Last updated on Dec 03, 2019


The two big satellite TV providers go head-to-head ​
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Anne Dennon

By Anne Dennon Home Technology Writer

Anne has covered home security and home automation for Reviews.com for two years. She’s interested in human-computer interaction and tech ethics. She previously worked in education and information literacy.

DIRECTV vs. DISH Network Satellite TV

We’ve spent years exploring the strengths and sticking points of satellite TV in our dedicated reviews of DIRECTV and DISH. Here we compare the two providers head to head. Because both are available in all 50 states, you likely have your choice between them. And when it comes to channel line-ups and DVR capabilities, you can’t really go wrong either way. That said, the customer experience, specific DVR functions, and extra perks vary, possibly making one a better purchase for you.

DIRECTV vs. DISH Overview

2018 JD Power provider satisfaction rankings #1 #3
Bundles with AT&T internet, phone, wireless Internet
# of states serviced 330+ 290+
# of channel packages available 6 4
DVR capabilities
  • Record 5 shows
  • 200 hours HD storage
  • 72-hour live rewind
  • Record 16 shows
  • 500 hours HD storage
  • AutoSkip (select primetime shows)
  • Built-in Netflix
  • Remote Locator
DVR monthly price Free $15
Price range $65 – 135 $60 – 90
Contract length 2 years 2 years
ASCI Rank 4th (of 14) 3rd (of 14)


It’s possible to install a satellite yourself. But with free professional installation from both DIRECTV and DISH, you don’t have to. Professional installation relieves much of the burden associated with satellite TV; all you have to do is schedule an appointment.

You or someone over the age of 18 need to be present for the installation, and DISH makes this stipulation a little easier by giving a narrow 75-minute window for your installation technician to arrive (although this is location-dependent; sometimes DISH will ask for a five-hour window). DIRECTV takes a four-hour window. Both providers allow you to track your technician’s progress via their apps.

We can forgive the greater inconvenience of DIRECTV’s timeline, however, given that once the equipment is up and running, the company charges no equipment fees for your first two rooms. By contrast, DISH charges between $5-20 a month for every device.

Channel packages

Package options
  • Select: 155+
  • Entertainment: 160+
  • Choice: 185+
  • Xtra: 235+
  • Ultimate: 250+
  • Premier: 330+
  • America’s Top 120: 190
  • America’s Top 120+: 190+
  • America’s Top 200: 240+
  • America’s Top 250: 290+

DIRECTV offers six packages that increasing in number of channels as you ascend the tiers — nearly 350 in its Premier plan. If you’re looking for best-in-class picture quality, you’ll be pleased with the pristine viewing quality of DIRECTV’s 4K programming. 4K TVs represent the latest evolution in television screens, and DIRECTV can help you make the most of it: 4K movies and shows are available on-demand with all packages.

DIRECTV also offers a few exclusive program options you won’t find anywhere else. Most notably: NFL Sunday Ticket. This sports package provides access to every live, out-of-market game for as many Sundays as football season can hold. New customers opting for the Choice package or above can enjoy NFL Sunday Ticket for free.

DISH offers four packages with channel counts ranging up to 300. Like DIRECTV, DISH offers on-demand 4K movies and shows. While it’s 4K on-demand lineup may be sparser, the company has started to imbue its sports channels with the visual richness of 4K in broadcasts of college football games. College basketball, Major League Baseball, and NASCAR are next in line to get the 4K treatment.

Another sport-perk with DISH: ESPN comes standard with all four packages (not available with DIRECTV’s lowest tier), NFL Network with the upper three, and MLB, NBA, and NHL networks with America’s Top 200 and America’s Top 250.

DVR capabilities

DIRECTV can’t compete with DISH when it comes to DVR. That said, DIRECTV leverages no DVR monthly service fee, which is pretty uncommon. If the more modest capabilities of DIRECTV’s Genie meet your household’s wants — record five shows at once and store up to 200 hours of HD programming — then take advantage of the undeniably attractive fact that it comes free. Plenty of storage for welterweight users, but it pales in comparison to DISH’s Hopper.

The Hopper 3, DISH’s most recent DVR iteration, can record 16 shows at once and store 2,000 hours of HD programming. You pay a fee for its superior skills — $15 extra on your monthly bill. More than a Netflix subscription, but the payment gets you voice-recognition technology that can even find your remote for you. (The age-old living-room battle cry, “Where’s the remote!” finally gets answered.)

Both DVRs allow you to watch recorded shows and other programming via app.

So which is right for me?

