DISH vs. DIRECTV: Which Satellite TV Provider is Best?

DISH and DIRECTV are household names for satellite TV. Each has millions of customers, extensive package options and the ability to reach homes across all 50 states—which means that if you want satellite TV, you’ll need to pick between them.

We’ve put together this impartial guide to help you understand all the differences between each brand, what you can get for your money, and what to look out for. Across all of our research, we have to say that with more attractive pricing, a world-class DVR, and easy installation, DISH is a better choice than DIRECTV for the average consumer.

But don’t just take our word for it. Start scrolling or use the links below to jump to the most relevant section, and learn all about what DISH and DIRECTV have to offer.


What you’ll find on this page


Packages and Channels

Both DISH and DIRECTV sell their TV programming in ‘packages’ of different channels. In general, the more you pay, the more channels you have access to. And as you’d expect, the most exclusive and most valuable channels are usually reserved for the highest tiers. Meaning if you want to watch STARZ or lots of sports channels, for example, you won’t get away with the entry-level package.

So what is available? Both companies have nearly identical offers, structured across 4 tiers. While the monthly costs do vary by season, with regular promotional offers, the entry-level packages (‘America’s Top 120’ and ‘ENTERTAINMENT’) are usually identically priced.

For the highest tiers, DIRECTV's ULTIMATE package is usually more pricey than DISH’s equivalent.


DISH Packages

Below are the key facts for each package. Note that there may be promotional pricing depending on your location.

DISH Packages
Channel count
Price /mo.
Notable channels
America's Top 120
ABC, CBS, CNN, Discovery Channel, Disney Channel, ESPN, Food Network, FOX, FX, HGTV, Lifetime, MSNBC, National Geographic, Nickelodeon, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNews, ESPNU
America's Top 120+
All previous channels, plus

World Fishing Network, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNews, ESPNU, Longhorn Network, NFL Network, PAC-12 Network, SEC Network

America's Top 200
All previous channels, plus

Animal Planet, BBC America, BET, Cooking Channel, Disney Jr., Estrella TV, Galavision, Hallmark Channel, Investigation Discovery, Lifetime Movie Network, MLB Network, NBA TV, Nick Jr., OWN, Turner Classic Movies, Univision, ACCN, Big Ten Network, CBS Sports Network, FS1, FS2, Golf Channel, MLB Extra Innings, MLB Network, NBA TV, NBC Sports Network, NFL Network, NHL Center Ice, NHL Network, Tennis Channel, TUDN, TUDNxtra 1–11, Zona Fútbol

America's Top 250
Bloomberg Television, EPIX Drive-In, FX Movie Channel, MoviePlex, NBC Universo, Nicktoons, STARZ Encore Action, STARZ Encore Family, STARZ Encore Westerns, The Movie Channel

Local channels may vary by region, but click below if you want to dig into individual national channels.

See all DISH channels

DISH Channel Lineup


DIRECTV Packages

DIRECTV has a similar offering of core channels at all levels, with access to the most exclusive content reserved for higher-tier packages.


DIRECTV Packages
Channel count
Price /mo.
Notable channels
ABC Family, Animal Planet, Cartoon Network, CNN, Disney Channel, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, Fox News, Food Network, Hallmark Channel, HGTV, Lifetime Movie Network, MSNBC, Nickelodeon, TBS, TNT, Turner Classic Movies, USA Network
All previous channels, plus

Big Ten Network, Cooking Channel, ESPNEWS, ESPNU, FUSE, Independent Film Channel, NFL Network, Science Channel, NFL SUNDAY TICKET

All previous channels, plus

Boomerang, ENCORE Action, ENCORE Drama, NHL Network, PBS, PBS Kids Sprout, Style Network, Sundance Channel, The Movie Channel, Tennis Channel,CBS Sports Network, Golf Channel, MLB Network, NBA TV, NBC Sports, NHL Network, Tennis Channel


All previous channels, plus

CINEMAX ActionMax, ESPN CLASSIC, ENCORE Family, ENCORE Love, FLIX, Fox Deportes, Fox Soccer Channel, HBO2, HBO Family, Outdoor Channel, STARZ Cinema, STARZ Edge, SHOWTIME Beyond, SHOWTIME Showcase, STARZ Comedy, STARZ Kids & Family, CINEMAX Thriller Max

Local channels may vary by region, but click below if you want to dig into individual national channels.

