Cox Communications is the third largest cable TV provider in the United States. Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, the company has about 6 million subscribers, with approximately 3 million customers paying for digital cable service. As a multi-system operator (MSO), Cox also provides Internet and phone service along with TV. Cox’s recently launched Contour TV product (an extra $10 per month) lets you record up to 6 programs at a time, and, lets you watch programming on Apple’s iPad. We might also note that Cox recently started selling wireless service through Verizon.
Cox offers 7 different TV packages including the least expensive TV Economy and the top-tier Advanced TV Ultimate. The packages start at $34.99 per month for 180 channels and go up to $125.99 per month for 390 channels. Of course, equipment rentals and other add-ons are extra. All of the Cox plans include free access to HD channels, but the economy plan won’t give you On Demand titles or Whole Home DVR service.
Based in El Segundo, CA, DirecTV is the largest satellite TV provider in the US with about 20 million TV subscribers. DirecTV’s distribution rights to the NFL Sunday Ticket clearly put them at an advantage with football fans who can’t miss a game. And, the company’s long-perceived dominance in having the most HD channels has made them a favorite among hi-def enthusiasts with an eye for the sharpest image quality.
DirecTV offers five different tier packages starting at $29.99 per month and up to $99.99 per month. The five packages available from DirecTV include Entertainment (140 channels), Choice (150+ channels), Extra (205 channels), Ultimate (225+ channels), and Premiere (285+ channels). These base prices, like Cox’s, do not include all equipment costs you might need for your home or office.
How do these two TV services compare? Let’s take a look.
Cox has two options for installing service in your home. Their professional service costs $60, while a self-install (equipment is picked up at a Cox location or shipped) costs $30. You may also have to pay $5 per device (including Whole Home HD Receiver, HD Receiver, and CableCARD). We’ll note that Cox does offer free installation with some bundled services. In contrast, DirecTV does not charge for installation (their 2-year contract seems to absorb those costs).
Cox uses wording on their website claiming “Over 700 FREE HD choices any time you watch – including HD On DEMAND.” While this text can be misleading to some, those of us who count HD channels (yeah, dorky right?) know that On Demand titles are not HD channels. Using a zip code in the Phoenix, Arizona market, we generated a lineup of 140 HD channels including local HD networks. The company boasts free local HD, which no provider should crow about since local networks are already broadcast for free over-the-air. However, Cox does provide HD channels at no additional charge with their Advanced TV service.
DirecTV lists 166 HD channels including locals in the same Phoenix zip code area. DirecTV has several HD channels that Cox doesn’t have, including 3net, beIN SPORT (in English and Spanish), and MSG+. To be fair, DirecTV also boasts free local HD channels in their promotional copy. But the bottom line is the satellite company wins in this category just for having more options.
A large selection of the free On Demand selections from your TV provider come from whatever premium networks you subscribe to. So, if you get HBO, you also get On Demand access to all past episodes of Game of Thrones and other HBO original series. Cox doesn’t give a specific number of On Demand options on their website, they just indicates choices number in the thousands.
DirecTV says their On Demand library consists of over 10,000 titles you can watch at no extra charge. We score this one a tie because both providers offer plenty of content to watch On Demand.
Equipment & Special Features
Cox’s recently released Contour, branded as a “personalized TV experience,” was rolled out last month across Cox markets in the US. The Contour Record 6 DVR Package lets you record 6 shows at once (even in HD), to store 1,000 hours of SD programming (about 300 HD hours) to the DVR’s 2TB hard drive. Using an iPad and the Contour app (for iPad 2 or newer), as many as eight users can create a personal playlist, view recommendations, set DVR recordings, Pause/Resume watching on connected HDTVs, and send whatever you’re watching on the iPad to your TV. The Record 6 DVR Service costs $14.99 per DVR, and each additional set-top box costs $8.50 per month. The Contour App, which runs on the iPad to make it a sort of intelligent remote control, was launched on Aug. 5 and is available for free from the iTunes store.
DirecTV’s top-tier Genie product lets you record 5 shows at once, watch two channels at the same time with Picture-in-Picture (or side by side), and record approximately 150 hours of HD on its 1TB hard drive. The Genie Mini will let you connect other TV sets in your house to the main Genie box. The Advanced Receiver Service from DirecTV will cost you an additional $25 per month, and each connected-TV requires an additional fee. They also have the GenieGO that lets you watch your DVR recordings on your laptop, tablet, or phone even without an Internet connection.
