There are really only two options for those who are going to go with satellite TV services over cable: DISH and DirecTV. Both of them are pretty impressive services overall, but making sure that you figure out which one is the best for your needs can take a little bit of research and know-how. Unlike cable, where you’ll be trapped with one service in most places, both companies are available to most people who opt for this path.
We have our favorites but we’ve done you the favor of comparing the major considerations for both services, so dive on in and see if you agree and then get yourself on the path to making sure you have the best satellite TV service for your home.
If you don’t need a side-by side comparison, we strongly recommend that you go with DISH. The service overall offers you a lot more for your dollar and their hardware is simply miles ahead of their competition. This makes them pretty much ideal for most users.
Top DISH Plans
|Plan||Price||# of Channels|
|America’s Top 120||$59.99/month||190+||Check Price|
|America’s Top 200||$69.99/month||240+||Check Price|
|America’s Top 250||$79.99/month||290+||Check Price|
What is Satellite TV?
Satellite TV services are pretty much what they sound like: you use a dish in order to receive channels to watch your favorite shows. The beamed in service has a slight delay, but it’s often available in areas which lack the appropriate infrastructure for cable.
This is the main advantage over cable: it’s often available in rural areas where there simply isn’t a cable connection.
Of course, this sort of thing also has some problems. Satellite is much more prone to being disrupted by inclement weather and other relatively minor problems which don’t really affect cable in the slightest.
Since there’s bound to be a bit more interruption, however, the basic satellite packages are often cheaper with more channels. It can offer you a pretty big advantage if you choose to use the service in an area where you’re not likely to run into too much interference… and in other areas it may be the only real option at all.
Modern satellite TV uses satellites which remain in a geosynchronous orbit, meaning that the satellites themselves remain in a relatively “fixed” position in the sky. It’s a really cool application of physics and something of a wonder to think about if you let your brain run with the math involved for a second.
For users of the service, however, there’s a much different outlook: it means that satellite actually tends to be quite stable and modern signals are usually strong enough to remain beaming cleanly through all but the most inclement weather.
What to Expect During Installation
Just like cable, you’re going to have to have a technician come out to the house in order to install some things and make sure that you’re up and running.
In this instance, a southward facing dish is pretty much non-negotiable. You simply won’t be able to pick up a signal without it, which means that it can be a real pain for those who live in an apartment with a shared wall facing in that direction.
As long as you have the roof space, however, the installation is quite easy and you’ll be able to be up and running within an hour or so in most cases. As a general rule, satellite is usually quicker to be up and running than cable, although this isn’t always the case.
While self-installation packages do exist through some service providers (Free Professional Standard Installation from DISH), it’s quite time consuming for the homeowner and you really should opt to have a tech do the work if it’s an option at all.
Who Should Use Satellite TV Over Cable
This is the question at the forefront of the average consumer’s mind: what does satellite offer that cable doesn’t, apart from the risk of weather interference.
The truth is, for a lot of people cable is going to be the better option. It’s more stable, less intrusive since there’s no dish, and tends to allow for shorter commitments than the locked-in contracts of satellite TV networks.
On the other hand, the following people might prefer satellite:
- Those who watch a lot of news and sports will generally find that the programming available through satellite is more to their liking.
- Those in rural areas might not have much of a choice, but satellite TV is available pretty much everywhere.
- Satellite is a lot cheaper in most cases, if you’re going to be living in the same area for a long time the commitment is less of a problem.
- Satellite, despite the weather interference problem, has less issues with bandwidth and tends to give a clearer picture in ideal conditions.
The above list will let most consumers quickly decide which type of service they think is ideal. There’s really not much to the choice, and if it makes sense… go for it.
The Big Showdown: DISH vs. DirecTV
DISH and DirecTV are pretty much the only options available for those looking to utilize satellite TV services in their home.
This means that, in order to determine the best choice, you’re going to need to see some side-by-side comparisons of their services, prices, and hardware to make sure that you get exactly what you need at the end of the day.
DISH is definitely the cheaper of the two competing services. If saving money is your primary concern then you’re going to want to go with them.
The price differential isn’t huge however so it’s really only the deciding factor if you let it be.
Both DISH and DirecTV have a wide range of different packages at different price points available as you can see:
|DirecTV Plan||Price||# of Channels|
All data is good as of 9/24/2017
Of course, while the data makes them look to be running pretty neck and neck when it comes to selection, both companies have a price increase after the first 24 months of working with the service is up.
DISH’s plans run up an average of an extra $15/month once the honeymoon period is up. Not half bad, overall. Where it really shines is in comparison to DirecTV’s massive increases.
If you’re using DirecTV you’ll end up with a price increase of nearly 100% after the first couple of years. The Select Plan, which looks like such a great deal above, actually goes up to $90/month once you get into things a little bit heavier.
Keep in mind that DISH also charges a small fee per month for equipment rental (DISH Fees Overview). It’s definitely not a deal breaker for most people, however, as it still keeps the cost considerably under that which is charged by DirecTV.
The clear winner when it comes to pricing is DISH. DirecTV is competitive for the first couple of years, but the nearly unforgivable price increase quickly causes them to lose out on their advantage.
The first question that most people will be asking is almost always about the content contained on the channels they’re looking at. Especially since DirecTV seems to have more channels at a glance.
Both offer the following:
- Over 300 channels total
- Tons of HD content
- Local channels
- Streaming 4K
Pay packages for premium channels like HBO
Both of the networks have a wide range of content available, and they even offer their premium channels for a few months for free when you choose to sign on with their service.
The main differences here come in the sports channels. While DISH has exclusive rights to Outdoor Sports and Racetrack Television Network… DirecTV has a distinct advantage with their NFL Sunday Ticket channel which will let you watch every NFL game throughout the season.
