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.

The 6 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
Comprehensive packages
DVR comes standard - and includes a lot
Phenomenal customer service
Lots of package options
All the sports, all the time
Cons
Requires professional installation
Bundling comes with extra fees

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 66 from Consumer Reports, a couple points below Dish Network, and 64 from the ACSI, just a few points below Verizon Fios’ score of 68 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

Requires professional installation

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.

Bundling comes with extra fees

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-$20 per month. Though DIRECTV offers its television service in all 50 states, AT&T internet isn’t as easy to come by. Depending on where you live, AT&T may pair you up with another partner provider like CenturyLink, HughesNet, or Mediacom.

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
Nice packages, plus perks
Competitive sports package
Stand-out DVR capabilities
Good customer service reputation
Cons
Packages and channel options second place to DIRECTV

Why We Chose It

Nice packages, plus perks

DISH’s channel packages start at 120+ for approximately $60 per month. 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.

Competitive sports package

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, or 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.

Good customer service reputation

Another J.D. Power award winner, DISH Network scored 5/5 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 69, the highest score out of our picks. DISH was rated “Good” in reliability, technical support, customer service, and equipment. The ACSI gave it a 67, the second-highest of our picks — just a single point below Verizon FiOS.

Points to Consider

Packages and channel options second place to DIRECTV

If you’re a dedicated satellite user and a power-TV watcher, you’ll be more impressed with DIRECTV’s line-up of channels and specialty packages, though you’ll generally pay a little more than you would with DISH. DIRECTV offers double the number of package options and more add-ons. Since they’re both satellite providers, chances are you’ll have the option of either one for your home no matter where you live, so compare their specific offerings to see how they measure up to your own viewing habits.

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
Bundle your way Reliable DVR
Cons
Basic means basic
Still not available in 29 states
Small plans, limited sports

Why We Chose It

Most widely available fiber-optic provider

With a presence in 21 states (AL, AK, CA, FL, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MI, MS, MO, NC, NE, NV, 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 (though full availability of those packages is rare). 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.

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 (available to your address), which allows you to go big or small in different areas as your usage dictates. Typically, you can save around $30 on internet by adding it to your TV plan.

Reliable DVR

AT&T’s DVR — Total Home DVR — offers the standard features you’d expect: 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.

Points to Consider

Basic means basic

AT&T’s basic plan gives you really cheap cable access, straight up. But it’s not particularly good value. Its 20 channels 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.

Not available everywhere

While its 21-state reach is the best of all fiber-optic providers, AT&T still leaves over half the country out in the cold. For those looking to bundle, its internet service has the same availability. So even if you opt for the 50-state DIRECTV, bundling with AT&T’s fiber service is limited.

Small plans, limited sports

Unlike like its counterpart, DIRECTV, AT&T’s U-verse has limited channel packages. For most addresses, you may only have its 180+ channel package available — especially when bundling. Some locations may have five channel packages to choose from, but none will host the robust sports offerings of U-Verse’s competitors. If you like to keep your TV simple, this won’t be a problem. But for split-screen sport fanatics, you’ll want to consider another provider.

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
Crafted packages containing all your favorites
Traditional plans cover more ground
Plenty of add-ons
DVR and bundling options
Good customer service ratings
Cons
Limited availability

Why We Chose It

Crafted packages containing all your favorites

If you really only want the few channels you regularly watch, Fios has you covered. 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 get it in your Kids & Pop, News & Variety, or Infotainment & Drama pack.

Traditional plans cover more ground

If the 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 all the channels from 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 options

Verizon offers three different DVR services to choose from, depending on how much TV you want to 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.

Good customer service ratings

Verizon Fios received a 5/5 from J.D. Power in all categories, received the highest rating from ACSI with a 68, and its 67 reader score from Consumer Reports is the second-highest out of our picks (on par with DISH TV). These high scores speak to Verizon’s reliability, channel selection, and clearer-than-average communication.

Points to Consider

Limited availability

Verizon Fios only available in eight states (DE, MA, MD, 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 offers.

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
Great value
Economic but satisfying channel lineup
Solid DVR
Cons
Not available in all states
Poor customer service

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 per month 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 per month. However, 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 per month.

When it comes to sport plans, Xfinity pales in comparison to DISH and DIRECTV. It offers a Sports Entertainment Package for an additional $5 to $10 per month, but most of the sport channels are included in packages that you could supplement with season passes — a better option if you’re only interested in a few specific sports.

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, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OR, PA, SC, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV) you can snag a bargain cable package. If you live in one of the remaining eleven states, you’ll need to look elsewhere for a deal.

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 2/5, although 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 61, barely beating out Spectrum’s score of 60. 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.

No contracts
Charter Spectrum
Charter Spectrum
With no contracts and a 30-day money-back guarantee, Spectrum customers have the flexibility to change providers.
Pros
Big channel packages and fast internet
No contracts and a 30-day money-back guarantee
Service bundling and transfer incentives
Cons
Spotty customer service

Why we chose it

Big channel packages and fast internet

Spectrum’s service is pretty go-big or go-home. Its channel packages start at 125+ and its internet speeds are 60, 100, or 200 Mbps. For some context, the average U.S. household has internet speeds of around 40 Mbps. Most people won’t need as much as Spectrum offers, but heavy internet users will appreciate the option to bundle high speed connection with their TV service.

No contracts and a 30-day money-back guarantee

While some providers may offer contract-free service, they often lack introductory discounts. Charter Spectrum, on the other hand is completely contract-free and still comes with enticing promo-pricing. Contract-free means you can quit at any time, but if you end your service within 30-days, you’ll get your money back.

Service bundling and transfer incentives

If you’re looking to bundle the telecommunications trifecta — phone, internet, and TV — Charter Spectrum’s Triple Play bundle is hard to beat. First off, if you’re looking to switch from another provider, Spectrum will help Triple Play customers buyout their current contracts up to $500. You’ll also get free installation ($35), WiFi setup ($10), and DVR service for a year ($13 per month).

Points to consider

Spotty customer service

Your experience with Charter Spectrum will vary depending on your region. It generally fell behind the pack in nationwide ratings, with a 58 from the ACSI and a 60 from Consumer Reports. With J.D. Power, it came dead last with 2/5 in the East and North Central. But in the West and South regions, Spectrum beat out four other providers with a 3/5. Customers in the southern states can expect satisfactory service, but other regions may want to consider another provider.

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%! 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 without making you pay more for extras. Then, weigh the perks of your finalists. 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. However, other unusual fees, like broadcast or HD, might surprise you, and can keep surprising you month after month. Check with a sales rep or consult the fine print before signing your contract.

Watch out for rate increases

TV providers hook you with a low price, but chances are you won’t be paying 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 — go with them.

What about cable alternatives and streaming TV?

If you’re ready to throw in the towel with cable and satellite, there are a number of ways to watch TV exclusively online. Many internet service providers 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 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, while fiber-optic is safely below ground. The biggest difference between the two is availability. Since satellite technology exists in space, all 50 states can turn a dish to the sky, whereas fiber-optic technology has to be built out in each neighborhood it services.

Compare the Best TV Providers

DIRECTV
DISH TV
AT&T
U-verse
Verizon Fios TV
Comcast XFINITY
Charter Spectrum
The best
Sports package
Hi-tech DVR
Build your own bundle
Custom channel package
Cheap bundle deals
No contracts
States serviced
50
50
21
9
40
37
Contract length
24 months
24 months
12 months
24 months
12 or 24 months
None
No-contract option
Free receiver / DVR
Free installation
View plans
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: