TV Watching

In our ongoing TV service provider comparison series, let’s compare two giants — Comcast and DirecTV – and see who comes out on top. Comcast is the largest cable TV provider in the US, serving approximately 22 million customers across 40 states. DirecTV follows closely behind with about 20 million customers, and is available just about anywhere you can drop a satellite dish. Comcast won in our Comcast vs. Time Warner Cable comparison (which included bundled service options from each provider), but lost in our Comcast vs. Dish comparison (mainly because of the Hopper with Sling and Dish’s better HD channel options). Now let’s see how the cable company’s TV service compare against that of DirecTV.

Installation

When signing up for Comcast’s television services (branded Xfinity TV), you’ll be required to pay an installation fee. The fees may vary between 3rd party installers and how much equipment you install, but the typical professional basic install charge for new customers appears to be $50. The company also lets you choose between self-install and professional install. On the flip side, DirecTV doesn’t charge you an installation fee when you sign one of their 2-year agreements.

Winner: DirecTV

HD Channels

Comcast listed 130 HD channels when using the zip code 19103 in Philadelphia, PA. Comcast’s lineup is made up of popular networks such as Discovery HD, Disney HD, and CNN HD, but also includes niche channels such as G4techTV HD, RetroPlex HD (a Starz property), and 3D Events HD — networks not found service provider’s lineup.

DirecTV, with a consistent lineup nationwide, lists 166 HD channels including local high-definition networks on their website (although the company claims 190 full-time HD channels). DirecTV has several HD channels that Comcast Xfinity doesn’t have, including 3net, beIN SPORT (in English and Spanish), and MSG+. DirecTV also has the NFL Sunday Ticket, a full access subscription plan exclusive to DirecTV.

Winner: DirecTV

On Demand

Both providers offer plenty of On Demand options. And, the more premium networks you subscribe to the more free choices you’ll have. Comcast has thousands of On Demand titles available in their Xfinity On Demand library – some are free, while others cost .99 or higher to rent. Comcast also has On Demand subscriptions, something I haven’t seen with DirecTV. The subscriptions allow you to access On Demand collections such as Disney Family Movies, WWE Classics, Bollywood Hits On Demand, Filipino On Demand and Howard Stern. And, the XFINITY Streampix service gives you access to full seasons of TV shows and movies. (See more in the TV Everywhere section.) But those subscriptions cost more, ranging from $5.99 to $12.99 per month each.

DirecTV claims their On Demand library consists of over 10,000 titles. Like Comcast, some titles are free while others are available with premium channel subscriptions. And of course, DirecTV has plenty of On Demand titles to rent.

Winner: Tie

Equipment

Comcast’s top-of-the-line X1 HD DVR and X1 Platform (not available in all markets) records up to four shows at the same time while watching a fifth program simultaneously. The Xfinity TV DVR contains a 500GB hard drive to store up to 300 hours of SD or 60 hours of HD programming. You can hook up other TVs to your service by adding additional HD DVRs ($17.95 per month each box), or basic HD receivers ($9.95 per month each box).

DirecTV’s top-of-the-line Genie product with 1TB hard drive gives you enough room to store approximately 150 hours of HD, or about 400 hours of SD. With Genie you can record 5 shows at the same time, and watch two channels at once with Picture-in-Picture. The Genie Mini client box is for connecting additional TVs in your house to the main Genie box. DirecTV also has the standard DIRECTV Plus HD DVR that matches Xfinity’s HD DVR 500GB storage space. DirecTV calculates their box has enough room for about 75 hours of high-definition or 200 hours of standard-definition content.

Winner: DirecTV

TV Anywhere

Comcast’s cloud-based X1 platform lets you watch live and recorded programming on multiple devices throughout your home. The platform features user recommendations, recently watched, and on-screen apps. Mobile devices can also be turned into remote controls with the Xfinity X1 Remote App for iOS, and voice commands can also be used to interact with the guide. In addition, the XFINITY TV App for both iOS and Android allows you to schedule DVR recordings remotely while you’re away from home. The platform is available in 27 of Xfinity TV markets, and Comcast says they’ll be available in all markets by the end of the year.

For viewing outside your home, the XFINITY Streampix service provides access to TV shows and movies via the web URL xfinity.com/TV, or on your tablet or smartphone via the XFINITY TV apps. That service costs extra with lower-tier service packages but is included with HD Triple Play packages at no extra charge.

