Streaming television is getting more and more popular, allowing users to get away from standard cable packages and into something that fits their lifestyle. DirecTV is one of the first traditional “cable” companies to get in on the action with DirecTV Now.
What Is DirecTV Now?
Basically, this is DirecTV’s all-in bet on live streaming television. It’s kind of like their more traditional satellite service, but geared for the streaming market (think Sling TV, but from DirecTV instead). You don’t need a DirecTV satellite subscription either; this is a product anyone can use to stream their favorite shows and channels.
It doesn’t include the sheer crap-ton of channels that you’ll get with their traditional plans, but I feel like this is a good example of quality over quantity—most of the big names are here, so you should get everything you actually want to watch, depending on your plan.
Speaking of, DirecTV Now offers four packages:
- Live a Little ($35/mo): 60+ channels
- Just Right ($50/mo): 80+ channels
- Go Big ($60/mo): 100+ channels
- Gotta Have It ($70/mo): 120+ channels
All of the packages support local channels, though availability is region-specific and something you’ll have to look into before you sign up. I won’t go into detail about every single channel offered with every single package, but I can point you towards this page, which gives a great breakdown of what you get with each.
Note: For our testing, we had the Go Big package and used an Amazon Fire TV for streaming.
The downside here is that you get what you get. Each package has a specific set of channels, and you can’t mix and match—this isn’t a true à la carte setup like one would hope, but no services are. If you want something with more mix and match options, you can always go with Sling—it isn’t true à la carte either, but you have many more packages to mix and match with.
That said, you can add premium channels to your service, like:
- HBO ($5/mo): Adds HBO Go, East, Family Easy, Latino, and access to HBO’s on-demand library.
- Cinemax ($5/mo): Adds Max Go, Cinemax East, and access to Cinemax’s on-demand library.
- Showtime ($8/mo): Adds Showtime East and Showtime On Demand.
- Starz ($8/mo): Adds Starz East, Kids & Family, Encore East, and Starz On Demand.
HBO really sounds like the best deal there, but that’s totally your call. At least the options are there, right?
DirecTV Now also offers a section of on-demand access to movies and shows, so if there’s nothing on TV, you can at least find something else to watch. (Hopefully.)
In terms of device support, DirecTV Now is available on:
- Amazon Fire TV
- Amazon Fire TV Stick
- Apple TV
- Android (4.4 and above)
- iPhone/iPad (iOS 9 and above)
- Chrome 50+
- Safari 8+
And that’s it. You may notice a few devices missing here: Xbox support is in the works, but there’s no work on PlayStation 4 or Android TV option. That’s a huge bummer, but if you like the service, you can get Fire TV Stick or Roku Express for pretty cheap.
How DirecTV Now Works
Since DirecTV has a bit of experience when it comes to building an interface for cable, DirecTV Now is pretty straightforward. It also features more streaming-centric features as well, making this one of the best interfaces I’ve personally used from a streaming service.
The main interface can be broken down into six main parts:
- Home: This is the main screen, which shows what’s currently playing your watchlist, and suggested content.
- Shows: Trending and on-demand shows.
- Movies: Trending and on-demand movies.
- Networks: See what’s on by channel.
- Guide: A more traditional grid-style guide.
- Search: Search for shows, movies, channels, and the like.
Since the majority of those are pretty straightforward, I want to spend a bit of time focusing on the Guide itself, because that’s the most powerful part of the DirecTV Now interface.
Basically, this looks like the sort of guide you’re used to seeing, because…well, it is. You can browse by times and channels, of course, but you can also “favorite” channels using the little heart.
Once you’ve taken the time to select your favorite channels, you can access just those channels in a separate part of the guide, so you can get a quick glimpse of the stuff that matters most to you before having to sort through all the junk you don’t care about.
While watching live TV, you can also press “up” on the remote (we tested on Fire TV) to bring up a sort of quick menu with options for Search, Guide, Watchlist, and Settings. Pressing down on the remote brings up the full menu.
Overall the layout makes a lot of sense and is the most intuitive streaming service I’ve tested so far. I really like it.
Where DirecTV Now Fall Short
While I think DirecTV Now is the most intuitive live TV streaming system I’ve used, there’s one massive shortcoming: no DVR. Now, I know they’re testing a DVR service, but at the time of writing it’s not available, and that’s a huge bummer.
At this point, it’s hard to recommend a streaming service that doesn’t include DVR features, because most people rely on this when their content comes from live TV—I know I certainly do, because who wants to watch commercials? Not this guy.
Otherwise, I find that the plan pricing is a bit steep compared to some of the others, even if only slightly. That’s not a huge shocker to me considering DirecTV Now comes from a company with a very long history in cable television.
Also, DirecTV limits simultaneous streams to two, and that’s that—you can’t add additional streams. The company actually has the audacity to suggest subscribing to additional DirecTV Now accounts if more than two people in your family are watching different shows at a time. Right, like anyone wants to pay double the price because they need three streams instead of two. Get out.
While most of the big names in streaming boxes are supported, I’d be remiss not to mention the lack of Android TV, PlayStation 4, and Xbox support. That could immediately make DirecTV Now a deal breaker for anyone who relies on those systems for their streaming needs.
So, Can DirecTV Now Replace Your Cable Subscription?
As with most other streaming services: maybe. It really depends on how and when you watch TV—what channels you must have and all that. Also, the lack of DVR could be (and should be) a deal breaker for most.
That said, DirecTV Now is one of the better streaming services out there, no question about it. While the pricing is a bit steeper than I’d like to see for the channels offered, it’s been very reliable for me and I love the interface.
Here’s my suggestion: wait until they release the DVR services, which is rumored for early 2018. Assuming they don’t charge extra for it (and they shouldn’t), this will only add value to the service, making the pricing a little easier to swallow. At that point, I feel like this might be the best option for anyone who wants to make a quick and easy switch to a streaming service without having to learn a new system or deal with making a bunch of choices. In other words, it’s great for older generations who are just in-touch enough to make the switch to streaming, but maybe prefer to keep more of a traditional cable feel.
Overall, DirecTV Now has been more impressive than I expected, especially coming from a satellite company that’s been in the business for a long time. The streaming quality is excellent and layout is very intuitive and easy to use. I would like to see a bit more aggressive pricing, but honestly I can’t say that it’s enough to be a deal breaker. If it has the channels you want at a price you’re okay with, I think it’s hard not to consider DirecTV Now as one of the better streaming options out there.