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.
We loved how much extra sports content ESPN+ served up, but we couldn’t get around pay-per-view fees or regional blackouts. ESPN+ won’t replace our other live streaming services or help us cut the cord, but it makes for a great add-on. Superfans will love it. Everyone else? Maybe not so much.
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.
ESPN has a history of making it expensive to be a sports fan, and ESPN+ carries on the tradition. Since its launch in 2018, the monthly price has doubled from $5 to $10, and it comes with a ton of hidden costs many fans don’t see coming. For starters, you won’t get any actual ESPN channels, so if you sign up hoping to get ESPN1, 2, or 3, or other channels like ESPN U, Longhorn, SEC, or ACC, you’ll be disappointed. Technically, you can watch these channels from ESPN+, but you’ll still have to log in with credentials from a cable TV or other streaming provider that has these channels. Cord cutters take note: you’ll still have to pay for live TV.
Speaking of needing more credentials, you won’t get around regional sports fees or blackouts—nor will you get a discount on pay-per-view events, like numbered UFC matches. If you’re hoping ESPN+ will save you money on sports entertainment, you’re in for a rude awakening—especially since ESPN+ doesn’t have a free trial.
In ESPN+’s defense, it has some great content (and a monopoly on most of it). You’ll get a ton of top-notch sports documentaries, news, and commentary shows. You’ll get some live professional and college events, including football, basketball, baseball, soccer, golf, tennis, hockey, MMA, and more. Some games even come with live stats and analysis when you watch them with the ESPN app. An ESPN+ subscription also gives you access to multiple daily articles so you can read about last night’s game even if you missed it. But there’s little chance ESPN+ will be your one and only source of sports content simply because it's unlikely to have all your team’s games. It’s probably best as a supplementary service for superfans, not a replacement for other live TV streaming services.
Our advice? Bundle your ESPN+ subscription with Disney+ and Hulu for a total cost of $13 per month ($20 with ad-free Disney+ and Hulu), then grab a low-cost live TV streaming service like fuboTV. You’ll pay around what you would for traditional cable while getting all the sports you could want, plus content for everyone else in your household too.
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.
ESPN+ has tons of live (and replay) sports to stream, including NFL, UFC, multiple international soccer leagues, the US Open, PGA, X games, NHL, and a multitude of college sports, to name just a few. This service even helped us discover the rising Indian sport kabaddi, which is like watching adults on the playground at recess. It’s just delightful. You’ll also get a metric ton of documentaries like the 30 for 30 and E60 series, which cover everything from Payton Manning’s life story to the history of boxing. There’s even an entire series following the Savannah Bananas, a team putting an entertaining spin on baseball (seriously, check out Banana Ball).
Unfortunately, if you’re hoping to get around regional sports fees or blackouts to watch your favorite local teams, ESPN+ won’t help you there. You have to share your location to watch certain games. And depending on the rules in your area, there’s a good chance you’ll still need to add your login credentials from a cable TV provider or another live TV streaming service like fuboTV or Sling TV to catch the big game.
The worst offense, however, is ESPN+’s hidden UFC costs. Although the ESPN+ website touts “unrivaled UFC access,” you’ll still have to cough up a whopping $75 for each pay-per-view Fight Night game on top of your ESPN+ subscription. That’s a jab to the faces of MMA fans if we ever saw one.
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.
In addition to adding exclusive content to the regular ESPN app and browser experience, ESPN+ adds the ability to read exclusive articles and join fantasy leagues for multiple sports. On the app, we liked that some events provided game stats and other graphics before the video when our devices were in portrait mode. It helped longtime fans get a fast glimpse of the game while multitasking, and helped the non-fans among us learn about a new sport.
Beyond that, ESPN+ doesn’t have as many features as other live streaming services. There’s no DVR capability, so if you miss a live game and ESPN removes the replay, it’s just gone. We were able to download some of the documentary content to watch offline, but no actual events. It was useful for calming our sports cravings on the go, but it wouldn’t satisfy us on an hours-long road trip or flight. The good news? ESPN+ says you get up to three simultaneous streams—but we were able to get five going at once without anyone getting kicked off. Looks like ESPN accidentally left some hidden value on the table, and we’ll take what we can get.
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.
ESPN+ builds on the features of the regular (free) ESPN experience. So if you’ve already had the ESPN app, ESPN+ simply adds another tab for its exclusive content. The browser experience is a similar tacking-on of ESPN+ content. That meant we got all the regular ESPN features we were used to, but it was also frustrating to use compared to dedicated streaming apps.
In some formats (like our Chromecast and Samsung smart TVs), getting properly logged into the ESPN+ experience was confusing, because it wasn’t obvious which experience we were logging into: ESPN+ or regular ol’ ESPN. But after a few false starts, we got it working. Unfortunately, the lack of a Live/Replay section made life hard again. To find the kabaddi game we were looking for (a sport which is rarely in the Featured section), we had to dig around in the Browse tab for the correct league (Pro Vivo Kabaddi) to find it.
Fortunately, watching ESPN+ on a browser was easy. We logged in to see the familiar ESPN website with an added ESPN+ bar at the top with all our premium content. The tabs helped us find featured content, documentaries, and live and replay events, or we could hit the Browse tab to choose a specific sport or league. However, the Tools tab left us confused. It took us to an ad for fantasy leagues, then prompted us to sign up for ESPN+... which we clearly already had. It tried to push us into an annual subscription, and when we selected “Skip and get started,” it just took us back to the ESPN+ home screen. We were able to get onto a fantasy league using the Fantasy tab in the top (regular ESPN) navigation bar, which made the Tools tab seem completely pointless.
The app experience was so-so. There was no “Continue watching” section (though the browser version has it), so we had a hard time picking up live where we left off. And switching between the app and the browser was annoying because ESPN+ didn’t remember our progress across platforms. It started up back at the beginning, and we’d spend several minutes trying to find our place again. Ugh.