With subscribers increasingly growing frustrated by cable and satellite packages, a flurry of live TV streaming services have launched online in an attempt to offer a cable alternative. Dish Network was first to market with Sling TV, followed by a slew of others, including its biggest pay-TV competitor, DirecTV, which launched DirecTV Now in November of 2016.
DirecTV Now might have launched later than many of its peers, but the service has caught up quickly. It is currently one of the most popular services of its kind, even in the face of competition from Google in the form of YouTube TV and Hulu in the form of, well, Hulu with Live TV. While those services aim to provide a new way to watch live TV, DirecTV Now leans toward a more traditional feel, which seems to be working.
Is DirecTV Now right for you? We’ve got the answer to all your questions about the live TV streamer below.
What is DirecTV Now?
As mentioned, where some competitors aim to offer services that differentiate from cable or satellite, DirecTV Now very much aims to replace your cable or satellite subscription. You’ll get a ton of channels and a very similar interface, complete with the sort of programming guide you’d see on your cable box. The main difference — apart from the service existing solely online — is that there is no equipment to rent or yearly contracts to worry about.
As with PlayStation Vue, when DirecTV Now first launched, many wondered how customers would respond to something that was so close to the cable and satellite services cord cutters were fleeing. Now that the service has gained a foothold, AT&T’s plan with DirecTV Now seems to be paying dividends. Unlike Dish Network, DirecTV Now is pulling in enough new customers that it is more than making up for the satellite subscribers it is losing.
When it comes to supported devices, DirecTV Now casts a wide net. Roku models all the way from the old Roku to the Roku Premier+ and Roku Ultra are supported, alongside the fourth-generation Apple TV and Apple TV 4K. The Amazon Fire TV is supported from the second generation on up, including the Fire TV Cube, and this goes for the Fire TV Stick and Amazon Fire TV Edition smart TVs as well. Google’s Chromecast and Chromecast TVs are supported as well, with the primary glaring omission being support for Android TV.
As you’d expect, iOS and Android devices are also supported, including support for iOS 9 and up (iPhone 5 or newer). Android devices running Android 4.4 and up are supported, and this includes Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets. For computers, Chrome 50 and up and Safari 8 and up are the supported browsers.
While that’s a lot of supported devices, as we’ll see later on, the experience isn’t the same on every device.
Cloud DVRs are a big deal when it comes to streaming services, and it was an even bigger deal that DirecTV Now launched without one, when many of the service’s competitors already had their own in place. Fortunately, DirecTV Now is catching up with its own True Cloud DVR. You’ll sometimes still see this listed as being in beta, but it’s generally functional at this point (more on that in the Viewing Experience section).
As with many competitors, DirecTV Now has limits on both. You’ll get 20 hours of DVR time as part of your subscription, and anything older than 30 days will be automatically deleted. You can pause and rewind live TV, as well as restart shows in progress, but this is limited depending on the channel you’re watching and the device you’re using. The True Cloud DVR is listed as an Extra on your DirecTV Now account page, but there is currently no option to pay for more storage. We wouldn’t be surprised to see that change in the future.
When it comes to simultaneous streaming, a basic DirecTV Now plan lets you watch on up to two devices at once. You can pay $5 extra per month for an additional stream, but when competitors like PlayStation Vue offer up to five streams out of the box with no extra fees, this feels like a weak offering.
DirecTV has always had a major advantage over Dish Network for sports fans in the form of NFL Sunday Ticket, and in 2018 this feature came to DirecTV Now as well, though it is currently extremely limited. For the time being, NFL Sunday Ticket is only available in a very small number of markets: The greater Los Angeles area; Boston; Philadelphia; Phoenix, Arizona; San Antonio, Texas; Hartford, Connecticut; and Louisville, Kentucky. In order to access the feature, you’ll need to have at least the $55 per month “Just Right” plan. (More on that below.)
Channels and pricing
Keeping its theme of mimicking cable or satellite services in design, DirecTV Now offers an extensive channel count if you’re willing to pay up. The service tops out at more than 120 channels, which is more than most people will need — and that count doesn’t include the music channels cable and satellite providers use to bump their channel counts up.
Depending on where you live, you might be able to get a fair number of your local channels through DirecTV Now as well. DirecTV Now offered more local channels in our testing area than competing services. To see whether this is the case for you, DirecTV Now provides this handy tool that lets you search for your zip code to see which local channels are available in your area.
There are four base packages available, plus a Spanish language package. The Live a Little package is the cheapest at $40 per month for more than 65 channels, while Just Right is next in line at $55 per month for more than 85 channels. Go Big offers more than 105 channels for $65 per month, while the Gotta Have It package tops out at $75 per month for more than 125 channels. Finally, Todo y Más offers over 50 Spanish language channels and more than 40 English language channels for $45 per month.
The full channel lists for each package can be found below.
Live a Little, $40 per month
Just Right, $55 per month
Go Big, $65 per month
Gotta Have It, $75 per month
Todo y Más, $45 per month
In addition, a number of add-on packages and premium channel options are available to supplement the base packages, which are listed below.
HBO $5 per month:, Includes HBO, HBO Family, HBO Latino, HBO GO access, and on-demand content.
Cinemax, $5 per month: Includes Cinemax, MAX GO access, and on-demand content.
Showtime, $8 per month: Includes Showtime, Showtime On Demand
Starz, $8 per month: Includes Starz, Starz Encore, Starz Kids & Family, Starz On Demand
DirecTV Now Deportes, $5 per month: Includes TyC Sports, Univision Deportes, Fox Deportes, ESPN Deportes
DirecTV Now Español: Includes Univision, Discovery Channel Español, Estrella TV, Cinelatino
DirecTV Now boasts a pleasing user interface that works smoothly on devices like the fourth-generation Apple TV, but it suffers on older devices like the Roku 3. The service is also slow to launch on such devices, and even populating the guide can take a while at first. This seems to smooth out after you’ve been using the app for a while, but it’s something to keep in mind.
We tried DirecTV Now when it first launched, and compared to other services, the visual fidelity left something to be desired, with a soft picture and some noticeable visual artifacts. This seems to have improved over time, as the service now boasts sharp visuals across all channels, at least assuming the content was produced well in the first place. We haven’t encountered any stuttering or sudden buffering either, which was a big problem when the service first launched. This may vary in your area, depending on your internet connection, but it seems that DirecTV Now has taken some solid steps forward here.
DirecTV Now’s True Cloud DVR works especially well on an Apple TV, complete with the ability to pause and rewind shows, but the same can’t be said across all devices. While choosing shows to record and playing them back on a Roku device worked fine, channels that could be paused on the Apple TV often couldn’t on the Roku. That said, DirecTV Now still refers to the DVR as being in beta, so we hope to see this get fixed.
If you’re looking for a replacement for traditional cable or satellite TV but want the flexibility a live TV streaming service brings, DirecTV Now is a solid choice. It even seems to handle local channels better than some of the competition, especially if you don’t live in a major metropolitan.
The closest competitor when it comes to user interface and channel count is PlayStation Vue, but DirecTV Now offers more channels and a more traditional cable-style interface than even that service. DirecTV Now has some catching up to do when it comes to its DVR features, but the service has come a long way since its somewhat rocky launch, and we’re much more likely to recommend it now than we were back then.
DirecTV parent company AT&T also currently offers AT&T WatchTV, a lighter service that comes free with some AT&T wireless plans and only costs $15 per month on its own. WatchTV offers a dramatically smaller channel count, but if DirecTV Now seems like overkill, it may be worth a look.
Before making your decision, we highly recommend checking out our comprehensive live TV streaming guide that pits all the major services against each other, feature by feature. If you’re curious about DirecTV Now, a seven-day free trial is also available so you can evaluate the service without needing to pay right away.
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