If you… Then you should go with: Here’s why:
Need the games, and football is king DIRECTV DIRECTV has exclusive rights to NFL Sunday Ticket, and will till the confetti falls at the 2023 super bowl. No other provider gives you every Sunday game, every market, all season long. Included free with Choice and above.
Need the games, plural DIRECTV Access all the sports channels, from golf and tennis to basketball and hockey, starting from cheaper, lower-tier packages than the competition.
Crave entertainment DISH In addition to Starz, ShowTime, and the Dish Movie Pack available with Dish, the DVR provides access to your Netflix account with a built-in app for a seamless experience. Plus, that powerful DVR allows you to savor it all on your schedule.
Want a good deal DISH Dish offers competitively priced packages with nearly as many channels as DIRECTV. Even better: your rate is locked in for 2 years.

How to Compare Satellite TV Companies

Intro deals and long-term price

Both DIRECTV and DISH offer three months of free premium channels. Both require two-year contracts. In the telecom world, contracts are often cast as restricting or shady, but the truth is a contract can save you from price hikes, at least for the first year. After that, you could be looking at doubled rates no matter what company you choose. When securing quotes from sales reps, be sure to ask about the price you can expect to pay next year and a year after that. A contract really only becomes burdensome when it yokes you to surprise rate increases.

DIRECTV offers HBO, Cinemax, SHOWTIME, EPIX, and STARZ. At one point, DISH offered SHOWTIME and HBO. Unfortunately, the two companies could not agree on terms that would allow DISH to continue to offer HBO content within their packages, but we will update this page if that changes.

Cost-efficient bundling

If you are in the market for more than one service, bundling some combination of phone, TV, internet, and wireless with a single provider can extract greater value than going through different companies for each.

Want to switch to AT&T for cell service? Bundle DIRECTV with an eligible AT&T Unlimited plan and save $15 off your TV bill every month. Other bundle options include TV and internet, or TV, internet, and landline.

Happy with your wireless provider, but in the market for internet? DISH offers TV and high-speed internet bundling, though you can’t sign up for that service online. A phone call to a sales rep will hook you up with both services and save on the combined plan.

Price for value

We all gravitate toward different programming niches. A TV provider strikes gold when the plan you want to pay for includes all the disparate programming your household consumes, and all the tech features that make accessing it easier and more enjoyable. If you have a 4K TV, then the breadth of accessible 4K programming might be worth the steeper prices of DIRECTV. If you like to binge watch prime time on your time, the sky-high recording potential of Hopper 3 might point you to DISH.

Satellite TV FAQs

Why satellite TV?

As technology becomes smaller, wireless, and less tangible, a satellite dish can feel like a holdover from bygone days of early tech. But these outdoor, parabolic devices have advanced alongside cable, fiber, and other telecom technologies. Today’s satellites rely on digital signals from orbiting communication satellites that transmit high-def TV straight to your home. The higher frequency and power of modern satellites means the dishes themselves are smaller and the visuals it transmits more reliable and detailed. Plus, satellite delivers more channels than cable can capture.

Can I install a satellite anywhere?

You can receive satellite TV anywhere on Earth — so long as you have a clear view of the southern sky. If your home or apartment doesn’t glimpse the southern sky from any angle, your installer can erect scaffolding to give it a boost and a better view. Another possible inhibition to getting satellite TV is your landlord. If you rent, your property owner or manager may have rules in place about making changes to the external structure or appearance of the dwelling.

Are satellites safe in extreme weather?

A lingering drawback to satellite TV is rain fade, which refers to atmospheric absorption of microwave frequencies. In short, the snow is eating your morning news. Areas with frequent storms, heavy rain, or strong winds can expect more frequent service interruptions. For the most part, weather-related satellite problems aren’t common. Snow build-up can be fixed with a swipe from a gloved hand, and collecting water from frequent rain showers can be alleviated with a protective layer of water repellent.

Can the same satellite dish be used for internet and TV?

No, the same dish cannot be used for both internet and TV services. The antennae necessary for each service are different in size, frequency, and functionality. A TV satellite is designed to receive signals only, and an internet satellite has been designed to send and receive signals. Both satellites also need to be pointed at different parent satellites at unique orbit points around Earth. Patrick Ward, the Editor-In-Chief of High Speed Experts, explains, “the satellite providers could choose to start offering TV services, after they investigated the technical ramifications of adding TV service to their existing Satellite Internet dishes.” But Ward says the likelihood of this occurring is slim-to-none, “market forces dictate this will not happen any time soon, if ever.”

Is satellite TV futureproof?

The New York Post reported in February of 2019 that DISH Network “revealed it lost 334,000 customer in the most recent quarter… [which] left its satellite TV subscribers below the 10 million mark for the first time in 15 years.” The article goes on to mention that DIRECTV has also struggled, losing 658,000 subscribers in a troubling (but not surprising) trend that has also hit traditional cable providers. The shift away from satellite and cable TV comes at a time when streaming is climbing the ranks, stealing customers, and really disrupting the TV content distribution industry. Satellite TV still has millions of customers, but recent trends suggest the industry needs to innovate to avoid losing more customers over the next several years.