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AT&T TV Now is a live TV streaming service owned by (you guessed it) AT&T. We’ve known this service since it debuted way back in 2016 under the name DirecTV Now. It may be a different “Now” now, but we’re still keeping up with the service by re-testing and re-reviewing it for 2021. How does this live TV streaming service compare to competitors like Sling TV and fuboTV? That’s what our AT&T TV Now review is here to answer.
AT&T TV Now is focused on live content. Like the old-school cable and satellite services it aims to replace, AT&T TV Now offers bundles of live streaming channels.
The focus on live content makes the experience very spontaneous. If you flip through the channel lineup and see an episode of Chopped you want to watch, then that’s cool: You can watch it right then. If you get tired of Chopped because, oh no, it’s one of the episodes with precocious teenage chefs who make you feel like an underachiever, then you can just switch over to ESPN and watch a college basketball game. Like cable or satellite, AT&T TV Now delivers a very low-commitment viewing experience. There are lots of opportunities for channel surfing and lots of chances to change your mind about what you want to watch.
Personally, I love that. Sometimes, when I’m watching a show on Hulu or Netflix, I feel pressure to only focus only on that show for however long the episode is. I have to be in the right mood for that. AT&T TV Now rewards casual viewing, which is something that cord cutters haven’t always been able to enjoy as easily as cord-havers can.
But what channels can you watch on AT&T TV Now? Well, I’ve already mentioned Chopped, so fans of that show can probably guess that AT&T TV Now includes the Food Network.
Sports fans will be happy to learn that AT&T TV Now has ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNews, and ESPNU.
Unlike some skinny bundles, AT&T TV Now also offers local broadcast channels. I was able to enjoy local broadcasts from CBS, ABC, Fox, and NBC.
If you prefer national news networks, you’ll be happy to know that AT&T TV Now has CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. If you like following news about the stock market, AT&T TV Now has you covered with CNBC and Fox Business.
AT&T TV Now has deals in place with both Turner and Viacom. This is impressive because it’s common for skinny bundles to be missing one or both of those media conglomerates. In this case, the gang’s all here: You can watch Viacom channels like BET, Comedy Central, CMT, and MTV as well as Turner channels like CNN, Cartoon Network, TBS, and TNT.
Using AT&T TV Now feels a lot like using the cable and satellite services that this high-tech solution is trying to replace. I think that’s a good thing, though others might miss the on-demand focus of other popular streaming services. While AT&T TV Now does have on-demand content, it’s clearly set up to prioritize live TV.
Part of AT&T TV Now’s old-school vibe is how easy it is to change the channel. This is a simple thing, but it’s something that many live TV streaming services approach in unusual ways. With most services, changing the channel means hitting “down” on your Roku or Fire TV remote. From there, you might select your next channel from a scrolling menu. And for most services, that’s it: There’s no quicker way to change the channel, and no “channel up” or “channel down” buttons of the sort you might be used to from your old cable remote — or, as we called it in my hometown, “clicker.”
With AT&T TV Now, it felt like my beloved clicker was back: With a tap of the left or right directional button on my Roku remote, I could jump directly to the next channel. I accidentally switched channels a few times before I got used to this setup, but I ended up liking it. How intuitive the controls feel to you may depend on how well you remember your old cable remote, clicker, or “channel changer.”
This simple channel-surfing option doesn’t mean that you can’t dive into a full channel list if you prefer. On my Roku, I could just press the down button to get a menu that included a way to view a channel guide. When I pressed the up button, I could view a selection of channels that I’d recently watched.
That’s all four directional buttons accounted for, by the way, and all four of them do things related to changing the channel. That makes for a real contrast with just about every other live TV streaming service: Most of them surface DVR-like functions for the horizontal directions, letting you rewind live TV with fewer button presses than is possible with AT&T TV Now. If you’re an aimless channel surfer, you’ll probably welcome AT&T TV Now’s design. If you’re adamant about rewinding live TV and catching shows from the beginning, you might not like it as much.
By default, AT&T TV Now lists live channels in alphabetical order. If you don’t want to go through channels that way, the “Discover” category is a decent alternative. It gives you an option to sort by network, which works well if you’re in the mood for a specific channel but not a specific show. The “Popular Movies” category includes titles like Christmas with the Kranks, The Holiday, and Fifty Shades of Grey. But keep in mind these movies are edited for cable, and they include commercial breaks. So if you want the version of Fifty Shades of Grey that aired in theaters originally, you won’t find it here. Instead, you’ll find the version that airs on the USA Network — which, as you might imagine, has a bit less sizzle to it.
AT&T TV Now’s app includes a “Watch Now” menu, which includes content that’s currently airing. You can watch many of the same shows and movies on demand by using other menus within AT&T TV Now’s app — all of which I found pretty intuitive, if not particularly groundbreaking. Below “Watch Now” is a “Trending” category that’s a lot like the “Discover” screen, in that it highlights specific shows and movies. There are little differences between the various content discovery menus that AT&T TV Now serves up, but the common thread is that they feel a lot like the ones you might be used to from other streaming services: These menus want you to hurry up and pick something to watch! While AT&T TV Now’s live TV experience was very cable-like, its content discovery features made it feel more like a modern streaming service.
To test AT&T TV Now’s cloud DVR feature, I recorded a few things: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a football game, and a few episodes of a game show. I found this feature very straightforward. As with a “real” DVR, you can use the AT&T TV Now cloud DVR to fast-forward through commercial breaks in your recordings.
I could record a lot of game shows and parades if I wanted to, because the cloud DVR feature gave me space for up to 500 hours of programming. That’s way more than some other services, like Sling TV, offer their subscribers. The huge amount of space means that there’s not much pressure to delete a program as soon as you finish watching. There is, however, a different sort of time limit: Depending on which subscription bundle you get, you’ll be able to keep your recordings for either 90 days or 30 days before AT&T TV Now automatically deletes them. This is unfortunate, though not unusual for this kind of service.
One thing I was impressed by while testing out the AT&T TV Now user experience was how the service offered helpful on-screen tips, like “Press down to navigate” or “press up to view recent channels.” One of the trickiest parts of a new streaming service is figuring out the lay of the land, and these tips made things easier.
AT&T TV Now has a maximum streaming quality of 720p and 60 frames per second. Both of those figures are very typical for a live TV streaming service.
In my testing, the loading and buffering times were more noticeable on AT&T TV Now than they are with many competitors. This isn’t the end of the world, but it undermines the channel-surfing experience that AT&T TV Now is otherwise so well designed for, which is a shame.
It wasn’t just the live stream loading times: I found AT&T TV Now’s apps to be a bit more sluggish than competitor offerings all around. Even the channel guide, for example, occasionally took a moment longer to load than I’ve come to expect from other live TV streaming services. While short, these little loading and buffering delays add up to a less enjoyable experience.
Not so long ago, you couldn't find an AT&T TV Now app on Roku. The good news is, it’s back now! I searched for and added the channel to my Roku TV without any issues. Roku is one of the most popular platforms for cord cutters, so I’m glad to see that AT&T and Roku seem to have resolved whatever differences they had.
But how does AT&T TV Now stack up when it comes to other platforms? Well, there are still some gaps, unfortunately. It doesn’t work with Android TV and never has.
It does, however, work with Amazon Fire TV. AT&T TV Now is also compatible with Apple TV, Chromecast, and newer Samsung Smart TVs. Mobile devices are covered by AT&T TV Now’s iOS and Android apps.
Finally, there are the web browsers: AT&T TV Now is compatible with Chrome and Safari, but not with Edge, Firefox, or Opera.
I tested AT&T TV Now on Roku, Chrome, and iOS.
AT&T TV Now’s pricing is not cheap. For this review, I tested the “Choice” skinny bundle, which offers more than 85 channels for $110 a month. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t feel like a very skinny “skinny bundle” to me! And AT&T TV Now’s prices can go even higher than that. The massive “Premier” bundle costs $183 a month.
The cheapest channel bundle offered by AT&T TV Now is the “Plus” bundle, and it gets you more than 45 channels for $55 a month. That’s $10 per month cheaper than the last time we reviewed AT&T TV Now, though it’s worth noting that the Plus bundle no longer includes HBO Max (normally $15 per month on its own). As other live TV streaming services raise prices, this more affordable new version of the Plus bundle looks better than ever.
There are other options in between Plus and Premier, of course. The $80-per-month “Max” bundle is a good choice for sports fans because it includes ESPNews, ESPNU, FS2, Golf Channel, the Olympic Channel, and the Tennis Channel. Depending on your location, the Max package may also include local sports networks. For instance, Texans can get get the Longhorn Network with this bundle (not this Texan, though — I may say “clicker,” but I moved to the Northwest years ago).
AT&T TV Now isn’t the flashiest service on the market. Though it was once the hottest service in streaming, AT&T TV Now has lost more than two-thirds of its subscriber base since its heyday.
Despite its rough luck with customers recently, I think AT&T TV Now has a lot going for it. I liked the low-pressure channel surfing I could do with this service. Thanks to some pricing shake-ups, I think AT&T TV Now’s “Plus” bundle looks more competitive than it did just a few months ago. And now that the service is back on Roku, it’s a whole lot easier for a lot of streamers to use it.
Still, platform support is a bit of a weak spot for AT&T TV Now. I would have liked to see an app for Android TV. I also wish there were more bundles at the lower end of the pricing scale — bundles that cost nearly $200 a month just feel like cable all over again to me.
I don’t think AT&T TV Now is quite at the top of the heap with the rest of the best live TV streaming services, but I do think that things are finally starting to look up again for this once-mighty service. I’d suggest giving it a look, especially if you’re looking for an experience that feels a bit more like cable and a bit less like Netflix.