The Best Satellite TV

In this buyer's guide we compare & rank the best satellite TV providers

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Satellite TV Reviews

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For many consumers, finding the best satellite TV is based around finding the right fit. Price and customer service can go a long way to helping you identify the best satellite TV providers.

If you are looking to switch from cable TV, there are many perks that make satellite television worth it. I've reviewed the top satellite TV companies and listed them below.

Our Top Picks for the Best Satellite TV Provider

Direct-broadcast satellite television (or DBS satellite TV), otherwise known as direct-to-home television (DTH satellite TV) is what most satellite customers rely on. DTH satellite TV providers include Dish and DIRECTV.

The two major providers available to most are DIRECTV and Dish Network. Both have different perks that make them appealing. Here are the satellite TV side-by-side comparison reviews to give you an overview on each.

1st
  • Channels: 190-290
  • Monthly Price: $34.99-49.99

Dish Network Packages

  • Pros
  • Good value pricing
  • Bundle TV, phone, and internet for savings
  • Free professional installation
  • No fee for HD service
  • Customer support among the industry's best
  • Cons
  • Customer service can take a while to reach
  • Two-year service agreement required

Dish Network offers a wide variety of packages to accommodate the viewing preferences of nearly anyone. Dish Network's cable services range from $19.99 to $39.99 per month, which is fairly cheap. Though, their channel (including HD channels) offerings and sports packages don't quite measure up to DIRECTV.

Despite that, there are plenty of neat perks Dish offers that make it an appealing choice. Here are just a few:

  • DISH typically waives all of your initiation fees when you begin service. And there is no additional installation fee for a technician to come out to your home.
  • If you want to bundle, Dish has you covered as their satellite internet and cable service bundles range from $39.99 to $69.99 per month.
  • Dish provides custom installation of TVs, home theaters, and wireless networks.

There are few downsides, however. Because Dish requires you to buy your equipment from them, you can expect to see a monthly charge on your bill on top of your package as well. Like DIRECTV, DISH requires a two-year commitment once you begin service. So if you like to jump around between providers you will have to keep that in mind. But you will have some quality service at competitive prices to look forward to for those two years.

Related: DISH Network TV Packages

2nd
  • Channels: 145-315
  • Monthly Price: $50.00-125.00

DIRECTV Packages

  • Pros
  • Over 280 channels
  • Exclusive sports packages
  • A variety of HD channels
  • Excellent customer service
  • Good signal for satellite
  • Cons
  • Requires two-year contract

DIRECTV is among the best and most popular cable services around. Particularly among sports fans because of their exclusive rights to the NFL Sunday Ticket package.

DIRECTV makes setting up service as easy and inexpensive as possible. First, there is typically no equipment to buy as most fees are waived once you order service. This is a welcome perk because there are some providers who charge you monthly to buy or lease your equipment.

DIRECTV offers a wide range channels (including HD channels) and packages. As a whole, they tend to offer a larger variety of channels than Dish Network.

In addition, DIRECTV doesn't charge you for HD TV service and if you don't have an HD TV receiver in your home, your technician will provide you with one free of charge. Finally, there is never any charge for the technician to come out to your home to install service.

Despite all these benefits, there are some downsides. The majority of DIRECTV's packages are more expensive than Dish's. Their Internet bundles use AT&T's service, so you'll have to look elsewhere if you don't like AT&T. In addition, you can expect stiff early termination fees if you decide you want to switch.

Related: DIRECTV Packages

3rd
  • Channels: 140-470
  • Monthly Price: $50.00-125.00

AT&T U-Verse Packages

  • Pros
  • Competitively priced
  • Combine TV, Internet and phone for savings
  • Great digital service
  • Free installation
  • Good customer service
  • Cons
  • Limited streaming capabilities
  • Limited U-verse availability
  • Activation fees might apply

AT&T's packages are among the best around as well. Ranging from $29.99 to $91.99, they have something for everyone. And if you're bundling telephone and internet service, the value gets even better.

AT&T U-verse setup is straight-forward and a technician will arrive at your home days after placing your order. As is common with most companies, AT&T waives all of your installation fees. However, be prepared to pay a monthly charge for your equipment as the company requires you to buy it. The one benefit of paying for these boxes is that you get to keep them even when you finally terminate your service. Also, another perk is that AT&T won't charge you for re-installation if you move.

Another little bonus is that, depending on which services you order, AT&T will send you a Visa prepaid debit card with $50 to $300 loaded onto it. The amount of money you get as a rebate depends on which of their array of packages you order.

AT&T's DVR service comes standard, which is a nice bonus. And you can record four shows simultaneously using their boxes which is rather convenient.

One of AT&T U-verse's biggest weaknesses is that it is only available in 20 states. One last thing to note is that AT&T requires a one-year contract. So expect to commit to U-verse for at least a year when you sign up.

