Best Satellite TV Providers in 2019

If you’re looking for a satellite TV provider, picking one should be pretty straightforward, right? There are just 2 to consider, after all: DISH vs DIRECTV. 

But while a glance at their packages makes it look like DIRECTV gives you more channels for cheaper – starting at the XTRA package level – things aren’t quite what they seem. 

Mid-contract price hikes hurt – but we’ll take you through all that soon.

To guide our investigation and make our decision on which of the 2 satellite providers is best, we had to come up with some criteria for our comparison. We looked at a handful of things: 

  • Packages + Channels (included price per channel);
  • Contracts + hidden fees;
  • Bundling options;
  • DVRs; and
  • Customer service.

Comparing these things can make it clearer who’s best – although for you, one or more of those areas may matter more than to someone else. That just depends on what you prioritize. 

In any case, let’s get down to the nitty-gritties.

DISH vs. DIRECTV: Packages + Pricing

DISH Network plans

Plans Number of channels Price* View plans
America’s Top 120 190 $59.99/mo. View plans
America’s Top 120+ 190+ $69.99/mo. View plans
America’s Top 200 240+ $79.99/mo. View plans
America’s Top 250 290+ $89.99/mo. View plans
Flex Pack 50 N/A View plans

*With 2-year contract.

Take a look at DISH’s prices for a moment, then DIRECTV’s (below). At first glance, DISH looks more expensive, right? 

DIRECTV plans

Plans Number of channels Price (months 0-12) Price (months 13-24) View plans
DIRECTV SELECT 155+ $35/mo. $81/mo. View plans
DIRECTV ENTERTAINMENT 160+ $40/mo. $93/mo. View plans
DIRECTV CHOICE 185+ $45/mo. $110/mo. View plans
DIRECTV XTRA 235+ $55/mo. $124/mo. View plans
DIRECTV ULTIMATE 250+ $60/mo. $135/mo. View plans
DIRECTV PREMIER 330+ $110/mo. $181/mo. View plans

You’re right – in the middle tiers, for the first year, that’s true. 

DIRECTV CHOICE - the closest package to DISH’s America’s Top 120 - gives you just 5 fewer channels for $15 cheaper per month. You’ll save about $180 bucks your first year of going with DIRECTV. 

The same can be said about DIRECTV’s XTRA package in comparison to DISH’s Top 200, and DIRECTV”s ULTIMATE, as well. 

Price per channel comes out better for DIRECTV, too: DISH starts you off at about $0.31/channel, while DIRECTV starts at about $0.22/channel. 

After the first year, though, the honeymoon with DIRECTV is over: your monthly rate more than doubles for every package, so you’ll end up paying a lot more than what you saved for the first 12 months. 

DISH, however, keeps chugging along at the same flat rate. 

DISH vs DIRECTV: Contracts + Fees

Fee DISH Network DIRECTV
Installation (1-time) Free up to 6 TVs Free up to 4 TVs
First DVR Hopper Duo - $10/mo. Hopper 3 - $15/mo. DIRECTV Genie (free)
Additional DVRs Joe or Super Joey - $5-$10/mo. each Genie Mini - $7/mo. each
Regional Sports None $8.49/mo.

Both DISH and DIRECTV have contracts. Yes, contracts suck, but they give you better rates.

Here’s how they come out for these 2 providers: 

  • DISH gives you the option to sign a 2-year contract, price locked in for the entirety of it. Or, you can skip the contract, but you’ll pay about $15-$20 more per month.
  • DIRECTV requires you to sign a 2-year contract, then increases your rates by over double in the second half (months 13-24). 

With both DISH and DIRECTV, if you cancel before the end of your contract, you’ll have to pay Early Termination Fees (ETFs). Thankfully, the ETFs are prorated, but it still isn’t ideal: 

  • DISH - $20/month remaining in your contract, up to $480
  • DIRECTV - $20/month remaining in your contract, up to $480

Again, DISH gives you the option to skip the contract – and thus the ETFs that come with it. But that’s really only worth it if you’re going to be moving in the next 2 years. 

“Hidden” fees

In addition, both DISH and DIRECTV have some “hidden” fees to think about. Installation for both providers is free – up to 6 TVs for DISH, and up to 4 TVs for DIRECTV. 

But you’ll have to pay extra for DVR receivers ($10/month or more – more on that later), and DIRECTV has a Regional Sports fee to worry about in some areas for CHOICE package and higher ($8.49/month).

DISH vs DIRECTV: Bundles + Deals

Provider Sample Bundle Price View plans
DISH America’s Top 120 TV + Frontier Broadband Core internet $79.99/mo. View plans
DIRECTV DIRECTV Select + AT&T Internet $75/mo. View plans

But both providers have some bundles – and depending on your area and how much you like the internet, we’d go with DIRECTV on this one. 

Since DIRECTV is owned by AT&T, you get the option to choose AT&T Internet – one of the best broadband and fiber options available. Plus, you’ll save about $5-$10 bucks a month. 

DISH, by contrast, lets you pick from Frontier Internet or a satellite provider (HughesNet and Viasat) – but you don’t really get any savings, just a combined bill. Boo.

