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21 brands reviewed
5 TV experts
600+ customer reviews
Our expert reviewers scored each of the top TV providers in the US on more than 30 carefully defined metrics, charting everything from channel availability to DVR capability, parental controls, picture quality, and much more. Then, we watched a whole lot of live TV on each service (where possible) and tried out the latest and greatest features from each provider. We rounded out our research by reading real customer reviews from around the internet. With all the data in, Verizon Fios emerged as the best TV service of 2023.
Offer details: Prices and plans are subject to change. Conditions may apply.
Before digging too deep...
Make sure these providers are available in your area.
How we ranked each TV provider
We asked, and you answered: people don’t choose TV providers based on brand names; they choose based on shows they love and games they can’t miss! With that in mind, we looked at pricing and fees, available channels, the DVR experience, and much more. We dived deep into the entire entertainment experience so you have all the info you need to decide whether to switch things up and give a new provider a try.
Our expert reviewers compare channel availability and popularity, and then break down content by specific types so you can see if a provider offers just what you like.
We compare packages, prices per channel, and popularity of channel lineups to help you decide whether it's time to make a switch.
Equipment and installation
A great TV provider helps you watch what you want, on your schedule. We size up DVRs, remote functionality, streaming apps, and installation costs to help you choose.
We source verified user reviews, contact customer service, and find hidden fees to get a feel for how each provider treats its customers.
#1 Verizon Fios: Ultra-reliable TV with unlimited streaming and a nifty package option
What we like
Personalized channel lineup
Excellent fiber internet bundles
What we dislike
Pricey DVR storage
For TV-only customers, a Verizon router fee applies
From all the channels you love to crystal clear picture quality and a sweet mobile app that lets you skip a set-top box, Verizon Fios is an excellent way to watch TV. The company delivers its TV service using the same ultra-reliable network it uses to provide home internet.
The best part, though, is the unique package offering. You can pay for the lowest or highest tier out of the gate, or you can watch free for 60 days and Verizon will customize a list of channels it thinks will serve you best. It’s called Fios TV Test Drive, and it’s one of the best ways we found to pay for what you actually watch.
While there’s a lot to love about Verizon Fios TV, its DVR can’t compete with top-of-the-line options from satellite providers. But that’s because Verizon really wants you to use the supercharged (and highly rated) app. You can use it with streaming sticks or any smart TV to stream truly unlimited content, from anywhere. It’s one of the best companion streaming apps we found, and it works with virtually any equipment you already have.
If you would prefer to watch with a traditional set-top box and DVR, we think you'll be pleased with Verizon's offering. The DVR is a solid machine, and can record up to 12 shows at a time. You can also control it all with your phone, which is pretty cool, but you may have to pay for cloud DVR storage every month (storage hours and pricing differ based on which plan you choose).
If you don't want internet with your TV from Verizon Fios, you may also be charged a $15 monthly modem fee. Since you can get internet without equipment fees for as little as $25 per month, we recommend just getting the whole bundle. Last we checked, Verizon Fios is available to 15 million homes and businesses, mostly in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. (1) For most people, we recommend ordering online so you can skip installation fees.
Disclaimer: Availability and pricing are subject to location. Conditions apply.
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#2 DISH: Oodles of sports and entertainment in 4K, with a 3-year price lock
What we like
Three-year price guarantee
Great picture quality
What we dislike
No regional sports networks (RSNs)
Higher rates for add-ons
Heft early cancelation costs
DISH is our top satellite TV provider and our runner-up overall for its widespread availability, its straightforward pricing, and its huge selection of channels for sports, entertainment, news, and education. It offers more games and shows in 4K than the competition, and its DVR tech makes for a uniquely satisfying TV viewing experience.
You can’t get every single NFL game like you can with NFL Sunday Ticket (currently only available from streaming competitor YouTube TV) and there are no regional sports networks, but you can catch hundreds of games with league coverage of NFL, NBA, and MLB, plus college games galore.
You also get access to a wide variety of movies and shows, and the most popular premium channels are free for the first few months. It all comes with the sweet DISH Anywhere mobile app and a three-year price lock.
