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ByDanika Miller Internet & Entertainment Writer

Danika is currently covering the internet and entertainment beat. Her previous work lives in random corners of the internet and fiction anthologies hidden in university libraries.

The Best Satellite TV Providers

With just two nationwide satellite TV providers available, the choice should be easy. We compared channel packages, DVR systems, and customer service to see how each one stacked up. You’ll need to prioritize between price, technology, and programming to find your best.

The 2 Best Satellite TV Providers

The Best Satellite TV Providers: Summed Up

DIRECTV
DISH Network
Install appointment window
4 hours
4 hours
Consumer Reports reader score
66/100
69/100
No. of channel packages
6
4
Bundle options
TV, internet, home phone, AT&T wireless
TV, internet
DVR fees
$0-$15+/mo.
$5+/mo.


Best Sports Package

DIRECTV

DIRECTV
The best sports packages around and good wireless bundling options.
Pros
Exclusive sports programming
Consistent 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, which covers all things football (even out-of-market games). The package also includes 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 also comes included in some TV packages.

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. J.D. Power awarded the provider five out of five in overall satisfaction in the South and East regions. Its rating from ACSI dipped from last year’s 68 out of 100 to 64 out of 100, though this score still beats many other satellite and cable TV providers. These kinds of metrics will help ensure more reliability, accurate billing, and painless interactions.

Wireless bundling

DIRECTV is the only satellite TV provider that allows 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 — enough for most households.

Points to consider

Mediocre 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 — but that’s not even half the capacity of DISH Network’s DVR. While 200 hours should be enough for most homes, DISH’s DVR offers a near limitless library. On the plus side, the price of the Genie DVR is included in many packages, so you won't have to pay extra every month.

Post-contract price jump

Although its initial promo prices are fairly affordable for new customers ($35 to $110), DIRECTV's 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. This seems especially expensive compared to DISH’s $20 price hike. That said, 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. Just be sure to mark your calendar for that two-year expiration; there’s a good chance you won’t receive any notice about price jumps.


Best DVR

DISH Network

DISH Network
The best DVR in the business, plus stellar customer service.
Pros
Advanced DVR
Impressive 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 the West and North Central regions, DISH Network beat out DIRECTV in the J.D. Power survey, averaging five out of five in all metrics. Compared to providers like Frontier and Charter Spectrum (both of which earned a score of two out of five), 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 per month) or adding it on to your regular 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 option.

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, instead pairing 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, with speeds typically maxing out at 25 Mbps. That may be enough for a household of two people with limited streaming activity, but you can get double that speed (and for a cheaper price) with DIRECTV’s bundles.

Expensive plans

DISH Network packages start at nearly $40 more than DIRECTV. A 120-channel package now costs $70 with DISH and just $35 with DIRECTV, and DISH’s starting rates are all about $10 higher than they were last year. That said, 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; you can cancel before the price jack or request to maintain your promo prices.

How to Find the Right Satellite TV Provider for You

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-plus package if all of your favorite channels come in the 120-plus 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. You can even bundle live streaming services with your internet provider if cable TV is too old school for you.

Keep tabs on fees

As you gear up to purchase TV service, be sure to note any fees. 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 your monthly bill gets hiked. 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 that 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 FAQ

How does 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, which then 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. In addition, both satellites installed on your house will need to be aimed at different satellites in space.

What’s the difference between cable and satellite TV?

Cable TV and satellite TV are totally different technologies, and the biggest difference for the consumer is availability. Cable TV requires wired infrastructure that is built out in your neighborhood, while satellite TV 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.

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