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Best Satellite TV Providers 2021

Get the dish on DIRECTV and DISH Network with our expert review.

Best overall

Price: $59.99 - $139.99/mo.

Channel count: 190–290+

DVR storage: Up to 2,000 hrs.

Best for premium channels

Price: $59.99–$134.99/mo.

Channel count: 155–330+

DVR storage: 200 hrs.

Data as of post date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

DIRECTV and DISH are the only satellite TV providers around, and the duopoly twins have high channel counts, good DVRs, and killer perks. On the bad side, they both also have 2-year contracts and hidden fees.

So which dish-dealer is better? Well, DIRECTV has more channels, more sports channels, no fee for its Genie DVR, and amazing NFL SUNDAY TICKET and HBO Max™ offers for new customers. But DIRECTV’s 30–40% second-year price increase just sucks.

So DISH’s two-year price guarantee makes it the more affordable satellite TV provider in the long run—even with the Hopper 3 DVR’s $10 monthly fee. The Hopper is also more powerful than the Genie, and DISH has the best parental controls around. And all of that is why we named DISH the best overall TV provider.

But there’s more to discuss regarding DIRECTV and DISH, so check out more details below.

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Best satellite TV providers

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TV providerPriceCost per channelChannel countChoose your plan
DISH$59.99 – $139.99/mo.$0.34–0.41190–290+View plans
DIRECTV$64.99–$134.99/mo.$0.34–0.42160–330+View plans

Data effective as of post date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Best satellite TV providers

  • DISH ($59.99–$139.99/mo.)–Best overall, best for kids
  • DIRECTV ($64.99–$134.99/mo.)—Best for sports

Best overall: DISH Network

Price: $59.99–$139.99/mo.

Channel count: 190–290+

DVR storage: Up to 2,000 hrs.

Pros

  • Free installation
  • 2 yr. price guarantee
  • Hopper 3 DVR (up to 2,000 hrs.)
  • Multiroom viewing w/ Joey devices

Cons

  • No NFL SUNDAY TICKET
  • $10 monthly fee for Hopper 3 DVR

DISH has four main satellite TV packages priced $64.99–$99.99 a month (and two current-customer plans that you can read about in our DISH review). We recommened America’s Top 200 ($89.99 a month, 240+ channels) because it has the most channels for the best value. And DISH is running a promo where if you order America’s Top 120+ or higher, you can get the 14-channel Multi-Sport Pack free (expires 11/15/21).

Like DIRECTV, DISH has contracts, but it locks in your price for the duration of the contract—nicely countering DIRECTV’s steep second-year price hike.

Pro tip: HBO is back at DISH after a three-year absence.

DISH also has the best DVR in the business: the Hopper 3, which records up to 16 shows at once and stores up to a whopping 2,000 hours (500 hrs. HD) of movies and shows. It does cost an extra $10 per month, but that’s an amazing value considered what you get with the Hopper 3.

If you don’t wanna pay the extra $10 for the Hopper 3, DISH offers the Hopper Duo for $5 a month. The Duo stores only 125 hours of HD content and records only two shows at once, but that’s plenty for smaller households. But if you’re gonna go for the Hopper Duo, you might as well consider DIRECTV’s Genie, which gives you 200 hours of HD storage and five simultaneous recordings.

Our recommended DISH package:

America’s Top 200

Price: $89.99/mo.

Standout feature: 240+ channels, free Multi-Sport Pack (exp. 11/15/21), Hopper 3 DVR ($10/mo.)

Best for premium channels: DIRECTV

Price: $64.99–$134.99/mo.

Channel count: 160–330+

DVR storage: 200 hrs.

Pros

  • Free installation
  • Genie DVR included
  • Multiroom viewing with Genie Mini
  • NFL SUNDAY TICKET and HBO Max offers

Cons

  • 2 yr. contract
  • $35 activation fee
  • Heart-attack inducing 2nd-year price hike

DIRECTV has the most channels and packages, plus seductive perks like free NFL SUNDAY TICKET (current season) and HBO Max (one year) for new customers. It also has more sports channels than DISH and Orby TV, and you can save money bundling with AT&T internet. 

