DirecTV Now review: an impressive interface, but lacks in overall performance
There’s a new kid on the block delivering cable bundles through the Internet. DirecTV Now wants to compete with Sling TV, PlayStation Vue and become the leading provider of television over the Internet.
It has a long way to go.
That’s not to discourage you from trying it. DirecTV Now has a slick user interface and promises to be a contender for live streaming TV market in 2017 and beyond.
Just know that at the moment, DirecTV Now doesn’t yet have a DVR feature (it’s coming in 2017). And the on-demand menu lacks full seasons. You won’t be able to remedy that issue by authenticating an app for channels like A&E on your Amazon Fire TV. Pausing channels only works on some channels, and only for 5 to 10 seconds. There’s no Roku support yet, but it’s coming soon.
The upshot for DirecTV Now is that it’s adhering to the anti-cable tenets laid out by PlayStation Vue and Sling TV. There are no contracts, no hidden fees and simple ways to sign up, change plans or cancel whenever you like. Another great thing with DirecTV Now (and live streaming in general) is that these platforms seem focused on making every channel count. Your channel package isn’t littered with low-quality, home shopping-style channels. DirecTV Now allows two simultaneous streams, which allows people to watch different programs.
5 facts about DirecTV Now
- Prices range from $35 to $70 per month
- A promotional $35 per month package is offering 100-plus channels
- Allows for two simultaneous streams
- No data overages for AT&T mobile devices
- Roku support not available yet
Do I need to be an AT&T customer to use DirecTV Now?
No. But you do need an Internet subscription. DirecTV, the satellite service, is owned by AT&T. If you are an AT&T customer, you won’t get hit with data overages.
There’s been an ongoing narrative about the high cost of Internet being a huge obstacle for cord cutters. There’s a definitely grain of truth that companies like Comcast and Spectrum could charge you more when you dump cable for just an Internet subscription. We recommend looking over our guide to secret rates that cable companies never advertise. We also have some reference material on how to find the best deal for Internet in your area.
What is DirecTV Now like?
DirecTV Now deserves a lot of credit for coming up with an easy to use interface. With my Amazon Fire TV remote, I used the wheel-shaped button to easily navigate between menus. Press up and down to pull up menus for channels and movies. Right to left keys lets you flip channels. It takes a few seconds for a channel to boot up, even if you have an Ethernet connection. But it’s not a deal breaker.
The interface marries some of the best features from Netflix and PlayStation Vue’s menus. The menu for movies is particularly impressive. It gives a grid-style layout of movies available for all channels in your subscription.
You can pull up a similar feature on PS Vue, but it takes a bit more work. Not having the ability to pause what you’re watching in many cases on DirecTV Now is a disappointment. Perhaps that will change with the introduction of a DVR feature.
What do I need to stream DirecTV Now?
DirecTV Now streams live television feeds via its app. For now, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV devices are compatible devices for streaming at home. Android phones, iPhones and iPads also work along with Vizio and LeEco smart TVs. As we mentioned, Roku streamers will be added to compatible devices in 2017 along with support for Amazon Fire tablets.
Can I stream DirecTV Now to a PC or laptop?
Yes. The interface is similar to the PC streaming now available on PS Vue. While streaming on my laptop and a living room TV, the streams were practically in synch. At times, it was off by a second or two. Streaming outside of the home should be something that DirecTV Now has nailed down. And it does with PC and laptop devices. I haven’t tested with a smartphone or tablet yet.
How we tested DirecTV Now performance
Testing DirecTV over a roughly 9 hour period was a mixed bag. The good news is that during most of my testing – roughly six hours during the day on a Friday – DirecTV Now delivered a crisp picture at 720p with zero lag.
I used an Amazon Fire TV that’s hooked up via Ethernet using a 50Mbps Internet connection. For testing wireless performance, I also used an Arris SURFBOARD SB6141 cable modem and a Netgear R6400 WiFi router. The desktop and laptop are fairly new ASUS and HP computers. I used Google Chrome as my web browser.
I streamed C-SPAN from my laptop while letting Viceland play in the background on my living room TV. Changing channels on the laptop was a seamless experience. When I shut off my laptop feed, it took a couple of tries to overcome an error code on my desktop, claiming I had too many open streams. The desktop streaming performed just as well once I got logged back in.
On the Fire TV, if I selected a particular channel from the menu, the picture came up right away. It took a second or two for a channel to come up when I flipped through channels consecutively using the Fire TV remote. That’s certainly not a deal breaker for me. I still got a crisp picture without any lag. I let both a computer and TV play throughout the day with zero issues or interruptions.
Problems with streaming DirecTV Now at night
Watching at night was a very different experience. One of the larger issues DirecTV Now needs to resolve is the lag during peak viewing times.
My wife and I spent roughly three hours streaming DirecTV Now together on Friday night. I wanted to see what she thought of DirecTV Now, especially since she’s been using PlayStation Vue with me since March.
We mostly watched “PayDay” on Viceland. The first 10 minutes streamed without interruption. The rest of the night was a fight to keep DirecTV Now on our channel. We repeatedly got “Error 60” where the screen would stop streaming and prompt us to refresh the screen. Other times, the screen would freeze as a blue circle wound again and again at the center. In either scenario, our program would continue further down the storyline than where we were stopped. There was no option to rewind.
Later in the night, we were simply kicked off the channel as if we were shutting it down for the night.
I went back to my PlayStation Vue account and watched a couple more hours of live TV with zero interruption. By the end of the night, DirecTV Now appeared as if it needed a software update especially after going back to PlayStation Vue.
Apparently, we weren’t alone with our streaming woes. According to The Verge, DirecTV Now had a rough week with numerous customers encountering errors similar to ours. To their credit, DirecTV Now seems to be responding to the problems.
Despite all this, I still think DirecTV Now has great potential. There’s no question that AT&T will be aggressive in its bid to become a leader in the live streaming TV market. And it’s also noteworthy that Sony had its share of issues when rolling out PlayStation Vue in 2015. It’s interesting to me that DirecTV Now felt the need to launch despite its shortcomings. Going forward with no DVR feature (yet) or Roku compatibility says something. It raises the question of whether we will be seeing competing services from Hulu and YouTube sooner rather than later.
How much does DirecTV Now cost?
You may have a heard a lot about the $35 promotional rate for 100 channels, known as a “Go Big” subscription. DirecTV Now announced earlier this week that it’s only a promotional rate, expected to increase to $60 at some point.
Here are the four channel bundles offered by DirecTV Now:
- Live a Little: 60-plus channels for $35 per month
- Just Right: 80-plus channels for $50 per month
- Go Big: 100-plus channels for $60 per month (current promo rate is $35)
- Gotta Have It: 120-plus channels for $70 per month
Customers who keep their subscription during the promo rate will be “grandfathered” in so they can keep the $35 price. You can add HBO and Cinemax for just $5 per month each.
In our DirecTV Now review, we compared the “Go Big” channel bundle with PlayStation Vue’s Elite package because of their similarities in price point and channel offerings.
DirecTV Now vs. PlayStation Vue, channel lineups
PlayStation Vue offers an equivalent package called “Elite” that’s $45 per month in most cities across the U.S. Adding HBO and Cinemax on PS Vue costs $15 per month each. During our review of PlayStation Vue, we’ve found a better a value. PS Vue subscribers get a live feed of HBO and can use HBO Now on all of their supported devices at no extra charge.
What does DirecTV Now have that PlayStation Vue doesn’t?
A&E, History Channel, C-SPAN and Viceland are among the standouts. PS Vue is expected to get Viceland soon. DirecTV Now has the Viacom family of channels, which PlayStation Vue recently dropped due to a pricing dispute.
But one channel that was missing from the Viacom group on DirecTV Now – MTV Live. That’s an odd omission. And it raises the question of whether AT&T was prevented from adding the channel to its lineup or just made a bad decision. There’s some expectation that PlayStation Vue might iron out an agreement with Viacom. The PS Vue menu hasn’t completely removed the Viacom channels yet.
What does PS Vue have that DirecTV Now doesn’t?
PlayStation Vue has CBS, and on-demand ABC, FOX and NBC. There’s no CBS on DirecTV Now, and the remaining channels are only available in a small number of cities. PlayStation Vue has more sports channels than DirecTV Now, including some regional ones like NESN.
You will also find a few more movie channels like Epix Hits, Sony Movie Channel and Universal HD with the $45 per month Elite package on PlayStation Vue.
The takeaway is PlayStation Vue is going to give you more channels at a lower cost in the long run. This can be fleshed out best if you compare the top channel subscriptions for DirecTV Now and PlayStation Vue.
If you added HBO to Vue’s “Elite” package for another $15 a month, you’d be spending $60 for everything.
What’s a better deal, DirecTV Now or PlayStation Vue?
If you’re willing to deal with no DVR and limited options to pause what you’re watching, DirecTV’s $35 promotional rate for 100+ channels is a good deal.
When DirecTV Now raises the “Go Big” package to $60, adding HBO or Cinemax for $5 seems like less of value. You’re final monthly rate is $65. That’s much better than many cable packages.
But you would still be missing channels like Boomerrang, Chiller and Cloo. All three of those are included in PS Vue’s “Elite” package, but you’d need to spend $70 for DirecTV’s 120+ channel “Gotta Have It!” package. Adding $5 for HBO in that scenario, you’re up to $75 per month. You’re a bit too close to an introductory cable price.
Compare that to PS Vue’s Ultra Slim package at $64.99, which gives you HBO and Showtime, and you’re still beating DirecTV Now’s offerings.
Any way you cut it with PlayStation Vue, you’re still getting more for less money.
You might want to try a 7-day free trial for DirecTV Now anyway. Everybody has different needs when it comes to streaming. DirecTV Now will certainly be an aggressive competitor in the live TV streaming market.
We’ll be amending our comparison to include Sling TV as we use DirecTV Now a little more.
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble