DIRECTV is our top choice for regional sports networks and offers channels for every appetite, but watch out for second-rate DVR tech and hidden fees.
DISH offers a sweet three-year price guarantee and one of the best DVRs available, but picture quality is unreliable, and you’ll miss out on regional sports networks.
DIRECTV satellite offers a metric ton of channels, including almost all the most popular networks in the US. It also offers more regional sports networks than any other TV provider, making it one of our top choices for content among all the providers we review.
Local channels are the heart of a good TV package, and DIRECTV has you covered at every tier. You get access to the big four networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX) plus a handful of Spanish-language channels. You’ll miss out on a few of the nation’s top 100 picks because they’re only available over the air, but there’s no provider out there that can beat out DIRECTV for local coverage.
DIRECTV offers access to every one of the top sports channels out there plus a bunch of regional sports networks, meaning you can catch nearly every game under the sun. We have to say nearly, though, because DIRECTV lost its exclusive contract with NFL Sunday Ticket at the end of 2022. We still think DIRECTV is a stellar choice for sports fans of all kinds, but you’ll have to add the Sunday Ticket channel from YouTube TV if you want every out-of-market game. Pricing starts at $349 per season for YouTube TV subscribers and $449 for just the premium channel.
Family and education: 5/5
When it comes to shows for kids and families, you can’t do better than DIRECTV. You get access to all the heavy hitters, from Disney Jr. to PBS and National Geographic. There’s also PBS, Cartoon Network, and plenty of shows and movies to choose from.
News and politics: 5/5
Like with sports, DIRECTV offers almost all the news and analysis you could hope for. You get local, national, and international coverage plus commentary from both sides of the aisle.
Entertainment and lifestyle: 4.5/5
DIRECTV offers all the movies, reality shows, home improvement series, and true crime channels you can think of. At its top tier, you even get premium channels like HBO, Showtime, and STARZ. When you want everything under the sun with just one package price, DIRECTV is a fantastic option.
DISH Network offers more than 250 channels on its top tier—it’s a ton of content, and includes almost all the most popular channels out there. (1) There’s a lot of filler in the form of shopping and music channels, but you also get an excellent selection of shows and games for the whole family.
You can catch most of your local and national network channels with DISH, and that means local news, local sports, national sports, and top syndicated shows. There is a local channels fee on top of your regular bill, but you can get out of it by buying an antenna instead.
You can watch games and matches for almost any sport with DISH, plus sports analysis and game highlights on channels like NFL Network and MLB Network. There are no regional sports networks, though, and no way to watch every out-of-market NFL game like you can with Youtube TV’s NFL Sunday Ticket. We still recommend it for most fans, but there’s a chance you won’t be able to find all your team’s games.
Family and education: 4.5/5
If you have kiddos in the house, or even if you’re just very interested in educational content, DISH has you covered. Even on the lower-priced tiers, you get PBS, Animal Planet, Cartoon Network, Disney, and the History channel.
News and politics: 4.5/5
DISH doesn’t have every single news channel out there, but it has all the most popular networks plus plenty of local and international news. You get Fox News, MSNBC, Vice, BBC America, and even Newsmax and Freeform. News junkies rejoice!
Entertainment and lifestyle: 4/5
If you’re into Blockbuster movies, home improvement, reality TV, and true crime, you’ll love what DISH has to offer. You will have to pay extra for premium channels like SHOWTIME and HBO, which is a bummer, but paying for just the premium package still gets you more than you could ever watch.
DIRECTV’s satellite service is a solid choice for viewers who don’t have access to cable TV or fast internet, and it has all the most popular channels, plus access to more regional sports networks than any other provider. However, its high prices and required two-year contract make it a poor fit for budget-conscious shoppers.
With DIRECTV’S top offering, PREMIER, you get more than 340 channels. That’s more channels than you can get through most other cable or satellite services and more channels per dollar. You might not care about all the channels—specifically the music and advertising ones—but there’s sure to be something for everyone. You’ll pay extra for sports add-ons, but prices for these extras are on par with the competition.
DISH stands out in the satellite TV space for its straightforward billing and three-year price guarantee for new customers. The basic package starts at about the same price as DIRECTV’s lowest-tier package, but premium packages cost a lot less. You’ll pay a little less for cable TV compared to DISH in many parts of the country, but things like competition between carriers and available technologies lead to big geographic differences.
DISH has a lot to offer casual viewers, but you won’t have access to NFL SUNDAY TICKET like you would with YouTube TV or any 24/7 channels in 4K resolution like you would with DIRECTV. There might be occasional problems with the picture quality for live sports, but those issues are rare for movies and most TV shows. Compared to cable TV, DISH usually offers better picture quality and many more channels.
While DISH is a lot more straightforward than DIRECTV, there are a few fees that can sneak up on you, including a local broadcast fee. You can get out of that fee by finding another way to watch local channels, but be sure to read your bill carefully each month.
DIRECTV offers one of the best day-to-day viewing experiences available from any live TV service, and its picture quality is hard to beat.
Ability to watch: Great
Watching DIRECTV is a pleasure, whether you’re watching from your couch or catching up on your DVR shows from bed. The companion app is also easy to use, and it lets you watch from all the top streaming devices, including Apple TV and Roku.
