Comparing DIRECTV vs Comcast Cable

Comcast has been the largest cable television company in the United States for years, while DIRECTV holds the title for satellite television.  If you live in the Comcast footprint, you will want to compare each pay television provider, evaluating how they stack up when it comes to pricing, programming options, and customer service.

DIRECTV vs Comcast

Comcast has over 22 million subscribers, and is based out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In recent years, they have rebranded their video and voice service under the Xfinity name, though Comcast remains the parent company.   They also purchased NBC/Universal recently, so they have also have a huge interest in content creation and distribution.

Comcast has a huge presence of course in cable TV, and in recent years they have leveraged that product by offering high speed internet access to millions across the United States.  Estimates place the Comcast’s internet penetration at about 85% of their subscriber base,  as they now claim more than 18 million high speed internet subscribers. Add to that the home phone service product and Comcast is a formidable competitor to DIRECTV – offering a true triple play packages of voice, video and internet.

While many certainly look for a package deal when moving into a new house or apartment, is Comcast your best choice when hooking up telephone, cable TV, and internet service?   Possibly – but customers should certainly have their eyes open to what the real cost of Comcast service is when compared to DIRECTV. Often you can get a good deal on the Comcast triple play bundle for a limited time, generally for six months.  A few Comcast deals are extended through the first year of service, and additional discounts are now being offered if you are willing to sign a two year contract.

Often these offers include all three services for $99 dollars a month, but they may be the lower level services, like basic cable and the slowest of the various high speed internet packages.  Similarly, there are DIRECTV deals for new customers which discount the price during the first and second year,  before it goes up to the full price starting in the third year.

While getting all three services from one company may seem like a good thing, some Comcast customers have experienced poor service. Often when a company is trying to specialize in several different services, the quality of service can suffer as they are trying to be all things to all people. DIRECTV has an advantage in that they have received higher customer satisfaction ratings, and they concentrate on delivering one service, satellite television. On the other hand, Comcast has to focus on not only their cable TV business, but also the high speed internet and the digital phone services that are offered.

What about price? That is often the main consideration when shoppers compare DIRECTV to Comcast. Cable TV prices can vary based on the area you live in, as Comcast sets different prices for each franchise. For example, the prices pulled off of the Comcast website for the Denver, Colorado area are listed here. This should give you a general idea of what “normal” Comcast pricing will look like.  For more information, please read our review of Comcast cable.

Starter Cable is priced at $39.99 for the first six month of service if you want to avoid a contract.  It includes a wide variety of well known cable networks with sports, music, news, and kids’ programming.  After the promotion, the regular price is currently $59.99 a month.  Local channels are included as is digital converter box, remote control, On-screen guide, and Digital Music channels. The following Comcast packages include everything in the Starter Cable package, of course adding more channels for the prices you see.

Digital Preferred with ON DEMAND is the next package priced from $49.99 for six month, then goes to $69.99.

Digital Premier with ON DEMAND Includes 5 premium movie networks and is $84.99 for six months before rising to $104.99 . This it the all inclusive package, comparable with the DIRECTV Premier Package.  All of these deals assume you are a new Comcast customer and after one year you will pay the normal rate, which varies depending on your area.  Check with Comcast directly if you are looking for pricing details after one year.  Also you may want to consider a two year contract, which can save you quite a bit if you are sure you can fulfill your end of the deal.

Now once you have your cable TV set up, an internet package can be bundled with ease.  Here are a few of the details.

Comcast Performance internet is the entry-level option, and it is currently offered for $29.99 if you are a new customer for the first six months.  It then goes to $44.99 during months 7 through 12, and then to the regular price.   As you can see, normal pricing with Comcast TV and internet service easily exceeds $100 per month once any deals expire.  This is why many want to shop some of the hybrid bundles which use DIRECTV for their video service -then added phone and internet service through the local telco such as Centurylink or Verizon.

DIRECTV pricing starts at $29.99 for the Entertainment package, which is similar to basic cable.   A better comparison to the Comcast Starter cable would be the DIRECTV Choice package.  Right now that bundle includes over 150 video and audio channels and is $34.99 for the first year of service, $53.99 during year two, and $63.99 thereafter.

