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April 16, 2020

Here we’ll put the two most popular satellite TV providers in the U.S. up against each other, and we’ll give you our pick for best overall satellite TV provider, cheapest satellite provider, and best satellite provider for sports programming. The companies, DISH and DIRECTV, are, quite frankly, fairly comparable, so this in-depth analysis will help you decide which provider is right for you.

DISH is a nationwide satellite provider that is also commonly known as Dish Network. DIRECTV, now owned by telecommunication giant AT&T, is also referred to sometimes as DirecTV or just DTV.

Our Pick for Best TV Provider: DISH

Overall Winner

DISH has our vote for best satellite TV provider. It’s a more affordable option under almost any circumstances, especially over the course of the required contract. They are ranked higher in 3 out of 4 regions of the JD Power Telecommunications Survey. They offer more channels for less money, plus lots of options for customizing your programming without upping the size of your package. In fact, DISH is our pick overall out of all TV providers.

DISH vs. DIRECTV comparison

ProviderStarting PriceContractAvailability
DISH$59.99/mo.2 years Check Availability
DIRECTV$50.00/mo.2 years Check Availability

DISH vs. DIRECTV: Company overview


A company that aims to cater to each individual customer, DISH offers a bit more of an ala carte selection. They have more premium movie options, more premium sports options, and they offer the best DVR system on the market today.

They’ve cleaned up their act over the past few years and eliminated a lot of the fees they were charging before, making their billing practices clearer. Whatever your budget, DISH is the most likely company to provide you with the programming that means the most to you.


AT&T purchased DIRECTV in 2014 with the intention of sending their TV customers towards satellite rather than U-Verse, their broadband TV service. This allowed them to not only stop spending money upgrading their broadband network, but to also cater to a more rural crowd where extremely speedy fiber internet options will likely take years to reach.

DIRECTV’s aim is to offer comprehensive packages and clear-cut fees. They’ve eliminated HD fees, DVR fees, and many others to provide straight up prices.

They pander to NFL fans when it comes to sports, and they offer their premier NFL package for free with higher-level packages as an incentive to purchase an upgraded channel package.

DISH vs. DIRECTV: Contracts

Contracts for DISH and DIRECTV are pretty similar. Both companies require a credit check before instating service, indicating that the results of the credit check could help qualify you for a better deal. Both companies require new customers to sign a 2-year contract in order to help offset their initial investment in installing the system. This long contract period is unusual among TV service providers, but it’s necessary since satellite systems must be installed at each house, not just hooked up to a network that has already been created as is the case with cable and broadband TV. DIRECTV locks in the initial price for one year. DISH offers a price lock that stretches the length of the 2-year contract.

Both companies charge up to $20 per month for the rest of the contract period in the event that you choose to discontinue service. If you cancel your DISH during the contract period, they charge a maximum of $480 in early termination fees. For DIRECTV, they charge a $15 one-time cancellation fee, then they prorate the early termination fees, but they may also be up to $20.


We’ll break down the costs of each provider in few different ways, then bring it back in for a look at all of the costs combined. This is how we’ll determine which provider offers the best price, hopefully in a way that will help you parse out whether one might be better than the other in your specific circumstance.

Package Price Comparison

Each company’s smallest package is about $50, but from that initial similar figure, the differences between their offerings become apparent.

DIRECTV offers more options than does DISH in their regular package offerings. This means there are more opportunities for you to get all the channels you’d like out of a regular package without spending more than you’d hoped.

However, DISH’s largest package, which has more channels than DIRECTV’s, is only $79.99 compared to DIRECTV’s Premier package, which will run you $125. DIRECTV’s $75 Ultimate package doesn’t even come close to the channel selection offered by DISH’s comparably priced premium America’s Top 250 package.

Average Monthly Cost Per Channel

You probably aren’t going to watch every single channel on any package from either provider, but we’ll break down the price per channel, determining who is giving you more channels for your money.

