Spectrum TV is good if you’re bundling and on a budget, and we love the $500 contract buyouts. Better yet, Spectrum doesn’t force you into a contract, so you can give the cable TV service a try with relatively little risk. We don’t love the low channel count, and it’s a bummer that you can get 4K programming only if you also have home internet (and upgrade your DVR to an Apple TV box).
Xfinity TV offers a lot of features and strong channel prices, as well as powerful internet to bundle up with. High fees hamper the experience, but Xfinity remains one of the best cable TV options on the market—and it’s also one of the most widely available.
Spectrum TV is a good choice for basic TV viewing on a budget, especially if you bundle with home internet. You get more than 125 channels with TV SELECT and more than 140 channels on MI PLAN LATINO, but those are your only package options. It’s a decent channel-per-dollar ratio, and Spectrum says all its channels are broadcast in HD. These basic packages include your local networks plus a range of options for news, entertainment, and sports. You’ll need add-ons for international programming, premium sports, and premium education and entertainment.
We love that Spectrum TV doesn’t require contracts and even pays to buy you out of another contract, and we like its upfront pricing structure. Compared to other live TV options, it’s easier to pay only for what you actually watch. However, add-ons get pricey in a hurry and you’ll pay even more for your cable boxes and DVRs. Plus, there’s virtually no way out of a local broadcast fee, which tops out at more than $22 per month. Worst of all, that low base price will increase in the range of $20–$30 per month after your first 12 months. Competing services have much bigger second-year price jumps (we’re looking at you, DIRECTV and Astound TV), but we still wish Spectrum would end the practice.
If you look at package rates alone, Xfinity is one of the cheapest TV providers out there—prices are low, and while the channel count isn’t the highest, it’s got all the most popular channels (1) covered. However, a slew of additional fees causes the monthly price to be quite a bit higher than advertised (it wouldn’t be a stretch to see $60 or more in fees on your TV bill, in addition to the package price). Ultimately, while the service itself is a solid value, it’s going to end up costing you.
Spectrum TV is pretty bare-bones when it comes to features. It uses HD receivers from a handful of companies, but none are very impressive and there’s no way to control which one you receive. The no-frills remote has controls for channels, a TV guide, and your DVR (if you pay extra for the service). It’s functional, but not nearly as good as the DVR setups you’ll get with satellite TV providers. We don’t love that you have to pay around $10 extra each month for DVR and even more for cloud DVR. Additionally, the HD receivers can handle only 1080p. You can get around that by using the included streaming service in 4K on a different device, but that feels like unnecessary hassle.
Rather than create its own high-tech DVR, Spectrum offers a payment plan for a 4K Apple TV that’s preloaded with the Spectrum TV app. You can also use your own Apple TV or buy theirs up front, but the Apple TV option requires internet access. It’s the best way to access 4K programming with Spectrum, but it ends up being a little more expensive than the competition’s top-of-the-line DVRs.
If you end service before you pay your Apple TV off, you’ll be charged the complete price for the device. It’s not a bad deal if you’re already in the Apple ecosystem and have multiple streaming services in addition to cable TV, but it’s not a huge value add for a lot of users.
Xfinity offers the X1 DVR system, which is one of the best all-around DVRs on the market. It’s easy to use and offers a substantial amount of storage—up to 300 hours of HD video. The only unfortunate thing about the X1 system is that you need to order at least two set-top boxes to get an X1—the first box will just be a basic DVR without the advanced features and voice control. That said, many users will want at least one box for the living room and one for the bedroom, so this shouldn’t be too steep of a barrier to entry.
The standard X1 system comes with a sleek charcoal-colored remote with small buttons, but the company also offers a large remote with optional wrist-strap for customers who need the extra accessibility.
Xfinity also offers the Xfinity Stream app, which gives you access to your entire channel lineup, plus on-demand content and your DVR recordings, on any device. Xfinity Stream works on iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, and it’s a great way to stay up-to-date with your favorite shows while you’re traveling (or just waiting in line).
Spectrum’s equipment isn’t the best. You can’t choose which set-top receiver you get, and you have to pay extra to rent a DVR and even more for cloud storage. You can buy an Apple TV 4K from Spectrum, either in monthly installments or as a lump sum, but will pay extra for DVR services, which are available only over the cloud.
Installation isn’t top of the line, either. Spectrum doesn’t list its installation fees publicly, but many customers report a $50 charge for professional installation. We’ve also heard of a charge for self-installation. That price isn’t too high, but we don’t like the idea of paying for an installation when you do the work yourself. Waiting for a free installation promotion or calling to order over the phone is the best way to wriggle out of these fees.
Xfinity offers both professional and self-installation options. Having a pro come by costs less than $90, which is less than many other providers. The self-install kit is free of charge, though you may pay for shipping and handling. We generally recommend self-installation whenever possible, both because it’s cheaper and because you can do it on your own time.
Aside from the installation fee, you’ll need to determine how many DVRs you want for your home prior to installation. You don’t have to pay for them up front, and you can always add more later, but ideally, you’ll have the right number of boxes from the outset, so you can just start enjoying your new TV service.
Sports are one of the main reasons to pay for live TV, and you can catch a lot of games in HD with Spectrum TV. Channels like ESPN and ESPN2 come included with the standard packages, and you can pay an extra $6 each month for a sports package that includes NFL RedZone, MLB Strike Zone, and Golf Channel. For around $100, you can add MLS DIRECT KICK or MLB EXTRA INNINGS.
There’s no way to watch every NFL game under the sun like you can with DIRECTV, but we like that Spectrum rolls its regional sports fee into its broadcast fee. Compared to Xfinity, you’ll pay about $10 less in broadcast and sports fees every month.
For movies and entertainment, Spectrum’s add-on prices are on par with the competition. You can choose HBO Max, SHOWTIME, STARZ, CINEMAX, THE MOVIE CHANNEL, or Epix, and everything’s in HD. There are fewer available add-ons than with Xfinity or either satellite provider, but Spectrum has the basics covered.
You won’t see promotional pricing on any of the premium channels like you will with the competition, but we aren’t mad about it. Those promotions mostly amount to hidden charges a few months into the contract, and we applaud Spectrum for being more straightforward.
Read our expert guides to learn more about how to watch MLB, how to watch the NFL and the top cheap providers we tested.
Xfinity has all of the premium channels you could want, including HBO Max, SHOWTIME, STARZ, Cinemax, EPIX, and more. Prices for these add-ons vary from around $5 per month to around $15 per month.
Xfinity also has a healthy selection of sports channels available, including ESPN, the Golf Channel, the Tennis Channel, MLB Network, the Olympic Channel, and many more. It’s worth noting that with sports, the selection does differ slightly between packages, so while the higher-tier plans offer more sports channels, you actually give some up in the process—just pay close attention to make sure you’re still getting the networks you want!
If the sports coverage isn't up to snuff, you may be in luck! Check out our expert resources on how to watch pro baseball, how to watch NFL games, how to watch hockey, and more.