See all DIRECTV channels

DIRECTV Channel Lineup



So what’s the difference?

We know—that’s a lot of channels and you probably won’t watch half of them. Here are the key differences:

DIRECTV has exclusive rights to offer the NFL SUNDAY TICKET which gives viewers access to every out-of-market game for the entire season—i.e. games which aren’t shown on your local TV networks.

What’s an “out of market” game?

Say you live in Baltimore. You’ll get plenty of Ravens home games through FOX and CBS. What you won’t get is many west coast games…since you’re nowhere near the west coast. These are called ‘out of market’ games.

NFL SUNDAY TICKET gives you access to all of them.

DIRECTV actually offers slightly more comprehensive pro sports coverage than DISH overall, though DISH fights back with several college sports channels you won’t find with DIRECTV, such as the Pac-12 Network.

Otherwise, the standard channels are virtually identical. DISH has slightly more 4K programming, though we expect DIRECTV to catch up pretty quickly.


Available extras

On top of their base packages, both providers offer some appealing extras.

For example, it’s possible to get DIRECTV packages in 9 different languages—Italian, Filipino, Russian, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish, and Japanese.

For both providers, access to all the movie channels requires paying for a top-tier package that includes the sports content—even if they’re never watched. Unfortunately that's just part of the deal. An elegant solution, however, is to buy a dedicated movie pack, something offered by both providers as an addition to any package.

  • DISH Movie Pack: Includes 15 extra movie channels.
  • DIRECTV Movies Extra Pack: Includes 9 extra movie channels, but is around 50% cheaper than DISH.

Finally, both DISH and DIRECTV offer premium channels for an extra monthly fee. The fees vary, but as of April 2021, DISH’s prices are a bit lower.

Which premium channels are included with each company's top-tier package?


It should also be possible to add any individual channel to any package for an additional price with both companies when you call.


In Summary…

That was a LOT of information, but that's where we're here for: to be thorough and transparent so you can make an informed choice. Here's a quick recap:

Price—DISH has lower pricing for all of its packages than DIRECTV, as well as cheaper premium channels, lower installation costs and fewer fees. DISH also maintains its pricing throughout the contract, whereas DIRECTV increases each package by around 50% after year one. See all fees & costs.

Channels—In terms of overall content, the providers are equal. Both offer way more channels than you’ll ever really need!

Sports—Both providers offer general sports content (ESPN, MLB Network, Golf Channel, and many others) but DISH offers more college coverage and DIRECTV has more NFL coverage thanks to the NFL SUNDAY TICKET.

For the majority of TV viewers, DISH's pricing makes it a runaway favorite. If you really want that NFL SUNDAY TICKET, it is only available through DIRECTV so you’ll have to pick them—just be aware it will cost a heap of cash during the 2nd year of your contract.


Contracts, Fees, & Obligations

Unfortunately with TV companies, what you see advertised is rarely what you get. In other words, if they say it’s “Everything you need for just $50 a month”, then you know $50 is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Let’s start with contracts.

All DIRECTV customers must agree to a 2-year deal for any package. This locks in the agreed rates for that time and early termination will result in a fee. But the way DIRECTV handles its pricing is enough to permanently drive customers away in many cases—more on this in the next section.

DISH offers more flexibility with 3 different contract types: 12 months, 24 months, or month-to-month. While prices vary, here’s a rough guide: The 2-year contract will save $10-20/month on the 1-year contract, while the month-to-month contract will cost $10-20/month more than the 1-year agreement.


Fees & prices

DIRECTV’s pricing is spectacularly non-transparent, so let's clear it up right here.

DIRECTV's advertised pricing is for year one ONLY—for months 13 to 24, the price will increase by around 50% per month. So if your chosen package is sold as $100/month, then for your second year may be roughly $150/month.