DISH’s average cost per channel over their 4 ‘regular’ packages is $0.29. The Top 120 package averages $0.26 per channel. Top 120+ averages $0.32. Top 200 averages $0.29. Top 250 averages $0.28 per channel.

DIRECTV’s average cost per channel over their offered packages is $0.33. Their Select package averages $0.33 per channel. Their Entertainment package averages $0.35. Their Choice package averages $0.32. Their Xtra package averages $0.30. Their Ultimate package averages $0.31. Their Premier package averages $0.38.

DISH wins the cost per channel breakdown. It’s important to keep in mind that certain channels will be of more value to some viewers, negating this assessment a bit. Make sure to check the channel lineup comparison to see how these cost-per-channel figures stack up to your unique perceived value of the various packages.

DVR Costs Compared

Depending on the number of TVs you need DVR service for, your DVR costs could drastically vary between these two companies. For starters, only one of these companies has a basic DVR service fee. DISH costs $10 per month for service to their Hopper 3, and DIRECTV actually includes Genie DVR service for up to 4 TVs as a part of its package fees now.

Beyond that initial DVR fee, DISH charges an additional $5 per month for service to each of their Joey receivers and $10 per month to each Super Joey receiver. The Super Joey would only be necessary if you needed service for more than 3 TVs, as the Hopper can operate up to 2 Joeys. You’ll need a Super Joey and therefore will pay an additional $5 per month for a 4th TV. They do sometimes offer promotional DVR costs as low as just $10 per month with larger packages. Be sure to check with a representative to get the lowest DVR fees possible.

DIRECTV charges $7 per additional TV after the initial 4 TVs worth of service that are included in the original package price. There is also a one-time $49 fee for the installation of each mini-Genie unit installed after the first 4.

Other Fees

Most TV providers charge a regional sports fee, and DIRECTV is no exception. They charge an additional $3.63 per month. DISH, however, does not charge a regional sports fee.

Neither DIRECTV or DISH charge for HD programming anymore, and they’ll tell you all about it. Both companies think pretty highly of their free HD. There are additional fees for premium programming like HBO and other movie channels, sports packages, and other package upgrades. Both companies also charge any applicable sales tax for your area.

Other than that, both companies have made great strides in making their billing more transparent, cutting out stand-alone fees and including them in their overall package costs. There’s a distinct possibility that these billing improvements over the past decade or so are at least in part responsible for DISH and DIRECTV’s higher than average customer satisfaction scores, particularly for the telecommunications industry, where billing practices are notoriously shady.

Price Winner

DISH costs less in most circumstances. Almost regardless of which options you choose to add, DISH’s version is always more affordable, especially if you only need programming on a couple TVs. While DISH and DIRECTV’s cheapest packages appear to be very close in cost (literally just a penny’s difference between the two), the fine print shows that DIRECTV will cost you significantly more in the long-run. Even though DIRECTV includes the first 4 TVs in the price, you'll usually save more with DISH.

With DISH, you get more channels for your money. Even with the DVR fees for the 4 TVs that DIRECTV includes in their package price, DISH’s larger packages offer the best value. For sports fans, their ala carte options mean you can get your sports without the additional fluff of a bigger package.

DISH vs. DIRECTV: Package and channel lineup

The number of channels each provider offers in each package is a great jumping off point to decide which offers a better value for you, but the real meat of the difference in packages lies in which channels each provider offers in its comparable packages. 100 extra music channels in the age of Spotify is not what most customers are looking for. See the sections below for further analysis.

Furthermore, it’s even more important where your favorite channels fall in each company’s tiered channel packages. An assessment of the value of the channels offered by each provider, since they’re fairly similar, would really need to be determined by the purchaser.



DISH’s cheapest package contains one thing that DIRECTV’s lacks almost entirely: sports channels. You’ll have to upgrade your DIRECTV package to at least their second-tier package (Entertainment) in order to have access to ESPN and Fox Sports. If sports are an important part of your budget package, DISH is the one for you.

