DISH Network and DIRECTV are the only satellite TV options that matter in the U.S. At first glance, DIRECTV looks cheaper, plus you get NFL SUNDAY TICKET — but take a closer look at the fine print: you’ll pay more later.
DISH looks more expensive at the outset, but you also have a 2-year pricelock guarantee on that, which winds up being cheaper than DIRECTV for most people. Plus, the Hopper 3 DVR is the industry’s best.
Our pick for best overall is DISH, but DIRECTV definitely has it’s upsides — so how do the two providers fare against each other in the nitty-gritty details? Who’s the best for you? Let’s find out.
DISH vs. DIRECTV Packages + pricing
At a glance, prices and packages seem to be comparable. But, take a look at that table further down — that’s DIRECTV’s price hikes in months 13-24 of your required 2-year contract. Yowza.
Those differences quickly award a point to DISH in our book — not only is DISH cheaper over 2 years, but you actually wind up getting more for your dollar in the end because of it.
DISH - Winner for price
*With 2-year contract.
DISH offers 4 packages, plus a “Flex Pack” customizable option. You’ll get just under 200 to nearly 300 channels with each, including 4K and HD channels.
That said, the difference between DISH’s first two packages can seem a little weird — an extra $10 bucks for a “+”? What’s that mean? It’s simple, even if it doesn’t look it — you get a few more sports channels and specialties. If you like sports, it’s probably worth it.
But in terms of total channels, DISH’s prices come out a little higher than DIRECTV -- the latter’s “CHOICE” package has similar channel count for $15 cheaper. The thing to remember, however, is that DIRECTV will jack that rate through the roof the second year of your contract.
DISH also offers a contract-free option, but prices are higher by $15-$20 more per month.
DIRECTV - Winner for variety
*Price are based off the 1st year of a 2-year contract. Increases in months 13-24.
Switching gears to DIRECTV, the giant offers 6 packages — 2 more than DISH — with a higher top-end channel count than DISH, and for better prices across the board initially. There’s a big price jump from ULTIMATE to PREMIER, which can be off-putting – but you do get a lot more channels, including premiums.
What’s the difference with this many packages? Hard to say at this point, aside from total count — we’ll talk more specific channel differences shortly. Suffice to say this point, that if you’re a sports fan who needs NFL SUNDAY TICKET, you’ll get it starting at the CHOICE level on up for no extra cost (for a season).
DIRECTV rate hikes
|Plans||Months 0-12||Months 13-24|
The big downside with DIRECTV’s pricing is — we’ll say it again — their 2nd-year price jumps. You’ll wind up paying double in the 2nd year of your contract, which winds up meaning you’ll pay more for fewer channels in most cases than with DISH.
DISH vs. DIRECTV Channels
|DISH||190 - 290+ channels|
|DIRECTV||155 - 330+ channels|
Channel selection is tied tightly into each TV provider’s package — aside from total count, it’s the essential difference between package tiers.
You’ll find most of the basic and common channels with both providers, which makes sports channel selection the biggest difference between DISH and DIRECTV. Even there, you’ll get most of the typical packages/channels with each one in some form, like:
- ESPN channels
- ESPN GamePlan
- NBA League Pass
- MLB Extra Innings
- Fox Soccer Plus
- NHL Center Ice
- Fox Sports
- NFL Red Zone
That said, DISH has exclusivity on Outdoor Sports and Racetrack Television Network; but DIRECTV has the monopoly on the coveted NFL SUNDAY TICKET — included from the CHOICE level up for free.
For sports fans, that can be a big deal, as there aren’t many ways to get ahold of NFL SUNDAY TICKET. In our book, this tips the scale in favor of DIRECTV for channels selection.
