Best Satellite TV

Best Satellite TV
Find the best satellite TV service for you, learn about pricing and features.

At first glance, it might appear as though the choice of the best satellite TV service should be a pretty easy one. After all, there’s only two major competitors, meaning you should have a 50/50 chance of making the correct selection.

But when you’re comparing DirecTV vs DISH Network to find the best satellite TV deals, you’re not going to want to just flip a coin. Each satellite TV provider has its strengths and weaknesses, meaning if you take the time to do a little homework on DirecTV and DISH.

Best Satellite TV

 DISH NetworkDirecTV
DISHDirecTV
Rank#1#2
Basic Equipment and InstallationFree for new customersFree for new customers
Signal ReliabilityStrong, except in stormsStrong, except in storms
HD Programminggreen-check-markgreen-check-mark
4K Programmingred-x-icon (Coming 2016)green-check-mark
DVR and Set Top BoxHopperGenie
Hours of HD Programming Storage500200
Shows Recorded Simultaneously85
On Demand Contentgreen-check-markgreen-check-mark
Watch Anywheregreen-check-markgreen-check-mark
Premium Movie PackagesHBO, Showtime, Cinemax, STARZHBO, Showtime, Cinemax, STARZ
Professional Sports PackagesMLB, NBA, NHL, and MLSMLB, NBA, NHL, and MLS
NFL Sunday Ticketred-x-icongreen-check-mark
College Sports PackagesFootball and basketballFootball and basketball
Regional Sports Channelsgreen-check-markgreen-check-mark
Local Channelsgreen-check-markgreen-check-mark
Bundling Optionsgreen-check-markgreen-check-mark

#1 Pick  DISH Network

Best Satellite TV Dish Network
DISH Network subscribers will appreciate a lower service price than DirecTV subscribers, once the introductory price offers expire.

DISH Network is one of two satellite providers in the United States.  They’re known for their Hopper, a DVR box that integrates Sling technology (bought by DISH a few years ago) and its ability to automatically skip Primetime show’s commercials automatically after 24-hours of airing.

DISH recently made headlines by offering a 3-year price guarantee if you sign a 2-year contract.  Until this, both DISH and DirecTV required a 2-year contract, with the first year of service being discounted and the second year increasing in price somewhat drastically.  DISH still offers its customer’s a 2-year contract with a deeper discounted first year for those looking for service for 24-month.  But note, the 3rd year is when you experience the savings, per the table below.

DISH NetworkYear 1Year 2Total Payments
After 2-Years
Year 3Total Payment
After 3-Years
DISH 3-year Price Guarantee$599.88$599.88$1199.76$599.88$2,999.4
DISH First Year Savings Offers$419.88$779.88$1199.76$779.88$3,179.4

DISH Network’s satellite television package is best known for their lower priced tiers for existing customers. And to further differentiate its pricing, DISH recently unveiled some changes to its pricing tiers, including a three-year introductory price lock guarantee for new customers, which requires a 2-year contract.

Read: DIRECTV vs Comcast

For the DISH America’s Top 120 Plus service, you’ll pay $49.99 a month for the three-year contract, for example. DISH has started offering one year of free Netflix to new subscribers. HD service is free for life to new subscribers too.

A few years ago, DISH didn’t compete well with DirecTV’s sports programming.  However, DISH recently made improvements in this area, adding professional sports packages including MLB Extra Innings, NBA League Pass, and NHL Center Ice to the DISH channel lineup.  But, DISH still cannot offer the NFL Sunday Ticket package, which is a DirecTV exclusive.

DISH doesn’t charge extra for the first TV receiver or for regional sports channels, which DirecTV does. And while many cable television providers will charge for local channels, DISH does not.

DISH provides the Hopper as its set top box and DVR combination, which offers the ability to record up to eight shows simultaneously with a maximum of six TVs on the network at one time (there up to 4 Tuners). One Hopper box can be accessed from multiple TVs in the home, and you can pause a show in one room and resume watching it in another room. You can access the Hopper – this is called DISH Anywhere – remotely using a smartphone or tablet provided you’ve got an Internet connection. Of note, you will pay $10 to $15 per month for DVR service with the Hopper.

Note: DISH will soon offer 4K programming, but does not as of this posting, Jan 2016.

#2 Pick  DirecTV

Best Satellite TV DirecTV
The DirecTV satellite service offers the NFL Sunday Ticket, which DISH cannot offer.

DirecTV was recently acquired by AT&T.  Almost immediately, and once the merger went through, AT&T begin to offer one bill for both services, and discounted pricing for those that were willing to bundle the two services together.  DirecTV boasts a large footprint than DISH, currently offers 4K programming and the much covetted NFL Sunday ticket, which provides all access to all games on NFL Sundays (more on that below).

DirecTV does a good job of matching DISH’s prices for new customers, but after a 12-month introductory period, DirecTV’s tier pricing is higher than DISH’s pricing.

DirecTV does tend to include more channels in each of its tiers than does DISH. For example, in the lowest tier DirecTV includes SyFy, FX, HGTV, and USA, among other channels. DISH does not offer those channels unless you move up to a higher tier. And DirecTV offers more than 200 channels in HD all of the time, which is higher than DISH’s full-time HD lineup. However, both providers offer the most popular channels in full HD all of the time, including local channels.

Read: Netflix vs Hulu Plus

The Genie is DirecTV’s DVR, which can service multiple TVs in the home. You can record up to five shows at one time with Genie. However, Genie cannot match the overall storage capacity of DISH’s Hopper, as Genie has only about 40% of the Hopper’s storage capacity.

One interesting feature Genie and DirecTV offer that DISH does not is the ability to watch a show that you forgot to record, if it aired within the last 72 hours. DirecTV’s on-screen channel guide includes 14 days of information, more than DISH. Still, if you’re someone who loves to use your DVR, having the extra storage space in Hopper is tough to beat.

However, DirecTV’s biggest advantage over DISH is its exclusive offering of the NFL Sunday Ticket package, which, when combined with all of the national and regional NFL broadcasts you normally would receive, provides access to every NFL game broadcast. DirecTV also offers the professional sports packages for the NHL, NBA, and MLB. NFL fans will definitely want DirecTV.

Update: DirecTV customers who bundle with AT&T can access unlimited data over the network, though the service provider will start to throttle speeds after 22GB of data in a given billing period. AT&T recently purchased DIRECTV, giving it an advantage over DISH. If you’re an AT&T cellular customer, you’ll want to at least contact DirecTV and see what deals you can receive with a bundle.

What to Look for in the Best Satellite TV Service

Know What You WantMake a list of the types of programming you want from your satellite television package, and then try to match your desires with the strengths of a particular service. If you’re a big fan of a particular NFL team for example, but you live outside of its local broadcasting area, DirecTV will better meet your needs with its exclusive NFL Sunday Ticket offering.

Extra Services: Both DISH and DirecTV have extra services that are a big part of the packages they offer, some of which cost more. DVR service may have a monthly fee, as might HD or 4K programming (DirecTV currently offers 4K where as DISH has it “coming soon”).

Use the Free Services Smartly: Many times, DISH or DirecTV will offer to give you trial services for a few months when you initially sign up, such as for premium movie channels for 3-months. Just keep in mind when those trial expire, as they’ll add a not so nice premium to your monthly bill.

Mistakes to Avoid

Not Asking for Deals: If you’re a new subscriber to either service and you aren’t asking for special deals, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

A Package Tier You Don’t Need: Make sure you understand what’s available in each package. You may be tempted to upgrade to a higher tier for another $10 or $15 per month to gain a channel or two that you think you need. So ask yourself if that extra fee is worth it. To save some money, try purchasing a lower tier to start.

Not Understanding Your Contract: Both DISH and DirecTV will force you to sign a service contract, which usually will be for 24 months for new customers, accompanied by an introductory price offer for 12 months. DISH recently unveiled a 3-year price guaranteed with a locked-in introductory price for the full term. Regardless of provider, if you try to cancel your satellite service before your contract has expired, you’ll be hit with financial penalties.

Most Important Satellite TV Features

Equipment and Installation

  • For new customers, satellite TV providers will provide the satellite dish, the set top box, the remote control, installation and other basic equipment for free. Keep in mind that the service technician may need to drill some holes in walls during installation.  Though, there are now wireless boxes.

Signal Reliability

  • One of the biggest downsides to satellite TV is signal reliability. If you have significant rain or snow in the area between your dish and the satellite, you might lose signal.
  • Keep in mind that you’ll need a clear view of the southern sky (if you live in North America) to make use of satellite television.

HD and 4K Programming

  • Both DISH and DirecTV offer full HD programming on the majority of their channels. 4K (or Ultra HD) programming is currently available on DirecTV and arriving shortly (sometime in early 2016) on DISH.

DVR and Set Top Box

  • A DVR records programming from multiple channels, allowing you to watch it when you want, and/or  pause and rewind live TV. You usually can skip commercials while watching your stored programming.
  • The set top box and DVR are combined in one box for both DirecTV (Genie) and DISH Network (The Hopper – derived from Sling). DISH’s Hopper claims it can store up to 500 hours of HD programming, while DirecTV’s Genie can store up to 200 hours of HD programming.

On Demand Content

  • Both satellite services provide on demand content, which you can watch at your leisure. Some on demand content will require a fee, while other content is free. You can download the on demand programming to your DVR, where it will be stored until you’re ready to watch it. Or, if your Internet connection is fast enough, you can watch the programming as it’s being downloaded, like a streaming service.

Watch Anywhere

  • One of the biggest changes in satellite TV service in the past couple of years is the ability to watch your programming from anywhere. You can log into an Internet connection and use a password to watch programming on a smart device.

Pricing Tiers

  • Both services provide multiple pricing tiers. Each tier offers a certain package of channels, so you can find the tier that is right for you.

Which Best Satellite TV Is Right For You?

DISH has made some good strides in the past few years (see our hands on DISH Network review, making it much more competitive with DirecTV on the programming side. DISH continues to offer some good low priced tiers in its service offerings too, although DirecTV has closed the gap in pricing somewhat. DirecTV’s strengths lie in its exclusive NFL football programming, as well as in its ability to bundle some cellular phone service options, as AT&T owns the satellite TV company now.

Kyle Schurman

Kyle has been a freelance writer for 20 years, focusing mainly on technology related topics. He's written product reviews, product overviews, how-to articles, product best of lists, and other types of articles.

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