Is DISH good?
Coke and Pepsi, McDonald’s and Burger King, Snickers and Kit Kat—as with all great American brand duopolies, satellite TV providers DISH Network and DIRECTV have more in common than not. Depending on what you’re hungry for, either can be a solid choice (and if you are suddenly hungry now, sorry about that).
Of the two, we prefer DISH’s package pricing and hardware. You can get nearly all the same channels for a little less money and record far more of them—DISH’s DVR game can’t be beat.
But, in terms of “channels” and “games,” DISH might come up short for sports fans: the other guys still have a lock on the NFL SUNDAY TICKET, as well as a few other indispensable sports channels. Ball agnostics, on the other hand, will find a lot to love about DISH.
Our recommended DISH TV package
Best package summary
The America’s Top 200 package—which actually includes over 240 channels—isn’t the cheapest of DISH’s offerings, but we think it delivers more content per buck.
For $10 more than the next package down, America’s Top 200 gives you 50 more channels, including BBC America, CBS Sports Network, Disney XD, Investigation Discovery, NHL Network, Sundance TV, and Viceland. Not bad for a Hamilton.
We also like this TV package as a bundle buddy with internet and/or phone service. Overall, America’s Top 200’s performance-to-price ratio is as good as it gets in basic satellite TV packages around $79.99.
We do, however, strongly suggest the $15-a-month upgrade to the Hopper 3 DVR—it’s more than worth it; we’ll explain why later.
DISH TV packages
*Pricing for 24 months with Hopper Duo. Data effective as of 09/09/19. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
If you want to get into a remote-measuring contest, DIRECTV technically offers a higher top-package channel count than DISH, with the former boasting 330+ over the latter’s 290+, a difference of 40 channels and $20.
Part of that is due to DIRECTV being the exclusive satellite TV home to HBO and CINEMAX (surprise—all three are owned by AT&T), as well as some sports channels not carried by DISH.
As you’ll see in our channel lineup grid, any DISH package carries all of the must-have networks that the other service does, as well as a handful of exclusives. If you need your HBO—we know we do—there’s literally an app for that.
The rest is filler: If you don’t buy stuff through shopping networks (because, you know, internet) or listen to music channels on your TV (because Spotify, Pandora, etc.), you don’t need ‘em. Bloated channel counts don’t impress anymore; it’s all about skinnier packages these days.
Speaking of skinny: While we think the America’s Top 200 package offers great bang for your buck, DISH also offers a cheap, customizable alternative worth looking at called the Flex Pack. At $47.99 a month, the Flex Pack features a base of 50 popular channels that can be built upon with additional niche “packs” centered on sports, kids, news, and more.
Popular channels available on all five DISH packages (partial list):
- Cartoon Network/Adult Swim
- Comedy Central
- E!Food Network
- Paramount Network
- National Geographic
- Travel Channel
- TV Land
Perks, cool stuff, and deals
DISH’s two-year price guarantee is a pretty cool perk, especially considering that DIRECTV will lock you in for two years but then kick your monthly bill up by nearly $20 after the first 12 months. WTF, DTV? It’s almost as if DIRECTV thinks it doesn’t have much satellite TV competition . . . oh yeah, it doesn’t.
Sure, DISH’s price will go up after those two years, but at least it’s upfront about it. Also, if you add a second service to your package during that time, it won’t affect your initial pricing.
DISH also includes six months of free DISH Protect coverage (usually $9.99 a month) for new subscribers. It essentially gets you quicker access to technicians in the field and “more experienced agents” on the phone. We think customers should get that kind of treatment without paying extra, but that’s just us.
No matter which DISH package you go with, you get a satellite receiver for the outside of your home—there’s no avoiding that aesthetic intrusion. What it connects to inside your abode, however, varies a bit with DISH.
The basic model included with DISH subscriptions is the Hopper Duo DVR, a receiver that can record two channels simultaneously (when paired with an auxiliary Joey receiver) and store up to 125 hours of HD recordings. It’s also compatible with Amazon Alexa and comes with apps like Netflix built in (well, if you can’t fight ‘em).
There are other DISH boxes, including the Wally, which is just an old-school receiver with no recording capability. But the one worth raving about is the undisputed King of All DVRs, the DIRECTV Genie Killer: the one and only Hopper 3.
The Hopper 3 DVR/receiver can:
- Record up to 16 channels simultaneously
- Power 7 TVs (with auxiliary Joeys)
- Store 2TB of HD content (1,000 hours)
- Pair with Bluetooth speakers or headphones
- Display 4K resolution
(Not to further blow your mind, but the Hopper 3 can also do quad split-screen, allowing you to watch four shows or games at once. Yes, really.)
If you have a TV in more than one room, you’ll want a Joey, a small receiver powered by the Hopper. It gives you all the HD functionality of the main DVR/receiver; kind of a “satellite” to the satellite service. DISH’s Joeys come in four varieties:
- Joey, which is connected by coaxial cable and compatible with all Hoppers.
- Super Joey, which can record eight channels simultaneously, independent of the Hopper.
- 4K Joey, which supports 4K resolution and Bluetooth connectivity.
- Wireless Joey, which connects, as per the name, wirelessly.
Hoppers and Joeys come with DISH Voice Remote controls, which features backlit keys (handy), a remote locator (even handier), and programmable shortcut keys (handiest of all). Remote models with built-in Google Assistant are also available.
Finally, there’s DISH Anywhere app for iOS and Android, which allows you to watch live and recorded content away from home—but it’s optimized for use with DVRs equipped with Sling TV (the streaming TV service owned by DISH). Non-Slingers have access to on-demand DISH shows and movies only. Bonus: the app can function as a remote for Hoppers and Joeys.
Upon signing up, DISH will throw in three months of premium channels like SHOWTIME and STARZ for free. But it’s on you to cancel if you don’t want to keep them after the deal period; otherwise, billing at the standard rate kicks in for each. Mark your calendar.
- Hopper 3 DVR
- Inexpensive packages
- 2-year price guarantee
- No NFL SUNDAY TICKET
- No HBO or Cinemax
- Limited internet/phone bundling options
Our final take on DISH
The general assumption of “DIRECTV is for sports fans; DISH is for everyone else” isn’t entirely true—both have plenty to offer for either side of the line. DISH just does it for less.
With a couple of exceptions, DISH’s channel packages have all the same essentials that DIRECTV’s do, minus much of the bloat. Admittedly, the lack of NFL SUNDAY TICKET and HBO channels stings, but we still like DISH’s streamlined (and transparent) pricing.
DISH’s powerhouse Hopper 3 DVR is the biggest selling point, an impressive piece of tech that even the much-hyped cloud DVRs of streaming TV services can’t compete with. We doubt we’d ever watch 16 channels at once or record 1,000 hours of anything—but we want the option, because this is America.