Of course DIRECTV does share this information, but it’s neatly buried and very easy to miss. For us, it’s crucial that customers know exactly what they're signing up for with any TV plan. As such, we've outlined their other fees here:


Fee type
Approximate amount
Service activation
Early termination
$20/month left on contract
If the contract is cancelled early
Regional sports fee
Up to $10
Monthly for CHOICE and above, non-negotiable and varies by region
Additional receivers/DIRECTV Ready TVs
Minimum installation fee per new receiver/device added
Additional receivers/DIRECTV Ready TVs
Monthly fee for each receiver/new device added
Autopay and paperless billing
Monthly fee introduced after the first 12 months
Payable in full for year 2 of every contract

Let’s revisit that $100/month contract. Instead of paying $2,400 over two years, the actual minimum cost could be as much as $3,620 without adding any additional TVs, channels, or extras. Many customers still consider this fair value for money in return for an excellent service, and we love that—our only goal is to illustrate the fees accurately so YOU know exactly what to expect.

While DISH also has additional fees (see below) they are transparent and there is no price hike during any contract. DISH customers can choose between a 1-year, 2-year, or month-to-month contract.


Approximate amount
Early termination
$20/month left on contract
If the contract is cancelled early
Equipment fee
$10/month (optional)
Customers can choose to upgrade their DVR for an extra monthly fee.
Additional receivers
Monthly fee for each receiver added

Do also keep in mind that because the installation process is expensive, both companies may run credit checks. If your credit score is low you may have to pay a higher up-front installation fee.



For both DISH and DIRECTV, it is possible to leave a contract early if you’re unhappy with the service. In each case, you’ll need to pay $20 per month of service left on the contract.

So halting your DIRECTV contract after year one (for example, to maximize use of the NFL SUNDAY TICKET) would cost $240. That’s less than the cost of the NFL SUNDAY TICKET itself, and considerably lower than 12 months of payments.

Why do both companies have long contracts instead of month-to-month deals like other providers? In short, it costs them more to set up service. Besides buying another satellite dish, and installer must visit your residence, install the dish, and make sure it's properly aligned. Cable and fiber companies, meanwhile, simply flip a digital switch as your home is already wired, usually when it's built. Most customers are still happy with their satellite TV service, but you'll want to make sure to weigh the pros and cons ahead of time.


Availability & Coverage

A big problem with services like fiber broadband and cable TV is the lack of choice for customers. If AT&T owns the infrastructure in your town, you need to go with them. If no one has built infrastructure in your town, then unfortunately you have to go without.

Satellite TV with DISH and DIRECTV is different. With networks of orbiting satellites in space, both companies can provide service to virtually every part of America. All you need is a satellite dish that points south, with a clear line of sight to the sky, and you can get satellite TV.

“A clear line of sight” basically means you can’t be hemmed in with tall trees and buildings. By installing the dish on the roof or high on an external wall, these barriers can usually be overcome.

What this really means for customers is choice. You can choose the provider you like best and enjoy their service—without feeling forced into it!



Mounting and calibrating your south-facing satellite dish is no joke. It can be dangerous and requires technical expertise, which is why both DISH and DIRECTV offer complimentary installation as standard.

DISH installation—Customers are given a 75-minute arrival window for the day of installation, but can also visit ‘My Tech' in the MyDISH smartphone app to see their technician's live location and avoid waiting around at home all day. DISH also provides helpful services like wall mounting TVs and home theater installation, though this costs extra.

DIRECTV installation—DIRECTV makes customers wait a little longer with a 4-hour window, and also charges a one-time ‘activation fee' of $19.95—though this shouldn't be a deciding factor for most customers. For rented accommodation, DIRECTV requires the landlord to sign a permission slip prior to installation.

In either case, after installing your satellite dish on the roof or external wall the technician will connect it to your DVR. This may require drilling and running cables through the house. While the FCC forbids local governments/Homeowners Associations from stopping you mounting a dish, it's always best to get written permission in advance, if possible, to mitigate any disputes.


What is a DVR?

