The TV industry is changing. We, the viewers, have demanded a more customizable experience for how we consume our favorite sports, shows, and series—and rightfully so. We like what we like, and we want it available for a reasonable price.
2018 top TV service providers breakdown
|Provider||Advertised price range*||Available Offers|
|Verizon Fios||$64.99–$89.99/mo.||View plans|
|Sling TV||$20–$40/mo.||View plans|
|DIRECTV NOW||$35–$70/mo.||View plans|
|PlayStation Vue||$39.99–$74.99/mo.||View plans|
Data effective 1/23/2019. Pricing and channel counts are subject to change. Not all offers available in all areas.
* TV providers change their prices more often than we change the channel during commercial breaks. Check out our “Understanding the contract” section below for more information on second-year price hikes, hidden fees, and more.
In response to our outcry, satellite providers, cable TV companies, and internet streaming services have given us more choices than ever before. Congratulations! We did it!
The best TV service providers overall:
- DIRECTV – Best for sports
- DISH – Best pricing
- Xfinity – Best all-around
- Verizon Fios TV – Best customer service
- Sling TV – Best budget streaming
But with all those sweet, sweet choices comes a different kind of problem: sifting through them. It’s a job that can get confusing and overwhelming really quickly when you start to dive into channel selections, availability, and pricing options.
To help you comb through your options, we’ve put together this overview of 2018’s best TV providers and based it on our individual, in-depth reviews of each company. We know that not everyone wants the same thing from their TV provider, so we broke it down by satellite, cable, fiber-optic, and streaming providers. We encourage you to use this as a quick comparison, and dive into our individual reviews for a more thorough rundown of the companies that catch your eye.
Best satellite TV service providers
There are really only two satellite TV providers that should even cross your radar at this point: DIRECTV and DISH. Many internet services like AT&T (AT&T U-verse TV), CenturyLink, and Frontier partner with either DIRECTV or DISH instead of pushing their own TV service, so we’re sticking to the two major players and their differences.
DIRECTV—best for sports
- NFL SUNDAY TICKET
- More full-time HD channels than anyone
- Genie HD DVR
In the world of live TV, football is king. So in that spirit, all hail NFL SUNDAY TICKET, First of Its Name, King of Weekend Primetime, Lord of the TV Ratings, and Protector of the Realm.
But seriously, DIRECTV is where it’s at if you’re a sports fan. On top of NFL SUNDAY TICKET, DIRECTV offers à la carte programming for most major sports leagues, including MLB EXTRA INNINGS®, NBA LEAGUE PASS, MLS Direct KickTM, and NHL® CENTER ICE®. Also, when you upgrade to the ENTERTAINMENT package, you’ll get ESPN, TNT, and TBS—which carry Monday Night Football, Inside the NBA, and the majority of college hoops (including March Madness) between them.
Did you know?
DIRECTV also offers more full-time high-definition (HD) channels than anyone, and it has the ability to record up to 200 hours of HD video content. So whether you’re tuning in to see Tom Brady’s piercing baby-blue eyes or just want to marvel at the realistic zombie makeup on The Walking Dead, you can expect a crystal clear picture for both live TV and recorded shows off your Genie DVR.
- Increased prices after 12 months
Second-year price hikes are a real bummer. DIRECTV racks up the price for the second year of your two-year agreement. That $40 per month you were paying for the ENTERTAINMENT package suddenly increases to $93 per month during year two.
We’re torn on this policy. On the one hand, you get a pretty good deal for the first year of service. But on the other hand, price hikes suck. Especially when your monthly price doubles for the second year. It’s a pretty big knock on DIRECTV. But as long as you’re aware of the jump up front, you can plan on it., and you still get a decent deal over the life of your contract.
|America's Top 120||$67.99/mo.||190||View Plan|
|America's Top 120 Plus||$72.99/mo.||190+||View Plan|
|America's Top 200||$82.99/mo.||240+||View Plan|
|America's Top 250||$92.99/mo.||290+||View Plan|
- Up-front pricing and cost-effective packages
- Hopper 3 Smart DVR
- Amazon Alexa integration
If sports aren’t your first priority, you might be better off with DISH. At first glance, DISH looks like it’s more expensive than DIRECTV, but unlike its competitor, DISH doesn’t jack up your price after the first year. You’ll pay the same price for the life of your contract. We appreciate that, and we love the transparency.