DISH vs. DIRECTV: Channel Lineup

Provider Channel Count
DISH 190 - 290+ channels
DIRECTV 155 - 330+ channels

When it comes to channel count, DIRECTV offers a wider range: lower, cheaper packages for those who want it, and a package with a greater number of channels than DISH’s best offer. That makes sense – DIRECTV has more package options. 

But in terms of the basic channel selection, both providers offer a lot of the same stuff: NBC, ABC, AMC, etc. So picking the better of the 2 here comes down to other channel-related features – and DIRECTV wins in our book. 

DIRECTV has more/better: 

  • Sports packages (talk soon);
  • 4K channels; and
  • HD options.

For example, DISH and Univision couldn’t work things out, so DISH had to drop them – not so with DIRECTV. 

On a related note, DISH seems to have trouble with settling disputes, as you’ll see in the next section. 

Premiums

Add-on DISH DIRECTV
HBO N/A $17.99.mo.
SHOWTIME $10/mo. $13.99/mo.
CINEMAX $10/mo. $13.99/mo.
STARZ $10/mo. $13.99/mo.
STARZ ENCORE $6/mo. Included with STARZ
EPIX $7/mo. N/A

While the premiums DISH offer are priced cheaper than with DIRECTV, there’s a big one missing from DISH’s lineup: HBO. 

This is because DISH and HBO are having a dispute, which has yet to be resolved, many months since its start.

Another point in DIRECTV’s favor is the promo they run pretty much all the time: premiums are free and included for the first 3 months with most of their packages (although you’ll have to pay regular price once your 90 days are up). 

Plus, DIRECTV’s PREMIER package includes all the premiums for FREE; to get them all with DISH, you’d have to pay $36 bucks a month extra – which puts you at $20 higher than PREMIER during that first year. 

Sports

Again – sports goes to DIRECTV here. Sure, both providers offer you a lot of the same channels in one form or another, like: 

  • ESPN channels
  • ESPN GamePlan
  • NBA League Pass
  • MLB Extra Innings
  • Fox Soccer Plus
  • NHL Center Ice
  • Fox Sports
  • NFL Red Zone

But DIRECTV has NFL SUNDAY TICKET – which is included for free for the first season at CHOICE-level and higher. At almost $300 regularly, getting it for free is a huge deal, especially for major football fans.

That said, DISH doesn’t do bad with sports – you can grab the Multi-Sports add-on for an extra $13 a month to grab more football games, as well as the NHL and MLB Networks. 

DISH vs DIRECTV: Availability

The best part about satellite TV service? It’s available everywhere. Or – pretty close. 

Both DISH and DIRECTV are available in the lower 48 states; so long as the spot where your dish would be mounted has a view of the southern sky – you’ll be good. 

Unlike cable TV options, rural folks will have no problems here. 

DISH vs. DIRECTV: DVR + Equipment

Features DISH Hopper 3 DIRECTV Genie
Storage 2TB 1TB
HD hours 500 200
4K Yes Yes
Number of simultaneous recordings 16 5
Number of TVs 6 8
Extra fees $10/mo. Included/Free
Extra receivers Joey or Super Joey ($5 and $10/mo. respectively) Genie Mini ($7/mo.)

When it comes to equipment, we’re back to showering DISH with praise. DISH’s Hopper 3 DVR has no comparison yet, including when battled against DIRECTV’s Genie. 

The Hopper 3 is just all-around better: double storage, more-than-double recording capacity, triple the number of simultaneous recordings – etc. 

The only places where the Genie wins are in price – it’s free – and the number of TVs that can be handled (8). Even so, while paling in comparison to the Hopper 3, the Genie really isn’t a bad DVR – especially if you’re a more casual recorder who doesn’t want to pay extra for overblown capabilities.

DISH vs. DIRECTV: Customer service

In the TV industry, customer service has never been lauded as fantastic, and probably never will be. Online reviews vary widely, but are most often skewed negatively. With that said, we’ll focus on some hard numbers.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index ranks DISH as one of the best providers (3rd-place), behind Verizon Fios and AT&T’s U-verse TV. That also puts it ahead of DIRECTV - although narrowly. 

J.D. Power also ranked DISH higher than DIRECTV for customer service – although DIRECTV took home 1st-place in the East region.  

In any case, both providers ranked equally high for overall satisfaction, communication, and billing.

Recap

So – who’s the best satellite TV provider for 2019? 

If you’re looking for the cheapest, then our pick is DISH Network – although for overall value it’s a close call. 

DISH gives you a stable, better price in the long run, has the better DVR, and their customer service is top notch, plus you have a cool no-contract option available to you. Their channel selection isn’t bad, either, and premium add-ons are cheaper – although the missing HBO is a noticeable void.

DIRECTV, in spite of its steep price jump, gives you better channels, with more 4K and HD options. Plus, there’s NFL SUNDAY TICKET and HBO; and if you want the most channels possible – DIRECTV’s your provider. 

Luke Pensworth Written by: Luke Pensworth

Luke is the managing editor and site manager of Dailywireless. As a wireless enthusiast/consumer, he reviews a lot of services based on his own experience. Disgruntled as he may be, he tries to keep his articles as honest as possible.

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