|SELECT||A&E HD, AMC HD, Animal Planet HD, AUDIENCE HD, AXS TV HD, BabyFirst TV, BBC America HD, BET HD, Bloomberg TV HD, Bravo HD, BYUtv, Cartoon Network East HD, Cartoon Network West, Christian Television Network, Church Channel, CMT HD, CNBC HD, CNN HD, Comedy Central HD, Contemporary Christian, CSAN, CSPAN 2, Daystar, DIS XD, Discovery HD, Disney Channel East HD, Disney Channel West, Disney Junior HD, E! HD, Enlace, EVINE, EWTN, FETV, Food Network HD, Fox Business Network HD, Fox News Channel HD, Free Speech TV, Freeform, FX HD, FXX HD, Galavision HD, GEB America, GEMS, GOD TV, Hallmark Channel HD, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries HD, HGTV HD, History HD, HITN, HLN HD, Hope Channel, HSN, INC TV, INSP, Investigation Discovery HD, ION Television East HD, ION Television West, Jewelry Television, Jewish Life Television, Lifetime HD, Link TV, MAVTV, MHZW, MSNBC HD, MTV HD, MTV2 HD, NASA TV, National Geographic Channel HD< NEWSMX, Nickelodeon HD East, Nickelodeon West, NRB, OAN HD, Ovation HD, Paramount Network HD, Pursuit, QVC HD, QVC Plus, ReelzeChannel HD, RFD TV, SBN, SYFY HD, TBS HD, TCM HD, TCT Network, TeenNick, The Word Network, TLC HD, TNT HD, Trinity Broadcasting Network, truTV HD, TV Land HD, Univision Este HD, Uplift, USA HD, Velocity HD, VH1 HD, VICELAND HD, WE tv HD, World Harvest Television|
|ENTERTAINMENT||All of SELECT’s channels, plus: CANAL ONCE, ESPN HD, ESPN2 HD, FOX Sports 1 HD, NBC Sports Network HD, Vme|
|CHOICE|| All of SELECT and ENTERTAINMENT’s channels, plus: |
AWE HD, BTN HD, CCTV News, CNBC World, COMTVH, Cooking Channel HD, ESPNEWS HD, ESPNU HD, Fuse, Fusion HD, GSN, IFC HD, JC HD, MLB Network HD, NFL Network HD, Nick Jr. HD, Nicktoons, OWN HD, POP, Science HD, SEC Network HD, Sundance TV HD, Tennis Channel HD, The Weather Channel HD, Travel Channel HD, TV One, UniMas, UP, WGN America HD
|XTRA|| All of SELECT, ENTERTAINMENT, and CHOICE’s channels, plus:|
American Heroes Channel, ASPiRE HD, BBC World news HD, BET Her, CBS Sports Network HD, Destination America HD, Discovery Family Channel, Discovery Life, DIY Networkj HD, FM, Fox Sports 2 HD, FYI Hd, Golf Channel HD, Great American Country, LMN HD, Logo, MTV Classic, Nat Geo WILD HD, NBA TV HD, NBC Universo, NHL Network HD, OLYCHD, Oxygen, Revolt HD, Sportsman Channel, Universal Kids HD
|ULTIMATE|| All of SELECT, ENTERTAINMENT, CHOICE, and XTRA’s channels, plus:|
Boomerang, CWBY, El Rey HD, ENCORE (Suspense, Action HD, Black, Classic, East HD, Family, West, Westerns), Nature Sounds, Sounds of the Seasons, Taste of Italy, THE MOVIE CHANNEL EAST HD, THE MOVIE CHANNEL WEST, Univision Deportes Network
|PREMIER|| All of SELECT, ENTERTAINMENT, CHOICE, XTRA, and ULTIMATE’s channels, plus:|
Eleven Sports Network, ESPN Buzzer Beater HD, ESPN Classic, Flix, Brazilian Pop, Classical Masterpieces, Italian Favorites, Outdoor Channel, THE MOVIE CHANNEL XTRA EAST HD
Aside from sports (particularly NFL SUNDAY TICKET), DIRECTV offers more 4K and HD channels than DISH does. When it comes to package differences, with as many as DIRECTV offers, it can be confusing and frustrating telling them apart — we’ll make it simple. ENTERTAINMENT gives you more sports channels, while ULTIMATE gives you more movie channels.