DISH also has the best DVR available. The Hopper 3 Smart DVR lets you record up to 16 shows at once, and you can record 2 ½ times more HD content (500 hours) than the Genie from DIRECTV (200 hours). However, keep in mind that the advertised package price doesn’t include the DVR price. You’ll have to pay an extra $10 per month for the Hopper and an additional $5–$10 per month for each added receiver.
We think it’s worth the upgrade to the Hopper though, because along with all the other awesome Hopper features, DISH has integrated Amazon Alexa voice commands into its DVR experience. No longer must you sift through the couch-cushion chasms to find your lost remote. You can simply tell Alexa to turn on This Is Us and cry your eyes out with the rest of us.
- Mediocre customer service reputation
It’s really not that big of a shock that a major TV provider has inconsistent customer service at best. We pitted DIRECTV and DISH against each other in the customer service department, and DISH falls short on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI1). From our experience, you can expect longer hold times with DISH’s customer service department.
Dive into our full review for more information on channel selection, Hopper capabilities, and set-up process with DISH.
Best cable TV service providers
- Xfinity from Comcast
There are a number of cable TV options out there, and most can be bundled with some kind of internet service package. We’re steering clear of the bundled prices for this review and comparing just the cable TV service options as standalones.
Across the board, cable TV providers suffer from poor customer service reviews, so we’re grading on a curve and pitting the companies against each other when it comes to what kind of experience they offer.
Xfinity—best all around
|Digital Starter||$59.99/mo.||190||View Plan|
|Digital Preferred||$69.99/mo.||190+||View Plan|
|Digital Premier||$79.99/mo.||240+||View Plan|
*Xfinity pricing varies by region
- Affordable package prices
- Popular channels included in basic package
- No-contract options
With the Digital Starter package starting at $49.99 per month, Xfinity comes in with the best all-around package out of all our recommended TV providers. The channel selection for Xfinity’s entry package is pretty similar to DISH’s base-level package (including channels like ESPN, TNT, AMC, and Discovery). It’s also a better bargain than the satellite service (and the next-closest cable TV provider, Spectrum) by about $10 per month.
Unlike the satellite TV companies, Xfinity offers no-contract plans. It does charge $10 more per month for non-contract services, but we feel like the small bump in price is worth that contract-free flexibility. Also, keep in mind that promotional pricing usually requires a minimum one-year contract.
- Additional fees*
- Poor customer service reputation
Sigh. Fees, amirite? Xfinity has plenty to watch out for. Regional sports fees ($5 per month), broadcast TV fees ($7 per month), DVR fees ($19.95 per month), additional receiver/multiple TV fee ($9.95 per month), and they can really start to add up quickly. Make sure to ask about any additional fees that may apply before you sign up.
Look, Xfinity offers a lot of great things, but a good customer service experience is just not one of them. And remember, we’re grading this on a curve. According to the ACSI, Comcast has been dead last (or close to it) for the last few years.
To be fair, Xfinity has many brick-and-mortar locations for customer service and our experience dealing with an Xfinity rep. face to face was much better than our experience over the phone. Unfortunately, these stores aren’t available in all areas.
For more details on packages, equipment, and our experience, read our full review of Xfinity.
*All fees are estimates based on information at the time of this writing. Xfinity fees can vary based on contract details and promotions.
Spectrum—best for no contract
|Spectrum Select TV||$44.99/mo.||125+||View Plan|
|Spectrum Silver TV||$84.99/mo.||175+||View Plan|
|Spectrum Gold TV||$104.99/mo.||200+||View Plan|
- No-contract service
- Good bargain for premium channels
After Charter Spectrum combined with Time Warner Cable to create the super cable company Spectrum, we were a little worried that the no-contract option might go down like a goat in a Tyrannosaur paddock. Luckily, Spectrum kept its most redeeming feature, and you can still sign up without being locked into a long-term commitment.
