||Yes|
|Additional DVRs/receivers||$5/mo – Joey | $10/mo – Super Joey||$7/mo – Genie Mini|
|Installation charges||None (up to 6 rooms)||None (up to 8 rooms)|
|Storage capacity||2 TB||1 TB|
|Record entire season||Yes||Yes|
|# of TVs supported by main receiver||6||6|
|Simultaneous watch in multiple rooms||4||4|
|Simultaneous recordings per main DVR||16||5|
|Total simultaneous recordings possible||16||5|
|Remote control finder||Yes||No|
|Get the Hopper||Get the Genie|
Our pick is DISH’s Hopper 3. Aside from having more storage and more simultaneous recordings possible (16 versus 8), it has more useful features. We think voice search is a blessing for finding what you want to watch on TV fast. And if you can’t find your voice-powered remote, the Hopper 3 has a locator button that will activate lights and sound on the remote. DISH also allows for skipping commercials automatically, rather than just jumping ahead 30 seconds like DIRECTV, which can be frustrating to get the timing right without re-watching a commercial or jumping too far ahead in your program.
When it comes down to it, the Hopper 3 is a better piece of technology with more capabilities. But keep in mind, these are two of the best DVRs on the market, so you won’t go wrong either way.
In terms of customer service, DISH and DIRECTV consistently rank higher than most cable TV providers. We consider how user-friendly each brand is when it comes to supporting customers. To compare, we analyze third-party ratings, customer reviews, and FCC reports. It’s important to note that DISH and DIRECTV rank above the TV service industry average, which ranks low among other industries.
According to the FCC, most complaints surround billing (40%), while a much smaller fraction come from the experience of watching TV itself.
- Billing (40%)
- Availability (18%)
- Indecency (11%)
- Loud commercials (11%)
- Equipment (10%)
- Interference (5%)
The most commonly cited reasons for switching TV providers according to JD Power are as follows:
- Cost was too high (25%)
- Moved locations/previous provider not available at new location (24%)
- Competitor offered a better deal (17%)
- Customer service was poor (10%)
Between these two sources, we can tell that most people are concerned with how their TV affects their monthly bills above all else. This means knowing exactly what you’ll pay and that you won’t get a better deal from another provider.
DISH has consistently scored above average on the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Its 2016 score was 67 compared to the average of 65 from other television providers.
DISH won the JD Power and Associates award for the North Central region. Although it didn’t win the other regions, it still scored either 4 or 5 out of 5 in its customer service rankings.
DIRECTV claims 16 years of having the highest customer satisfaction rankings among all cable and satellite TV providers. In 2016, it scored a 68 compared to the industry average of 65.
DIRECTV won the JD Power awards for the East and South regions in 2016. It ranked above DISH in the West region, as well.
Overall, television provider scores don’t rank well compared to other industries. While we know every service will have its flaws, we hope to see more providers ensuring correct billing practices and error prevention, consistent tech scheduling, and increased customer service availability. That being said, in terms of customer service, DIRECTV takes the advantage for higher satisfaction.
The Bottom Line
- DISH is one of the best—if not the best—TV providers. We like its low upfront pricing that lasts for two years, technological advancement, and consistently above-average customer satisfaction scores. Choose DISH for consistent bills and convenience.
- DIRECTV’s affordable and transparent pricing is geared towards covering up to 4 TVs for the same price. DIRECTV has consistently high customer satisfaction, and it’s the exclusive provider of NFL SUNDAY TICKET. Choose DIRECTV for sports.
DISH vs. DIRECTV Summary
- DISH is better priced
- DISH has a better DVR
- DIRECTV is best for NFL
- Both are decent options
Have a question we didn’t answer? Please leave us a comment and we’ll do our best to help!
Satellite TV FAQ
Why choose satellite TV?
Technology aside, both DISH and DIRECTV are some of the best in the television service industry in terms of pricing, channel selection, equipment, features, and customer satisfaction.
What is the cheapest satellite TV service?
DISH currently has lower pricing in every package tier, but satellite TV offers fluctuate often in an attempt to gain new customers. Because of the competition between DIRECTV and DISH, you can find promotional deals year round. DISH starts at $49.99/monthly for America’s Top 120 package, whereas DIRECTV packages start at $50/monthly with the SELECT package.
What is the best satellite TV deal?
We get asked that question a lot, but the “best” deal really depends on what you want.
If you are a big sports fan and are interested in watching NFL games, then DIRECTV is the best with NFL SUNDAY TICKET. If you’re looking for something that will be easy on your budget, then we recommend DISH because they have no hidden fees.