DISH offers an ala carte selection of sports channels that can be added to any package, as well, allowing rabid sports fans access to their favorite programming without purchasing a bigger package. They also offer access to Sirius-XM satellite radio channels with all packages.


Several beloved channels, such as DIY Network, STARZ Encore, FX Movies, and NickToons don’t kick in until the highest package. Several kids and family channels don’t come with either of their smaller packages, including Disney XD, Animal Planet, and Teen Nick.



You don’t even have to get to DIRECTV’s top tier package to get a hefty lineup of STARZ Encore channels. DIRECTV also offers more family channels in their smaller packages. Their $50 package does contain a broad array of the channels you’d expect to find in a basic package like SYFY, Comedy Central, and Freeform.


The Entertainment package, DIRECTV’s second tier package, includes barely more than the basic sports channels that are missing from their cheapest package. There are some other channels that are conspicuously absent from DIRECTV’s smaller packages aside from the sports channels that are entirely missing from the Select package. The Weather Channel, GSN, FXX, and Boomerang are all only available in bigger packages.

DISH vs. DIRECTV: Bundling options

Both DISH and DIRECTV offer various bundling options for pairing TV services with home or wireless phone service and/or internet service. If your provider of choice is on the list of bundling partners for either of these services, you may be able to get a better deal.

Both companies have a vast array of available bundling providers, but that doesn’t mean that all of them will be available in your zip code. Many bundling options are location specific. Enter your zip code below to determine whether your current service providers qualify for a package deal in your area.

DISH Bundles

DISH partners with HughesNet satellite internet service to provide a $5 a month bill credit on your DISH bill for 24 months. Satellite internet isn’t a great option for most people unless it is their only option, but if you live in an extremely rural area, this might be a deal worth considering.

Other DISH bundles are available in some areas, with up to $10 a month available in discounts. There are even wired internet connections available.

DIRECTV’s Bundles

With their parent company being AT&T, it’s not really a shock that DIRECTV offers several potential bundles with AT&T. You can pair your DIRECTV service with internet, home phone, or wireless service from AT&T (or their partner in your area is AT&T internet isn’t available where you live).

As an added bonus besides the reduced price of the combined services and single bill, AT&T offers data-free streaming of your DIRECTV content, which includes live programming, on demand, and your DVR recordings. This means watching all the TV on the go you want without burning through your wireless data. U-Verse or DIRECTV customers also have access to AT&T wireless unlimited data plans. U-Verse and AT&T wireless customers also qualify to get their DIRECTV rate locked in for 2 years of the contract rather than just one, making DIRECTV service even more affordable than DISH.

bundle winner

DIRECTV definitely wins the bundle contest. They offer more options for bundling, deeper discounts, and extra perks that are tough to complain about. If AT&T or any of its affiliates are on your radar as a phone or internet provider, their reduced bundle rates are worth a look.

DISH vs. DIRECTV: Customer satisfaction



In the ACSI Telecommunications Survey for 2017 DISH’s came in at 67%.



The ACSI gave DIRECTV a rating of 68%.

Customer Satisfaction Winner

DISH vs. DIRECTV: Best satellite TV provider

Between DISH and DIRECTV, our pick is DISH. It’s the best for getting maximum programming for a minimum price, and their low-cost add-ons allow customers to get a package that does exactly what they need it to do without unnecessary fluff. Their two-year locked in rate certainly doesn’t hurt their chances of earning the top spot either.

If you’ve got access to Verizon fiber optic cable in the Eastern region, it may be a better choice, or if you need the lowest price possible for your TV service, package offerings aside, you might opt for DIRECTV’s Select package or a combination of cord-cutting services. DIRECTV may be your best bet if you’re looking for a sweet bundle and you’re willing to adopt AT&T’s services across your internet, wireless, and/or home phone.

Knowing exactly what to expect out of DISH’s prices over the course of your contract, top notch customizable programming, plus excellent reliability put it at the top of the list for TV providers in any category.

Overall Winner