The Best TV Providers

To find the best providers, we looked at the biggest companies out there — the ones we know you’ll encounter in your search for prime-time entertainment. Then, we separated the best from the rest by looking at customer experience, packages, and DVR options.

Our Top Picks for the Best TV Providers

Best Sports Package
DIRECTV
DIRECTV
The largest satellite TV provider stands out for its comprehensive "Premier" package that includes over 50 sports channels, plus all other premium channels.
Pros
DVR comes standard
Impressive customer satisfaction ratings
Available everywhere
Cons
Not the cheapest
Bundling comes with extra fees
Requires professional installation

Why We Chose It

Comprehensive packages

Now owned by AT&T, DirecTV is the largest satellite TV provider with availability in all 50 states. If you want the best (and don’t mind paying extra for it), DirecTV has it all: comprehensive channel packages, award-winning customer service, and the best sports package around.

If you’re a sports fiend, you no longer have to resort to sketchy streaming sites to watch international soccer matches and local basketball games. The DirecTV sports pack contains over 50 sports channels, plus the NFL Sunday ticket unlocks exclusive football coverage.

DVR comes standard — and includes a lot

All monthly plans include DVR service and equipment for up to four televisions. The DVR, called Genie HD, can restart live shows, record five shows at once, store 200 hours of HD content, and use your phone as a remote with the DirecTV App. Want to keep an eye on the competition while watching your team advance in the playoffs? You can view eight sports broadcast on one HD channel. Or if you need to tune in to the game while someone else watches Spongebob, you can split the screen with Picture-in-Picture and watch any two shows side by side.

Phenomenal customer service

DirecTV dominates customer service surveys. J.D. Power, which grouped scores for both of AT&T’s properties (AT&T TV and DirecTV) awarded it the 2017 J.D. Power U.S. Residential Television Service Provider Satisfaction Study. DirecTV also earned a 67 from Consumer Reports, one point below Dish Network, and 68 percent from the ACSI, just a few points below Verizon Fios’ score of 71 percent. Overall, in comparison to other TV providers, you can expect fewer outages, clearer communication, and better customer service from DirecTV.

Lots of package options

You have six packages to choose from, ranging from the cheapest, Select, which includes 155+ channels around $50 (comparable to some of the more affordable channel packages from other providers on our list) to Premier, approximately $125 for 330+ channels. That top tier includes all premium channels and the DirecTV Sports Pack.

Another huge boost to DirecTV value: every plan comes with three months of free premium channels, and then it’s $54 each month for all four (HBO, STARZ, SHOWTIME, and Cinemax). If you want that access beyond the initial months of service, choose the Premier package, which includes all premium and sports channels.

All the sports, all the time

DirecTV’s big claim to sports fame: the NFL Sunday Ticket, an exclusive package covering all things football, including out-of-market games. It even includes Fantasy Zone — a DirecTV-exclusive channel devoted to fantasy football. There’s also Short Cuts, a feature that gives 30-minute commercial free recaps of entire games. Currently, the NFL Sunday Ticket costs about $282 for the season.

To get all the other sports, the DirecTV Sports Pack unlocks 30 regional sports networks, MLB Network Strike Zone/Extra Innings, ESPN Buzzer Beater, international soccer, specialty sports, and more. The pack is just $14 more each month, and it’s included in the Premier package.

Points to Consider

No option to DIY

Because satellite TV requires attaching a satellite dish to the outside of your home, DirecTV doesn’t allow you to do it yourself. You’ll have to carve out time for a technician to visit, but, on the plus side, installation is totally free.

If you bundle, you’ll pay extra to expand your services’ limits

Looking to bundle AT&T internet with DirecTV? Expect to pay an extra $30 per month for internet speeds up to 50 Mbps. You can also add landline phone service for an additional $10 per month.

Build Your Own TV / Internet Bundle
AT&T U-verse
AT&T U-verse
AT&T lets you choose exactly the services you want. Take your pick of any combination of TV, internet, or phone plan listed on its website.
Pros
Most widely available fiber-optic provider
Really cheap cable
Build a bundle out of the packages of your choice
Cons
Still not available in 29 states
Limited channels in basic plans

Why We Chose It

Lots of availability, lots of package options

With a presence in 21 states (AL, AK, CA, FL, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MI, MS, MO, NE, NV, NC, OH, OK, SC, TN, TX, WI), AT&T is the most widely available fiber-optic TV provider. It also boasts an equally wide range of package options. Plans start at 20 channels and reach up to 550. Better yet, AT&T lets you build your own double- or triple-play bundle — combine any TV, internet, or phone plan for a steep discount.