But DIRECTV’s plans, while priced competitively in lower tiers, get expensive in the higher ones. Also, beware the 30–40% rate increase in the second year. Why, DIRECTV?

Speaking of the “second year,” DIRECTV requires a two-year contract—par for the course with satellite providers, but also a drag. It also charges a $35 activation fee—and activation fees are silly, not to mention slippery. For more information, read our piece on the hidden costs of DIRECTV.

Our recommended DIRECTV package:

CHOICE

Price: $69.99/mo.

Standout feature: 185+ channels, DVR included, free NFL SUNDAY TICKET and HBO Max offers.

Data as of post date. Not all offers are available in all areas.

We think DIRECTV’s CHOICE™ package ($69.99 a month, 185+ channels) is a fine deal, especially when you consider the added value of free NFL SUNDAY TICKET and HBO Max.

For perspective, DISH offers 190 channels for $64.99 a month (America’s Top 120) or 190+ channels for $79.99 monthly (America’s Top 120+). But these packages don’t include NFL SUNDAY TICKET or HBO Max, or—heads up, sportsball fans—as many sports channels. But remember: DISH will give you the Multi-Sport Pack free with America’s Top 120+ or higher. It’s not NFL SUNDAY TICKET, but it’s a pretty generous deal.

What to look for in satellite TV providers

What are the most important qualities of a satellite TV provider (besides a good personality and sense of humor)? If you said channel count or DVR equipment, you’re right. 

It’s also smart to see if the provider has an app for mobile watching and account management, value-adding perks, and good customer satisfaction ratings.

Let’s dive deeper into why these are key features.

Channel count

For TV providers, channel count is a crucial stat. The higher the number, the more impressive. But quality also matters: to make sure you can get the channels you want, check out our channel guides for each provider.

DISH and DIRECTV channel lineups

DVRs and other equipment

When you sign up for satellite TV service, you’re also committing to a DVR/receiver unit—and possibly a monthly rental fee. Make sure the machine meets your needs.

  • Is the DVR included or is there a rental fee? 
  • Is there also a separate fee for DVR service?
  • How many hours of SD and HD content does the DVR store? 
  • Can you buy separate DVRs or receivers for multi-room viewing?
  • Does the DVR have cool, exclusive features?
  • Does the remote control have voice search capabilities? Hands-free, even?

Also, many providers offer access to your DVR content (and maybe even your channel package) via a mobile app. Let’s discuss, shall we?

Mobile apps

Most cable and satellite service providers have apps that allow account management (bill pay, support, etc.), watch-anywhere streaming, or both. You should get some of that convenience in your life.

DIRECTV and DISH both have mobile apps for Android and iOS. Both allow you to watch your live channels, on-demand content, and DVR recordings on your smartphone or tablet. You can also use both apps to set and manage DVR timers and parental controls.

Perks, deals, and other promotions

DIRECTV and DISH sell pretty much the same product for the same price. So, to get your business, they regularly offer deals to entice new customers to sign up.

DIRECTV deals and promotions

  • Free NFL SUNDAY TICKET: Get the current season of NFL SUNDAY TICKET free with any package from CHOICE on up.
  • Free premium channels: Get CINEMAX®, EPIX, HBO, SHOWTIME®, and STARZ® free when you sign up for CHOICE or higher.
  • Free year of HBO Max: Just sign up for any package from CHOICE through PREMIER.

DISH deals and promotions

  • Free installation: DISH is currently waiving the $199 installation fee on new orders.
  • Free Multi-Sport Pack: If you order the America’s Top 120+ package or higher, you’ll get the 14-channel Multi-Sport Pack (regularly $13 a month) free. Expires Nov. 15, 2021.
  • HBO Max discount: Sign up for DISH before October 27, and you’ll get ad-free HBO Max for $12/mo. (regularly $15/mo.).
  • DISH 55: Dish customers aged 55 or older get free installation, one free movie rental, six free months of equipment protection, and upgraded identity theft protection.
  • DISH “Those Who Serve”: If you’re active military, a veterans, or a first responder, you’ll get one free movie rental plus the 8-channel Stars & Stripes channel pack (regularly $10/mo.) at no additional cost. If you’re a healthcare worker or a teacher, you’re eligible to get a movie rental plus the 12-channel Heartland channel pack (regularly $6 a month).
  • Free premium channels: New customers get 3 free months of SHOWTIME® and STARZ®. Remember to cancel before the promo period ends, or you’ll be charged.
  • Movie on Us: All you gotta do is check a box at checkout to get one free movie rental a month.
  • $100 gift card: For a limited time, DISH will give you a $100 gift card with online orders.
  • eAutoPay discount: DISH gives you a $5/mo. discount for using paperless billing.

