The 2 best satellite tv providers

Best Sports Package
DIRECTV
Pros
Sports programming
Strong customer service
Wireless bundling
Cons
Mediocre DVR
Post-contract price jump

Why we chose it

Exclusive Sports Programming

Sport fanatics and loyalists take note — DIRECTV offers the most comprehensive programming packages for all your competitive television. Specifically, you can have access to its exclusive NFL Sunday Ticket package, that covers all things football (even out-of-market games). The package also include a fantasy football channel called Fantasy Zone, and a Short Cuts channel that gives 30-minute commercial-free recaps of games. It currently costs $294 for the season, but tends to incrementally increase each year.

For more varied sports viewing, DIRECTV’s Sports Pack is an additional $14 each month, and offers up 30 regional networks, MLB Network Strike Zone/Extra Innings, ESPN Buzzer Beater, international soccer, specialty sports, and more. If you choose the Premier package tier, everything in the Sports Pack comes included.

Consistent Customer Service

DIRECTV consistently places best-in-class for customer service. From the ACSI, it earned 68/100. Thought 68 seems pretty pale, the score beats every other satellite and cable TV provider. J.D. Power also ranked DIRECTV as 5/5 in overall satisfaction. These kinds of metrics will help ensure more consistent reliability, accurate billing, and painless interactions.

Wireless Bundling

DIRECTV is the only satellite TV provider that will allow you to bundle with your cell phone service. If you’re in the market for a phone plan, you can pair DIRECTV and AT&T Wireless and save about $15 per month. You can also add internet service with speeds up to 50 Mbps — a sizable amount for most households.

Points to consider

Medicore DVR

DIRECTV isn’t bringing anything new to the market with its Genie HD DVR. It lets you record five shows simultaneously, and has 200 hours of HD storage — that’s not even half of the capacity DISH Network’s DVR offers. That should be enough for most homes, but DISH’s DVR will offer a near limitless library. On the plus side, there’s no monthly fee for the Genie DVR.

Post-contract Price Jump

Although its initial promo prices are fairly affordable for new customers ($35-$110), its post-contract price hike will more than double your monthly bill. After a two year contract, your channel package could cost you between $78 and $181. Compared to DISH’s $20 price hike, it seems especially expensive. However, because DISH’s prices start higher, you’ll end up near the same price after contracts expire. And because it’s pretty easy to call and request to extend your promo prices, it may be worth a lower starting cost.

Pros
Advanced DVR
Stellar customer service
HD portable service
Cons
Limited bundling options
Expensive plans

Why we chose it

Advanced DVR

DISH’s Hopper 3 DVR is incredibly ahead of the market. It has the capacity to record 16 shows simultaneously, and store 500 hours of HD content. For some context, you only need about 100 hours to store all nine seasons of The Office. The Hopper can also help you find your remote, pay your bill through your TV, and skip commercials and prime-time recordings. If you’re looking to truly elevate your entertainment experience, and especially if you like to record lots of shows and movies, you’ll want to consider DISH.

Impressive Customer Service

DISH customers tend to be comparatively satisfied with their service, and the company is rated well by J.D. Power and Consumer Reports. In every region except the West, DISH Network beat out DIRECTV in the J.D. Power survey, averaging 5/5 in all metrics. Compared to providers like Frontier and Charter Spectrum (who earned 2/2), you can expect more consistent and satisfying customer experiences.

HD Portable Service

If you’re looking to hook up TV service to your RV or boat, you can purchase a portable satellite from DISH. You’ll have the option of paying as you go (starting at $35/mo.) or adding it on to your regularly subscription for about $7 more per month. The service has earned Reader’s Choice Awards from Trailer Life and MotorHome magazines. Satellite radio is included in the service, rounding out your on-the-road entertainment options.

Points to consider

Limited Bundling Options

For shoppers looking to consolidate their services with one provider, DISH probably isn’t for you. It doesn’t technically offer its own internet service, and will instead pair you up with one of its partners, HughesNet or Viasat. And when it comes to internet service, these two satellite providers are some of the least-loved. Speeds will max out at 25 Mbps, which may be enough for a household of two people and with limited streaming activity. But you can get double that speed (and for a cheaper price) with DIRECTV’s bundles.

Expensive Rates

DISH Network packages start nearly $30 more than DIRECTV. A 120+ channel package will cost $60 with DISH and just $35 with DIRECTV. However, after the two-year contract, DISH rates jump by about $20 while DIRECTV’s prices jump $40 to $70 depending on the package. Whether you want to pay more now or later, the post-contract prices balance out to be fairly the same. We’re in favor of paying less now, after two years you can cancel before the price jack or request to maintain your promo prices.

Guide to Satellite TV: How to Choose Your Provider

Audit your channels

According to the Nielsen Company’s 2016 Total Audience Report, consumers only watch about 19 of the 200 channels they pay for. To avoid cashing in for a channel package that has 180 channels of excess, it’s a good idea to audit the channels you frequent the most and prioritize them when shopping. This will help you find the best price for a package with everything you need. There’s no need to upgrade to the 250+ if all your favorite channel come standard in the 120+ package. Typically, the two cheapest packages will offer the most well-rounded lineup and higher tiers will add on sports and premium channels that you can often purchase individually.

Consider bundling your services

You can save about $30 on each service you bundle with one provider. You’ll also save time and effort with a consolidated bill. If your home needs internet or phone service in addition to TV, it’s a good idea to consider the bundled packages offered by TV providers.

Keep tabs on fees

As you gear up to purchase TV service, be sure to note the many fees that can add up. Installation, activation, cancellation, and equipment fees can all tally up to a shocking first bill. Some providers even charge more subtle fees like a regional channel and HD fee. Budget appropriately, and don’t be afraid to call up and ask the representative to waive fees, especially if you’re a new customer.

Track your contract timeline

Providers won’t give you a heads up when your two-year contract is up and when your monthly bill will hike. Set a reminder in your phone or mark your calendar for when that time nears, and then make a phone call to your provider. More than anything, representatives want to keep your business — if you suggest you’re shopping around or considering a company with lower rates, they’re likely to extend your promotional prices or offer a year of free HBO. Be sure to write everything down and confirm your new rates. Ask for details like call log or confirmation numbers so you’ll have evidence in case any discrepancy arises down the line.

Satellite TV FAQs

How does a satellite TV work?

Specific program channels (like ESPN or HBO), will broadcast their content via satellite to a broadcast center. The broadcast center will then beam those signals to satellites in orbit and those rebroadcast them to a viewer’s dish on Earth.

Can you use the same satellite dish for internet and TV?

The short answer; no. The two dishes will operate on different frequencies. TV satellites are only designed to receive signals, whereas an internet dish needs to send and receive signals. And both satellites installed on your house will be need to be aimed at different satellites in space.

What’s the difference between cable and satellite TV?

Due to the differences in technology, the biggest difference is availability. Cable TV requires wired infrastructure that is built out in your neighborhood, while satellite can be used anywhere with a clear line of sight to the sky. This makes satellite services popular for rural areas and traveling homes like RVs and boats. When it comes to quality, satellite tends to have clearer HD picture in general, but cable offers a more reliable picture. A satellite dish is susceptible to everything from heavy rain to errant baseballs. Even just moving it a bit can disrupt the signal and picture.

The Best Satellite TV: Summed up

DIRECTV DISH Network
Install Appointment Window 75 min 4 hours
Consumer Reports Reader Score 66/100 68/100
No. of channel packages 6 3
Bundle options TV, internet, home phone, AT&T wireless TV, internet
DVR Fees N/A $15-plus per month