Unique sports options

Of the higher tiers, the AT&T Sports Package stands out for the sports fan and includes unique offerings like the Outdoor Channel, HorseRacing TV, and college sports, plus the essentials like ESPNU and the NFL Network, for only $10 per month.

Bundle your way

AT&T lets you build your own bundle, and that’s where it really stands out. You can pair any of its internet and TV packages, which allows you to go big or small in different areas as your usage dictates. Typically, you save around $30 on internet by adding it to your TV plan.

Points to Consider

Not available everywhere

While its 21-state reach is the best of all fiber-optic providers, it still leaves over half the country out in the cold.

Basic means basic

AT&T’s basic plan gives you really cheap cable access, straight up. But it’s not a particularly good value. Its 20 channels only include common networks like CW, CBS, PBS, NBC, and ABC. If you watch anything outside of basic network shows, you’ll want to look at those higher tiers to get more bang for your buck. Jump to the next tier (Family or 250) to unlock 100 channels. All plans include three months of free HBO and Cinemax. After that, you’ll have to pay a monthly $14–$16 fee for either.

Like its entry-level plans, AT&T’s DVR — Total Home DVR — doesn’t offer more than standard features. You can record four shows at once, store 422 hours of SD or 155 hours of HD content, and program the DVR from a wireless app.

Good product, so-so customer service

AT&T TV, along with DirecTV, had a part in winning AT&T the J.D. Power award. It also earned a 70 percent from ACSI, and a 63 from Consumer Reports. But while CR readers rated it “good” in channel selection and equipment, it got a “poor” in customer service. The scores still beat Charter Spectrum (58) and Xfinity from Comcast (55).

Most Customizable Channel Package
Verizon FiOS
Verizon Fios TV
Its custom plan offers quality over quantity. Get all the basic cable channels, plus your choice of channel pack.
Pros
Genre-specific channel packages
Plenty of add-ons
Good customer service ratings
Cons
Available in just 8 states

Why We Chose It

Get a crafted package containing all your favorites

The Custom TV plan allows you to choose one channel package based on your channel preferences: Lifestyle & Reality, Kids & Pop, Home & Family, and Sports & News. But the channels included in each genre bundle aren’t exclusive to just one bundle. For example, if you like Animal Planet, you can choose from Kids & Pop, News & Variety, and Infotainment & Drama packs — it’s included in all of them.

The traditional plans cover more ground

If you really only want the few channels you regularly watch, the Custom TV Plan does the trick. But if you and the other people in your home have vastly different TV preferences, Fios has traditional TV plans too, and we found the standard plans to be a much better deal. Its starter plan, Preferred HD, unlocks hundreds of channels and covers everything included in the custom plan’s packages. If you don’t mind paying an extra $10 per month, this gets you everything offered in the custom plan, plus the extra channels in every genre bundle.

Plenty of premium add-ons

Showtime, Cinemax, and Epix are included in the Ultimate HD plan ($90 per month), or you can add all five premium channels to a cheaper plan for $40 extra.

Verizon has a few different options for sports packages, too. You can purchase individual season passes, or the $14 monthly Sports Pass that features extreme sports, outdoor sports, football, soccer, college sports, and more.

DVR and bundling come in your favorite flavor, too

Verizon offers three different DVR services to choose from, depending on how much TV you record. They can hold 50, 100, or 200 hours of HD content, can connect to one, five, or 12 TVs, and can simultaneously record two, six, or 12 shows. You can manage your DVR settings and remote control from the Verizon Fios mobile app, too.

If you want to add internet and phone, you can build your own bundle as well. The Triple Play bundle is $95 for a 150 Mbps connection, a home phone, the Preferred HD TV plan, and one year of free HBO. That’s way cheaper than Comcast’s $150 bundle with the same number of channels and only 100 Mbps.

Impressive ratings

Verizon Fios received a 5 out of 5 from J.D. Power in all categories, received the highest rating from ACSI with a 71 percent, and its 69 reader score from Consumer Reports is the highest out of our picks. These high scores speak to Verizon’s reliability, channel selection, and clearer-than-average communication.