The DVR is the set-top box used to actually watch satellite TV. In essence, it converts the signals from satellites into a format your TV can display. Modern DVRs also allow you to:

  • Record and store multiple programs simultaneously
  • Pause, rewind, and fast-forward live and on-demand TV
  • Wirelessly connect multiple TVs in the home
  • Schedule your TV programming

Basically, it's the brains of the operation and having a high-quality DVR is important for getting maximum performance from your TV subscription.


Who has the best DVR—DISH or DIRECTV?


The Hopper DVR (by DISH)

DISH actually offers two generations of DVR—the Hopper Duo and Hopper 3—and we're going to examine both.

The Hopper Duo is included as standard with any DISH package and was actually introduced after the Hopper 3. Intended for smaller households of 1-2 TVs, it's essentially a scaled-down and cheaper version of the 3—but don't dismiss it.

The Duo is still integrated with Amazon Alexa and Hopper's awesome program guide, and has voice remote functionality built-in. Users can access apps like Netflix, Pandora, and Game Finder using the Duo. In terms of specs, the Duo supports 125 hours of HD program recording and permits simultaneous recording of up to 2 shows. Its biggest weakness is a lack of 4K support, but you can always upgrade down the line if this becomes a problem.

While there are other great features offered by the Hopper 3 (see below) many customers with only 1-2 TVs will find the user experience absolutely perfect with the Duo and will happily save $240 over a two-year contract. If you're worried that having the Duo will somehow ruin your TV experience, don’t be!

So what sets the Hopper 3 apart? For starters, it has a ton of storage space and lets you record a lot of simultaneous programs—see the table below. It also boasts AutoHop, an awesome feature designed to cut ads from recordings on the four prime time networks, CBS, NBC, ABC, and FOX. However it’s worth noting that following various legal challenges, this doesn't always necessarily work. It also includes Sling which allows you to watch DVR'd programs from anywhere in the country using the DIRECTV app. And finally, it costs $10/month more than the Duo.


The Genie DVR (by DIRECTV)

Aside from the Hopper 3, the Genie DVR is about as good as it gets. Users can record 200 hours of HD content, record 5 simultaneous programs and support up to eight TVs across the house. Since DIRECTV also offers more 4K programming than DISH, the Genie DVR arguably makes more use of this capability than the Hopper 3.

And it's free of charge. It's easy to be convinced you need the world's best DVR. But as with the Hopper Duo, the Genie will let you watch, record, and enjoy more TV than you could possibly consume. Installing additional receivers also costs less than half that of DISH. There is no voice control built into the Genie remote, but users can download a smartphone app for this functionality.

Bonus for NFL fans: the Genie lets you set up a ‘Mix Channel' to watch up to eight live NFL games at once on NFL SUNDAY TICKET.

DISH Hopper Duo
DISH Hopper 3
Storage capacity
500 GB
2 TB
1 TB
Equivalent HD hours
4K support
Simultaneous recordings
# of TVs supported
Amazon Alexa
Amazon Alexa
Amazon Alexa
Main receiver included
Additional receivers

For us, this one is a clear draw. While both free DVRs are excellent, the Genie has 4K support (which the Duo doesn't) but DIRECTV also charges a $99 for every new receiver.

And yes, we know the Hopper 3 is the best DVR on the market, but it costs an extra $10 a month PLUS $15/month for every extra receiver. For the vast majority of customers, this price increase isn't really worth it, so we’re calling it a tie for DVRs.

For us, this one is a clear draw. While both free DVRs are excellent, the Genie has 4K support (which the Duo doesn't) but DIRECTV also charges a $99 for every new receiver.

And yes, we know the Hopper 3 is the best DVR on the market, but it costs an extra $10 a month PLUS $15/month for every extra receiver. For the vast majority of customers, this price increase isn't really worth it, so we’re calling it a tie for DVRs.


Remote Controls—Hopper vs Genie

It might seem like a small thing, but low-quality TV remotes can really impact enjoyment. While both remotes look a bit chunky and old-fashioned, they're packed with quality technology—especially for the Hopper.

Both remotes allow users to search programs by title, actor name, or related keywords. And with predictive guessing, you'll only need to manually enter a few letters. The Hopper remote takes this a step further with built-in voice control, which requires a separate smartphone app for the Genie.

The Hopper remote also boasts backlit buttons and a ‘remote locator'. By pushing a button on the DVR, the remote will start flashing and beeping so it can always be found. As with the DVRs themselves, it’s not a deal breaker but we believe the Hopper is slightly better.


Streaming and Smartphone Apps

Of course, it's 2021 and having brilliant TV service in multiple rooms throughout your home is no longer enough—both providers have also launched streaming apps which allow customers to watch their favorite shows at work, while traveling, or just about anywhere else with WiFi.

Both apps (named DISH Anywhere and, very creatively, the DIRECTV app) allow users to watch all the live, on-demand and recorded content already available through their DVR. Users can even download programs onto their phone or tablet for offline viewing.

While the DIRECTV app also boasts remote control functions within the app, such controls are rarely used in practice. DISH has Netflix built into the DVR, but this is less impressive than it sounds since it’s already very easy to download all the most popular streaming apps with both providers.


Internet Bundles

Internet and satellite TV bundle prices are very changeable, but we thought it was worth discussing it at least in general terms. If it helps you reach an easier decision on whether to commit to DISH or DIRECTV, then we're doing our job well.

Bundling your internet and TV is an effective way of dropping the overall price. Currently, it's possible to bundle DISH with Frontier broadband, and DIRECTV with Centurylink or AT&T Internet. In general, bundling will save around $10/month compared to buying both separately—just remember that your speed and price options will depend entirely on your location.

Make sure you do your research for both internet and TV options. The question of which is the best broadband provider is even more complicated than choosing between DISH and DIRECTV! You can also enter your zip code below to see which providers are available in your area.


Customer Satisfaction

Both DISH and DIRECTV ranked highly compared to almost all other TV companies in the US, according to research by the American Customer Satisfaction Index. JD Power found that DISH and DIRECTV ranked joint top nationally for customer satisfaction.

Customer service is notoriously bad for all TV companies, but both DISH and DIRECTV perform about as well as you could hope for. Both offer live chat, email, and phone options and have a pretty solid reputation for delivering. One differentiator is that DISH offers 24-7 customer support, while DIRECTV's lines close between 1am and 8am EST. Both offer 24-7 technical support to all customers.


DISH and DIRECTV vs Traditional Cable

“But what about cable TV?”

First things first, are you sure you can get cable? One of the best features of satellite TV is that as long as you’ve got a clear line of sight to the sky, you can get uninterrupted, crisp coverage all year round—even in rural areas. And you can choose between multiple providers. With cable, you’re restricted to what’s already been installed in your area and who owns it.

In general, both DISH and DIRECTV provide customers with more impressive DVRs, more sports content, and lower pricing than their nearest cable rivals. Some cable providers (such as XFINITY) are also famous for sneaking in ‘extra fees’ which many customers would assume were already included.

If you’re thinking about cable then definitely do your research and see what you can find. But if DISH or DIRECTV is an option for you, then their offers will take some beating.

Here's the advice we'd give to our own parents: DISH or DIRECTV will usually be a better choice than the average cable company.

Fiber-over-TV from companies like Centurylink, Verizon, Frontier, and AT&T may be competitive, but most people can't get their fiber TV service yet.


The Final Take—Which Is Better?

After extensive research and having peppered customer support with questions, we have to admit there’s not much splitting DISH and DIRECTV. Hopefully in all this discussion a channel, fee, or feature has caught your eye and helped you make a decision.

There are a few areas where DISH seems to have the upper hand, including pricing, transparency, and the DVR quality. However, DIRECTV will win a lot of customers with its one-year complimentary NFL SUNDAY TICKET. Even so, the sports offers from DISH are compelling enough to make it a tight decision.

In general, we recommend DISH over DIRECTV, but it's a narrow win.

Hopefully this guide shined plenty of light on everything you wanted to know, and you’re now ready to head out and snap up your perfect contract.