DIRECTV reports 99% signal reliability (virtually the same as DISH), but if you live in an area with a lot of storms or other interference, it’s possible for your signal to drop out. If that happens, you can still access your DVR, find on-demand content, or stream online. You can also stream away from home using the DIRECTV app on your iPhone or Android.
Ability to record: Great
DIRECTV’s Genie HD DVR receiver is everything you’d expect from a premium cable TV or satellite service. We like how easy it is to find shows you’ve saved to your DVR or bookmarked, and the on-demand library is solid. Your Genie can record five channels at once and store up to 200 hours of HD content. That’s not quite as many channels as with the latest DISH Hopper 3 DVR, and you also get less storage capacity than with almost any live TV streaming service we tested. But unless you need to record a ton of content or several channels at once, DIRECTV’s tech should be adequate.
Rental of your first Genie HD DVR receiver is included with your subscription, but you may have to pay up to $25 every month to use the HD DVR. You will also be charged $7 per month (plus activation fees) to rent additional mini receivers or to upgrade to the wireless version of the Genie HD DVR.
Ability to find: Great
DIRECTV has done a stellar job with its channel guide, making it easy to find your shows in a variety of ways. You can sort the channels in a few ways, choose favorites, or browse by category. You can also select favorites for quick access.
The included backlit remote comes with all the controls you expect for finding, recording, and selecting channels. It doesn’t come standard with voice control, but it’s possible to set that up if you have one of Amazon’s Alexa devices. You also won’t be able to watch streaming services like Netflix and Hulu on your Genie, but that comes standard with DISH.
DISH is a great way to enjoy all TV has to offer, from picture quality to recording capability and watching on-demand.
Ability to watch: Great
As one of the two big satellite TV providers out there, DISH offers fantastic picture quality and a fantastic viewing platform. It also has a highly rated mobile app, making it easy to watch your shows and channels on the go. You can connect on smartphones, tablets and computers, or your Apple TV.
You can pay extra for DISH Outdoors, a portable satellite antenna and receiver system you can mount on your truck or RV. If you already have DISH at home, the Outdoors setup doesn’t cost much more, making it a great option for camping or tailgate parties.
Ability to record: Excellent
DISH Hopper DVRs are fantastic, and they easily outshine the competition. The Hopper 2 is the standard model and comes with voice control, a Netflix app, and internal Wi-Fi. The Hopper Plus, released in 2022, is an add-on streaming box that lets you add thousands of streaming apps. With DIRECTV’s set top box, you miss out on the apps.
If you upgrade to the Hopper 3 or Hopper Plus with DISH, you’ll pay about $5 more each month. But you get a whole lot for the money. The super-powered DVRs can record up to 16 shows or games at once and save 500 hours of HD recordings. Plus, they're 4K-enabled and beam your DVR content straight to your smartphone or additional set-top boxes around the house so you can watch from anywhere. It also comes with more streaming apps than the basic version, plus built-in Bluetooth so you can watch with earbuds.
The Hopper 3 and Hopper Plus are extraordinarily powerful, but you won’t be able to use all the extra features if you don’t have high-speed internet. If you do, and you want to catch a metric ton of games and shows on your schedule, we think the extra monthly cost is worth it.
If you want to skip the Hoppers and Joeys altogether, you’ll need the Wally receiver and your own hard drive for recording shows. DIY DVR with DISH isn’t worth the hassle for most folks, but it is an option if you're tech-savvy and already own the equipment.
Ability to find: Excellent
There’s a ton of content to love on DISH, and the interface makes it easy to find just what you need. You can control the remote with your voice or easy-to-use channel buttons, and the previews and descriptions show right up top. DISH is TV for people who love live TV, and it shows in the interface.
DIRECTV has some factors that make the customer experience great, but others that we find almost unacceptable. You get free professional installation if you sign a 2-year contract, for example, but there’s a weird $20 activation fee. DISH also includes installation at no extra cost, but traditional cable TV providers can charge $50–$100 or more, even if you do the work yourself.
Included installation is a big benefit, but you’ll pay for it in the long-run over the course of your 2-year commitment. Plus, there are massive cancelation fees of nearly $20 per month remaining on your contract if you want to get out early. There are other fees to watch out for, too. Check the fee schedule from DIRECTV for a complete breakdown.
If you need to contact customer service, your experience will be about average among TV providers we reviewed. You’ll find a lot of complaints in online reviews, but that’s pretty par for the course.
DISH has been ranked as the #1 traditional TV provider for customer service in the US, and we think the honor is well-earned. (2) New customers get a three-year price guarantee, and installation is included (as long as you can pass a required credit check). Some competing cable companies charge closer to $100 for installation, so it’s nice to see both top satellite providers—DISH and DIRECTV—cover the initial setup.
There’s also an option for people who don’t want the contract: Flex TV. You have to buy your DVR outright and pay for the installation out-of-pocket, but you can skip the credit check and pay for TV month to month.
Either way, you’ll benefit from fewer junk fees than the competition and multiple ways to get in touch. It’s worth noting that DISH got hacked in early 2023 and it left customers without service for several days, but we think it was a one-time problem and don’t expect similar outages in the future.