DIRECTV is our top choice for regional sports networks and offers channels for every appetite, but watch for price hikes, 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’s satellite service is a solid choice for viewers who don’t have access to cable TV or fast internet, and it’s the only way to catch every Sunday NFL game. However, its high prices, required two-year contract, and steep second-year price hikes (up to $70 per month) make it a poor fit for budget-conscious shoppers.
Starting with DIRECTV’s first-tier subscription, you get access to HGTV, cable news, Nickelodeon, and ESPN. That basic offering starts at about the same price as its biggest competitor, DISH. For around $10 more each month with DIRECTV, you also get one season of NFL SUNDAY TICKET. But compared to both satellite and cable TV competitors, DIRECTV gets expensive fast.
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 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’s Genie HD DVR receiver is everything you’d expect from a premium cable TV or satellite service. It 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.
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.
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.
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 at 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.
Professional installation of your new DIRECTV satellite dish is included with your subscription and $19.95 activation fee, but you’ll have to schedule an appointment with a local technician. 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 two-year commitment.
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. Check the fee schedule from DIRECTV for a complete breakdown.
In comparison, DISH charges about the same for additional receivers and about $10 less to connect your DVR every month. Most cable companies also charge a DVR connection fee, but the DIRECTV DVR fee is one of the highest we found.
DISH covers satellite antenna installation and DVR setup for what it calls “credit-qualified customers,” meaning customers who sign up for a two-year contract. 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.
Your standard monthly package price with DISH includes rental of one Hopper Duo DVR, but you’ll pay extra to add a wireless Joey receiver for other TVs or to upgrade to the Hopper 3. You will also 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.
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.
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.
DIRECTV is the only way to get NFL SUNDAY TICKET, at least through the end of this season, and it offers more regional sports coverage than the competition. That’s a big win! It offers premium packages for MLB, NBA, and international sports as well, but you’ll pay extra. You can also get a wide variety of college games, but it might be easier with DISH than with DIRECTV.
For the best of the best in entertainment and solid foreign language coverage, DIRECTV has you covered. If a particular channel isn’t included in your package, there’s a good chance you can add it for a fee. You even get the first three months of top movie channels included with the second and third tiers—just don’t forget to call and cancel or you’ll be charged premium fees.
DISH can’t compete with DIRECTV’s exclusive access to NFL SUNDAY TICKET and its growing list of options in 4K resolution. There are no regional sports networks, either. But you’ll pay a lot less for DISH (in both English and Spanish) and still get access to a wide variety of pro and college sports. The lowest-tier package includes five different ESPN channels and FOX Sports 1 HD, and you can add the Multi-Sport Pack plus your regional sports channel for about $25 per month. To catch the best pro basketball, hockey, and soccer games, you’ll need to upgrade to the second-tier package.
Where DISH lacks in NFL coverage and 4K sports, it shines in entertainment. A huge list of movies and shows is available at all pricing levels, and you can add even more by going up a tier. You can also add channels like Encore and EPIX for a monthly fee. Other add-ons cost a dollar or two more than they do with the competition, but you’ll still pay less overall. DISH wins points for having a user-friendly, sortable channel guide on its website, making it easy to choose the right package for your needs.