Updated

DirecTV Now review: The fall of a once-mighty bundle

AT&T’s penny-pinching has made this streaming bundle a lot worse than it used to be.

directvnowwhatson
DirecTV Now
At a Glance

DirecTV Now was never the best live TV streaming service, but it used to be a lot harder to resist.

In its early years, DirecTV Now offered a broad channel lineup, bundle discounts for AT&T wireless customers, and deals on streaming devices for new subscribers. That generosity made DirecTV Now's clunky interface and stingy DVR seem tolerable.

But times have changed for corporate parent AT&T, and so has DirecTV Now. In a push for more profitability, AT&T has slashed channels, raised prices, and discontinued all its deals and discounts. The result is a live TV service that has all the same problems as before, but almost none of the benefits. Unless DirecTV Now's remaining channels line up perfectly with your needs, it probably isn't the live TV streaming service for you.

Updated August 12, 2019 to reflect the latest changes--including pricing and and channel lineups--at DirecTV Now. Our bottom-line score has also changed, dropping from 3.5 stars to 2.0 stars.

DirecTV Now: Price and lineup

Like other live TV streaming services, DirecTV Now is an app that you can download on phones, tablets, streaming players, and smart TVs. Once you've installed the app, you can sign up for service and use it across all your devices for one monthly fee. As of this writing, DirecTV Now works with Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV (but not first-generation models), Roku, Chromecast, iOS, Android, and the web.

Unless you're grandfathered into one of DirecTV Now's older plans, the service now offers just two price tiers: The $50 base package, which is oddly named "DirecTV Now Plus," includes all four major broadcast networks, major cable news networks, several national sports channels (including ESPN and FS1), several entertainment channels, and HBO. For regional sports, you'll need the $70 "Max" package, which offers local Fox Sports channels among other things. (See the bottom of this review for the full DirecTV Now lineup.)

Because DirecTV Now includes HBO, it could be the cheapest live TV streaming option for folks who want to watch the premium channel year ‘round. Most other live TV services start at $45 or $50 per month, and HBO adds another $15 per month, so DirecTV Now comes out ahead for anyone who doesn't need any more channels than what its base package offers. Still, the lack of regional sports channels in DirecTV Now's base package, along with its lack of popular entertainment channels such as HGTV and AMC, will make it a tough sell from a cost perspective.

With DirecTV Now, you can watch on up to two devices at a time, though you can also purchase a third stream for $5 per month. The service also works with more than 60 TV Everywhere apps, which you can access on devices that DirecTV Now doesn’t support.

DVR details

Beyond live TV, DirecTV Now includes a catalog of on-demand programming, and many channels allow you to scroll back in time through the TV guide and watch certain programs that have aired in the past 72 hours. But in both cases, availability can depend on the program and the network, which is why you really need a DVR to make sure your favorite programs are available.

To that end, DirecTV Now includes a cloud DVR, but it's more limited than most other live TV services. Subscribers can only store 20 hours of video for up to 30 days, and while AT&T had planned to offer a $10-per-month upgrade with 100 hours of video and 90 days of storage last summer, that option has not yet materialized.

Other streaming TV services’ DVRs are more generous. PlayStation Vue, Philo, and YouTube TV do not put strict limits on recording hours, though they delete recordings after 28 days, 30 days, and nine months respectively. Hulu, Fubo TV, and Sling TV store recordings indefinitely, but have storage limits of 50 hours, 30, hours, and 50 hours respectively. (Sling TV also charges $5 per month extra for DVR service.)

The upside is that DirecTV’s DVR does not restrict ad-skipping on any channels, and recording works on all channels except HBO and Cinemax. That means you don't need to navigate the various restrictions that apply to other live TV services. Still, the actual ad-skipping experience on DirecTV Now can be a hassle, with no visual preview of what's coming when you fast forward.

Great grid, but clunky menus

If grid-based channel guides are your preferred way to watch TV, you might love DirecTV Now. Channels appear in alphabetical order, and the grid displays the next two hours of programming without having to scroll. Highlighting a program brings up an image thumbnail and a text description of the episode, and you can view just favorite channels, filter by genre, and quickly jump ahead to a specific day. No other streaming bundle executes the grid guide as well as DirecTV Now does.

DirecTV Now’s main DVR menu isn’t bad either, though it takes a few clicks to get to. You can see a list of all recorded shows, quickly delete series or individual episodes, and view a chronological list of upcoming recordings. All this is helpful for managing the limited amount of storage space that DirecTV Now provides.

So, where DirecTV Now’s software fall short? Pretty much everywhere else.

There’s no attempt at personalization in DirecTV Now’s menus, so when you scroll through the “Watch Now” and “Recommended” sections, you’ll see only generic trending programs and curated picks. (Even if DirecTV Now did offer more personalization, the service does not support multiple user profiles.) And while DirecTV Now has a “Continue Watching” section on its home screen, it only shows individual episodes or movies you haven’t finished, rather than entire series that you’re in the middle of watching.

For reasons unclear, AT&T also still thinks people want to blindly flip through channels like they did in the analog TV era, letting you swipe or press left or right from any live TV channel to switch to the next one. This could be somewhat useful if it flipped to the last channel you were watching or cycled through just your favorites, but why would anyone want to move one-by-one between dozens of channels in alphabetical order? You can always try to ignore this feature, but because most apps use directional buttons for fast forward and rewind, you’re likely to flip channels by accident at some point.

Trying to navigate the interface while watching video isn’t ideal either. DirecTV Now continues to play audio in the background while a video is playing, but it doesn’t offer a mini-guide or picture-in-picture mode on TV devices, so the video becomes obscured behind DirecTV Now’s main menus. In some parts of the interface, the menu covers up the video entirely.

I’ve also run into some glitches, including image thumbnails that disappear, menus that fail to display any content, and general sluggishness to render images and text on the screen. And on Roku players, DirecTV Now is currently unable to pause live TV. DirecTV Now had lots of problems during its initial launch in late 2016, and with the redesign, it seems to be going through growing pains all over again.

Streaming quality and reliability

As with other streaming bundles, the resolution with most live channels is 720p, but DirecTV Now supports 60-frames-per-second video on all sports, news, and broadcast channels on Apple TV, Roku, and Fire TV. (This is less of a differentiator than it used to be, as other bundles including Hulu and YouTube TV have expanded their own 60-frames-per-second support.) Some on-demand programming also supports Dolby Digital 5.1 audio on Apple TV.

For the most part, streams have been reliable and fast to load, but I did run into one unusual error on Amazon’s Fire TV that prevented a couple of local broadcast channels from playing. After attempting to load Fox and CBS, DirecTV displayed a 10006-008 error code and a “This content has an issue and can’t play” message. Restarting the app and the Fire TV did not immediately resolve the problem, though it eventually went away on its own.

Given how many issues DirecTV Now has, it's hard to recommend for anything but its unique channel lineup. For $50 per month, it's the cheapest live TV streaming service that includes local channels, cable news, national sports, and HBO, but it has the worst user experience outside of its cable-style grid guide, and its DVR is too limited to rely on. Without deep discounts and lots of channels, most cord-cutters are better off with other options, which might explain why DirecTV Now has been shedding subscribers almost as quickly as it acquired them.

DirecTV Now channel lists:

DirecTV Now Plus ($50 per month):

  • ABC
  • Audience
  • BET
  • Boomerang
  • Bravo
  • Cartoon Network / Adult Swim
  • CBS
  • CNBC
  • CNBC World
  • CNN
  • Comedy Central
  • CW
  • Disney Channel
  • Disney Junior
  • Disney XD
  • E!
  • ESPN
  • ESPN2
  • Fox
  • Fox Business
  • Fox News
  • Freeform
  • FS1
  • FX
  • FXM
  • FXX
  • Hallmark Channel
  • HBO
  • HLN
  • MSNBC
  • MTV
  • Nat Geo Wild
  • National Geographic
  • NBC
  • NBCSN
  • Nick Jr.
  • Nickelodeon
  • Oxygen Network
  • POP
  • Revolt
  • Syfy
  • TBS
  • Telemundo
  • TNT
  • TruTV
  • Turner Classic Movies
  • Universal Kids
  • USA Network
  • VH1

DirecTV Now Max ($70 per month):

  • All DirecTV Now Plus channels
  • Big Ten Network
  • CBS Sports Network
  • Cinemax
  • CMT
  • ESPN-SEC Network
  • ESPNEWS
  • ESPNU
  • Fox Sports regionals
  • FS2
  • Golf Channel
  • Longhorn Network
  • MSG
  • MSG+
  • NBC Sports Regionals
  • Olympic Channel
  • Paramount Network
  • SNY
  • TV Land

Premium channels:

  • HBO (included)
  • Showtime ($11 per month)
  • Starz ($11 per month)
  • Cinemax ($11 per month, included with Max plan)

This story, "DirecTV Now review: The fall of a once-mighty bundle" was originally published by TechHive.

At a Glance
  • DirecTV was never a perfect streaming TV service, but we liked it a lot more before AT&T decided to squeeze the service for profits.

    Pros

    • Powerful grid guide
    • DVR has no ad-skipping restrictions
    • HBO is included

    Cons

    • Limited channel selection for the price
    • DVR limits both recording space and storage time
    • No personalized viewing recommendations
    • Software suffers from bugs and sluggish performance
  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon