The Best Satellite TV Providers of 2018

Stumped over which satellite TV provider to choose? DISH and DIRECTV are the sector leaders, but how do their respective services compare? We’re here to help! In this review, we’ll run through each important category and help you to make your choice.


Plans and Pricing

DISH

DISH plans range from $59.99 to $89.99 per month. Premium channels are offered in addition to these packages, priced separately according to network. We’ll take a closer look at those prices in the ‘Channels’ section.

Here’s a breakdown of the current prices per plan from DISH:

PackagesPromo PricingRegular pricingChannelsDetails
America’s Top 120$59.99/mo.$74.99/mo.190VIEW PLAN
America’s Top 120+$69.99/mo.$79.99/mo.190+VIEW PLAN
America’s Top 200$79.99/mo.$89.99/mo.240+VIEW PLAN
America’s Top 250$89.99/mo.$99.99/mo.290+VIEW PLAN

DirecTV

DIRECTV has a more affordable starting point, with a basic plan priced at just $35 per month. Their most comprehensive package costs substantially more than DISH, at $110 per month. Just like DISH, you can add premium channels to your plan, but they are bundled together.

Here’s a breakdown of their current plan pricing structure:

PackagesPromo PricingRegular pricingChannelsDetails
SELECT$35/mo.$78/mo.155+Coming Soon
ENTERTAINMENT$40/mo.$90/mo.160+Coming Soon
CHOICE$45/mo.$105/mo.185+Coming Soon
XTRA$55/mo.$117/mo.235+Coming Soon
ULTIMATE$60/mo.$128/mo.250+Coming Soon
PREMIER$110/mo.$181/mo.330+Coming Soon

The Verdict on Pricing

Both providers offer a comprehensive range of channels at reasonable prices for the first year. However, the hike in DIRECTV’s pricing after one year is astronomical, transforming affordable packages such as Select and Entertainment into substantial monthly burdens. With DISH, the price you’re quoted at the start remains the same throughout your contract.

For this reason in particular, DISH is the clear winner.


Contract, Installation, and Coverage

Both DISH and DIRECTV require a 2-year minimum contract so they’re on par there, however, as we’ve seen above, the pricing structure from DISH remains consistent over the entirety of the contract, whereas DIRECTV increases its prices after the first year.

Installation is free from both providers; DIRECTV will link the service to a maximum of 4 rooms, while DISH extends that offering to 6 rooms. Watch out, however; DIRECTV charges $35 for activation, and some have complained that there are additional hidden installation fees for certain users too, whilst DISH will activate your plan at no extra charge.

Both providers have nationwide coverage. No matter how remote your location, there’s a satellite TV package available to you!

Winner on Coverage, Installation and Contracts
DISH edges ahead here, offering free installation and activation. Whilst we commend DIRECTV for installing their service on up to 4 rooms, the activation cost seems like unnecessary nickel-and-diming.


Channels

The entry package from DISH provides 190 standard channels, building up to the top package of over 290, including 140 HD channels.

Meanwhile, DIRECTV’s entry-level plan – cheaper than DISH’s for the first year – provides 150 HD channels, whilst their most expensive package carries over 330 HD channels.

Premium channels
Both providers give you a three-month trial of their premium channels. This affords you the opportunity to figure out which channels are absolutely essential, and which ones you can live without.

When it comes to pricing, DIRECTV bundles all of their premium channels together for $59.99 per month. This gives you all of the HBO, STARZ, SHOWTIME, and Cinemax channels; 33 in total, with all but one in HD.

DISH offers greater flexibility. Networks are priced individually and as follows:

Network# Of ChannelsPrice Per Month
HBO9 (8 in HD)$15.00
STARZ8 (6 in HD)$10.00
STARZ ENCORE8$6.00
SHOWTIME9 (5 in HD)$10.00
Cinemax6 (4 in HD)$10.00
EPIX4$7.00
DISH Movie Pack15$10.00

Who’s on Top for Channels?
Both providers offer a huge range of channels, and we’re impressed with DIRECTV’s scope – from entry-level packages right up to all-encompassing mega-packs.

When it comes to premium channels, there’s a clear advantage in choosing DISH. Individual network pricing allows you to choose only the channels that you really want to watch, and we were pleasantly surprised to discover that purchasing the channels offered in DIRECTV’s bundle individually on DISH actually worked out cheaper. With that in mind, DISH takes the crown in this category.


DVR and On-Demand

Both providers offer DVR capabilities. With DISH, you’ll get a Hopper 2TB box, or 2,000 hours’ worth of TV and movies in standard definition, or 500 hours in HD. With DIRECTV, you’ll get a 1TB Genie box, which will give you 1,000 hours’ worth of storage in standard definition, or 200 hours in HD. Both are considerable, but if you have heavy-duty storage needs, particularly in high definition, DISH is the way to go.

Both providers also offer an impressive on-demand library. With DISH, there are more than 20,000 titles to choose from. DIRECTV goes even further; more than 35,000 titles are on offer! We’re also impressed with the DIRECTV app, which gives you the option to watch channels and shows on the go from smart devices. If you love to binge a box set or settle down with a movie, you’ll be spoilt for choice with both providers!

