If you're looking for pay TV options besides cable or fiber, the choices mainly boil down to Dish vs DIRECTV.
These two companies are considered the best satellite TV providers overall and are available virtually anywhere you live. Between the two providers, there are about 34 million subscribers nationwide.
Satellite TV works just the way it sounds - the signal is beamed to your dish from a geostationary satellite in space. It's a great option for those who live in rural areas without access to cable service, or for those who simply want the same quality programming but prefer not to get cable.
In this guide, I'll cover the different features and pricing offered by Dish Network vs DIRECTV.
Dish vs DIRECTV - Which is Better? - In This Guide
Both providers offer a wide selection of popular programming, and each provider has its own exclusive options. DIRECTV offers more package choices, while Dish gives you more flexibility.
It's worth noting that if you enjoy listening to music through your television, DIRECTV lacks the music channel options that Dish offers. For sports fans, however, NFL Sunday Ticket is a big draw and is only available through DIRECTV.
There are four Dish Network packages to choose from, though you can learn more about the packages with our Dish Channel Lineup guide:
- Flex Pack: Dish introduced this option in 2015, and it appears to have replaced their lowest-tier offering (previously America's Top 120). Flex Pack gives you a base package of 67+ channels, with optional add-on packs in themes like Sports, Kids, or News. Flex Pack is an innovative way to avoid paying for hundreds of channels you don't watch.
- America's Top 120+: This package comes with 190+ channels including favorites like ESPN, Disney, and USA. It also includes local stations and regional sports programming. You also get 70+ Sirius XM music channels, free HD, and free HBO for a year (at the time of this writing).
- America's Top 200: This level is perfect for sports fans. You get 240+ channels including the NHL, MLB, NBA, and SEC networks. You also get expanded options like Disney XD and A&E, in addition to everything that comes with the Top 120+ package.
- America's Top 250: Dish's top tier gives you everything from the Top 200 package, plus 17 movie networks and a host of additional channels like Nat Geo Wild and Nicktoons. There are 290+ channels in all at this level.
All Dish packages also give you access to on-demand programming, Dish ANYWHERE streaming, and three free months of premium channels (with the current promotion).
In the battle between Dish Network vs DIRECTV, the latter comes out on top in terms of the number of package offerings. You can learn more about DIRECTV's channel lineup here.
- Select: This is DIRECTV's basic tier, and includes 145+ channels with staples like Disney, HGTV, TNT, and Cartoon Network. You also get local channels and three months of free premium movie channels. Note, though, that ESPN and regional sports are not included in DIRECTV's Select package.
- Entertainment: This is where you'll get your regional sports network, in addition to everything in the Select package. There are 150+ channels in the Entertainment package.
- Choice: In addition to all of the above, Choice adds Nicktoons, The Weather Channel, OWN, and most notably - NFL Sunday Ticket, for a total of 175+ channels.
- Xtra: This is DIRECTV's most popular package, with 220+ channels. It includes everything that Choice has plus more. You'll get FXX, Nat Geo Wild, Oxygen, and the NHL Network among others.
- Ultimate: At this level, you'll get additional niche channels like Starz Encore, Chiller, and Esquire. Ultimate is also the lowest tier at which you get a 4K channel. Ultimate comes with 240+ channels.
- Premier: The top tier gives you all of the channels you get in the lower tiers, plus premium programming like HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime. DIRECTV Premier includes 315+ channels in all.
It's worth noting that if you enjoy listening to music through your television, all of DIRECTV's packages lack the music channel options that Dish offers. For sports fans, however, NFL Sunday Ticket is a big draw and is only available through DIRECTV.
While satellite TV providers do offer local channels in most markets, according to the FCC, they are not required to do so. In addition, your provider may charge a nominal fee for rebroadcasting the local stations to your home.
Your big question, no doubt, is how the pricing of Dish and DIRECTV measures up. Both satellite TV providers require a two-year contract. As far as Dish Network pricing, their rates are fairly comparable. In both cases, you may pay extra fees like the Regional Sports Fee.
As with most pay television providers, Dish offers promotional pricing for new customers. You also get a two-year price guarantee on all of Dish Network's packages. Current rates are as follows:
- Flex Pack: $39.99 per month for two years, plus $10 for each additional themed channel pack
- America's Top 120+: $54.99 per month for two years
- America's Top 200: $64.99 per month for two years
- America's Top 250: $74.99 per month
After the first two years, prices revert to retail rates unless you call and cancel or try to renegotiate your deal. Rates after your two-year price guarantee expires will be "then-current" prices. NBC News reports that in 2016, Dish Network's packages went up in price between $2 and $8 per month. Current retail pricing ranges from $49.99 to $89.99 per month.
Rates for DIRECTV are higher, although still competitive, particularly when you take NFL Sunday Ticket into account. All of DIRECTV's promotional prices are good for the first year of service.
- Select: $50 per month
- Entertainment: $55 per month
- Choice: $60 per month
- Xtra: $70 per month
- Ultimate: $75 per month
- Premier: $125 per month
After the first year, pricing reverts to regular rates. Retail pricing ranges from $88 to $181 per month.
As you probably guessed, there is an array of regulatory and other fees and taxes associated with satellite TV, just as with cable. Because a contract is required, there are also early termination fees:
Dish: $20 per month for each month remaining in your contract up to a maximum of $420
DIRECTV: $20 per month for each month remaining in your contract up to a maximum of $480, plus a $15 deactivation fee
Both providers also charge a variety of fees if you fail to return your equipment. Additionally, there are specific taxes assessed by some localities, so you will need to check the provider websites to see whether these apply to you.
Related: Dish and DIRECTV aren't the only satellite providers around. You can see our Satellite TV Buyer's Guide for more information.
Equipment & Features
Each provider has its own method for delivering services within your home. These devices allow DVR recording in addition to other convenient features.
Dish Network Equipment
Dish uses a system of devices designed to provide signal reception and recording functionality to your entire home:
- Regular DVRs - Dish offers the option of renting a normal DVR for $10/month, as opposed to their more advanced equipment. Their DVR options allow you to record two shows at once.
- The Hopper - if you opt for this system, the Hopper acts as the main receiver and the DVR. It allows you to record up to six shows at a time. The Hopper sends the TV signal to the other devices in your home. Price - $15/month.
- The Hopper 3 - this version allows you to record up to 16 shows at one time. You can also get it with Sling, Dish's streaming service. Price - $15/month.
- The Joey - Joeys are receivers that allow you to get all of your channels on other TVs in your house. The Joey also allows you to record programming even if you aren't in the room with the Hopper. Price - $7/month for each Joey (one per TV).
- The Super Joey - this device is unique because it adds an additional two tuners to the main Hopper. It will run you an extra $10 per month, but if you like to use Dish's PrimeTime Anytime feature the fee could be worth it. You see, PrimeTime Anytime eats up four of the six tuners on the Hopper during evening Prime Time hours. So if you want to record more than two additional shows in that time frame, the Super Joey lets you do so.
- HopperGO - if you're looking for the ability to view your content anywhere, even without an internet connection, the HopperGO is the answer. It holds 100 hours of recorded programming and can connect to up to five devices simultaneously. The HopperGO costs $99.
All of the Hoppers give you 2TB (terabytes) of storage, for up to 500 hours of HD recording or 2000 hours in SD. There are non-DVR options as well, for households who don't need the ability to record shows.
You get a little less flexibility with DIRECTV, although the systems are very similar.
- The Genie - this is DIRECTV's equivalent of the Hopper, although it offers less storage at 1TB (200 hours of HD recording or 1000 hours of SD).
- The Genie Mini - like the Joey, the Genie Mini allows you to record and access content on other TVs throughout your home. The Genie system can service eight TVs in total.
- The GenieGO - this device is the HopperGO's counterpart and allows you to download content to your mobile devices so you can view it anywhere. The GenieGO costs a one-time fee of $99.
Just like Dish, DIRECTV offers multiple options for normal HD DVRs and other receivers. The Genie is their most advanced system. One of the best things about DIRECTV is that all of the packages I listed above are "all included" - that means that the price includes enough equipment for four rooms. If you want service for anything over four TVs you'll pay $7 per Genie Mini.
Internet viewing is becoming increasingly important, even for pay TV providers. In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported on a Nielsen survey which found that many people are adding streaming services to supplement their television subscriptions, rather than cutting the cord completely.
It comes as no surprise, then, that whether you choose Dish or DIRECTV, you will enjoy mobile streaming options in addition to your regular programming.
Dish Anywhere is Dish Network's streaming content program. Here are some of the best features of Dish Anywhere:
- You can access live or recorded content anytime, on any internet-connected mobile device.
- All of the functionality of the feature is combined into one easy app.
- You can control your home DVR from the Anywhere app - schedule recordings, manage your DVR library, and download recorded content to your mobile device for later viewing.
- You can use Dish Anywhere on up to 16 devices.
You do need a Hopper with Sling in order to access all of the Dish Anywhere features.
Everywhere is DIRECTV's answer to Dish Anywhere. With this satellite streaming option you can enjoy the following features:
- Access your DVR playlist from your mobile devices.
- DIRECTV Everywhere can be used on up to five devices.
- You can watch live or recorded content using the app.
- There are multiple apps for different needs, including one for kids and an NFL Sunday Ticket app.
One thing that puts DIRECTV's mobile streaming option at a slight disadvantage is that licensing issues prevent mobile viewing of certain channels. These include the NFL and MLB networks, MSNBC, Animal Planet, and a few others.
There are no additional fees for using either Dish Anywhere or DIRECTV Everywhere.
If you're not amazed by the streaming options offered by Dish or DIRECTV, then you can see our Streaming Device Buyer's Guide for more options. And when you're ready to stream, you can see our analysis of the top streaming sites today.
Which Is Better: Dish or DIRECTV?
When it comes right down to Dish Network vs DIRECTV, Dish has the edge in my opinion. The reasons for this include:
- Dish's lower pricing.
- The ability to stream Netflix through the Hopper.
- The Flex Pack custom package option.
- The two-year price guarantee.
Whether you choose DIRECTV or Dish Network you will get plenty of viewing choices and extremely flexible whole-home DVR equipment. If you absolutely cannot live without your Sunday afternoon football games, the choice is simple - DIRECTV. On the other hand, if you want the ability to create your own channel package, Dish is a no-brainer.
Satellite TV has come a long way. Between streaming, recording, and virtually any channel you could want, both services give even the best cable providers a solid run for their money. One concern you may have is whether or not you can take advantage of internet and TV bundles if you subscribe to DIRECTV or Dish. Fortunately, both satellite providers give you the option of purchasing high-speed internet service along with your TV package.
Whichever provider wins the battle of Dish vs DIRECTV in your household, you'll never run out of things to watch.