Cox Communications is one of the most expensive cable TV providers on the market, especially when you consider all the hidden costs. But if you want sports and premium channels, have only one TV, and bundle with internet and other services, this provider could make sense for you.
Spectrum TV is good if you’re bundling and on a budget, and we love the $500 contract buyouts. Better yet, Spectrum doesn’t force you into a contract, so you can give the cable TV service a try with relatively little risk. We don’t love the low channel count, and it’s a bummer that you can get 4K programming only if you also have home internet (and upgrade your DVR to an Apple TV box).
Cox has some of the best channel line-ups we've seen, with more to watch for just about everyone. Family-friendly entertainment is Cox's weakest link, but it's still better than a lot of competitors.
Cox has a great local lineup, including staples like NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, PBS, and The CW. It also includes some great Spanish-language locals like Univision, Telemundo, Unimas, and Estrella. However, it's missing Ion, Cozi, and Comet.
Cox cable TV includes a great sports lineup in its Preferred (mid-tier) and Ultimate (top tier) plans. ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports, and the Golf channel are all included in a Preferred plan, and the Ultimate plan adds NFL Network, NFL Red Zone, the Tennis Channel, and the elusive MLB channel. Most competitors typically offer these last three as expensive add-ons, so Cox is ahead of the game here.
Family and education: 3.5/5
Cox has some decent family entertainment, especially when it comes to educational content. You'll get Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, History, National Geographic, and the Science Channel, but you'll miss out on Nat Geo Wild and Smithsonian. The kids will love Cartoon Network, Disney, Nickelodeon, and Nick Jr., but the little ones won't get to enjoy Disney Junior.
News and politics: 4.5/5
Cox has excellent news coverage and politics content. Not only do you get the local news shows, you get most of the big national news channels too. You get C-SPAN, CNBC, MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, Newsmax, and The Weather Channel. Our biggest gripe is that you'll miss out on the international perspective of BBC America.
Entertainment and lifestyle: 4/5
Cox has some decent entertainment options, including Comedy Central, Bravo, CMT, AMC, FX and FXX, two Hallmarks, and Sundance. It's missing some lifestyle channels though, like HGTV and The Cooking Channel, but it has the Food Network and TLC. But what makes Cox stand out is how many premium channels it includes in its top-tier plan. If you spring for the Ultimate plan, you’ll get ten HBO, eleven Cinemax, five SHOWTIME, and nine STARZ channels—at no extra charge.
Spectrum TV is a good choice for basic TV viewing on a budget, especially if you bundle with home internet. You get more than 125 channels with TV SELECT and more than 140 channels on MI PLAN LATINO, but those are your only package options. Your exact channel lineup depends on where you live (and some areas even have unique package options), so enter your address and check the channel guide as you decide.
Spectrum does a great job of providing local channels throughout the hundreds of markets it covers. You get the big four—NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX—plus The CW and Spanish-language channels. You’ll miss out on a few smaller local networks in some areas, such as Antenna TV and Estrella TV, but we have no major complaints.
Spectrum TV is only passable when it comes to sports. You’ll get national games on the local networks and coverage from networks like TNT and FS1, but you’ll have to pay extra for goodies like MLB Extra Innings, NHL Center Ice, and the ESPN College Extra. You may be eligible for various regional sports networks, but they almost always cost extra. The sports pack is a breezy $6 per month, which isn’t bad, but we’d still prefer the channels be in the standard package.
Family and education: 3/5
Spectrum TV also earns a passing grade for kids shows, but it’s nothing to write home. You won’t get Disney Jr., Nat Geo Wild, Cartoon Network, or Nick Jr., unfortunately. Smithsonian’s out, too, and Science (you can get some of these with the Entertainment View add-on, but it costs $12 extra each month). You do get PBS, though, plus the regular Disney channel, Family Entertainment TV (FETV), and Discovery. It’s not great, but it’s not awful either.
News and politics: 4.5/5
Spectrum doesn’t offer the hotly debated Newsmax channel at its base price, but it has almost everything else news junkies crave. You get national networks CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, plus all the news that comes with local channels. If your primary reason to pay for live TV is to stay up to date, we think you’ll be pretty happy with what Spectrum has to offer.
Entertainment and lifestyle: 3.5/5
Spectrum TV’s lineup for movies, home improvement shows, reality TV, and true crime is just OK. You’ll have to pay extra for HBO, SHOWTIME, STARZ, and CINEMAX, or for an Entertainment View add-on that includes NFL Network, OWN, and the Cooking Channel. That said, you get channels like Investigation Discovery (ID), TLC, Hallmark, and INSP with the regular package price. You can’t get Ion or Ion Mystery either way, which is a bummer, but there are still hundreds of channels to choose from.
Although it looks like Cox has a ton of channels, its lineup (which varies by plan and location) is padded with up to 50 music channels. (1) Other than that, Cox delivers a great channel lineup, especially in its top-tier plan. However, it’ll cost you more than other companies.
You’ll get the most bang for your buck (and some sweet premium channels) with the Ultimate plan, but a Premium plan has plenty of channels for most people and the option to add inexpensive premium channels à la carte, which range from $5–$15 per. We don’t generally recommend the Starter plan because you can get most of its channels for free with an HD antenna, though that signal is less reliable than what Cox provides.