Points to Consider

Good work if you can get it

Verizon Fios only available in eight states (DE, MD, MA, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VA). But if you live on the East coast, its packages are well worth a look. The Custom TV plan presents the choice of a channel package based on type of viewer and genre of channels — a unique option no other provider offered.

Best Hi-Tech DVR
DISH Network
DISH TV
The Hopper 3 is the smartest DVR out there. It can record 2,000 hours of TV, auto-skip through commercials, and run built-in apps.
Pros
Best DVR system on the market
Nationwide availability
Cons
Less impressive packages and channels compared to DirecTV

Why We Chose It

Nice packages, plus perks

Dish’s channel packages start at 120+ for approximately $60. The America’s Top 120+ package comes with the majority of popular channels. That’s $20 more for only 20 more channels than Xfinity’s Digital Economy package. If you want premium channels and full access to international and regional sports you’ll want to look at upgrading to the America’s Top 250+. Dish plans include a full year of free HBO, plus all the rest of the premium channels are free for three months. After promos, each premium channel cost $6–$15 extra.

The sports package competes with DirecTV’s

Dish’s sports package is only $13 each month for over 35 different networks. This includes NFL Network and Red One, MLB, beIN, and regional sport channels like Longhorn Network. You can also purchase season and league passes for all kinds of sports. You can also purchase individual league passes for access to one specific sports season (this is an option for most providers too).

Stand-out DVR capabilities

The Hopper 3 DVR is the most enticing Dish feature. It blows away the competition with its ability to record 16 shows at once, store 2,000 hours of content, pay your bill, auto-skip commercials on prime-time recordings, set advanced parental controls on different TVs, and learn about the messaging in shows before your kids watch them. You can even use it to help find your remote! As with Xfinity’s DVR, Netflix is built-in. You can also access apps like The Weather Channel, Pandora, and YouTube — you don’t have to hop between apps when deciding what to watch.

Get free equipment when you bundle

Add internet with speeds of 40 Mbps for an additional $50 and unlock free installation and a free modem. If you want to add a landline phone too, you’ll need to call and inquire about options for your area.

Good reputation for customer service

Another J.D. Power award winner, Dish Network scored 5 out of 5 in all categories except programming (it has comparatively fewer HD channels, and its channel guide isn’t as user-friendly). Readers from Consumer Reports gave it a 68 percent, tied with Verizon Fios for the highest score out of our picks. Dish was rated “Good” in reliability, technical support, channel selection, and equipment. The ACSI gave it a 67 percent, again the second-highest from our picks — just a single point below DirecTV.

Points to Consider

Its packages and channel options aren’t stellar

If you’re a dedicated satellite user, and a power-TV watcher, you will be more impressed with DirecTV’s line-up of channels and specialty packes, though you’ll generally pay a little more than you would with Dish.

Cheap Bundle Deals
Comcast XFINITY
Comcast XFINITY
Comcast may get a bad rap for its customer service, but its TV and internet plans are some of the cheapest we found.
Pros
The most reasonable way to get traditional cable
Big DVR capacity for storage and simultaneous recording
Cons
Poor customer service scores

Why We Chose It

Great value

There’s no two ways about it — Xfinity from Comcast is a great deal. And if you’re looking to bundle, you stand to save even more. TV and internet bundles start at around $40 with the Internet Plus Choice plan — that’s the cheapest we found. And if you want triple-digit internet speeds and channels, add internet to the Digital Premier TV plan with speeds of 100 Mbps for an extra $25. But if you want to add a landline phone, know that Comcast charges a steeper-than-average $20 fee.

Economic but satisfying channel lineup

TV-only packages range from 100+ to 200+ channels. On the lower end, Digital Economy, provides the majority of popular channels like A&E, AMC, E!, Food Network, Lifetime, and Disney Channel. Its biggest plan, Digital Premier, includes all sport and premium channels. But you won’t find any premium promos advertised here. Get HBO and Starz with Digital Preferred or Digital Premium or tack them on individually for an additional $10.

When it comes to sport plans, Xfinity’s pales in comparison to Dish and DirecTV. It offers a Sports Entertainment Package for an additional $5 to $10, but most of the sport channels are included in packages that you could supplement with season passes — a better option if you’re just interested in a few specific sports prefer excessive coverage of all games.