Related: AT&T U-Verse TV Packages

The Best Satellite TV

Key Considerations When Choosing Satellite TV Service

The Best Cable TV Providers

  • Dish Network – 190-290 channels, $34.99-49.99 monthly price
  • DIRECTV – 145-315 channels, $50.00-125.00 monthly price
  • AT&T – 140-470 channels, $50.00-125.00 monthly price
  • Time Warner Cable – 70-200 channels, $39.99-89.99 monthly price
  • Comcast – 45-260 channels, $29.95-69.99 monthly price

Finding great satellite television deals doesn't have to be a painstaking process. Because there are so few companies to choose from, it makes it simple to compare to find the best one. Here are some of the things you should consider:

1. Package Offering

Satellite TV service providers are similar to cable companies in that they offer different packages. To demonstrate, if you want a family friendly package only, then it's important to the best provider that offers this.

Meanwhile, if sports is your passion, having access to sports packages is imperative. To find which satellite provider is better, you should first prioritize your viewing habits. This will help you identify the right satellite provider and package for you.

We'll dive into package offerings a bit further into our guide. For now, when examining Dish and DIRECTV, look at the add-ons they offer such as sports packages, live TV streaming and on-demand options to find the provider that aligns most with your viewing habits. As an FYI, we also provide information on the various package offerings brought to you by Dish and DIRECTV.

Add-Ons

Depending on the satellite service, you can select among one of the various set-top boxes offered. For instance, DIRECTV features a standard satellite set-top box, though you can forego the standard satellite set-top box and choose between HD, Genie Lite, DVR, TIVO, HD DVR, or a Genie.

Depending on the receiver, you can record your favorite programming (perhaps in full high definition). Depending on the company, you may be fortunate to access a whole-home HD DVR. A whole-home HD DVR allows you to record a program on one DVR and watch it from any set-top box in your home that is connected to the home network.

2. Pricing

Pricing will also be a key component to factor. It's important first to consider your needs from a viewing standpoint then see which providers offer the best price. Often, if you find a better price with a competitor you can negotiate with the provider to lower its rate. You can always check out a side-by-side comparison of the rates below.

Company ChannelsMonthly Price
Dish Network 190-290$34.99-49.99
DIRECTV 145-315$50.00-125.00
AT&T 140-470$50.00-125.00
Time Warner Cable 70-200$39.99-89.99
Comcast 45-260$29.95-69.99

3. Contracts

One thing you'll want to be mindful of is that both providers that made our list do require service contracts when you want to sign up for satellite TV service. This means if you decide to cancel before the two-year term, you'll pay an early termination charge.

4. Bundling

Another important consideration is bundling services. Of 85 percent of people who have an Internet connection, cable and/or phone with the same provider, 50 percent would do it again with the same company. It's just an easier way to receive the services you and only have one bill for them if the price is right.

5. Reliability

Along with the Internet, another area you want to focus on is satellite signal strength and reliability.

Because satellite dishes need an unobstructed view of the southern sky - for instance, the southern sky must not be obstructed by a wall of trees or massive buildings and skyscrapers - to receive clear reception, it's important you have an adequate satellite signal strength or else this might not be the best option for you.

6. Location

The location also factors into your service options. If you live in a remote area, it's important first to research the satellite services in your area and see if they offer all the TV channels you want before choosing to do service.

Further, if you elect to have satellite TV, the provider will have to install equipment, including a dish. If you rent an apartment or live in an area with an HOA (Homeowners Association), it's vital you receive approval before scheduling installation.

7. Customer service

Customer support and customer satisfaction are also crucial. If you experience a service disruption, it's important the satellite TV provider offers flexible customer service hours to accommodate you.

Here are some key factors to be mindful of:

  • Do they offer satellite Internet service?
  • Do they have 24/7 technical support through email, online chat, and phone?
  • Do they offer online troubleshooting guides for common issues?
  • What are their response times for solving problems?
  • How have other customers remarked on their customer satisfaction with that particular satellite company?

Asking these questions provides a window into the service you can expect to receive. For instance, if many customers have a problem with longer wait times when they have service concerns, it indicates to you that provider doesn't take customers' considerations seriously.

Read More: Interested in the best internet satellite providers? We have you covered with this here guide.

Cable vs Satellite TV

If you are on the fence on electing to switch from cable to satellite TV, there are important considerations to be mindful of. Here is a look at some of the differences between cable vs satellite TV.

Cable companies typically hold the edge when providing TV service.

This is because cable offers all the top features like live TV streaming options, on-demand programming, and reliability during inclement weather so you are less likely to lose service, depending on your area. So, if you're considering choosing a cable company like Time Warner Cable, you will at least have more security in your service (though Time Warner Cable can and does have disruptions with the Internet from time to time).