Cox Communications has two types of plans. Cox TV includes live TV and on-demand TV. Cox Contour adds the ability to connect streaming apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime to your TV and search their content using a remote. All plans come with a one- or two-year contract, after which you’ll be on month-to-month pricing, which is around $15/month more.
The two package options from Spectrum TV are pretty decent when it comes to channel per dollar, and you get all but one of America’s top 100 channels. (1) You’ll need add-ons for international programming, premium sports, and premium education and entertainment, but the cost is about average compared to other providers we review.
You’ll have to pay even more for your cable boxes and DVRs. Plus, there’s virtually no way out of a local broadcast fee, which tops out at more than $20 per month. Worst of all, that low base price will increase in the range of $20–$30 per month after your first 24 months. Competing services have much bigger second-year price jumps (we’re looking at you, DIRECTV and Astound TV), but we still wish Spectrum would end the practice.
When it comes to equipment and features, Cox is ahead of the pack. From a great app to exceptional DVR features to a search remote that simultaneously searches streaming apps and cable TV, using Cox is a top-notch experience.
Ability to watch: Great
Cox offers some solid features that make for a great entertainment experience. Cox TV uses cable infrastructure to keep you reliably binging your favorite shows. Your first Contour box is free, and every additional one is $8.50/month, which is cheaper than average. Plus, it has the Cox Contour app, so if you have smart TVs and don't need DVR on all of them, you don't need additional boxes. On the down side, the Cox Contour App has low ratings for both iOS and Android, so you might want to opt for more Contour boxes anyway.
Ability to record: Excellent
The Cox DVR service uses cloud storage so you can access recorded shows anywhere with the Cox Contour app. The Contour app also lets you download on-demand content to watch offline from anywhere.
How much storage you get (50–1,000 HD hours) and how many shows you can record at a time (1 to a whopping 24!) depends on which DVR package you buy. Or you can skip DVR altogether to avoid the additional cost.
Ability to find: Great
While at home with your TV, you’ll use a voice remote to sort through your shows—even the ones on streaming apps like Netflix and Hulu. You don't have to remember which app your show is on to find it, which we loved. It made our entire watching experience—not just our live TV experience—a delight.
The daily Spectrum TV experience isn't as good as what you may find with other cable competitors, and it's quite a bit worse than you would get with a satellite TV provider. It all works, but it's not the top of the line.
Ability to watch: Good
Spectrum TV uses HD receivers from a handful of companies, but none are very impressive and there’s no way to control which one you receive. The no-frills remote has controls for channels, a TV guide, and your DVR (if you pay extra for the service). It’s functional, but there’s no voice remote or way to watch in 4K unless you have an Apple TV (or buy one from Spectrum).
Ability to record: Fine
Spectrum’s DVR options are not nearly as good as the DVR setups you’ll get with satellite TV providers, and it falls short compared to other cable providers, too. Rather than create its own high-tech DVR, Spectrum offers a payment plan for a 4K Apple TV that’s preloaded with the Spectrum TV app. You can also use your own Apple TV or buy theirs up front, but the Apple TV option requires internet access.
It’s the best way to access 4K programming with Spectrum, but it ends up being a little more expensive than the competition’s top-of-the-line DVRs. If you end service before you pay your Apple TV off, you’ll be charged the complete price for the device. It’s not a bad deal if you’re already in the Apple ecosystem and have multiple streaming services in addition to cable TV, but it’s not a huge value add for a lot of users.
That aside, we like that you can record from either your regular set-top box or the highly rated mobile app, and it’s easy to see how much storage capacity you have left. You top out at just about 100 hours of HD storage, though, so keep an eye on that library and make sure to delete anything you don’t need.
Ability to find: Fine
You don’t get a voice remote with the standard Spectrum TV equipment, but you do get channel buttons, and we like that you can see both channel numbers and icons from the home screen. We gotta say, though, the Spectrum system for showing which channels are free, which are blocked, and which you have to pay extra for takes some getting used to.
There are workarounds so you see only channels you’re subscribed to and even a way to hide adult-themed shows from the guide, but we wish it were a little more intuitive. Lucky for you, this guide from Spectrum can help you get oriented.
Most customers report that Cox has solid customer service, and that's been our experience too. Cox also has some good self-help content on its website. We liked having the option to save money by signing a contract or skip the commitment altogether. However, Cox could work on its transparency. It has some hidden fees that you can't see until after you supply personal information. We'd love the ability to build a cart and see what our bill will be before sharing that.
Installation is generally fast and priced about average. If your house is already wired with cable jacks for all your TVs, self-install is a free, easy option. Professional installation varies by location but will run you around $75, which is pretty inexpensive. Learn how to choose between self installation or professional installation.
Spectrum leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to how it treats its customers. Starting with installation, you can do it yourself for free if you have had the service at your address before, but there’s an unusual $25 activation fee no matter what. If you need a pro install, you may be charged up to $50, but the company doesn’t list those fees publicly. Either way, you have to pay for your first set-top box, you can’t choose which DVR equipment you get, and you have to pay hefty fees for local broadcast stations and premium channels.
If you have trouble, you’ll need to contact customer service. We like the online help guide and 24/7 chat option, but the service overall scores worse than average among TV providers. (2)
You won’t see promotional pricing on any of the premium channels like you will with the competition, but we aren’t mad about it. Those promotions mostly amount to hidden charges a few months into the contract, and we applaud Spectrum for being more straightforward.