Comcast is a Multi-system operator (MSO), offering TV, Internet and phone service in 40 states as well as the District of Columbia. The company is the largest cable TV provider in the US, with approximately 22.3 million subscribers reported in January, 2013. Comcast offers several different TV packages under the Xfinity TV-brand including Limited Basic, Digital Economy, Digital Starter, Digital Preferred, and Digital Premiere. The Xfinity TV service includes options to watch television away from your main TV.
Dish Network (branded as simply ‘Dish’) has been providing satellite TV service since 1996 after the company put its first satellite, EchoStar 1, into orbit. As of March, 2013, Dish had about 14-million subscribers across the US. The company also offers satellite Internet service via their dishNET product launched in October, 2012. The dishNET service starts at $39.99 per month, with data plans ranging from 5GB to 15GB per month. You can also get Dish TV bundled with phone service through partnering companies.
Both companies also offer streaming products. Comcast has Xfinity Streampix ($4.99 per month) providing unlimited access to the content you’re subscribed to or whatever they are offering for free. And, Dish’s BlockbusterNow app (non-subscription On Demand) offers access to movies and TV shows a la carte on PCs, Macs, Android and iOS devices, the Roku 3, and supporting HDTVs and Blu-ray players. While it’s clear both companies offer more than just TV packages, for the sake of this of this article we’ll only compare each provider’s television service.
Comcast lets you choose between self-install and professional install. Those fees may vary between service provider, but a typical professional install fee paid by new customers is at least $50, and may vary according to how much equipment is installed.
Dish provides free installation (with a 2-year contract).
2. HD Channels
To see what channels Comcast offers, we used the zip code 98629 in La Center, WA. Comcast listed 100 HD channels numbering in the 700 to 800 guide range. The list also included local HD channels, so the number of national channels in the area is closer to around 90. The 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, ROOT SPORTS NW HD, PAC-12 Oregon HD, and 3D Events HD — networks not found with every provider.
Dish currently lists 116 HD channels on their website, as well as local HD channels (which vary according to market but at the bare minimum include ABC, FOX, NBC, CBS and PBS). While the company says they have the most HD channels in the industry, we could only pull 116 listed under All Packages on their website. That’s not a lot of HD channels and no where near the amount claimed (200), if the webpage is up-to-date. Still, Dish offers more HD options than Comcast.
3. Special Features
Comcast offers the cloud-enabled X1 platform in select areas (available in 27 markets as of this review, and scheduled to reach all markets by the end of the year), letting you watch live and recorded programming on multiple devices throughout your home. With X1 you can utilize the X1 Remote App to turn your mobile device into a remote control, and also use voice commands to interact with your TV. User recommendations, your last 9 shows watched, and on-screen apps are also part of the X1 platform. The service also lets you search and schedule DVR recordings while you’re away from your home via the XFINITY TV App.
Dish’s Hopper with Sling is an innovative product (winning Best of Show at CES 2013) that lets you watch live TV and recorded programs via the Dish Anywhere mobile app. The Hopper system integrates the controversial ad-skipping software, allowing you to skip commercials during certain prime-time programs. The Hopper Whole-Home HD DVR service allows you to connect up to 4 HDTVs in your home using added Joey set-top box receivers. And, new Dish customers can get an Apple iPad 2 with the Hopper service so you can watch TV on your front porch (you must have seen the commercials by now).
Comcast offers a standard HD DVR with 500GB hard drive to store up to 300 hours of SD or 60 hours of HD programming. But, you can also get their top-of-the-line X1 HD DVR and X1 Platform (not available in all markets) can record up to four shows simultaneously, while watching a fifth program at the same time. (Comcast’s next-gen X2 platform promises to move recorded programming to the cloud.)
Dish’s Hopper Whole-Home HD DVR allows you to connect up to 4 HDTVs using Joey set-top box receivers. The 2TB Hopper provides storage for up to 500 hours of HD or 2,000 hours of SD. Three tuners allow recording any two channels and the third tuner can be used to record 4 additional primetime shows.
5. Service Contract Periods
Comcast offers better monthly rates for customers who sign 2-year contracts, but a long term agreement is not required. For example, Digital Premiere with a 2-year contract is $84.99 for the first 12 months, but with no term agreement you only get that price for 6 months.
All of Dish’s new customer promotions require a 24-month service contract.
6. Value Packages
Comcast offers a local-only TV service with at least 10 channels for $30.15 per month, but aren’t those channels already free over-the-air? Instead, let’s look at the next level TV service called Digital Economy that offers over 45 channels . That service costs $34.95 per month for new customers. (Equipment and premium channels are extra.)
Dish’s Welcome Pack is their least expensive package priced at $19.99 per month with 40+ channels. They also have a Smart Pack with 55+ channels currently offered for $19.99 per month for 12 months (normally $29.99 per month). Neither package is eligible for the Hopper or iPad 2 upgrade, or gives you HD channels. (Equipment and premium channels are extra.)
7. Top-tier Packages
Comcast’s Xfinity Digital Premiere provides customers with over 200 digital channels including premium channels from HBO, Cinemax, SHOWTIME and STARZ. The package 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 that, Digital Premier TV ranges from $98 to $140 per mo. depending on area.)
Dish’s Top-tier America’s Everything Pak gives subscribers over 290 channels with a free Hopper Whole-Home HD DVR Upgrade (new customers only), and premium channels HBO, Cinemax, SHOWTIME and STARZ. The ‘Everything Pak’ costs $89.99 for the first 12 months, and $119.99 per month after (before taxes).
Comcast’s Xfinity TV service has a lot to offer, especially for those markets that have been converted to all digital and are eligible for the X1 Platform. Comcast also offers some good deals on triple-play service, that can turn out to be economical than when Dish partners with phone and Internet providers to bundle services. (You might say, the more parties involved the more you’ll pay.) And, Comcast’s upcoming X2 Platform, which puts your TV experience in the cloud, looks more than promising. But until then, Dish’s Hopper with Sling product, 2TB Whole-Home DVR, and larger selection of HD channels puts them at an advantage.
Comcast vs. Dish Score Chart
|Installation||Dish||Because Dish installation is free (with a 2-year contract).|
|HD Channels||Dish||Dish lists more HD channels on their website than Comcast.|
|Equipment & Special Features||Dish||Dish’s Hopper lets you record up to 2,000 hours of programming and 6 shows during primetime (2 any channels/4 primetime networks)|
|Contract Period||Comcast||Both service providers offer promotions based on 24-month agreements, although Comcast does not require a long-term contract.|
|Value Packages||Tie||Neither value packages offer much technology or channel selections.|
|Top Tier Packages||Dish||Dish’s America’s Everything Pak just gives you more options than Comcast’s Digital Premiere top-tier package. And, new customers get a free Hopper Whole-Home HD DVR Upgrade|
|Overall Winner||Dish||Dish Wins 5-2|
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.