DISH doesn't offer its own internet service, unlike many of the services we reviewed, but it partners with providers across the country. A list of internet types and providers offering bundle pricing is available on the DISH corporate site.
There are some downsides to be aware of with DISH—and they are real reasons to hit pause on your purchase. First, there are hefty cancellation fees, up to $10 per month for every month remaining on your contract. There are also hidden fees. They're cheaper than you’ll find with some competing cable TV and satellite TV providers, but many of the providers we review don't require contracts at all, so and we wish DISH would do the same. There's also a $12 local broadcast fee, and you’ll be charged extra if you want the latest and greatest Hopper DVR or Joey set-top boxes for additional rooms.
There's another extra fee you might be charged, but we think it's worth it if you travel often! It's called DISH Outdoors, and for just $5 (after equipment rental), you can watch live TV from anywhere, no internet required. There are several antenna styles to choose from, and we think the service is a great option for camping, tailgating, or traveling the country in an RV.
Disclaimer: Availability and pricing are subject to location. Conditions apply. For offer details, view disclaimers
#3 DIRECTV: Stunning lineup of shows and game in HD (but no NFL Sunday Ticket)
What we like
Exceptional sports lineup
Games and events in crystal clear 4K
Installation included with activation fee
What we dislike
Prices go up after two years
Steep early termination costs
Lots of hidden fees
DIRECTV is a true premium viewing experience, with great picture quality on hundreds of channels. It’s one of our top picks for sports viewing, with access to more regional sports networks (RSNs) than any other provider. You also get a decent DVR, a large on-demand library, and a nice mobile app. We also like that you can watch even if you don’t have a high-speed internet connection, and updates to satellite tech in recent years mean that weather-related outages are mostly a thing of the past.
There are some important downsides, too. DIRECTV no longer hikes prices way up in the second year of service, but it does require a two-year contract and hikes prices in the third year. If you cancel early, you’ll be on the hook for hefty cancelation fees of $20 per month remaining on your contract. There’s also a required Advanced Receiver Service (ARS) fee of $15 per month and equipment fees if you want more than one DVR or want to upgrade to the wireless version of the DVR.
Pesky fees aside, we gave DIRECTV a perfect score for the content it offers. You get all your local channels, better sports coverage than with almost any other provider, news and analysis across the spectrum, and excellent entertainment and lifestyle options. The RSNs kick in at the second tier (along with a regional sports fee of up to $13.99 per month), so that’s what we recommend for most people.
Disclaimer: Availability and pricing are subject to location. Conditions apply. For offer details, view disclaimers
#4 YouTube TV: Best live TV streaming service around
What we like
No hidden fees
Exclusive provider of NFL Sunday Ticket
Six Google accounts per subscription
What we dislike
Unskippable ads on some shows
Lackluster regional sports network (RSN) coverage
YouTube Premium and YouTube music not included
YouTube TV is our pick for the best live TV streaming service to replace your satellite or cable TV service. Prices have gone up a little in recent months, but you can still get virtually everything you get with our top traditional providers at much better prices. It’s all delivered over the internet, so a high-speed internet connection will be required. That said, you only need a small amount of bandwidth even if you’re streaming in 4K, so most people won’t need to upgrade their existing internet plan.
Now, on to the good stuff. YouTube TV offers all your local channels, lots of options for sports (but no MLB Network or regional sports networks), good news and politics coverage in both English and Spanish, and a decent selection of movies, reality shows, and documentaries. Better yet, YouTube TV is the only way to get NFL Sunday Ticket. You’ll pay at least $349 for the privilege on top of the base package price, or at least $449 if you don’t want the base package. The 2023 season hasn’t started yet, but we look forward to promised features like split screen viewing, reduced latency for games, and a built-in social media element.
YouTube TV offers many other add-ons as well, and you can get most of them without the base package. Many of these add-ons have a 7-day free trial, and we love that you can still watch through the length of your trial even if you cancel. We also love that there are no hidden fees with YouTube TV, you don’t have to use a clunky set-top box, and you can easily watch on the go. Other perks include unlimited DVR that stores shows for nine months and a 21-day free trial experience. If you decide you don’t like it, YouTube TV is exceptionally easy to cancel, and there’s no contract.
Offer details: Prices and plans are subject to change. Conditions may apply.