Some of these deals are applied automatically to online orders—but you’ll find a lot of them under “Special Offers” at checkout.

Customer satisfaction

It’s always smart to see what other customers think of a provider before you commit. 

In our 2020 customer satisfaction survey, we asked customers of the top 10 cable and satellite TV providers* to rate providers on billing, channel selection, customer and technical support, DVR satisfaction, installation, signal reliability, user experience, and overall satisfaction.

DIRECTV took top honors, scoring 3.96 out of 5.00. DISH finished 7th with 3.81 (remember, these are customer ratings, not CableTV.com’s).

Final take

So which satellite TV service is best? We’re recommeingndation DISH.

Like we said earlier, DISH’s two-year pricelock was the clincher (with a boost from the awesome Hopper 3 DVR). DISH might have fewer channels than DIRECTV, and charge a monthly fee for the Hopper 3, but it’s still much cheaper than DIRECTV in the long run.

Best satellite TV providers FAQ

What is the cheapest satellite TV provider?

DISH is the cheapest. While its prices are similar to DIRECTV’s, DISH has a two-year price guarantee that keeps your payment from changing while you’re under contract. DIRECTV doesn’t have that, so your payment might start out reasonable—but it’s gonna jump by 30–40% in the second year.

Can I get free satellite TV?

You can pick up free-to-air satellite TV channels with your own satellite dish and receiver, but you won’t get the kinds of channels that are available through satellite TV companies like DIRECTV or DISH. It’ll be mostly goverment-sponsored stations like PBS. But if you’ve relocated to the US from another country, free-to-air satellite TV can pick up channels from your home country.

What are the best satellite TV providers?

Out of the three satellite TV providers in the US, DISH is best. It has 290+ channels, the Hopper 3 DVR (500 hours of storage, 16 simultaneous recordings), and a two-year price guarantee.

What is the difference between cable and satellite TV?

Cable TV comes through a cable. Satellite TV bounces from Earth to a satellite in space and back to the dish on top of your house.

What are the best satellite TV deals?

Here are the deals and promotions we dug up for DIRECTV and DISH.

DIRECTV

  • Free NFL SUNDAY TICKET: Get the current season of NFL SUNDAY TICKET free with any package from CHOICE on up.
  • Free premium channels: Get CINEMAX®, EPIX, HBO, SHOWTIME®, and STARZ® free when you sign up for CHOICE or higher.
  • Free year of HBO Max: Just sign up for any package from CHOICE through PREMIER.

DISH

  • Free installation: DISH is currently waiving the $199 installation fee on new orders.
  • Free Multi-Sport Pack: If you order the America’s Top 120+ package or higher, you’ll get the 14-channel Multi-Sport Pack (regularly $13 a month) free. Expires Nov. 15, 2021.
  • HBO Max discount: Sign up for DISH before October 27, and you’ll get ad-free HBO Max for $12/mo. (regularly $15/mo.).
  • DISH 55: Dish customers aged 55 or older get free installation, one free movie rental, six free months of equipment protection, and upgraded identity theft protection.
  • DISH “Those Who Serve”: If you’re active military, a veterans, or a first responder, you’ll get one free movie rental plus the 8-channel Stars & Stripes channel pack (regularly $10/mo.) at no additional cost. If you’re a healthcare worker or a teacher, you’re eligible to get a movie rental plus the 12-channel Heartland channel pack (regularly $6 a month).
  • Free premium channels: New customers get 3 free months of SHOWTIME® and STARZ®. Remember to cancel before the promo period ends, or you’ll be charged.
  • Movie on Us: All you gotta do is check a box at checkout to get one free movie rental a month.
  • $100 gift card: For a limited time, DISH will give you a $100 gift card with online orders.
  • eAutoPay discount: DISH gives you a $5/mo. discount for using paperless billing.