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Best satellite TV providers of 2021

When it comes to satellite TV companies, DIRECTV and DISH cover nearly 100% of the country, making them your main two options. Either DIRECTV or DISH could be the best satellite TV provider for you depending on what you’re looking for.

Best satellite TV providers plans and pricing

Which satellite service provider should you choose?

The best provider for you will depend on what you’re looking for. If you want the best channel selection, including sports coverage, DIRECTV is the better option. But if you’re looking to save money, we’d go with DISH, which locks in your price for two years, whereas DIRECTV raises it significantly in year two. 

Both satellite providers lock you into a two-year contract. For DIRECTV’s cheapest plan, the price goes from $65/mo. in year one to $102/mo. in year two. DISH’s cheapest package, meanwhile, stays at $65/mo. for the entire contract. That’s a difference of $444 over the second year. DISH and DIRECTV both have an early termination fee of $20 for every month remaining on your contract. 

But DIRECTV’s channel selection is slightly better. Even with DIRECTV’s cheapest plan (which starts at $64.99/mo. for 160+ channels), you’ll get most of the top channels, including ESPN, Discovery, A&E, TNT, TBS, History, AMC, Food Network, FOX, Comedy Central, Lifetime, CNN and more. It also carries more regional sports networks — the channels that air your local MLB, NBA and NHL team’s games — and it’s the only TV provider to offer the coveted NFL Sunday Ticket, which is included in all but DIRECTV’s cheapest plan. As a bonus, you’ll also get HBO Max for a year, which costs $15/mo. on its own.

But if you prefer a well-priced lower-tier plan, a more advanced DVR system and consistent pricing throughout the length of your contract, DISH may be the better option. DISH’s most basic tier plan America’s Top 120 is an even better deal than DIRECTV’s, as it offers 190 channels for $64.99/mo. DISH’s highest-tier plan, America’s Top 250, however, does not offer as many regular or premium channels as DIRECTV’s Premium package. But overall, DISH’s channel selection will be fine for most people. 

For a more in-depth look at satellite TV services in your area, check out our DIRECTV vs. DISH page. Or, you can always call our TV experts to get more information about available satellite TV packages for your address.

Call now: (844) 451-2720


The best satellite TV provider for premium channels

If you’re looking to include premium networks like HBO, SHOWTIME and STARZ in your channel lineup, DIRECTV generally offers cheaper prices than DISH. Because DIRECTV and HBO are both owned by AT&T, it’s able to offer deals on the network that other TV providers can’t match. The CHOICE, ULTIMATE and PREMIER packages all include one year of HBO Max, and the PREMIER package ($134.99/mo.) also throws in Cinemax, SHOWTIME and STARZ. 

DISH, on the other hand, doesn’t even offer most premium channels. The only ones that are available to add on to your package are EPIX and STARZ ENCORE. If you want HBO, SHOWTIME or STARZ, you’ll have to subscribe to their streaming services separately.


How does satellite TV work?

Satellite TV is a popular alternative to standard TV services, especially among rural residents. Sometimes referred to as satellite cable TV, satellite TV is fundamentally different from cable. Satellite television providers send signals to satellites above the earth, which then transmit those signals to smaller dishes attached to homes.

Satellite TV receivers convert the signals into an image, similar to how your modem converts incoming signals into internet service. This technology allows satellite TV providers to offer television service nearly anywhere in the U.S. Satellite TV providers, such as DISH and DIRECTV, offer service in all 50 states. 

Satellite TV is a great option whether you’re looking for a basic TV package or one stacked with premium channels, sports networks and more. In addition to channel package variety, satellite TV also delivers high-quality picture and sound, advanced DVR technology and exceptional availability.

What you’ll need for satellite TV service: 

  • A satellite dish
  • A satellite receiver
  • Coaxial cable to connect the dish to the receiver
  • HDMI cable to connect the receiver to your TV

Your installation technician will be responsible for providing your satellite dish and will place it in a way that will ensure high-quality service. The dish will be pointed towards the sky in the direction of a corresponding satellite thousands of miles away. This satellite will receive and transmit all your online requests.

You can either rent a modem and router from your provider for an additional monthly fee (usually $10-$15/mo.*), or you can invest in your own equipment to avoid extra charges. The modem and router will act as the middlemen between your satellite dish and your internet-connected devices by interpreting and transmitting the signal back and forth.

Pro tip: Check with your homeowners association or housing community before you schedule your installation and purchase your plan. Satellite installation is considered by most to be an alteration to the outside of a home. Some HOAs will require approval before installation, while communities like apartment complexes may prohibit installation altogether.


Bundle satellite TV and internet

You can get high-speed internet with satellite TV service. DISH and DIRECTV both work with internet providers in your area to bring you satellite TV and internet bundles. Depending on which providers are available in your area, you may be able to snag discounts by bundling multiple home services. AT&T internet and DIRECTV bundles, for example. 