Our experts get that our top overall TV providers may not fit your personal criteria for what makes a TV subscription worth the cost. We juggled our ranking criteria based on a few different metrics to help you understand all the top options.
Best cheap TV providers
Want to save money on TV? Here are our top recommendations:
The first step in switching TV providers is to think about how you watch. You can start with a list of your favorite shows, for example, or you might already know which channels you want most. Sports are another big reason to pay for live TV, so ask everyone in your household if there are games or leagues they can’t live without. Think about the importance of watching in real-time, too, compared to watching on your schedule.
When you have a list in mind, find out what’s available in your area. Many cable TV companies have local monopolies, so you may have only a handful of options. There are a few things to keep in mind as you browse TV package options:
There can be big differences in price and channel availability based on location, so you may have to enter your address or ZIP code to see what’s on offer near you.
You will probably have to sign up for a bunch of channels you don’t want to get to the few you do.
Extra fees are very, very common.
"Free" access to premium channels usually expires after a few months, after which you’ll be charged the full price.
Once you have an idea of available packages, we recommend reading reviews and talking to your neighbors to find out about their experiences. When you’ve decided, we usually recommend calling the provider to order—it’s a good way to get extra perks. Online ordering is another popular option, and some providers (Verizon Fios in particular) waive installation fees if you go that route.
TV tech types
The technology behind how your home gets TV can have a big impact on picture quality, reliability, and cost. You probably won’t have much of a choice on which tech is available in your neighborhood, but it’s nice to know the landscape as you decide what’s right for you.
Broadcast TV: This is the oldest type of TV, and it works over the air. Substations send signals out over a wide area, and antennas connected to TV sets unscramble the signal into video. In most areas, the four local broadcast channels are ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX. You may also get local educational channels such as PBS. The best part of broadcast television is that it’s free and suitable for a wide audience. The downside? You need an antenna if you don’t have a TV subscription. You can find a decent digital antenna to watch in HD for about $20, and some TVs come with a built-in antenna. Find out how to get TV for free.
Cable TV: This widely available TV tech type uses a series of coaxial cables both outside and inside your house. Cable companies provide set-top boxes that unscramble the data for your TV. Most cable providers also provide on-demand content to watch anytime and DVR tech so you can skip commercials and record programs to watch later. The upside of cable is dozens or even hundreds of channels to choose from, but the downsides are monthly costs and contracts plus (sometimes significant) extra fees.
Satellite TV: This TV type is available anywhere you can mount a dish with a clear view of the southern sky. It works by beaming data from a satellite dish orbiting space to the receiver dish at your house. Like with cable, you’ll need a set-top box to unscramble the data, and you’ll need to deal with contracts, monthly fees, and hidden fees. You’ll get access to hundreds of channels, though, and picture quality is among the best available. Learn about satellite vs. cable TV.
Streaming live TV: This TV tech uses digital signals sent over the internet to provide live TV service. As long as you have internet access and a device that can handle the provider’s app, you’re good to go.
TV providers and contracts: what you need to know
Some legacy cable TV providers and both major satellite providers require you to sign contracts when you sign up for service. These usually range from 12–36 months. If you want to get out early, you will be charged cancelation fees (also known as early termination fees or ETFs). Usually, they start at about $10 for each month remaining in your contract. Some providers even hike monthly prices in year two, without letting you out of your obligation to pay. It’s not awesome.
Contracts aren’t all bad, though. They let providers roll the costs of installation into the monthly price, so you don’t have to pay a lot at the beginning. Contracts sometimes also come with price locks, so you won’t have to worry about your bill going up for a few years. Whether you’re approaching a second-year price hike or nearing the end of your three-year rate lock, we think it’s worth it to call customer service and try to negotiate a new deal. It’ll take a little patience and a little time, but the monthly savings could really add up.
Another good thing about contracts? With the growing popularity of streaming services and internet live TV, they’re starting to fade away. However, they’re still something to be aware of before you switch to a new service. Each of our TV service reviews gives you what you need to know about contracts under the pricing tab.