DirecTV actually does have access to more channels overall but the big programming networks are present on both of the services so that will only appeal to the most niche of viewers.
On the other hand, DISH supports a far wider range of differing languages for their channels. They have something for speakers of nearly every language on the planet, while DirecTV is limited to only a few different options.
In this instance, we’ll have to give the prize over to DirecTV however, as the NFL Sunday Ticket is simply too big to ignore and it’s become a stable in most of the households which use the network.
Both companies have their own unique hardware which comes with the service. While it might not seem like that big of a deal, there are enough differences in the hardware to cause it to be a serious consideration for some consumers.
DISH uses a piece of technology called the Hopper. This device has 2TB of storage space, can record 16 pieces of media at the same time, and supports pretty much any device with its watch anywhere technology.
It also has the ability to auto-skip commercials contained within recorded programs after 24 hours have elapsed. It really is a pretty impressive piece of hardware with a couple of caveats.
It’s incompatible with TiVo services, doesn’t support picture-in-picture technology, and can’t interface with home security systems.
On the other hand, one really nice thing about the Hopper is the ability to ensure that you have as much storage as you want since it’s compatible with USB drives. A big external hard drive can give you access to a ton of media on top of the not-inconsiderable 2 TB already included within the device.
DirecTV has the Genie. The Genie has 1TB of storage space, can record 5 pieces of media concurrently, and supports all devices for watch anywhere… if you purchase the extra hardware to do it.
On the plus side, it is compatible with TiVo, supports picture-in-picture right out of the box, and can be interfaced with your home security technology.
Of the two, we feel that DISH’s Hopper is generally the best option for the average viewer. It’s hard to beat the incredible amount of storage, much higher amount of recordings at the same time, and the ability to watch from any device without additional hardware. It’s also a much more user friendly piece of equipment overall.
DISH wins this round, although those dying to integrate their hardware may prefer the Genie from DirecTV for their own reasons.
Both companies perform pretty well in this regard.
The fact of the matter is that the geosynchronous satellites which control both networks have come a long way since the inception of the technology. The satellites rotate at just the right rate to have a fairly “fixed” location as far as your receiver is concerned.
Neither of them comes out ahead on this end, although in rare instances you may have to go with one service or the other simply due to location. If you think this may be a concern for you then check with the representative before you finalize your service.
There’s a very small margin, but even a single tree in exactly the wrong place can royally mess up your service and cause you to end up with a different provider than the one you initially wanted. Make sure you have a site survey done if you think this is going to be a concern, but for the most part the choice will be entirely up to you.
This is a huge concern for those who are used to buying cable services: not every company handles things the same way and prices can differ quite a bit when it comes time to run the cable and get things going.
Fortunately, in this area both companies are quite competent and are generally either free or low in cost. Both companies also offer some amount of custom installations for home theaters and other devices as well for a few.
This is a big clincher for a lot of people in the end, but it’s not something that everyone thinks about all that hard before they finally select a service.
Since you’re going to be locked in for some time when you use a satellite TV service, you really need to consider the customer service before you make a final decision.
Think about it, if you end up with a service which you end up hating to deal with, you’re going to be working with these people for at least a couple of years if you don’t want to end up paying a large termination fee.
From what people have told us, the following is true for the companies’ customer service:
DISH offers 24/7 customer service. This means that you’ll be able to reach someone if something happens no matter what time it is. Indeed, no other entertainment company can really make that claim.
Unfortunately, it seems that this intensive cycle has taken it’s toll. While they’re highly rated overall, there are some complaints from the consumer’s end about their overall customer service experience.
DirecTV, on the other hand, lacks a 24/7 customer service schedule but does offer protection plans. If you’re going to opt to pay for them then they’re the better way to go, but most of us will find the fact that if something happens at night and you have to deal with an automated machine… not good.
Who provides the better service is going to come down to a matter of personal preference, but we feel that DISH provides the better service since you can receive a live support person at any time of day or night.
Our Overall Impression: Go With DISH
At the end of the day, we feel that DISH is the better service for most people.
Their technology is far superior, the ability to get ahold of a technician at any time is fantastic, and the lower price overall(without the hidden increase of DirecTV) makes them a wiser option for most consumers.
Those who will feel better going with DISH probably fall into the following categories:
- Casual TV users will be in awe at the sheer number of channels available without having to spend a whole bunch of money after the first couple of years.
- Budget conscious consumers will appreciate the lower prices.
- Hardcore TV users will generally find the 2TB of data available with the Hopper hardware to be superior, the ability to skip commercials and record tons of shows at the same time are just an added bonus.
- Those who use Netflix will be glad to know that the Hopper includes a built-in app for using the service without any additional work on your end.
- Those who are prone to tech problems will appreciate the 24/7 ability to get ahold of a representative.
In our experience, most people who are using their TVs are simply going to end up preferring DISH if they get a chance to try out both services for the equal amount of time.
The hardware is probably the biggest factor here, but the low prices definitely help.
But Don’t Discount DirecTV
Of course, just because we recommend DISH doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider DirecTV. We did have to give them the edge on content, after all, especially for those who are looking to enjoy football.
They also have more channels overall, which might appeal to a certain subset of the hardcore TV using population with enough disposable income to make up for the difference without worrying about their finances.
They also make things easier on homes with more than one or two TVs, so keep that in mind if you’ve got a large household and a lot of TVs that you want to supply programming too.
If you’re a hardcore NFL fan or just want the maximum number of possible channels, then you may want to go with DirecTV after all. You’ll just have to deal with inferior hardware and customer service.
It’s not easy to pick a satellite TV service that’s perfect for your home, even with only two major providers existing on the market currently. In the end the choice will rest with you, but we hope that we’ve helped you to decide which network really is the best for your needs at the end of the day.