PREMIER gives you those premier channels — HBO, STARZ, SHOWTIME, and CINEMAX — included. That’s something DISH can’t say the same for with their highest-tier package, America’s Top 250. If you added all those same channels to DISH, you’d be paying more than $20 a month more than for PREMIER (at least for the first year).
|America’s Top 120 Channels||A&E, ABC, Alma Vision, Hispanic Network, AMC, AXS TV, BabyFirstTV, Beauty & Fashion Channel, Believer’s Voice of Victory Network, Bravo, Business Television, BUZZR Play, BYUTV, C-SPAN, C-SPAN2, Cartoon Network (E), Cartoon Network (W), CBS, CGTN-E, Christian Television Network, CMT, CNBC, CNN, Comedy Central, Create and Craft, CW, Daystar, DEAL, Discovery, DISH 101, DISH Studio, Disney Channel (East), Disney Channel (West), E! Television, Enlace, Epic, ESPN, ESPN Alternative, ESPN Alternative 2, ESPN 2, ESPNews, ESPNU, Eternal Word, Television Network, Evine, FETV, FM, Food network, FOX, FOX Business, Fox News, FOX Sports 1, Free Speech TV, Freeform, Fuse, FX, FXX, Gem Shopping Network, geTV, GRIT, HLN, HGTV, Hillsong Channel, History Channel, HITN, Home Shopping Network, Home Shopping Network 2, Hopper Insider, Impact Network, In Country Television, Independent Film Channel, Inspiration Network, ion Television, Jewelry Television, Justice Central, Justice Network, LAFF, Lifetime, Link TV, Mercury Television, MSNBC, MTV, MTV Live, MTV2, Multi-Channel View, NASA, National Geographic, NBC, Newsmax TV, Nickelodeon (E+W), Paramount Network, POP, PPV Event, Prayer, Pursuit, QVC, QVC+, REAL< ReelzChannel, Russie Today, SALE, SMART, Sonlife Broadcasting Network, Syfy, Three Angels Broadcasting Network, TLC, Travel Channel, Trinity Broadcasting Network, truTV, Turner Broadcast System, Turner Network Television, TV Games Network, TV Games Network 2, TV Land, USA Network, V-ME, Value TV, Velocity, VH1, Weather Channel, Weather Nation, WEtv, YOUTV, Z Living|
|America’s Top 120+ Channels|| All those included with America’s Top 120, plus:|
|America’s Top 200 Channels|| All those included with the previous packages, plus:|
|America’s Top 250 Channels|| All those included with the previous packages, plus:|
DISH offers fewer channels in HD and 4K than DIRECTV, but a plus in DISH’s favor is that unlike its competitor, ESPN comes standard in each of the Network’s 4 packages. The difference channel differences between DISH’s packages are also a little clearer: 120+ gives you some more sports and specialties; Top 200 gives you more sports, movies, and Disney channels; and Top 250 adds more specialties and movies.
That said, as mentioned already, while DIRECTV gives you channels like HBO, CINEMAX, STARZ, and SHOWTIME with their top-tier package, the only one of those premiums you get included with DISH is STARZ. And again – no NFL SUNDAY TICKET.
So while some channels are included at a lower price, some critical ones are not. Between sports, premiums, and HD options, DIRECTV wins the channel battle.
DISH vs. DIRECTV DVR + Features
Both DISH and DIRECTV offer a wide variety of features, apps, and hardware. We’ll compare their DVRs, mobile apps, and miscellaneous gear.
DVR - The Hopper 3 vs. The Genie
|Features||DISH Hopper 3||DIRECTV Genie|
|Number of simultaneous recordings||16||5|
|Number of TVs||6||8|
|Extra receivers||Joey or Super Joey ($5 and $10/mo. respectively)||Genie Mini ($7/mo.)|
The most important things to compare when looking at various DVRs are storage, simultaneous recording ability, and price. DISH’s Hopper 3 wins in 2 out of 3 of those categories — handily.
Both DVRs are very good, with great storage capacity, HD video hours, 4K capabilities, and more. But, the differences are pretty stark. In almost every category, the Hopper 3 has double the capability -- or more -- than the Genie.
Storage is double, HD hours are more than double, and the number of simultaneous recordings is more than 3 times as many — the only area where the Genie wins is price (free).
While being able to record 16 shows at once might seem ridiculous, it’s pretty probable that you won’t have any conflicts (ever); whereas with just 5 with the Genie, it’s a real possibility.
So, despite the extra cost, DISH easily wins with its Hopper 3 DVR.
Both DISH and DIRECTV offer several mobile apps, all of which have been rated on Google Play and the Apple Store. We’ll briefly gloss over them, letting the numbers do the talking. Across the board, DIRECTV’s apps get better ratings, plus, the on-the-go app (“DIRECTV app”) has a built-in remote function, letting you control your TV when the real remote vanishes into the netherworld for the 5th time this week.