The national stampede toward live TV streaming services
Streaming video has been around since the early days of the internet, and more and more households are canceling linear cable and satellite TV subscriptions entirely. According to the Leichtman Research Group (LRG), the biggest cable providers lost nearly 1 million of their combined 38.6 million subscribers in just three months in 2022. Of the remaining customers,more than 8 million already get TV delivered over the internet. (3)
If you’re thinking about joining the cord cutters, you have a huge variety of options.
You can pay for a streaming service with an existing TV provider. You’ll get access to a lot of the same content and may still be able to use cloud DVR services, but you’ll need a separate subscription for broadband internet. DIRECTV STREAM is one of the top offerings in this space, and our pick for streaming services for news junkies. Sling TV, which is the current iteration of the streaming offering from DISH, is our #1 cheap streaming service that offers live TV.
Another popular option is to pay for internet from one provider and choose a separate live streaming service, such as YouTube TV, Sling TV, or Hulu + Live TV. Using your existing internet connection, you’ll find many of the same channel lineups and premium services as with regular cable TV. You may have to bring your own streaming device, but free trials are very common.
The last option worth mentioning is on-demand streaming services like Netflix, Prime Video, Paramount+ and Disney+. These services store a library of content you can watch anytime, anywhere you have access to a streaming device and broadband internet service. Some, like Paramount’s Pluto TV and Amazon’s Freevee, are supported by ads rather than subscriptions. Often, people sign up for multiple on-demand streaming services in addition to a live TV service.
Wait, you hand over a fat stack of Hamiltons every month for live TV service, but you’re still locked out of the best channels? It’s often true, and it’s one of the worst things about linear TV in 2023. Here’s how it works:
This is the channel lineup you get with most providers’ lowest-tier TV package. It generally includes your local broadcast networks plus popular options like Comedy Central, Fox News, MSNBC, Food Network, and HGTV.
These are the free channels you get over the air, and include local channels like ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, and FOX. You can get them for free with a digital antenna, but will likely be charged a local broadcast fee to get them as part of your cable or satellite TV service.
Some of the best movies and hottest shows are available only by paying an extra $10–$20 per month on top of your TV subscription. Some of the most popular add-ons include HBO, MGM+, and STARZ. Depending on the add-on, you may get access to just one channel, multiple channels featuring similar content, or bonus on-demand content.
Some popular local sports are available on broadcast or basic cable channels, but watching almost any specialty sport or the best out-of-town games requires sports add-ons. These are available at the league level, with packages like NFL Sunday Ticket or MLB EXTRA INNINGS. You can also pay extra for college, international, and league coverage.
The in and outs of DVRs in 2023
Once upon a time, recording live TV was a revelation! People dedicated entire storage rooms to VHS tapes of their favorite shows. Then, along came digital video recording (DVR) machines that automatically recorded shows at the press of a button.
Fast forward to 2023 (see what we did there?), and watching your favorite shows as they air is even less compelling. Many households still love their set-top DVRs: top-of-the-line set-top DVRs let you record up to 16 shows at once, save thousands of shows to watch later, and watch DVR content from anywhere. You’ll usually pay a DVR rental fee and potentially a DVR access fee with this type of system.
The benefits of cloud DVR
Other providers, especially those that offer streaming live TV services, rely on cloud DVR instead of a set-top box with local storage. Cloud DVR does all the same things you’d expect from a physical DVR, but you need broadband internet and a streaming device to watch. Cloud DVR fees are common, and you may need a streaming stick or smart TV with storage capability.
If you haven’t thought of DVRs since the final season of Lost aired during that fateful February in 2010, we get you. Many people rely on streaming services and on-demand libraries these days, and we expect physical DVRs
If you’re new to paying for live TV, you might be shocked by your first bill. The real price you must pay each month can be a lot higher than advertised prices. Every provider does billing a little differently, but at least a few of these extra fees can be found on almost every bill:
Our biggest priority is to help you feel confident about deciding whether to switch TV providers. We do the heavy lifting, provide accurate and up-to-date info, and give you the context you need to make sense of it all. We’re on your side in this journey, and our ranking system for TV providers reflects our commitment to customer advocacy.
To earn your trust, we had to understand your perspective. That’s why we started by talking with folks from all walks of life who had switched TV providers in the last 12 months. We also sent out surveys and sourced reviews from verified customers. Along the way, we discovered the following:
What switchers really care about
How switchers make decisions about TV providers
What problems switchers face along the way
We compiled what we learned to create a fair, methodical way to judge all TV providers, regardless of their footprint. We want to recognize the companies out there providing the best viewing experiences to their customers, and our star rankings reflect that.
With our ranking criteria in hand, our experts go right to the source for each provider. We look beyond ads and resellers to find out what’s available to real people. Here’s a sampling of our efforts:
Hours of research on provider websites
Discussions with chat bots
Deep dives on help documentation
Real shopping cart experiences
When possible, live testing of services and equipment
As we look closely at each provider, we keep talking to real people. We read customer reviews from the internet, browse frequently asked questions, talk to everyday customers, and add it all to our decades of combined experience to put it all in perspective. Below is a taste of our carefully considered methodology
Watching your favorite games, shows, and movies is what live TV is all about. That’s why we kick off our ratings system by finding out what America’s most-watched channels are each year. (4) From there, we separate the channels into content types to give you a taste of whether a given provider will suit your needs. Whether you want all the games and matches, shows for family viewing, primetime news and analysis, or blockbuster movies and reality TV, it’s now easier than ever to compare channel offerings from different providers side by side.
After we gather and analyze all the channel data, we average the individual content scores and apply editorial expertise to come up with our final content scores for each provider.
Next, our experts look at what you get for the money with each TV provider. We compare all the package lineups and pricing tiers to find out how many channels you get for your dollar. Having a lot of options is important, but we don’t stop there.
We focus mostly on the popular channels, but also keep an eye out for what some of our reviewers call “filler channels,” such as music and shopping channels. These can artificially inflate channel counts without adding much value, and we don’t want to lead you astray.
Once we’ve gathered the data, we recommend the best TV providers, the packages we like most, and the packages we don’t think are worth it for most people. We also look at ways you can save by bundling services, all to help you find a good fit.
We give the highest scores to providers that include premium options in regular pricing, and we applaud providers that make it easy to pay only for what you want to watch. We also call out promotional deals on premium channels, and note that these deals can feel like hidden fees a few months down the line if you forget to cancel.
Equipment and features
For this category, we divide the complete TV experience into three categories: ease of watching, ease of recording, and ease of finding. We look at several metrics and do quite a bit of math. The following were some of the most important:
Price and quality of set-top boxes
Bells and whistles of voice remotes
Costs for DVR
Companion mobile apps from each provider
Compatibility with streaming sticks and home entertainment systems
After we do all the math for each sub-category, we apply in-house expertise about what is good, what is bad, and what isn’t worth the money for most people. Our star rankings here reflect our precise methodology plus a dash of expert opinion.
Getting set up with a new provider can be a real hassle, so we look at everything you need to know before you decide to make a change. We figure out how much installation costs, whether you can do it yourself (and save money in the process), and how long it takes. We read both expert and consumer reviews from a variety of outlets, check out the reviews we source in-house, and find out how easy it is to contact customer service.
Our star rankings reflect our research-based findings on the best TV providers doing business today, even if those providers don’t serve a lot of households. At the same time, we recognize it’s not always helpful to highlight cable TV providers that are impossible for most people to get. For that reason, we rejigger our ranking formula to give more weight to availability in our “best of” series. We also use availability as a tiebreaker in our star rankings, because a service that’s easy to get offers more value than one that makes big promises, but just can’t deliver.
A little affiliate marketing transparency
Our primary goal is to be helpful as you decide which TV service is right for you—even if you decide it’s time to cut the cord and stick with streaming apps instead of linear TV. But we still need to pay our folks and keep the lights on. To that end, the Switchful business team has struck deals with some of the providers we review to pay us a small fee if you purchase their service after visiting our website.
Our experts on the editorial side don’t know which providers pay us and which don’t. Furthermore, we’ll never recommend a bad service to make a buck, and we won’t hold back our praise for a provider just because there’s no business relationship there. We know how important objectivity is in affiliate marketing, and we’re here to get it right.
That means knowing what you care about, doing the heavy lifting on research, and putting you at ease as we explain our recommendations. You’re in the driver’s seat, and we’re here for navigation, insight…and maybe even a little carpool karaoke.