Winner: Cox (Because the ability to record 6 shows with Contour is more than 5, and the Contour’s 2TB hard drive has twice the capacity of the Genie.
Cox does not require a long-term agreement. Although, if you want to lock-in a monthly rate they have options for 1-year or 2-year agreements. DirecTV requires a 24-month contract for all new customer sign-ups.
Cox’s TV Economy package is priced at $43.49 per month (although, a special promotion gives you 3 months for $33.49 per mo.). The package provides over 180 channels and includes one standard receiver. But this package does not include HD service. For high-definition, you’ll need to upgrade to Cox Advanced TV regularly priced at $63.99 per month.
DirecTV’s least expensive service is the Entertainment package that sells for $29.99 per month for new customers and provides over 140 digital channel options (over 50 in HD plus locals in HD), free HBO, Starz, Showtime, and Cinemax for three months, and a free Genie upgrade (although additional fees for equipment and services apply).
Top Tier Packages
Cox’s Advanced TV Ultimate package gives you over 390 channel options, includes 3 premium channels, HD DVR service, and is Contour Eligible. The package costs $125.99 per month (a promotion offers 3 months at $101.99). When choosing your service you have the option of upgrading to Contour TV for an additional $10 per month. If you choose the Record 6 Whole Home DVR Service, you need to add $14.99 per month. And, you’ll still need to rent a rental fee of $8.50 per month any box you’re using. This is where Cox’s Contour TV really starts to add up in price if you want their top-of-the-line system. Tack $33.99 onto the $125.99 per month for Advanced TV Ultimate and you get $159.98, plus $8.50 for any additional room.
DirecTV’s Premier package gives you over 285 digital channels, HBO, Starz, Showtime, and Cinemax premium channels, watch anywhere capabilities (on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone), over 35 specialty sports channels, a Free Genie HD DVR upgrade (value $299), and a free Genie Mini (value $99) for connecting another TV to the main Genie HD DVR. Although additional receivers require additional fees, the main Genie with Genie Mini is included in the monthly service cost. Premiere normally costs $124.99 per month. But, a special sign-up promotion for new customers offers the first 12 months at $86.99 per month and the remaining 12 months at $91.99 per month in a 24-month contract. Fees include $25 Advanced Receiver Service per month, and $6 per month for each TV used. 24-month pricing for one TV starts off at a promotional rate of $60.99, but after three months goes up to $107.99 for the rest of the first year. For the second year, you’ll be paying $145.99 per month. Keep in mind, these prices are for new customers only. If you’re already a DirecTV customer, you’ll see much higher prices on these packages.
DirecTV still has the better selection of HD channels, especially if you’ve got a 3D TV and want to watch Discovery’s 3net 3D channel. And, they’ve got the NFL Sunday Ticket this season (although that could change next year). DirecTV’s Genie DVR service is a great system, allowing you to record up to 5 shows at once to a 1TB hard drive. But while Cox falls slightly short in the HD channel count, their new Contour TV upgrade beats DirecTV’s Genie system. It may cost a bit more, but the 2TB hard drive will store twice the amount of programming. And, if you’re a TV fanatic, the ability to record six channels at once beats DirecTV’s five. For folk’s who don’t want to be tied down, Cox’s TV service doesn’t require a long-term contract like DirecTV’s 2-year agreement.
Cox vs. DirecTV Score Chart
|Installation||DirecTV||Cox charges for TV-only installation, $60 + $5 per device.|
|HD Channels||DirecTV||DirecTV offers more HD channels (albeit niche) than Cox.|
|On Demand selections||Tie||Both companies seem to have plenty of On Demand titles to choose from.|
|Equipment & Special Features||Cox||Cox’s Contour is one step better than DirecTV’s Genie — with the ability to record up to 6 programs at once to a 2TB hard drive.|
|Watch Anywhere||Tie||Both providers give you options for viewing remotely on iPad.|
|Contract Period||Cox||Cox doesn’t require a long term contract. DirecTV’s contracts are 24 months.|
|Value Packages||DirecTV||Because you get approximately 60 HD channels with DirecTV and costs less than Cox TV Economy Package|
|Top Tier Packages||DirecTV||You just get a bit more with DirecTV than Cox’s top-tier package which costs more.|
|Overall winner||DirecTV||6 to 4|
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.