Satellite TV is Still Competitive

By the same token, satellite TV providers like DIRECTV and Dish are doing an excellent job mirroring the services offered by their cable counterparts. Consumer Reports also noted that a satellite TV company is as good as a cable company TV channel selection, sound, and picture quality.

It's understandable to be hesitant to switch to a satellite TV provider if you haven't had the service before. At the same time, what you will find is aside from the equipment, they are the same. In fact, you might be able to secure a better deal by switching to satellite TV service. Overall, when it comes to cable vs satellite TV, you cannot go wrong with cable, but you may save more with satellite.

However, if you do not want to pay for either, you can always opt for the cheaper form of live television programming: television streaming services such as PlayStation Vue, DIRECTV NOW, and Sling TV. Sling TV is the cheapest option between the three, but it offers plenty of popular channels such as AMC and Cartoon Network/Adult Swim.

Related: Buyer's Guide to Streaming Devices

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Which Provider Offers the Best Value?

Both satellite TV providers offer much in the way of package offerings to give you flexibility in what you can choose. However, as you compare both satellite company's features, there are benefits to choosing each one.

If cost is your main concern, then it's going to be hard for you to beat Dish's package prices, as you can save up to $252 in two years with them, according to its estimates. Not only are they less expensive than DIRECTV on average, Dish locks in their package prices for two years, so you won't encounter a bump in costs like you would with DIRECTV.

Related: We pit DIRECTV and Dish head-to-head in our comparative guide. Check it out here.

Moreover, Dish provides more customization options for you. Its Flex Pack allows you to choose a bundle of channels based on your viewing preferences, which is likely to be the future for satellite and cable TV providers.

However, Dish does have some disadvantages that play to DIRECTV's favor. For one, Dish requires you to lease its equipment, which means there will be a monthly charge in addition to the package you select.

Meanwhile, DIRECTV doesn't require you to buy its equipment. So you'll save some money if you elect to go with them. In addition, if you are a die-hard NFL fan, DIRECTV offers NFL Sunday Ticket, a feature Dish does not have available.

Overall, it's hard to beat both options. The goal is to decide what your viewing habits are, how much you want to spend on satellite TV service then examine both providers to see which one aligns most with your needs.

Dish vs. DIRECTV: Comparing Packages

A good way to choose between both providers is to examine their package offerings in fuller detail. Let's start with DIRECTV.

DIRECTV's most basic offering is the Select Package, which has 145 channels, including popular options like Cartoon Network, HGTV, and TBS. Starting from $50.00 monthly, this is a great choice if you want news and family friendly entertainment.

However, if you crave sports, you'll want to elect for the Entertainment package, beginning at $55.00 monthly. This includes many of the popular sports channels like ESPN, Fox Sports 1, and ESPN 2.

If you want features like NFL Sunday Ticket, you'll have to choose at least the Choice All Package. This grouping of channels includes the NFL Network and the NBC Sports Network, all for $60.00 monthly.

Moving up the spectrum, DIRECTV's most encompassing offering is the Premier All package. This features every channel offering and sports package available. Starting from $125.00, the cost is steep, but the entertainment options are plentiful.

Now it's important to note DIRECTV offers teaser rates for its packages. To demonstrate, if you want the Choice All package, for the first year you'll pay $60 plus taxes, but for the second year, you'll pay $104.00.

Therefore, it's important to understand the price you receive in the beginning isn't the one you'll pay throughout your two-year contract. Moreover, when you do select a package, it includes HD and DVR service for two rooms of your home.

Related: We break down the full DIRECTV channel lineup here.

Dish Package and Channel Options

Dish Network is revolutionizing the way you watch TV by offering its Flex Pack option. How this works is you receive 50 channels (History, USA, TBS) then you choose from groupings such as sports, news or kids networks. It's important to note there are no local sports or news offerings included in the basic package.

What's excellent about this is it provides you with a choice to pick, to an extent, the channels you want while not paying for others you won't ever watch. This Dish TV package starts from $39.99, making it more affordable than the base package from DIRECTV.

Dish also offers packages as well in case you don't want to use its customization option. Its basic offering is America's 120+ package, starting from $54.99. This includes channels like ESPN, the NFL Network, and up to 6,500 on-demand titles.

If you want more, America's Top 200 package features 240+ channels for $64.99. With this, you receive ample sports offerings like the MLB Network and unique movie choices such as the Sundance channel.

Dish's most encompassing package, America's Top 250, comes with at least 290 channels. It also features the Red Zone channel from NFL Network, movie channels such as Encore and specialty channels like Nat Geo Wild. This package starts from $74.99.

Related: Like DIRECTV, we have a full Dish Network channel guide as well.