Our expert reviewers recommend comparing TV providers by first finding out which providers are available in your area. Satellite TV and streaming TV are available almost everywhere, but most addressed only have a choice of a few traditional cable TV providers. You can use the Switchful zip code checker to get a list for your area.
Once you have the list, compare channel availability and monthly pricing against the games and shows that are important to you. Watch out for hidden fees. If you still have more than one good option, compare extra features like DVR capability, parental controls, and on-demand libraries. Before you sign up, make sure you’re comfortable with any contract terms.
Among traditional cable TV providers in the US, Optimum offers the most channels with a count of 420. But that doesn’t necessarily mean all those channels are worth your money. Xfinity offers the highest percentage of the top 100 channels in the US on its highest-tier package, followed closely by Verizon Fios, which offers 90 of the top 100 channels. For traditional providers available to everyone, DIRECTV offers the most channels with a count of 340, followed by DISH with a count of 290.
Among live TV streaming services, DIRECTV STREAM offers the highest percentage of America’s most watched channels with a count of 74. YouTube TV, our top streaming service for 2023, offers 72 of the top 100 channels. For total channels offered, Fubo is the winner with 218 channels, followed by DIRECTV STREAM with 150 channels.
The differences between traditional TV and streaming live TV are shrinking every day. Traditional or linear TV, also known as cable TV, is delivered over one of the following: coaxial cable, satellite, or internet through a fiber or cable internet provider. The best options in 2023 are Verizon TV, DISH, and DIRECTV. Each offers a huge channel count, access to premium channels, DVR capability, and on-demand libraries.
Streaming live TV, on the other hand, is also delivered over the internet but usually through a third-party provider like YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, or Fubo. These services tend to rely less on contracts, have fewer hidden fees, and don’t provide set-top boxes (or full-sized remotes). However, they may not be as reliable or have as stellar of picture quality as traditional TV.
Each provider offers its own bundling options, and deciding which is best for you depends on what you need, how much you can afford, and what’s available in your area.
For Verizon Fios, our top TV provider of 2023, we recommend a bundle that includes home internet, TV service, and mobile phone. With either DISH or DIRECTV, we recommend pairing your TV service with AT&T home internet—our top-rated internet provider in the US.
Swtichful’s expert reviewers give DISH a better overall star rating than they give DIRECTV for satellite TV, but there are important differences to consider. DIRECTV offers excellent access to regional sports networks (RSNs) while DISH has no RSNs but a more-advanced set-top DVR and voice remote.
Many customers also take contract length into consideration when deciding between cable TV providers. DISH offers a three-year price lock and contract lengths of either two or three years while DIRECTV offers a two-year contract with a two-year price lock.
We believe the best information comes from first-hand customer experience and methodical research by subject-matter experts. We never source information from "content farms," and we don’t generate content using artificial intelligence (AI). You can trust that our recommendations are fact-checked meticulously and sourced appropriately by authentic, industry-recognized people.
Kathryn is a consumer advocate writer who helps people quickly and easily find the best products and services for their needs. Over the last decade, she's helped people navigate everything from Internet companies to Medicare plans to business software. When she's not geeking out about saving her readers time and money, you'll find her climbing the rocks of Utah—or asleep in her favorite hammock.
Rebecca Palmer has been writing about tech and consumer finance since 2010. Her work has been featured in the Deseret News, Idaho Business Review, TopTenReviews.com, and more. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, and lives in Salt Lake City with her exceptionally delightful pup, Nymeria.
Vilja Johnson leads Switchful's editorial and creative teams. She has been editing content in the consumer tech space since 2016, and she has over a decade of experience teaching writing and editing. She's passionate about creating content that resonates with people and helps them solve real, day-to-day problems. In her free time, Vilja serves on the board of directors for the PrisonEd Foundation, where she runs a writing program for inmates in Utah prisons and jails.
Bri Field has a background in academia, research writing, and brand marketing. She has edited scientific publications, conference papers, digital content, and technical communications. As Assigning Editor, she enjoys ensuring all content is accurate, clear, and helpful. In her free time, you can find her in the kitchen trying a new recipe, out on a hike, or working through her massive TBR list.