The Best Guide to Cable Packages and Alternatives

DirecTV Packages

DirecTV is one of the two most popular satellite companies, and offers a wide range of tiered television packages.

DirecTV is the direct descendent of Hughes Aircraft, the aeronautics conglomerate created by Howard Hughes and that is featured in the film The Aviator. The company moved into satellite technology and ultimately into satellite television. The television satellite portion of the company was founded in 1981, and since then has become the leading satellite television provider in the United States with 16 million subscribers in that country and 4 million others internationally.

Equipment Costs

Because DirecTV is a satellite company, there is more equipment than with cable packages. DirecTV does not actually sell equipment: rather, what they provide is a lease fee with a large, upfront payment. You are also responsible for damages to the equipment. Then, there is a monthly cost for the equipment on top of this.

The base costs are as follows:

  • Standard Receiver: $69.
  • DVR Receiver: $99.
  • High-Definition Receiver: $99.
  • High-Definition DVR Receiver: $199.

The monthly costs are as follows:

  • Standard Receivers:The first receiver is free. Each additional receiver is $5/month apiece.
  • DVR Receiver:Using any number of DVR receivers costs $6/month.
  • High Definition Receiver:Using any number of High Definition receivers costs $10/month.

So, for instance, if you have two High Definition DVR receivers, it will cost you $398 to start and a total of $21/month extra.

Note that all of this expense, including the original cost, is a lease. DirecTV has gotten in trouble in the past for not making this clear, leading customers to think they were buying equipment when it was only leased to them, but in the last few years after temporarily getting an “F” rating as a wristslap from the Better Business Bureau and reaching a court settlement over unclear advertising, they are clearer about these policies. You can follow the complete story here.

Television Packages

Like many companies, DirecTV offers what is called “tiered service”, meaning that their service is divided into a number of different tiers, each of which offers more channels than the last tier. Such service can be good if you want a basic service, since you want to pay for as few channels as possible anyway, or if you are looking to get the maximum service, since you don’t really care what channels you receive.

In the middle, however, it can be something of a problem. Let’s say you wanted the YES Network (for New York sports teams), but you weren’t really interested in getting HBO. That would simply be impossible under their tiered structure. YES is a part of the highest tier, so if you want to get it, you will need to purchase the entire tier.

DirecTV offers four different tiers of service:

  • Choice: “Choice” is their basic package, and offers 150 channels of service, including over 40 high definition channels (assuming you rent the receivers). It includes such cable television staples as A&E, the Disney Channel, ESPN and the Food Channel. In other words, it has more channels available than a typical “standard” package for a cable company, which would normally put these channels in their second tier. The cost for this package is $60.99 per month.
  • Choice Xtra: “Choice Xtra” offers a good chunk of additional channels for another five dollars per month. It provides 210 channels of service, including over 50 high definition channels. The additional channels are the smaller cable channels like Boomerang, Fit and Health, DIY, and the National Geographic Channel. It might be best to call these the “specialty” channels, because they each offer certain types of programming. It costs $65.99 per month
  • Choice Ultimate: “Choice Ultimate” offers ten more channels for five dollars more per month. The channels are Encore, Reels and Sundance. In other words, you are getting additional movie networks that don’t show advertisements, which is why they are so much more expensive apiece. It costs $70.99 per month.
  • Premier: The “Premier” package provides access to the full range of premium television channels that you would be used to on a premier cable package. This includes all of the channels that don’t include commercials, such as HBO, Cinemax, Showtime and Starz. It also includes the premium sports channels, like FOX Sports, Comcast Sportsnet and GOLTV. Unfortunately, there is no way to separate these, and some people are interested in sports but not movies and vice versa. The package costs $114.99 per month.


DirecTV has had a rough few years, largely because of a poor marketing decision that lead many customers to believe they were buying equipment that they were actually leasing. However, the company still provides excellent programming and, if one of the tiers is a good fit for your needs, might be just the right choice for you.