Who’s Got Better Options?
It’s a tie! Whilst DISH clearly wins out on the DVR, DIRECTV’s on-demand library is massive. Your decision here will depend entirely on personal preferences. Both providers offer a decent DVR and a well-sized on-demand service. Need more DVR storage? Go for DISH. Want a wider range of on-demand titles to choose from? DIRECTV is best for you.


Up-Front and Hidden Fees

As is the case with all media providers, there are some extra fees to take into consideration. Whilst satellite TV providers are generally forthcoming about up-front fees, there are some under the surface that you may not know about until they’re suddenly present on your bill.

Let’s start with DISH. Whilst installation for up to 6 rooms is free, you will need to purchase additional equipment to use the service on more than one TV. Joey extension boxes can be hired at a charge $14 a pair per month, or you can upgrade to the Super Joey, with the same HD-recording facilities as the main Hopper, for $10 per box each month. There’s also a wireless Joey available, for a $25 one-time additional fee. DISH also charge $10 per month for a DVR service fee.

Moving over to DIRECTV, the addition of extra Genie boxes costs $7 per box each month, and there’s a DVR service charge of $15 per month to factor in. It’s also worth noting that DIRECTV charges an extra fee for regional sports, which is $7.49 per month. Don’t forget, there’s also a $35 fee for service activation.

The Verdict on Fees
It’s a tie! Both providers have a substantial number of additional fees on top of their standard rates. It’s worth doing your sums before you make your final decision, but it’s interesting to note that DISH are often more upfront about their fees and some DIRECTV customers have noted the hidden charges they weren’t aware of.


Up-Front and Hidden Fees

Both DISH and DIRECTV tend to have above-average customer service ratings. Let’s directly compare their scores:

American Customer Satisfaction Index
DISH: 67/100; third place in the Subscription Television Service category (2018)
DIRECTV: 64/100; fourth place in the Subscription Television Service category (2018)

JD Power
DISH: 5 stars out of five; second place in the US Residential Television Service Provider Satisfaction Study – National (2017)
DIRECTV: 5 stars out of five; first place in the US Residential Television Service Provider Satisfaction Study – National (2017)

For both providers, the most common complaints are to do with billing, availability, and equipment. But, this is reflective of the industry as a whole.

Who is Loved More?
It’s a tie! Both DISH and DIRECTV score relatively well within the TV provider industry, as they have done for several years. Whichever company you choose, you’re likely to get relatively good service.


Pros and Cons of DISH

Pros

  • Comprehensive range of high-definition television, sports, and movies.
  • Consistent package pricing for the entirety of the two-year contract; the price you pay at the start will not increase in the second year.
  • Free installation of services to a maximum of 6 TVs.
  • Nationwide coverage.
  • Three months’ free trial of premium channels.
  • Premium channel pricing is less expensive than DIRECTV’s bundle, and offers greater flexibility.
  • 20,000 on-demand titles to choose from.
  • Consistently high customer service rating, in relation to other providers.
  • The 2TB Hopper DVR has a higher capacity than that of the 1TB DIRECTV Genie DVR.

Cons

  • A starting price of $59.99 for the most basic package may be too expensive for some customers.
  • The DVR service fee adds an extra 10 bucks on the price of your package per month, and it’s unavoidable.

Pros and Cons of DIRECTV

Pros

  • Comprehensive range of high-definition television, sports, and movies.
  • Free installation of services to a maximum of 4 TVs.
  • Nationwide coverage.
  • Three months’ free trial of premium channels.
  • 35,000 on-demand titles to choose from.
  • Consistently high customer service rating, in relation to other providers.

Cons

  • Package pricing increases exponentially in the second year; a good deal for the first year is not representative of the entirety of a contract.
  • The $15.00 monthly DVR service fee is unavoidable, and takes the true cost of the ‘affordable’ Select package up to 50 bucks a month.
  • Mandatory $35.00 activation fee, which isn’t charged by DISH.
  • Premium channel bundle works out more expensive than DISH.
  • The 1TB Genie DVR has a lower capacity than that of the 2TB DISH Hopper DVR.

The Final Verdict

Both DISH and DIRECTV offer a decent satellite TV service, with high-definition viewing and good-quality DVR boxes. Our main issue is the pricing structures across the board; DIRECTV is by far the worst offender when it comes to hidden charges. The price hike after the first year also stands out as a bold move – and not a positive one!

The free trial of premium channels is a nice perk, but we weren’t keen on DIRECTV’s bundle pricing. DISH’s mix-and-match approach is not only more flexible, but also cheaper.

Customer service is good for both companies, and certainly better than most in their sector. Nationwide coverage means that nobody is left out, no matter how remote their location. We also appreciated the array of catch-up options from each provider, with DIRECTV just edging the competition in this category.

That said, the best overall experience comes from DISH. Consistent pricing, a higher capacity DVR box, and no activation fee sealed the deal.

The winner: DISH