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.
WOW! (short for Wide Open West) offers a compelling case for switching to internet-based TV. You get a solid channel lineup at a great rate, all using top-notch Wi-Fi gear from eero—provided you’re willing to have a chillier relationship with your DVR and you don’t mind beta-testing the WOW! tv+ app.
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.
With WOW! tv+, you can watch live TV or on-demand content, record your favorite shows, and use streaming apps like Netflix—all over WOW!’s Wi-Fi. You need to order a WOW! internet plan with a speed of at least 100 Mbps (which is inexpensive) and at least one WOW! tv+ box (which is included in most plans).
Most of WOW!’s channel lineups are decent. The Small TV plan has only 30 basic channels, but you get 120+ channels with a Medium plan and 185+ channels with a Large plan, plus 50 Music Choice channels. (1) You won’t get any premium channels (you have to add those separately), but with a Large plan, you get more sports (NFL Network and NFL Red Zone), music (CMT and MTV), and kids’ channels (all the Nickelodeons). At around $10 per month more, it’s definitely worth considering.
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.
The WOW! tv+ box and remote are pretty standard, and you can find content and set up DVR recordings using voice commands or navigating through a guide. The downside is that all three of WOW!’s plans come with 50 hours of DVR cloud storage, which is pretty low. You can jump up to 100 (for about $20 per month) or 200 (for about $30 per month) hours, but that’s a steep charge when some competitors include 1,000 hours in their top-tier plans.
The best way to use the WOW! tv+ app is with an Amazon Firestick. Its Android and iOS apps are in beta, which means they’re still working out some of the kinks. The apps have a pretty low rating on both Android and iOS (2, 3), which is a bummer. If you end up throwing your phone across the room in frustration, you can circumvent the app altogether by going to an individual channel’s website and logging in with your WOW! credentials. But you might still end up frustrated—and watching your shows through a cracked phone screen.
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.
Since WOW! tv+ uses WOW! Internet, you need Wi-Fi gear. WOW!’s modem is free for your first year ($14/month after that), and its eero Wi-Fi system ($9.99 per month) is reasonably priced to rent. It’s also some of the best, most reliable Wi-Fi gear we’ve seen. WOW!’s TV boxes can get pricey if you want more than one ($10 per month), but since you can use WOW! tv+ with Amazon Firesticks, you shouldn’t need more than one box to get your shows on multiple TVs. You just need multiple Firesticks ($29.99 and up), but these will be one-time purchases instead of a monthly rental rate.
Self-setup is free and fairly easy, but you can hire a pro to come by and get you set up for $75.
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.
WOW! tv+ doesn’t include premium channels in any of its plans, but you can add them to a Medium or Large plan for $11–$19 per month. We’ve seen STARZ and Cinemax for as little as $5 per month with some providers, so we’re a little bummed about WOW!’s pricing, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
When it comes to sports channels, you win some and lose some. You get the Tennis Channel in a Medium plan, whereas some providers only include it in their top-tier plans. NFL Network and NFL RedZone are both included in the Large plan, which is hit or miss among competitors. However, WOW! tv+ strikes out completely when it comes to the MLB channel, and there’s no way to get NFL SUNDAY TICKET.