As far as content goes, Spectrum is relatively expensive for what it offers with one key exception. The Silver TV package gives you access to premium channels like HBO, SHOWTIME, and Cinemax for a better entry price than any other competitor ($84.99 per month). So if you’re really into premium channels, Spectrum might be your go-to for the best bargain.
- Lack of DVR choice
When we went through the ordering process for Spectrum and got all the way to the check-out, we realized we never got to choose which DVR we wanted. Spectrum offers both Motorola and Cisco DVRs (neither of which stand out from competitor DVRs like the Genie or Hopper 3), and as far as we can tell, you get whichever one Spectrum decides to send you.
Spectrum’s DVR service also records only up to 21 hours of HD footage and can record only two shows at once.
For channel information, equipment selection, and more detailed pricing, check out our full review of Spectrum.
- Customizable packages
Cox takes a different approach to cable TV packaging with its “Paks” options. Contour TV gives you a preselected channel base (and your choice of one premium channel like HBO, SHOWTIME, STARZ, or Cinemax). You can then add on Paks of additional channel options. It’s a pseudo-à-la-carte way to choose the channels that matter most to you.
We’re still on the fence about this approach. It needs some fine-tuning, in our opinion, but it gives you a little more control over the channels that are included in the price you’re paying.
- Paks that make the price higher than advertised
- High DVR costs
When you start adding Paks ($10–$16 per Pak per month) on top of your base service charge, your monthly price starts to go up pretty quickly. It’s nice to start so low, but don’t expect to get out at the advertised price. Also, keep in mind, most Paks are limited to the Contour TV package, so if you’re looking for more options, you’ll be starting at a higher base price.
Cox also charges more for its DVR services than competitors like Xfinity, even though both have similar capabilities. Cox charges $19.99 per month for the Record 6-HD DVR, which can record up to six shows at the same time. That’s double the price of Xfinity’s X1 DVR, which does the same thing.
If you want a more thorough rundown of Cox’s channel selection, equipment offerings, and pricing, read our full review.
Verizon Fios—best fiber-optic service
|Custom TV||$64.99/mo.||Choose your own||View Plan|
|Preferred HD||$74.99/mo.||280+||View Plan|
|Extreme HD||$79.99/mo.||355+||View Plan|
|Ultimate HD||$89.99/mo.||440+||View Plan|
- Fiber-optic connection
- No annual contract options
- Good customer service
Technically, Verizon Fios TV uses a fiber-optic connection, which isn’t the same as traditional cable. It looks and feels a lot like normal cable, but it’s actually a faster service—and it’s great if you’re connecting multiple devices and bundling your TV and internet together.
Like Xfinity, Verizon Fios TV offers no annual contract options. This contributes to the higher pricing (see “The bad” section below), but it’s nice not to be tied down if you need to cancel your service.
What is Custom TV?
Verizon Fios TV also has pretty good customer service in the realm of TV providers. We were impressed by how helpful and knowledgeable each representative was when we called Verizon’s customer support line. We’ll back up ACSI reporting that says Verizon has some of the best customer service of all TV service providers.
- High prices and additional fees*
Like we said, Verizon Fios TV offers contract-free TV, but that also means its monthly prices are some of the highest around. Verizon also has a lot of additional fees. You’ll pay an extra $13, $18, or $26 per month for a Fios DVR depending on which box you choose.
Check out more details on what Verizon Fios has to offer in our full review.
*All fees are estimates based on information at the time of this writing. Verizon Fios fees can vary based on contract details and promotions.