Satellite TV and Internet Service Bundles

Similar to cable providers, you can often receive a discount off your monthly bill by bundling TV and the Internet together.

To illustrate, DIRECTV partnered with AT&T U-Verse (as an Internet service provider) to offer satellite TV and AT&T Internet in one package. Dish also works with multiple Internet service providers to help you receive high-speed Internet service.

You can also purchase satellite Internet service from several of the providers in this analysis, but most satellite service providers do not offer the fastest high-speed Internet connection packages. In fact, while most satellite Internet speed packages are faster than dial-up Internet, they fall a little short of other broadband internet services.

However, some services, such as Exede Internet, do offer speeds that rival some cable Internet packages. For instance, Exede Internet features a package with up to 25Mbps of high-speed Internet. So unless you only have dial-up Internet in your service, your best bet is to opt for a different Internet package outside of satellite Internet, such cable Internet.

Check Availability and Pricing By ZIP Code

Since service availability and pricing depends on where you live, you can go to DIRECTV or Dish's website and enter your zip code to see if they service your area. If they do, you'll also see the channel options available to you.

Or, you can just use our handy ZIP code checker right here.

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Satellite TV for RVs

One of the excellent features about satellite TV is its portability. This means you can receive portable RV satellite TV, as well as RV satellite Internet, for when you are on the road. So if you're a traveler who resides in an RV, satellite TV may be your best bet for quality programming, and RV satellite Internet may be best to satiate your browsing needs.

However, RV satellite TV can be a fairly costly investment, especially when you factor in a satellite antenna.

Fortunately, some RV satellite dish antennas can be pretty affordable. Winegard is one such company that lists the portable satellite dish/antenna in its shop. Its cheapest portable satellite dish, the Winegard Dish Playmaker, will only run you only a few hundred dollars, and you'll receive Dish TV in high definition quality.

How to Watch TV from your RV

Once you've decided to get satellite TV for your RV, it's easy to get everything up and running.

  • First, you receive the mobile satellite TV equipment from your provider. In most instances, this will require you to buy the satellite equipment, including the RV satellite dish and satellite receivers (don't forget the coax cable, which connects the dish to the receiver).
  • Next, you'll choose a package through the provider. To demonstrate, Dish offers to pay as you go service where you can select packages beginning from $7 a month. It's important to note that if you opt for high-definition television service, you'll pay a premium charge to access these channels.
  • As soon as installation completes, you're ready to start watching!

When selecting equipment, you'll have the option of choosing a portable dish, where you place it in an area with an obstructed view of the sky to capture coverage or a fixed mount. This is where you attach the satellite TV antenna to the RV--typically the roof to receive service. If you elect for a mounted satellite TV antenna, you will need to remove it each time you travel.

You can also pick up unencrypted broadcasts with a free-to-air satellite and an FTA receiver (also free-to-air), which is a satellite television receiver that can basically be equated to the television antenna. With an FTA receiver, you can pick up all types of programming, including educational programming, but not pay-TV channels. A free-to-air satellite comes in two forms - stationary and motorized.

As a fun fact, hackers have been known to reverse-engineer an FTA receiver's software and equip it with emulation that picks up any unauthorized reception of pay-TV channels.

Recap

While there are only two providers available nationwide for satellite TV service, both offer enticing benefits. Before choosing one, it's important you factor in price, availability, customer service reliability, and package offerings, as these considerations will steer you in the right direction.

Overall, it's my sincere hope this guide helped you find the best satellite TV provider for you. In the meantime, you might be interested in learning more about the

As we discussed earlier, satellite Internet is a great complement to your new TV service. For more information, you can check out our buyer's guide to Internet providers.

For more helpful tips, tutorials, and comparisons check out our TV Provider Guides.

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Satellite TV FAQs

Q How does a dish TV work?

A

DishTV works by transmitted television data from a station, through a network of satellites, to the satellite dish you have set up for your home. This lets you get a variety of channels from all around the planet because the data can be moved very quickly through space.

Q Is DIRECTV on-demand free?

A

DirecTV on demand is not free, but many shows that are available can be viewed for free. If the show is from a network included in your subscription, you can watch it for free. For shows from other networks, or for movies, you'll pay an additional fee.

Q Who created the satellite dish?

A

The first satellite dish to be used for television was used by Taylor Howard of San Andreas, California, who repurposed a military satellite dish in 1976. In their early days, satellite dishes were massive, more ranging from 10-16 feet in diameter. Today's dishes are much smaller, at approximately 1.5 feet in diameter.

Q What is a digital satellite receiver?

A

A digital satellite receiver is a box, much like a cable box, that enables you to decode satellite television signals and turn them into a viewable image. These boxes take the data that your satellite dish receives, confirms that you are a subscriber with the proper access, and then displays the image on your TV.