We recommend: Try DirecTV Now for free.
There’s a new skinny bundle on the market: AT&T’s DirecTV Now. DirecTV Now enters a space that’s already occupied by PlayStation Vue and Sling TV, but the new service is making some noise with deep discounts and a solid channel lineup. How does it measure up to the more established competition? Here’s our full review.
DirecTV Now’s user interface looks a lot like Sling TV’s original “live TV” interface – you get a row of thumbnails that you can scroll through, each marking a different live channel. Tapping or selecting a new thumbnail changes the channel. This works roughly the same way on each platform – the design is pretty uniform. On Fire TV, you’ll get a full-screen picture by default and can access these menus by hitting down on your remote – but, once in them, they work in just the same way.
DirecTV Now also lets you sort your content by “Shows” and “Movies” – not to mention “Networks.” Sort this way and you can add individual shows to your “Watchlist” and watch past episodes (you don’t need to “record” them yourself – this feature works more like Hulu and less like a DVR).
There’s nothing about this user interface that’s particularly revolutionary, but you’ll find that some of PlayStation Vue’s best perks are combined with some of Sling TV’s smooth navigation, and that’s enough to make DirecTV Now a very pleasant app to use. It’s useable, but not revolutionary – and that was just fine with me.
DirecTV is entering an OTT skinny bundle market that already has two strong contenders: Sling TV and PlayStation Vue. But DirecTV Now is second to nobody in terms of content, which is where the service really shines.
Like PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now organizes its content in tiers: you can buy the cheapest package and get an impressive 60+ channels for $35/month, or you can get one of the higher-tier packages, each of which includes all of the channels from packages smaller than itself while adding new networks at a higher price. It’s exactly how PlayStation Vue works, and it’s a little different than Sling TV’s more à la carte model, which offers a couple of different base packages and then invites users to build out a custom set of channels using “add-on” packages.
DirecTV Now has all the channels that Sling TV or PlayStation Vue users would expect – Disney properties like ESPN and Freeform, Viacom properties like MTV, and FOX properties like FOX News and FX. The smallest package (“Live a Little”) has just about all of the essentials, which makes the cheapest option a very viable one for DirecTV Now subscribers. Sports fans will want to look at the upgrades, though – regional sports networks and NBCSN, among others, pop up in the second level – as does YES, where you can watch the Yankees, if you’re into New York’s second-best baseball team (see you in the comments, haters!).
DirecTV Now also emerges with pretty strong local broadcast options. Select markets will get ABC, FOX, and NBC local broadcasts – of the major networks, only CBS is missing. Local broadcasts on OTT skinny bundles are becoming the new normal, but it’s pretty impressive to see DirecTV Now pushing the envelope like this right out of the gate.
DirecTV Now makes it easy to start movies on demand. You’re essentially watching DVR’d versions (witness the ads and the little FXM or AMC logo in the corner), but it gives DirecTV the feel of an HBO or a Netflix-type service at times. In addition to the channel-flipping cable-clone aspect, DirecTV is a strong platform for on-demand content.
At the end of the day, content is what makes or breaks OTT services. DirecTV Now has arguably the best bang-for-your-buck deal in its “Live a Little” package, and that’s a huge edge to have in the skinny bundle market.
When DirecTV Now debuted last week, things did not go well. DirecTV Now did not seem ready for prime time, and it crashed on users constantly.
Thankfully, that problem seems to have been solved. I saw nothing but smooth streaming on all of my devices. Like PlayStation Vue (and unlike Sling TV), DirecTV Now has come right out of the gate with smooth HD streaming. Streams snap into HD within a second or two, and they stay that way while streaming smoothly on all the devices I tried.
Pretty much all of the skinny bundles (yes, including Sling TV) now have great streaming quality, so this is DirecTV keeping pace more than anything else.
Platform support is typically a weak point for brand-new services, and DirecTV Now is no exception. There’s not yet a Roku channel for DirecTV Now, which is pretty surprising, because Roku has a massive share of the streaming box market and usually is among the first devices new apps arrive on. The web app works on “Google Chrome 50+, Safari 8+ or Internet Explorer 11+ (on Windows 8 and up),” but I couldn’t get it to work on my Chromebook, so it appears that the OS matters when running the app on Google Chrome.
I tried the DirecTV Now app on Windows, Amazon Fire TV, and iOS. It also works on Android and Apple TV. You can Chromecast it from the web app and mobile devices.
DirecTV Now offers four pricing tiers at $35, $50, $60, and $70/month. The smallest package has over 60 channels, and the others 80+, 100+, and 120+, respectively. HBO and Cinemax are available as add-ons for $5/each. You can check out the details in the image up there in the “Content” section.
Those HBO and Cinemax prices are significantly lower than DirecTV Now’s competitors can offer (hmm, who owns HBO again?). In terms of the packages themselves, DirecTV Now is more or less in line with the competition. Sling TV has cheaper packages, but the one most comparable to DirecTV Now’s $35 package is Sling Orange + Blue – which is Sling TV’s largest base package, and which goes for $40/month. PlayStation Vue’s cheapest package is $39.99.
Things change fast in the OTT skinny bundle market. When we reviewed PlayStation Vue, its streaming quality and DVR feature made it the best skinny bundle available (besting rival Sling TV). Then PlayStation Vue lost a bunch of key channels, and Sling TV reclaimed its place as the undisputed skinny bundle champ.
Right now, DirecTV looks like the new king. Some early streaming hiccups seem to have been resolved, and we still want more platform support, but in terms of sheer content, this is a remarkable service. DirecTV Now’s cheapest ($35/month) plan is absolutely stacked with content, and for my money, that’s enough to give it a slight edge on Sling TV.
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