Best online TV streaming services
- Sling TV
- DIRECTV NOW
- PlayStation Vue
If you’re looking to cut the cord or if you’re on the fence between streaming, cable, and satellite, take a look at our top picks for live TV streaming services. Keep in mind these prices don’t include internet service charges (which you’ll need in order to stream), but you can check those out in our best internet for streaming article.
|Sling Orange||$20/mo.||25+||View Plan|
|Sling Blue||$25/mo.||45+||View Plan|
|Orange + Blue||$40/mo.||50+||View Plan|
- Low entry price
- Cloud DVR
Sling TV truly understands what cord-cutting is all about: saving money without missing out on your shows. At $20 per month, the Sling Orange package provides the best bargain around. The closest competitor (PS Vue) costs $10 more for its base package. Granted, Sling TV’s channel selection is smaller, but it also goes for quality over quantity.
For $5 more per month, Sling will let you record up to 50 hours of content, but it works only on select devices. Still, this is better than competitors like DIRECTV NOW, which don’t offer livestream recording yet.
- Fewer channels than competitors
With a low entry price comes a smaller selection of channels. In fact, you get almost 50% more channels with DIRECTV NOW or fubo TV than with Sling. We’re still in the camp that Sling gives you quality over quantity, and you can add over 20 different channel packages for $5–$10 each.
We give you a full breakdown of our experience with Sling TV, such as which devices work with Sling, and answer a bunch of FAQ’s in our full review.
DIRECTV NOW—best for movies
|Live a Little||$35/mo.||60+||View Plan|
|Just Right||$50/mo.||80+||View Plan|
|Go Big||$60/mo.||100+||View Plan|
|Gotta Have It||$70/mo.||120+||View Plan|
- Bargain-priced premium movie channels
- No contracts
DIRECTV NOW offers premium movie channel add-ons for ridiculously low prices—lower than the individual channels themselves, in fact.
DIRECTV NOW add-on price for premium movie channels
- HBO — $5/mo.
- Cinemax — $5/mo.
- SHOWTIME — $8/mo.
- STARZ — $8/mo.
Five bucks a month to watch the Mother of Dragons lay waste to all of Westeros? Yes, please! DIRECTV NOW is a cord-cutting premium-channel lover’s dream.
Perhaps the biggest selling point for DIRECTV NOW is that you get a DIRECTV experience without the contract or setup fees. There’s no need to install a satellite dish, so you don’t have to pay for that, and though the streaming service isn’t quite as robust as its satellite counterpart, you don’t have to sign a contract. It really makes it easier to stomach some of the higher-priced packages from DIRECTV NOW because, guess what? You can cancel anytime.
- No DVR (cloud DVR forthcoming)
- Inconsistent, sometimes buggy user experience
You can stream, sure, but can your record your shows? The answer: not yet. DIRECTV NOW is reportedly coming out with a cloud DVR later this year. So we’re keeping our popcorn-buttered fingers crossed that it happens, and we anticipate this becoming a point in DIRECTV NOW’s favor. But for now, you still can stream only live TV or watch on demand.
We ran into a weird issue when we tried pausing a live stream. It let us pause our show (because when you gotta go, you gotta go), but when we tried to resume and pushed play, the app skipped us ahead to the live stream. We ran into this problem only with live streams and not with on-demand shows and movies, We’re hoping this issue goes away when the cloud DVR feature launches, We’ll see. Right now it makes for a somewhat buggy experience.
For a more in-depth breakdown of DIRECTV NOW’s pricing, channel selection, and user experience, check out our full review.
fuboTV—best for sports
|fubo Premier||$34.99/mo.||62+||View Plan|
|fubo Latino||$14.99/mo.||13+||View Plan|
|fubo Português||$19.99/mo.||6+||View Plan|
- Lots of sports (especially soccer—that is, fútbol)
- Latino and Português package options
- Best cloud DVR
For all-around TV, fubo is pretty average, but it towers over the competition when it comes to sports—think Patrick Ewing over Muggsy Bogues (yes, that’s a Space Jam reference). fubo especially caters to soccer (fútbol) fans with channels like Fox Soccer Plus, FS1, FS2, Fox Deportes, ESPN Deportes, beIN SPORTS, NBCSN Telemundo, and Univison.
The more you know
fubo also boasts the best cloud DVR out of all our recommended live TV streaming services. DVR service is included in fubo’s monthly price, unlike Sling TV ($5 add-on). The free version allows for only 30 hours of recorded content, but you can upgrade for $10 a month and get up to 500 hours.
- Sports-heavy content isn’t for everyone
- Minimalist interface
With such a heavy focus on sports, fubo is pretty average when it comes to other TV offerings, and you’ll probably get more non-sports for the price with another service.
fubo’s minimalist interface leaves something to be desired. Playback timelines for live streams aren’t always available, so if you haven’t set your stream to record already, you won’t be able to rewind and play back that amazing golazo.
We talk about fuboTV in detail, covering channel add-ons, equipment, pricing, and more, in our full review.
PlayStation Vue—best interface
- Best user interface
- Closest feel to satellite or cable
PlayStation Vue’s interface feels much smoother than any other streaming service we’ve tested. It really starts with the attention to detail. PlayStation Vue clearly labels channels and “On Demand” content up in the top right-hand corner of the screen. This makes it easier to differentiate live content vs. on-demand content and surf for other shows that particular network has to offer.
We like that you can add shows and networks to your “favorites” by simply clicking the check mark next to the other icons in the top right corner.
It’s these little things, plus the channel offerings, that make PlayStation Vue feel more like a traditional TV service (even though it’s not). You also get free DVR service with PlayStation Vue and can store an unlimited number shows for up to a month before they get automatically deleted. We really like the recording features that PlayStation Vue offers, but the downside is that you can only record one show at a time.
- High prices
- Use limited to your in-home network
PlayStation Vue plans aren’t that much cheaper than traditional cable or satellite, so it’s probably not the best option if you‘re cutting the cord to save money. It does offer a 5-day free trial, so you can test it out (two days shorter than any other streaming service), but make sure to cancel by day five, or you‘ll be charged for the whole month.
One of the biggest bummers for PlayStation Vue is that it’s limited to your in-home network. PlayStation tracks your IP address and won’t let you sign in from any other IP, so you can forget signing in at your friend’s house for a watch party, You’ll have to do those dishes after all and host the party yourself.
To get the full rundown on PlayStation Vue, check out or in-depth review.
Best TV service providers recap
- DIRECTV reigns supreme for sports fans and HD content.
- DISH has the best pricing and a killer DVR in the Hopper 3.
- Xfinity offers the best all-around service with affordable pricing, no-contract options, and the X1 DVR. It struggles with customer service, though.
- Spectrum has good bargain pricing on premium movie channels,
- Cox’s customizable packages feels almost like à-la-carte cable.
- Verizon Fios TV is definitely not cable. Fiber-optic technology gives a fast, reliable network for both TV and internet.
- DIRECTV NOW offers low-cost premium movie channels and no-contract DIRECTV content.
- Sling TV is the best overall streaming service that channels the true spirit of cord-cutting with its low entry prices and sweet cloud DVR.
- fuboTV is the clear streaming leader for sports fans and Spanish- or Portuguese-language content.
What you should know about TV service
What is a TV service provider?
TV service providers are companies that make it possible for you to get television programming in your home. Whether you like sports, movies, or other entertainment, you need some sort of connection to access your favorite content.
Types of TV service
- Fiber optic
- Digital streaming (requires internet connection)
TV service providers offer a variety of plans, channel choices, and technology to fit different needs. We recommend researching multiple options before deciding which TV provider will work best for you.
Satellite vs. cable vs. live streaming
Satellite, cable, and live streaming all do the same thing in very different ways, and knowing how they differ from one another can help you make the decision that’s right for you. Here’s a breakdown of how each type of TV provider delivers that content to your living room and a few key things to consider before making your choice.
Going with a satellite provider generally gives you more HD channels than cable or livestreaming (especially movie channels). Satellite is also available in many rural areas where cable is not. So you can still keep up with the Kardashians even if you live outside of your local cable company’s area of service.
Although satellite providers like to jack up your monthly price during the second year of service, satellite usually comes out as a better deal in the long run price-wise.
The downside is that you have to have a satellite dish installed on your roof, which can mean extra installation fees. And if you’re like us, sometimes your signal can get interrupted by bad weather. (We know we’ve had to bundle up to knock the snow off the ol’ satellite dish a time or two during a football game.)
Cable is all about consistency. You won’t have the same service interruptions that you see with satellite (bad weather and all that) because cable TV is connected directly via, well, cable.
And even though the monthly price generally starts off higher than satellite, you won’t see the same kind of second-year price hikes with cable. This makes it easier to budget for up front since you won’t be falling for sweet promotional deals that come back to haunt your bank account in 12 months. Also, because cable doesn’t require contracts, you have a lot more flexibility than satellite. Unfortunately, if you live in a rural area, you may not have cable as an option.
Livestreaming, TV’s new kid on the block, has a lot going for it. It’s a more à-la-carte-style approach, so you can pick the programming and price point that fit you best. Live TV streaming provides some of the lowest prices out there, while still offering you a lot of the programming you’re looking for.
The big downside to livestreaming so far is simply that your channels and options are more limited with streaming services. Many offer add-on packages that can get you up to the same amount of channels as satellite or cable, but by the time you add everything on, you’re paying the same or more anyway.
Livestreaming also relies on your internet service. In order to stream content, you need an internet connection fast enough to handle it. This means if you live in a more rural area, streaming services might not be an option for you. Internet service is separate from the cost you pay for your livestreaming service.
Understanding the contract
The most common reasons for unhappy customers (and with TV providers, there are a lot of them) usually lie within the contract. Strict cancellation policies, sudden price changes, and added fees all contribute to the internet’s hatefire toward TV providers.
We’re right there with you. We want these providers to be more transparent and up-front about these things. But for now, it’s on us, the consumers, to dig into contracts and understand what we’re getting ourselves into. Let’s do this together.
Early termination fees
For services like cable and livestreaming that don’t require contracts, this isn’t a problem. Early termination fees only apply when you’ve signed a long-term agreement that you’re trying to get out of. (We’re looking at you, satellite providers.)
For example, DIRECTV charges $20 a month for every month remaining on your contract. So if you need to get out of your contract but you still have nine months left, you’re looking at a cool $180 plus a $15 deactivation fee. It’s steep, for sure, but it’s all in the contract agreement. Make sure to ask your provider about early termination fees before you sign, just in case.
We’ve mentioned it several times already, but the second-year price hike that some providers have can be a killer. This is where you get a promotional price for the first 12 months and things are looking good, when all of a sudden you open your bill a year after signing up and it’s a higher price than expected.
It’s definitely not good for your blood pressure, but if you’re careful, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. This practice is most common with DIRECTV, but make sure to ask about any price changes that may happen after your promotional period ends, just so you’re not blindsided with a giant bill.
Cheapest TV provider
Here’s a list of our recommended TV providers ranked from cheapest to most expensive per month.
- fuboTV — Live streaming ($14.99–$39.99 per month)
- Sling TV — Live streaming ($20–$40 per month)
- DIRECTV NOW — Live streaming ($35–$70 per month)
- DIRECTV — Satellite ($35–$110 per month)
- PlayStation Vue — Live streaming ($39.99–$74.99 per month)
- Xfinity — Cable ($49.99–$104.99 per month)
- DISH — Satellite ($67.99–$92.99 per month)
- Cox — Cable ($64.99 per month)
- Verizon Fios — Fiber-optic ($64.99–$89.99 per month)
- Spectrum — Cable ($64.99–$104.99 per month)
Hidden fees are the worst. We all know it. Here’s a list of the ones to watch out for:
- Activation fees
- Installation fees
- Equipment fees (DVRs, receivers, routers, etc.)
- Regional sports fees
- Broadcasting fees
- Premium channel costs (HBO, SHOWTIME, Cinemax etc.)
What matters most to you?
We want to know what matters most to you! Let us know what criteria you look for in TV service, how you compare TV packages, and what you’ve come to expect from the major TV providers. Leave us a comment below, explaining what you’d like us to review in future posts or which TV brands we should add to our comparison.
1. American Customer Satisfaction Index, “Wireless Competition Boosts Customer Satisfaction While Pay TV Fades”