With DIRECTV Everywhere you can watch live, recorded, and On Demand TV content on your tablet or smartphone at home. The DIRECTV app for mobile devices offers remote browsing, viewing and DVR scheduling. With the GenieGO product connected to your HD DVR you can also transfer shows to your PC, tablet or smartphone for watching anywhere without an internet connection. In terms of streaming live TV to your PC, DirecTV does not offer the service yet. However, may networks have their own web-based services where you can log-in with your DirecTV username and password.

Winner: Tie

Service Contract Periods

Comcast doesn’t require a long-term agreement. But, they do offer special promotional rates for customers who sign 2-year contracts. To give an example, Digital Premiere with a 2-year contract is $84.99 for the first 12 months. Without a contract, that price expires in 6 months. Comcast’s Limited Basic and Digital Economy plans don’t offer 2-year agreement promotions.

All of DirecTV’s promotions require a 2-year contract for new customers.

Winner: Comcast

Value Packages

With Comcast, you can get a local channel service package called Limited Basic that provides at least 10 channels for $30.15 per month. The service might be a good option for someone who can’t get local channels over-the-air. Comcast’s Digital Economy package offers over 45 channels (up to 50) and costs $34.95 per month. Both of those plans offer the channels in HD if you have the right equipment (which will cost more per month).

With DirecTV, you can get the Entertainment package that costs $29.99 per month for new customers with a 2-year agreement. The service provides over 140 digital channel options, with 50 broadcast in high-definition including locals. Promotions include $5-off the first 12 months of service, free HBO, Starz, Showtime, and Cinemax for three months, and a free Genie upgrade (although additional fees for equipment and services apply).

Winner: DirecTV

Top-Tier Package

With over 200 digital channels including premium networks HBO, Cinemax, SHOWTIME and STARZ, Comcast’s Xfinity Digital Premiere service is their top-tier TV package. What’s more, the service also includes the Sports Entertainment Package with NFL RedZone. Digital Premiere costs $84.99 per month for the first 12 months in a 2-year agreement, and $104.99 for the remaining 12 months. (After the promotional period, Digital Premier ranges from $98 to $140 per month depending on market area.) Other optional add-ons include the On Demand subscriptions mentioned above and the Spanish-language Package offered for $9.99 per month.

The Premier package from DirecTV includes over 285 digital channels, premium channels HBO, Starz, Showtime, and Cinemax, TV anywhere (on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone), and over 35 specialty sports channels. You also get a Free Genie HD DVR upgrade (value $299), and one free Genie Mini (value $99) for connecting an additional TV to your main Genie HD DVR. Those two units are included in the monthly service cost. DirecTV Premiere costs $124.99 per month. (New customers who sign a 2-year agreement can get the first 12 months at $86.99 per month and months 13-24 at $91.99 per month.) Additional fees include $25 Advanced Receiver Service per month, and $6 per month for each TV used.

Winner: DirecTV

Conclusion

DirecTV still has the edge on Comcast when you compare their equipment (the Genie HD DVR with optional Genie Minis) and superior number of HD channels. But the companies turn out pretty equal when it comes to On Demand choices, TV everywhere options, and service contracts. Watch for Comcast’s X2 cloud-based platform, which may equalize the playing fields, or potentially give Comcast the edge if the platform offers unlimited recording abilities in the cloud. Because sometimes, 1TB is just not enough.

Comcast vs. DirecTV Score Chart

Winner Why
Installation DirecTV Because Dish installation is free (with a 2-year contract).
HD Channels DirecTV Dish lists more HD channels on their website than Comcast.
Equipment DirecTV The DirecTV Genie HD DVR records more programming to the 1TB drive, vs. Comcast’s Xfinity HD DVR with 500GB storage.
Contract Period Comcast Both service providers offer promotions based on 24-month agreements, but Comcast does not require a long-term contract.
Value Packages Tie You get a lot more channels with DirecTV’s value-priced Entertainment package, although Comcast’s HD channel count in the Digital Economy package is impressive.
Top Tier Packages DirecTV DirecTV’s Premiere package just gives you more channels to choose from, and, includes a free Genie HD DVR upgrade.
Overall Winner DirecTV DirecTV Wins 5-2



Jeff Chabot

 
Jeff Chabot has a background in web development and design, as well as working in broadcast television as a studio engineer, lighting director and editor. He frequently writes about technology, broadcasting, digital entertainment, and the internet.