SATELLITE TV How to Select the Best Provider

Sat TV Comparison
DISH vs. DIRECTV - Compare all the Pros and Cons

As you probably know, satellite TV is only available from 2 providers, DISH and DIRECTV. Because the science and programming associated with satellite service is still fairly new and complex, it's not always easy choosing between the two.

That's where we can help. By the time you finish reading this page, you'll be a bona fide satellite TV expert! All it takes is a few minutes of your time to completely understand the most important, decision-making features of both DISH and DIRECTV  (for an even quicker comparison, jump to our side-by-side chart).

Summary of the Current Specials

Satellite TV providers are constantly competing to win your business... with plenty of freebies and bonuses. Here are the deals currently available to new subscribers:

• NFL Sunday Ticket included1
• Free Genie HD DVR upgrade
• Free Movie Channels (3 mths)
• Free DIRECTV on Demand
• Free Professional Installation
[ view all ]
• HD Free for Life® (new)
• Free Hopper® upgrade^
• Free Movie Channels (3 mths)
• Free DISH Movie Pack™ (3 mths)
• Free Professional Installation
[ view all ]
At a Glance: DISH vs DIRECTV Programming

We go into more detail in the table below, but from our experience and the feedback our visitors have sent over the years, here's where each provider sets itself apart...
Without a doubt, DISH excels most in price, highlighted by one of the lowest-priced plans in the industry (Top 120 at $34.99/mo*) as well as the new 2-year Flex Pack option. Another popular feature is their International Programming, which includes over 29 languages and the relatively rare South Asian packages.
When it comes to sports programming, DIRECTV has no rival. They have the exclusive rights to the NFL Sunday Ticket and a handful of other leagues/sports. And thanks to licensing deals with leading movie studios, DIRECTV subscribers get first dibs on a ton of popular flicks and programs.
DISH and DIRECTV Equipment - It's a Tech Battle

Without reliable and responsive receivers, it's nearly impossible to enjoy even the best programming (ever had your receiver freeze or flicker out of control? Not fun). Satellite TV boasts the most technologically-advanced HDTV and DVRs around. Here's a quick overview of their key features:

High-Definition (HDTV) Quality
Hands down, HDTV is the best way of watching television. With an advanced resolution profile, it broadcasts MUCH more detail/quality than regular digital or analog television (of course, an HDTV-capable receiver and TV is required). The total number of HD channels you can watch is always evolving - currently, DISH carries a total of 200 HD channels while DIRECTV also offers 200 (all full-time HD).
Whole-Home Digital Video Recorders (DVRs)
There's nothing better than watching TV on your time, and high-tech DVRs let you do just that. From commercial-skipping to intelligent syncing throughout your entire home, it doesn't get much better than the new Genie and Hopper whole-home DVR systems. Read on for more details...
Hopper's main advantage over Genie and other DVRs is its ability to easily skip commercials and superior storage capacity. It can save up to 500 hours of HD and 2,000 hours of SD recordings (vs 200 and 800 hrs, respectively, for the Genie). It's also the only DVR system that lets you stream live TV while on the road (Hopper with Sling required).
DIRECTV's Genie® leads the way in overall ease-of-use and wireless connectivity. It may not have Hopper's hard drive but with the Genie Minis, it's incredibly easy to turn any room into a standalone DVR hub (where you can independently playback, record and manage your DVR). If you have a large household, this system also lets you connect an industry-leading 8 TVs to your main Genie box.
[ more on Hopper vs Genie ]

DISH vs DIRECTV: Side-by-side Comparison

Over the past three decades, I've tried every TV provider out there -- from local cable to 30-foot dishes. I stick with technology that's both cost-effective and consistently reliable, even years after sign-up. For my money, you just can't beat satellite TV. It's incredibly feature-rich and, value-wise, priced at least 30% less than cable (across all comparable plans).

For the most part, DISH and DIRECTV offer similar plans, so it really boils down to your specific needs. If it's price, go with DISH. If you're more concerned about sports (especially the NFL), side with DIRECTV. Either way, check out the table below where we compare each of the key features. At the end, we review the current specials and bonuses, which could wind up being your ultimate tie-breaker.

Note: items in the table in bold red or blue indicate an advantage for that provider or a valuable, limited-time offer.