DISH Anywhere (on the go)
- Google Play rating: 4.1 / 5
- Apple Store: 3.8 / 5
- Remote control: No
DIRECTV app (on the go)
- Google Play rating: 4.1 / 5
- Apple Store rating: 4.7 / 5
- Remote control: Yes
DIRECTV NFL SUNDAY TICKET (on the go)
- Google Play rating: 3.6 / 5
- Apple Store rating: 4.8 / 5
- Remote control: No
DISH Account management app
- Google Play rating: 3.7 / 5
- Apple Store rating: 4.5 / 5
- Remote control: No
DISH - other features
The DISH tailgater is essentially a portable, compact satellite TV antenna that allows you to connect one TV to it. It’s great for camping, road-tripping, or just watching TV outside — you can keep up with your shows on the road.
DISH is compatible with Amazon Alexa — whether it’s the Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Tap, or just your Hopper 3, Alexa can sync up and learn your preferences. She’ll even make suggestions based on what’s on right now in relation to what she’s learned that you like if you ask her.
DIRECTV - other features
Restart + Rewind
The Restart features lets you restart any live show from the beginning if you turn it on late in the show. Only some channels are compatible with this feature, but it’s free of charge.
The Rewind feature lets you watch any show that aired in the last 72 hours (3 days) on more than 60 networks. You’ll need to have the HD or Genie DVR, though.
HD + 4K
As already mentioned, DIRECTV offers more of its channels in HD than DISH, although the specific number varies depending on your chosen package. Many shows and movies are also available 4K.
DISH vs. DIRECTV: Installation
While it’s possible to install satellite yourself, both DISH and DIRECTV offer free professional installation. With both providers, you need an appointment during which time an adult (18 or older) needs to be present.
DISH makes it a little easier than DIRECTV, with just a 75-minute window for their installer to show up; DIRECTV requires a 4-hour window of time, taking up more of your day.
That said, DISH charges $5-$20 a month for every device beyond your first, while DIRECTV has no equipment charges for the first two rooms of your home.
This one’s a wash to us.
DISH vs. DIRECTV: Customer service
Customer support for TV providers tends to be poor – it’s a fact of the industry. But, the American Customer Satisfaction Index ranked DISH higher overall by 1 point than DIRECTV. Suffice to say, DISH wins, but narrowly — DIRECTV could easily pass them up.
The Bottom Line - Who wins?
When it comes down to it, whether DISH or DIRECTV is better for you depends on what your needs are. If you love sports and HBO, DIRECTV is the one for you. If you want dependable pricing and an awesome DVR, then go with DISH.
- DISH: Better prices, better customer support, better DVR – but fewer sports channels and few premiums included in top-tier packages.
- DIRECTV: Better packages when it comes to channels included, particularly sports and premiums – but the price jump in months 13-24 is huge.
Where is satellite available?
Because your TV signal is beamed down from orbit, satellite TV is available nearly everywhere in the U.S., so long as a south-facing satellite dish can be setup.
Is satellite reliable?
Yes. Although inclement weather (bad thunderstorms, snow storms) can have a negative affect on your signal, for the most part this has been reduced. If your dish gets covered by snow in a storm, though, you’ll have to clear it off to continue watching TV.
Why should I use satellite over cable?
The biggest reason to use satellite TV is because cable doesn’t reach you — i.e. a rural area. But if cable is an option, consider the number of channels you want: satellite may deliver more than cable. Price may be cheaper, too, depending on your plan.
Does DISH or DIRECTV do any bundling deals?
Yes. Both DISH and DIRECTV have bundling deals with internet and phone services. DISH bundles with Frontier or Hughesnet for internet; DIRECTV bundles with AT&T and CenturyLink.
Why switch from DISH to DIRECTV?
There are a few reasons why you might switch from the arguably-superior DISH Network to DIRECTV. Here are what we think are the top reasons switching to DIRECTV would be smart:
- You want more premiums included;
- You’re a die-hard sports fan/want more regional sports (and want NFL SUNDAY TICKET);
- You want to take advantage of the DIRECTV/AT&T internet bundling