Can satellite TV provide internet?

While neither satellite TV provider offers internet directly, you can combine their TV packages with an internet plan from leading providers in your area. Call today to build your satellite TV and internet bundle with providers such as:

Availability, pricing and internet speeds will vary by location and provider. Call to check satellite TV and internet bundle availability and pricing for your address.


Is cable or satellite TV better?

Satellite TV companies will likely give you more channel options and lower introductory pricing, but cable is less likely to be affected by inclement weather. Both satellite and cable TV will give you similar channel packages and picture quality. Take a look at some other differences between the two to find the right TV service for you.

What makes satellite TV services different from cable TV?

  • Satellite TV uses a dish to get the TV signal to a customer’s home instead of cable lines. 
  • Satellite service delivers all the typical cable TV channels to areas where cable does not reach. 
  • Satellite TV providers are known for carrying a variety of international and sports programming.

Pros of satellite service:

  • Availability – Satellite TV is available throughout all 50 states. Cable service and providers vary by location.
  • Channel selection – Satellite TV typically has more channel variety and package selections than cable. If you’re looking for a basic package with little more than local channels, cable may be your better option.
  • Picture quality – Satellite TV supports higher bandwidth than cable, which can allow for more 1080p HD channels or even 4K programming.
  • Customer satisfaction – DISH and DIRECTV had higher ACSI ratings than most major cable TV providers in 2020, scoring a 65 and 64 out of 100, respectively.

Cons of satellite service:

  • Service disruptions – Inclement weather such as rain, snow, strong winds and heavy cloud coverage can interfere with your signal and cause a temporary service outage. However, your recorded programming will likely still be available.
  • Contracts – Both DISH and DIRECTV require a two-year contract.
  • Dish installation – To get satellite TV, you need a satellite dish, so your installer will need to affix the dish to your roof or another exterior surface on your home.

Our verdict: Satellite service can be a better option for you if you live in a rural area with fewer TV options, want to spend less on TV service or prioritize high customer service ratings. 

Cable can be a better option if you don’t want a TV contract or if a cable provider offers special incentives for bundling TV and internet. Cable is less vulnerable to bad weather, such as heavy rain, which can affect satellite TV service.


Best satellite TV options and features

Get details about satellite and cable TV services from our experts. Call to shop available TV providers, plans and special offers for your home.


Satellite TV FAQs

What’s the difference between cable TV and satellite TV?

The main difference between cable TV and satellite TV is how you receive the channel signal at your home. Cable TV uses a wired connection and receiver box to bring the TV signal into your house. Satellite TV uses a satellite to receive the signal and display the channels on your TV.

Yes. Just as you can use a TV antenna to pick up free over-the-air TV broadcasts, there are “Free to air” (FTA) satellite TV channels that are broadcast via satellite. These FTA channels are typically local news or sports channels, or government-sponsored public TV stations such as PBS. To pick up these channels, you’ll have to invest in an FTA receiver box in addition to your satellite dish.

While there are niche satellite companies, such as Christian satellite network Glorystar, the two main satellite TV companies are DIRECTV and DISH. There used to be a provider called Orby, but it filed for bankruptcy in March 2021. They have worked out a promotion for customers who are looking to switch to DISH. If cable or fiber TV is also available where you live, you may be able to choose from providers such as Cox, Mediacom, Optimum, Spectrum, Verizon or Xfinity.

DISH and DIRECTV are the most notable satellite TV providers in the industry today and have received impressive customer satisfaction scores in previous years from current subscribers. However, the “best” satellite TV provider will depend on your pricing, channel and feature preferences.  

Yes. Some satellite providers offer a self-installation kit in place of your installation appointment with a technician. The kit price will vary from provider to provider, but you’ll generally save more money by purchasing a kit and DIY-ing it than you would scheduling an appointment with a professional and paying the fee for installation. Self-installation does run some risk as most providers will not fix any errors for free that you make during setup. Video tutorials are typically available online in the provider’s customer support or forums. 

DIRECTV raises its prices after the first year, while DISH guarantees its price for the length of your two-year contract. With DIRECTV, you can expect your bill to go up by $37 to $71 in the second year, depending on which package you choose.

Both DIRECTV and DISH start at $65/mo. for their cheapest plans, but DIRECTV increases to $102/mo. in the second year, while DISH stays the same. With that price increase factored in, DISH is significantly cheaper.

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Lisa Iscrupe

Written by:

Lisa Iscrupe

Writer, Broadband & Data Content

Lisa uses years of experience in sales and customer service for internet-TV providers to inform her writing on broadband. Her work has been referenced by CNN and other national sources. In Lisa’s Words: Ever… Read more

Robin Layton

Edited by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

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