Max # Channels 320+ (America's Everything™ plan) 315+ (Premier plan)
Premium Movie Offer Free for 1 year: HBO
Free for 3 months (Top 120 thru Top 250 plans):
Free for 3 months (SELECT™ thru Ultimate plans):
Local Channels 99% coverage in the U.S. 99% coverage in the U.S.
Sports Plans
(all available in HD)
(no NFL Sunday Ticket)
• MLB Extra Innings
• NHL Center Ice
• ESPN College Football
• ESPN Full Court (college basketball)
• MLS Direct Kick
NFL Sunday Ticket
• MLB Extra Innings
• NHL Center Ice
• ESPN College Football
• ESPN Full Court
• MLS Direct Kick
HDTV Total of 200 HD channels
(120+ are split HD/SD)
Monthly HD fee: FREE for life
Total of 200 HD channels
(all are full-time HD)
Monthly HD fee: FREE (includes DVR service)
Music SiriusXM: over 70 commercial-free music channels
The most popular include: '70s on 7, Viva, Jam On, Symphony Hall, etc.
• Hopper also has a Pandora-integrated app which lets you easily stream from your Pandora account
SonicTap Music: over 84 commercial-free music channels
The most popular include: 70's Hits, Classic R&B, Bluegrass, etc.
International Plans 29 languages:
(Spanish, Italian, Chinese, African, Arabic, Armenian, French, German, Japanese, Russian, Greek, Korean, South Asian, Polish, Urdu, Farsi, Israeli, Portuguese, Tagalog, etc.)
8 languages:
(Spanish, Brazilian, Korean, Chinese, Russian, Filipino, Vietnamese and South Asian)
Whole home DVR Hopper®:
500 hours of HD recordings
2,000 hours of SD (standard definition)
$10/month for DVR service
200 hours of HD recordings
800 hours of SD
Free HD & DVR with ALL plans (up to 4 rooms)
Extra TVs $7.00/month for 2nd & each additional TV $7.00/month for 5th & each additional TV
Popular Packages & Pricing
Flex Pack (new) - $29.99/mo for 24 mos (50-115 channels)
America's Top 120™ - $34.99/mo for 12 mos* (185+ channels)
America's Top 120+ - $39.99/mo for 12 mos* (190+ channels)
America's Top 250 - $49.99/mo for 12 mos* (320+ channels)
view all plans
SELECT - $50/mo for 12 mos
(145+ channels)
Entertainment - $55/mo for 12 mos
(150+ channels)
CHOICE™ - $60/mo for 12 mos
(175+ channels)
Ultimate - $75/mo for 12 mos
(240+ channels)
view all plans
Current Specials
(as of 10/17/17)
Hopper DVR Included^
HD FREE for Life®
FREE HBO for 1 year; Showtime, Cinemax & Starz for 3 months
DISH Movie Pack FREE for 3 months
FREE Standard Professional Installation
Plans starting at $29.99/month
October bonus: Save over 35% at sign-up
Genie DVR Included2
FREE HBO, Showtime, Cinemax & Starz for 3 months3
NFL Sunday Ticket Included
FREE Professional Installation (up to 4 rooms)
New All-Included plans (save $300+)
Limited-time only: Internet Bundle Specials
Order by Phone
(mention "The Prof" for the best prices in your area)

Satellite TV Buying Guide - Still a bit unsure? Check out our buying guide where we recommended specific plans, answer frequently asked questions and much more...

More on satellite TV...

The Worldwide Leader

Satellite TV is the preferred form of entertainment in over 35 million homes. Driving that growth is the fact the satellite industry invests more in research and development (better DVRs, program guides, etc) than all the other providers combined. Here's why satellite television is a customer favorite, particularly vs cable:

•  Costs about 30% less than cable
•  Exclusive programming (NFL Sunday Ticket, etc)
•  Unparalleled, U.S. based customer service
•  99% local channel availability
•  Best picture clarity in the industry
•  Superb On-Screen Program Guides
•  Most technologically-advanced HD DVRs
•  Largest library of international programming
Crystal-Clear Reception, without Compromise

With a satellite connection, you get a 100% digital feed of a reliably crisp picture and sound. That clarity doubles every few years and, led by both DISH Network and DIRECTV, their subscribers get first access to the sharpest picture available. The feed is delivered direct to your home, unlike cable which uses a complex network of local relay stations (every transfer effects quality).

Mobile Access to your DVR Playlist

Both providers offer mobile equipment that you can hook up to your network at home (allowing you to access your DVR wirelessly or on the road) and phone/tablet apps that let you stream the content. Here's a quick look at each:

DIRECTV Everywhere is a mobile extension of DIRECTV's Genie DVR (and a few other higher-end DVR models). To get it setup, you just need to install the DIRECTV app on your computer, iPhone, tablet, etc. Provided you have an internet connection, you can stream any program in your DVR library...from anywhere. While the technology is still fairly new, it's an impressive step-up from the original line - we rate it an 8.5/10.

DISH's mobile solution is coined DISH Anywhere™. Equipment-wise, they rely on a third party solution, the Sling. It's already integrated into the Hopper or can be added separately if you have a ViP 722 or 722k DVR (no other DVRs are compatible). Once connected, install the app and you're off and running. In our opinion, the app could be a bit more intuitive, but it is incredibly stable and feature-rich, even under low bandwidth conditions. Overall, the current version checks in at a rating of 8.3/10.

Are the New 2-Year Price Lock Plans Worth It?

In a word, yes. The major consumer upside here is the full transparency into what your bill will look like in year 1 and 2... in contrast to the regular 1st-year savings plans, which dramatically slash your cost over the first 12 months, then revert back to regular, non-promo pricing in year 2. With both DIRECTV and DISH, the 2-year lock plans distribute the savings over the full 24 months, with slightly lower, overall costs by the end of your contract (all packages, regardless of provider, require a 2-year contract). For DIRECTV, keep in mind you can only qualify for the 2-year guaranteed rate if you bundle your TV with at least one other AT&T service: internet, cell or home phone. You still end up saving quite a bit, especially if you already use AT&T for a separate service. So, how much can you save? With a few sample plan and receiver setups, on average, here's what we found:

Savings over regular plans
DISH: save >20%
DISH Flex Plan: save 16% - 23% (depending on your total # of channel packs)
DIRECTV (bundled w/ AT&T): save >26%

Bottom line: for both providers, we highly recommend the 2-year lock plans in almost every case. Not only will you never be surprised by an increase in your bill, but you'll save a good chunk of cash over the life of the contract.

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