Beyond that DIRECTV packages such as the Choice Xtra and the Premier packages compare favorably to the Digital Preferred and Digital Premier offers when looking at pricing alone.   Once you get beyond all of the promotions offered by Comcast and DIRECTV, you will generally see a slightly higher price with the cable option compared with satellite.

Another factor to weigh is the number of TV sets you are connecting, and how many of them are HD ready.  When you call for a price quote from Comcast or DIRECTV, let them know exactly how many  sets you are connecting, and whether DVR service is something you need.  Both companies charge fees for extra DVR’s and receivers for the other television sets in your home.

Now another area where Comcast and DIRECTV are battling it out is in HD, or high definition programming. Over the five years, both have made their case via advertisements that they have the most high definition content.  Currently, DIRECTV has 112 channels in wide distribution, while Comcast has 95.  But you may have up to 50 additional Comcast HD channels available according to the latest AVS HD programming chart.  If high definition is important to you, check with your local Comcast representative to get an idea of exactly how many HD channels they offer in your neighborhood.

One thing to keep in mind with these HD numbers is the premium channels that are counted.  Each provider offers more than a dozen HBO feeds, along with several Starz, Showtime, and Cinemax channels.  While it is certainly nice to have all of these high definition channels, they cost extra every month, usually somewhere from $40 to $50 if you have all of them.  Usually each provider offers a few free months of these premiums in HD when you sign up, but if you don’t wan this hefty addition to your bill each month you will need to call when the promotional period ends, usually three months in most cases.

Comcast does have an advantage over DIRECTV in that they offer a full slate of video on demand programming, much of it in HD.  In the past, Comcast threw out that they offered 500 or 1,000 “HD Choices”, meaning you could access recorded content at any time.  While true, it seemingly misled consumers into thinking they had more HD channels, which is not true in many areas today.

Now that is not to say DIRECTV runs a completely honest campaign in the HD numbersthey claim to offer.  The chart referenced earlier clearly shows that they offer around 112 HD networks nationally, but you get another story if you visit the DIRECTV website.  There they currently claim to have 170 HD channels.  How do they come up with that number?

By adding in all of their pay per view movie networks, along with dozens of regional sports networks.   Many of those channels though are very rarely watched by the customer. DIRECTV counts 31 of their pay-per-view channels as HD, even though most customers may order one or two PPV movies in a months time. And while DIRECTV subscribers can get regional sports networks with the Sports Pack in HD, almost all of the live sports content is removed because of the way premium sports packages are constructed.

As you can see, there are several reasons to carefully evaluate the claims being made by both Comcast and DIRECTV when it comes to HD programming.  Both are looking to show themselves in the best light, while making the competition look inferior in any way possible.

Signal and picture quality seems to have evened out over the last two years between Comcast and DIRECTV.   For some time, many Comcast customers reported that their HD was compressed, but with most of the Project Xfinity upgrades this has become a non-issue in most areas.  Customers will not stand for a less than perfect HD picture these days, and both companies are responsive when complains are logged about a poor HD signal.

Another factor to weigh if you have a sports fan in the house is how do DIRECTV and Comcast stack up when it comes to premium sports content?

This is one area where a definite edge goes to the satellite TV provider. DIRECTV offers a couple of exclusive sports packages like as the NASCAR Hotpass and the NFL Sunday Ticket.  Other packages like NHL Center Ice and the MLB Extra Innings  are available through both Comcast and DIRECTV. Of course all of these sports packages cost extra, but DIRECTV is the way to go as far as having the widest variety – especially if you are a displaced NFL fan and want to watch your hometown team every week.

Finally, customer service is a final consideration when comparing Comcast vs DIRECTV.  How do the providers measure up in this area?

While it would be difficult to describe the service level at any pay television company as excellent, DIRECTV currently ranks higher than Comcast, though they were behind DISH and Verizon FiOS in the 2012 results.  DIRECTV scored a 68 in the last major survey, while Comcast continued to lag behind scoring a 61 – although that was up 3 points over their 2011 score.

While problems and unhappy customers can result with either company, as a whole DIRECTV beats Comcast in the customer service department.

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