Satellite dish TV providers usually have excellent offers that include discounts on monthly services for a limited time, or free premium channels like HBO, STARZ, Showtime, or Cinemax. Both DISH and DIRECTV are currently offering premium channels free for 3 months, but be aware that the regular price will kick in unless you cancel after the 90 days.
DISH’s 2-Year Price-Lock and DIRECTV’s 2 Year Price Guarantee are both good routes to go if you want consistent pricing free of rate increases. Keep in mind that if you disconnect services before your term is up, you’ll face Early Termination Fees (ETFs).
How can I save on satellite TV service?
Almost all satellite service providers offer TV, internet, and phone services individually, but they will give you a discount when you combine services. For billing, it’s easier to go through a single provider. All of your contracts will be handled simultaneously, saving you time and energy. On the provider’s end, it’s cost effective to manage accounts with two or three services rather than just one, and its ability to keep you as a customer improves significantly.
DISH no longer offers satellite internet via dishNET, but in certain areas dishNET still offers cable internet. Satellite internet is more widely available, especially for rural and remote customers. Satellite internet will be slower than DSL/cable internet, but either option is nice for anyone looking to upgrade from dial-up speeds.
DIRECTV has partnered with the following internet providers: AT&T, CenturyLink, Exede, Cincinnati Bell, HughesNet, Windstream, Verizon, and Mediacom. As always, pricing and availability depend on your location.
How do I get TV service on the go?
DISH offers mobile satellite services with The Tailgater. You can get satellite TV on the road while traveling cross country or during camping trips. It’s perfect for long trips or tailgating for your favorite sports team. DIRECTV has the DIRECTV MOBILE CHOICE package that allows you to watch 145–185 of your favorite channels in your car, van, RV, or even boat. You can take your entertainment into the sky with DIRECTV AIRBORNE OFFICE CHOICE, which is great for jetsetters and travel enthusiasts.
How does satellite TV work?
Simply put, an encrypted television signal is sent from the provider to an orbiting satellite, which then sends the signal to your home satellite. From there, the signal is translated by your set top box to display your programming. Using synced orbit, the space satellite rotates at the same speed as Earth.
Is satellite TV service reliable?
DISH and DIRECTV both claim 99% signal reliability (100% reliability is impossible with any type of TV service). Unlike cable, where a distribution network connects a lot of homes together, satellite TV operates on an individual system.
When there’s a problem, such as adverse effects from weather (lightning storms, excessive winds, etc.), your satellite TV system may be affected, but it can usually be fixed quickly with a simple adjustment; with cable TV, it can take longer because the technicians must troubleshoot the entire network.
How do I prevent satellite interference?
Extreme weather conditions do affect your signal reception; however, because both DISH and DIRECTV claim about 99% reliability, this shouldn’t be a major concern. The problem with weather interference is less the bad weather itself, and more a matter of snow/rain accumulating on the receiver. Both companies design their dishes to resist accumulation; you may have to clear the receiver, but only if it is safe.
Our advice is to place your dish in a convenient to-reach spot—the less you have to break out the ladder on a rainy or snowy day, the better. If you do have a hard-to-reach placement, consider channeling your inner MacGyver and transforming things like brooms and brushes into your go-to tool for clearing off snow. As always, safety first and be mindful not to damage the receiver.
Aside from this, DIRECTV recommends a dish heater, which essentially sticks on the receiver and warms up ice and snow so it does not accumulate. Although you can purchase a satellite cover, DIRECTV explicitly says covers may cause interference. We’ve also read accounts of people using cooking spray on the receiver; however, the residue can build up and interfere with reception.
Can I still watch satellite TV if the weather is bad?
If you cannot clear up interference on your own, you can always turn to your saved DVR recordings or on demand programs.So what do you need to know before buying satellite TV?
So what do you need to know before buying satellite TV?
Certain homeowners associations or housing zones restrict placement or do not allow satellite dishes to be visible. If you’re renting, it’s probably a good idea to consult your landlord before ordering satellite TV.
You’ll have to find a suitable spot to place the dish. Your receiver will need to point southward (assuming you’re living in the Northern Hemisphere). It will also need to have a clear view of the sky, so consider trees, neighboring buildings, and other obstructions.
So who is the best satellite TV provider, DISH or DIRECTV?
While “best” is definitely subjective, when you have two providers who can cover all your favorite channels at reasonable prices, you can’t really go wrong. Both DISH and DIRECTV are excellent providers, but if we absolutely had to choose, we’d go with DISH for the Hopper DVR, transparent pricing, and a great selection of on demand programming available anywhere.