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.
Sling TV is one of the lowest-cost live TV streaming services we tested at just $40–$55 per month. Unfortunately, we found it hard to share its small channel lineup with the whole family. But if you’re looking for a live TV service just for you, Sling TV could be your match.
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.
Sling delivers a solid value. Its cost per channel is high (around $1–$1.33 per channel), but it also comes with a ton of on-demand content and the ability to record live shows and skip the commercials when you watch them later. You get only 50 hours of DVR cloud storage, but you can quadruple that for just a few bucks extra.
Sling also provides a good mix of channels, including a few sports, kids, lifestyle, and comedy channels. If you want more of any genre, you can grab a package or two to customize your content. Most add around $6 to your bill, or you can grab a bundle if you find one you like.
The Sports Extra add-on is pricier at $11–15 per month. The pricing and channels you get vary depending on whether you're adding the sports pack to Sling Orange, Sling Blue, or Sling Orange + Sling Blue (unnecessarily complicated, in our opinion). But with Sports Extra on Sling Orange + Sling Blue, you get an extensive list of channels (20 more), including the NFL Red Zone, MLB, NBA, and Olympic networks—some of which you can purchase separately for more than the cost of this whole package. You can also add over 40 premium packages, and many are priced lower than we’ve seen elsewhere.
Unlike other streaming services, Sling TV has a free version. This is no time-limited free trial that you forget to cancel until you see your credit card bill two months later. This is genuinely, indefinitely free—no credit card required. You can’t record shows with it, but it’s a great way to dip your toe into the cable-cutting waters at no cost.
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.
Sling TV offers a solid channel lineup, but it doesn’t include any local channels. You can add these with an HD antenna or an AirTV device, but that means you can’t watch them on the go. And if you’re looking for 4K content, you won’t find it here. Live content streams in 720p and on-demand content is 1080p.
Which channels you get depends on which plan you choose (and here’s where it gets a little confusing). Sling has three plans: Orange, Blue, and an Orange + Blue combo. The Orange and Blue plans each have a few channels in the same genre the other doesn’t, so be prepared to make some hard choices unless you spring for the combo plan. If you’re a sports fan, you’ll have to choose between ESPN (Orange) or FOX Sports, NFL Network, and NBC (Blue). If you have kids, you’ll have to choose between Disney Channel (Orange) or the Discovery Channel (Blue). Channels like BBC America, Nick Jr., Cartoon Network, AMC, and CNN are included in both plans.
Oddly, the free version of Sling gives you way more channels: 150+. But many of the free Sling TV channels are super specific (there’s a channel that plays The Carol Burnette Show 24/7) or on-demand channels, which is cheating. But there are some gems, like Outside TV+, Bon Appetit, and CMT. The downside is you don’t get DVR capabilities, and you’ll end up watching more commercials.
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.
All Sling plans include 50 hours of cloud DVR storage, which isn’t much, especially if you want to share your plan with family or roommates. Adding DVR Plus for $5 will get you 200 hours and—we’re willing to bet—fewer fights over deleted shows. And you’ll get the ability to lock your favorite episodes so they aren’t automatically deleted to make room for new recordings if you go over the limit.
Unlike most of the other live TV streaming services we’ve tried, you can’t make separate profiles for different users to watch, record, and save their favorite shows. That’s a bummer because figuring out how to stream multiple live shows at once is confusing. Sling TV decides how many streams you can have based on the channel you’re watching: Orange channels have just one stream and Blue channels have up to three.
If you have the Orange + Blue combo plan, you’ll see both Orange and Blue versions of some channels in your Guide, since these lineups have some overlap. One person can watch the Orange version of TNT, for example, but three people can watch the Blue version. If too many people start watching the same channel, someone will be kicked off about a minute later—but the offending viewer will never know they just ruined someone’s day because Sling doesn’t tell them.
Add it all up, and sharing a single Sling TV subscription with members of your household could cause more arguments than it's worth.
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.
The browser and app interfaces were generally easy to use, and Sling is compatible on a ton of devices. Sling says you can run it on just a 5 Mbps internet connection but recommends at least 25 Mbps. When we tested it, Sling was laggy on a cell signal connection, but that’s not uncommon. And when it comes to watching shows on the go, there are a few areas where Sling can improve.
With on-demand content, we sometimes had trouble picking shows back up if we’d started them and had to step away. Finding the “Continue watching” section on the home tab was hard because it kept moving. And when we switched back and forth between devices (like between the app on an Android phone and the Safari browser on a Mac laptop), Sling didn’t always remember where we were in a movie. Sometimes, this kind of switch stumped Sling completely, resulting in an error and Sling forgetting that we’d ever watched the show. That meant having to find our place again—and having to sit through commercial blocks we’d already watched.
The DVR is a decent experience. It’s easy to record shows as you find them in the Guide, but starting a recording mid-show won’t record what you’ve missed. And you can’t use your phone to start recording a show that’s already started. The record button just isn’t there. Shows you’ve already recorded pop up behind the DVR tab, along with how much storage you’ve used and your scheduled recordings. If you delete something you didn’t mean to (or Sling deleted a show to make room for new recordings), it’ll stay in the Trash section for 48 hours in case you want to reinstate it. We found that handy, especially if you don’t want to spring for extra DVR storage.