The Professor's Satellite TV
Buying Guide

Compare and save before you order

Every couple days or so, I get asked which satellite service (or plan) I prefer or actually have in my home. The quick answer? It all depends on your particular needs and for the record, DIRECTV XTRA (though I had DISH a couple years back and really enjoyed it). In this guide, we'll go over the questions I typically ask folks to get a better idea on their needs and the suggested answers therein. Enjoy!

  • Q1) How many folks are in your home and do their interests vary?
  • A1.1) Just mua (me :).
    • Prof: Lucky you, jump to the next question...
  • A1.2) 2-5+ and yes they vary.
    • Prof: To maximize your options yet keeping your costs down, I'd first look at DIRECTV XTRA ($34.99/mo) or DISH America's Top 200 ($39.99/mo).
  • Q2) Is cost a primary factor in the decision?
  • A2.1) Pretty much.
    • Prof: This used to be a clear-cut answer (DISH's Smart Pack at $19.99/mo). Recently, however, DIRECTV unveiled their new, low-cost plan: DIRECTV Select ($19.99/mo) for ~100 programming channels. Smart Pack includes about 55 channels, so just by the channel-comparison alone, DIRECTV probably wins out.
  • A2.2) Not really.
    • Prof: If it's all about maximum programming AND you love movies, in my book, you can't go wrong with either DIRECTV's Premier plan ($89.99/mo, 315 channels) or DISH's America's Everything ($89.99/mo, 320 channels).
  • Q3) Do you have any NFL or fantasy football junkies under your roof?
  • A3) Yes!
    • Prof: This one's easy - DIRECTV has exclusive rights to the NFL SUNDAY TICKET until 2020 and also has the best set of fantasy tools out there. Their Choice Plan ($29.99/mo) is the first package to qualify you for the TICKET, absolutely free.
  • Q4) Do you record a ton of shows and frequently run out of DVR space?
  • A4) Guilty as charged!
    • Prof: Well, aside from deleting old programs :), the two leading DVRs, Genie and Hopper, have tangibly different storage capacities. Hopper has a 2 TB drive (saves up to 500 hrs of HD, 2,000 of SD), while Genie has a 1 TB drive (200 and 800 hrs, respectively). So, if you consider yourself a power DVR user, you might want to consider DISH and its Hopper; America's Top 120 ($34.99/mo) is the first DISH plan to qualify you for the Hopper (lower plans only allow you to get older DVRs).
  • Q5) Do folks in your household watch A LOT of Netflix?
  • A5) We're addicted to Orange is the New Black and a few other Netflix shows, so yes!
    • Prof: Hey, me too! So, this might interest you. Recently, DISH has further partnered with Netflix. Their current promos include a free year of Netflix and the latest Hopper ships with a cool Netflix feature. It lets you watch/control your Netflix account right from the regular DISH program guide (just select the Netflix app via Hopper's main menu). The other cool bit is you don't have to switch remotes or watch via your computer/phone...everything's seamlessly available on your TV.

So, those are the more general questions I like to ask (feel free to get in touch if you have a specific question). Below, is a quick table in which I recommend specific plans for the factors above and more. If you'd like to dive into more in-depth articles, check out our satellite TV reports section further below.

Plan Recommenations vs Need

Category / Feature
Best, low-cost Plan
Smart Pack
Most flexible (customizable) plan
Flex Pack
$29.99 - $95.99/mo
(you pick from 50 to 115 channels)
nothing similar (yet)
(premium sports plan)
Free with the Choice plan & up
Fantasy football programming
America's Top 200 (NFL Network)
Choice (NFL Network, RedZone Channel, etc.)
MLB Extra Innings
(premium sports plan)
All plans: $32.50/mo for 6 mths ($195 total)
All plans: $28.99/mo for 6 mths ($173.94 total)
Fantasy baseball programming
America's Top 200 (MLB Network)
Choice (MLB Network)
Max DVR recording space
America's Top 120 (1st plan w/ Hopper, 2 TB drive)
SELECT (every plan qualifies for Genie, 1 TB drive)
Netflix Integration
America's Top 120 (1st plan w/ Hopper, Netflix app)

Satellite TV Comparison Reports:

These are our most comprehensive and up-to-date satellite TV comparison articles. If you're just kicking off your research, we recommend starting from the top and working your way down to the more specific features, plans and equipment. Enjoy :).

How to Choose the Best Satellite Provider (updated) - We recently moved and it was high time to reassess our TV services. Here are the steps I followed to compare the leading satellite TV providers, DIRECTV and DISH Network.
Comparison of the Hopper and Genie Systems - Each of these cutting-edge whole-home DVR systems have garnered plenty of praise, but which is right for you? Read on for more details...
Commercial-skipping features - Get a closer look at how each DVR lets you automatically or manually skip commercials.
DISH Plan Comparison - Interested in DISH but not sure which plan to choose? In this report, we review and rank the most popular DISH packages, including the most valuable promos available to new customers.
Review of DISH's Spanish Plans - Spanish packages have come a LONG way over the years. If you need a few more bilingual options, check out our review of all the DishLATINO plans.

What to expect when you order

If you've never ordered satellite TV before, the process is very similar to any utility/home service order - phone, electricity, etc. Phase 1 is answering any questions you may have regarding the plans, prices and features. If/when things sound good and you're ready to order, your customer service agent will ask for your personal information (full name, address, phone and SSN for a soft pull of your credit) and then create your account. From there, you pick an installation date (depending on where you live, as early as the next day) and you're good to go!

Installation day

During the ordering process, you'll be given a specific time window on when to expect your installer (if they're ever running late, they'll give you a ring). Installation tends to take 1-3 hours, depending on how many rooms are involved and the complexity of the wiring from the outside dish. Once that's wrapped, the installer will activate your DVR card (specific to your account) and typically call the home base to make sure everything's working on both ends... ie, if you change you plan via the on-screen program guide, order pay-per-view, etc. Once confimed, they'll then open up the guide and walk you through the basics. These days, the program guides are so intuitive, it's more of a formality. Couple minutes later, you're all set :). And remember, if you ever have ANY questions about your bill or service, both DIRECTV and DISH have 24-hour phone and online help readily available. Just refer to the paperwork your installer will provide. Enjoy your new service!

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