Solid DVR

Xfinity has a pretty good DVR called X1, but it does charge an additional $10 per month for DVR service. With 300 hours of SD and 60 hours of HD content storage, you can record up to six shows at once. It is also the only provider besides Dish to build Netflix into the DVR. You can search its entire catalog via voice on the remote.

The X1 is also the only DVR to allow you to take your library with you — you can download your shows to watch even when you’re offline — on your commute, long flights, or when staying somewhere remote.

Points to Consider

Not available in all states

If you fall in the 39 states Comcast services (AL, AZ, AK, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, OH, OR, PA, SC, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI) you can snag a truly bargainous cable package. If you live in one of the remaining eleven states, you’ll need to compare the prices of other providers.

Poor customer service

Comcast has a reputation for having pretty bad customer service, particularly with conflicting communication and sneaky fees. J.D. Power gave it 2 out of five power circles, but that still put it above Charter Spectrum in the East region. Consumer Reports scored Xfinity “Poor” in customer service and technical support and it earned an overall 55, barely beating out Mediacom’s score of 50.

Compared to our other top picks, you’re more likely to experience service issues, inexperienced customer service reps, and potential billing miscommunications. That said, Comcast is making improvements, and its scores have raised slightly in recent years.

Guide to TV Providers

How to choose the right TV provider

Figure out which channels you’ll actually watch

In 2016, Nielsen Company found that only about 19 channels were being watched by consumers who were paying for an average of 200. That’s less than 10 percent. To make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck, think about the channels you watch on a regular basis, and then compare providers and plans to see which options include everything on your list. Then weigh the perks. What do you value most — painless customer service, cheap monthly rates, premium channels? It’s your choice to make.

Note any fees and expenses beyond the per-month price

We all want to see a low monthly bill. Ensuring that the price you pay is the attractive pricing you signed up for means keeping an eye peeled for additional fees. One-time fees, like for installation and equipment, are common, and can only plague you once. Other, more uncommon fees, like broadcast or HD, might surprise you, and keep surprising you month after month. Check with a sales rep or consult the fine print before okaying the contract.

Watch out for rate increases

TV providers hook you with a low price, but chances are you won’t be paying at that rate forever. When the promotional deal expires, you want to be sure that your monthly bill won’t make you wince for the remainder of your contract. Luckily, most companies are willing to cut you another deal once the introductory period is up — you just have to call and ask.

TV Provider FAQs

What about the best local TV providers?

While we didn’t look at providers whose service is restricted to just a few cities, if a regional provider is an option for you, it might be your best bet. Because they have fewer customers, they typically have higher customer service ratings and overall better quality. If you’re lucky enough to live in the service area for EPB Fiber-Optics or Armstrong Cable, for example, go with them.

What about Charter Spectrum?

Charter Spectrum TV, available in 37 states, is one of the more popular options, but its plans weren’t special enough to make it into our top picks. It also had some of the worst customer satisfaction scores (Poor and Fair from Consumer Reports, and a mere two Power Circles from JD Power).

What if I want to stream?

If you’re ready to throw in the towel with cable and satellite, there are a number of ways to exclusively watch TV online. You’ll still likely have a relationship with a traditional provider, however, as you’ll still need to maintain a relationship with an internet service provider and many are rolling out their own streaming services.

If you’re more comfortable closer to the traditional paid TV service, AT&T has its own streaming service, called DirecTV NOW. Sling TV also operates more like the traditional TV provider — you pay for a set of channels.

Interested in à la carte streaming services like Netflix or devices like the Amazon Fire TV stick? Check out our review of the best TV streaming services.

What’s the difference between satellite and fiber optic TV?

Satellite TV tends to have clearer HD picture, but a fiber-optic connection is typically more reliable. A satellite dish is susceptible to everything from heavy rain to fly balls.

Compare the Best TV Providers

DIRECTV AT&T
U-verse
Verizon Fios TV DISH TV Comcast XFINITY
The best
Sports package
Build your own bundle
Custom channel package
Hi-tech DVR
Cheap bundle deals
States serviced
50
21
9
50
40
Contract length
24 months
12 months
24 months
24 months
12 or 24 months
No-contract option
Free receiver / DVR
Free installation
View plans
View plans
View plans
View plans
View plans

Our Other TV Provider Reviews

We’ve been researching TV Providers for several years now. For a deeper dive into plans and pricing, check out our other reviews: