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AT&T TV Now has changed quite a bit since its 2017 debut. For one thing, it wasn't always called AT&T TV Now: Originally, it was known as DirecTV Now. Packages, pricing, and the user experience have changed too. So while we've reviewed this service already (twice, actually), it's high time that we revisited it. What has changed since our last DirecTV Now review? We'll let you know below in our AT&T TV Now review.

AT&T TV Now review

User experience

AT&T TV Now's offerings are fundamentally pretty similar to those of old-school cable and satellite bundles: The main attractions here are live network television channels like AMC, ESPN, TNT, etc. Like many of its skinny bundle peers, AT&T TV Now primarily takes its user interface cues from streaming competitors rather than from legacy pay TV services. AT&T TV Now is eager to show consumers recommendations, on-demand options, and more. “Content discovery” is king.

AT&T TV Now review - AT&T TV Now web app screenshort
AT&T TV Now as seen in the web app. The most prominent tabs and buttons lead to content discovery features and categories, but there's also a link to a TV-guide style screen (in the web app, it's a tab; on mobile, it's a button).

With that said, AT&T TV Now does a better job of offering a “channel surfing” type of experience than do many of its skinny bundle peers. Like some — but not all — skinny bundle competitors, AT&T TV Now offers a “channel guide” style menu. It doesn't always get as prominent as do alternative organizing and sorting systems like “My Library” and “Discover.” But it does appear in a shortcut button or a tab (depending on which platform you're on), and it allows users to view, select, watch, or record programming in much the same way as is possible with cable and satellite services.

AT&T TV Now review - TV guide view in iOS app
The AT&T TV Now TV guide grid view in the AT&T TV Now iOS app

AT&T TV Now offers a cloud DVR feature. I found that feature quite easy to use. Using AT&T TV Now's content discovery features, I simply checked out the in-app pages for the series and movies that I wanted to catch (easy to find via the channel guide or content discovery views), then set them to record. AT&T TV Now can record all episodes of a given series or just new episodes. It is also possible to record individual episodes that have yet to be aired.

AT&T TV Now review - screenshot of DVR feature
Recording a show with AT&T TV Now's cloud DVR feature

Recording shows isn't always strictly necessary, though, even if you're not able to watch your favorites live. That's because AT&T TV Now also has a pretty impressive library of on-demand content, most of which comes from the networks that AT&T TV Now offers live. Click on Fox, for example, and you'll find that you can watch last week's episode of The Masked Singer. You can also access the episode from The Masked Singer's own page within the app.

We'll talk more about the on-demand options in the Content section of this AT&T TV Now review, but there's one more thing to note about there here from a user experience perspective. The on-demand selection is essentially just time-shifted content from the networks that AT&T TV Now also offers live; and, just as the live broadcasts do, the on-demand versions have ad breaks. Somewhat frustratingly, though, this isn't a DVR-type situation in which you can just fast-forward through the ads. Ads are stuck in within the streaming platform and can't be skipped. Finally, it's worth noting that on-demand selections from HBO are not interrupted by ads (just as HBO's live broadcasts are ad-free).

Happily, the content that users record using the in-app cloud DVR acts as a regular DVR recording would; you can fast-forward through ads on such recordings.

AT&T TV Now review - streaming on AT&T TV Now's in-browser app
A look at AT&T TV Now's in-browser app

Simultaneous streams are capped at three, which is pretty decent in this space. Three is also the device limit for YouTube TV, while Hulu + Live TV and fuboTV cap simultaneous streams at two. Sling TV's more complicated arrangement can lead to limits ranging between one and four devices.

Content

Services like AT&T TV Now are designed to bring live TV to the cord-cutting set. But standards are high among folks like us, and the high prices and long-term contracts that cable is known for won't fly in the streaming world. That's why most live TV streaming services offer cheaper, slimmer bundles on a month-to-month basis. The smaller channel packages have earned these services the nickname “skinny bundles.”

As we'll see in our Price section, AT&T TV Now is a month-to-month service and (while not exactly cheap) isn't as expensive as cable. It is certainly not just a “skinny” bundle, though. While the baseline “Plus” bundle weighs in at a relatively svelte 45+ channels, other bundles offer as many as 125+. That's not exactly skinny!

No matter which bundle you get, you'll find most of the usual suspects here. Skinny bundle staples like AMC, ESPN, and TBS are all present and accounted for. So are major networks, which offer live streaming of local affiliates in a good chunk of local markets (as always with these channels, your mileage will vary).

You'll have to move up the price ladder to get some channels. As should be frustratingly familiar to sports fans, spin-off networks like ESPN U and regional sports networks like Fox Sports Midwest and YES are available only at higher price points.

Like other live TV streaming services, AT&T TV Now offers premium networks like HBO and Showtime. But a major difference between this live TV streaming service and others can be found in how it treats these networks. Rather that relegate them to add-on status, AT&T TV Now includes some premium networks in its regular bundles. For HBO, this is true right from the start: Even the cheapest bundle includes an HBO subscription. (It is probably not a coincidence that AT&T-owned HBO is the only premium network that gets this treatment.) Cinemax is included in the Max bundle (HBO is still there, too). Other premium networks are available as add-ons, including Showtime and Starz (both $11 per month to tack on — as is Cinemax, when it is not already included in your bundle).

AT&T TV Now's tiered structure makes it a little tough to get certain channels on the cheap (something we'll talk a bit more about in the Price section), but its coverage for big spenders is very comprehensive. From sometimes elusive Viacom networks like Comedy Central to regional networks like YES, AT&T TV Now really has its bases covered from a channel list perspective. You can even add NBA League Pass as a premium add-on.

AT&T TV Now has on-demand content, too, which is made up of on-demand content from the premium networks as well as recently aired content from the regular network channels (in each case, of course, you only get content from the ones you're subscribed to). You can also create your own de facto on-demand content using the cloud DVR feature. We talked a bit about these features in the User Experience section of this AT&T TV Now review. For our purposes here, the important thing to note is that the on-demand content on AT&T TV Now is derived from the networks. Excepting the content from HBO and other premium channels, you're getting the network TV versions of TV episodes and movies. That can mean that you're watching versions that have been edited a bit.

For instance, you can watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi on demand using AT&T TV Now, but it's not quite the same as watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi on Netflix. The version on AT&T TV Now is actually a time-shifted TNT broadcast. That means that any changes that TNT made to the movie are preserved in this on-demand version (you know, all the stuff they're talking about when they display that “This film has been modified from its original version. It has been edited for television and formatted to fit this screen” message). For the strictly official, non-TV version of movies, you'll have to turn to the subscription video on demand (SVOD) services (Netflix, Hulu, etc.) or get your hands on a physical or digital copy of the film. Obviously, this is more of a concern for some movies than others. AT&T TV Now's on-demand version of The Lego Movie (originally aired on TBS) is presumably a bit closer to its original form than the version of 50 Shades of Grey (also TBS). Or maybe it's not, I don't know, I haven't seen 50 Shades of Grey. But you get the point: Just like with cable, you can kill an afternoon watching Platoon without ever seeing the grisly stuff you'd see if you actually rented or purchased a copy of Platoon.

Again, the important exceptions here are HBO and the rest of the premium channel gang. HBO's movies are as gloriously uncensored as ever.

Streaming quality

AT&T TV Now isn't a perfect service, but streaming quality was one area where it really impressed me. In my trials, AT&T TV Now streamed smoothly with minimal loading times on wired, Wi-Fi, and mobile connections. Even on crowded Wi-Fi networks and over Chromecast connections, I saw virtually no issues. The lone exception was a weird stuttering skip that sometimes appeared at the end of commercial breaks during on-demand content. I figure this had something to do with jumping from the streaming ads (which are not the same as the ones that would have aired on TV — as we noted in the user experience section of this AT&T TV Now review, new, unskuppable digital ads are inserted over the old commercial breaks in on-demand titles) to the end of the regular commercial break and the start of the program itself. Since this didn't affect the program I was actually watching, I wasn't inclined to care much about the second or two at the end of commercial breaks that sounded like a skipping record.

AT&T TV Now seems to accomplish its very smooth live streaming by making particularly heavy use of buffering. Buffering means downloading data before it's needed. Since internet connection speeds vary even under the best of circumstances, buffering is essential for streaming services; they download a bit of extra data during the speedy moments so that they have a stash to draw upon when your internet slows down. You can probably already see that this is a dilemma for skinny bundles and live TV streaming services: After all, you can't buffer something that hasn't happened yet! The solution is to stream on a slight delay in order to buy a few seconds or more of breathing room for buffering. If you've ever had a friend text you about a touchdown before it appears on your streaming feed, this is why.

AT&T TV Now appeared to use significant buffering times in my trials. The downside to this is that your “live” experience with AT&T TV Now will be a bit behind that of others (including those friends who might spoil the touchdown or the American Idol vote). The upside, though, is that skipping and stuttering streams are simply not an issue on AT&T TV Now.

Smooth is one thing. What's the quality like? AT&T TV Now's streams generally top out at 720p. That helps explain the smooth streaming; 720p isn't much in the era of 1080p and 4K streaming (to be fair, the latter is a lot to ask for in a live service; 1080p is more typical for services of this sort). Quality may dip at times in order to keep things smooth, but I didn't find that to be much of an issue. Smooth 720p was the norm in my trials. It's worth noting that AT&T promised 4K live streaming on this service years ago, before it was even called AT&T TV Now. They haven't delivered.

Still, 720p is HD, albeit of a less impressive sort than most of us have grown used to. And the primary task of any live streaming service is to stream smoothly, which AT&T TV Now did for the vast majority of time.

Platforms

Platform support is an issue for AT&T TV Now. As of this writing, the service is on the outs with the most popular streaming platform out there: Roku. AT&T TV Now's app is no longer supported on Roku, which means that it isn't in the channel store and can't be updated. Those who still have AT&T TV Now's app on their Roku can keep using it. But they'd better not delete it, because — for now, at least — there's no way to get it back. As far as new customers are concerned, AT&T TV Now doesn't have a Roku app at all.

AT&T TV Now review - iOS app
AT&T TV Now's iOS app in action

The lack of Roku support is a relatively recent development, but AT&T TV Now also has a long-tenured gap in its platform lineup. The service has never worked on Android TV, the Google-backed streaming entertainment platform that runs on some models of smart TVs, as well as on devices like Nvidia's Shield TV and Sling TV's AirTV.

AT&T TV Now does work on Amazon's Fire TV platform, though. It also works on Apple TV, Chromecast devices, and Samsung Smart TVs. It has mobile apps for Android and iOS mobile devices and an in-browser app for computers.

Even within these supported platforms, though, there are gaps. The service's in-browser app works on Chrome and Safari, but not on Firefox, Microsoft Edge, or Opera. Chromecast support extends to live TV and on-demand content, but not to DVR content that users record themselves. These are known issues that AT&T TV Now acknowledges within its app.

AT&T TV Now review - AT&T TV Now does not support Firefox
Sorry, Firefox fans.

I also hit a snag with the Chromecast support. I found that I could Chromecast from my iPhone without problems, but I couldn't seem to get things working when I was using the in-browser app in Chrome. AT&T TV Now's logo showed up on my TV via Chromecast, the actual live TV feed never did. This looked to me like a glitch, rather than a known omission of the sort we just covered above. Either way, it's one more problem with AT&T TV Now's platform support.

Price

AT&T TV Now's prices are quite fair, considering what's included. But the service has an issue: It doesn't let subscribers strip down their bundles to “skinny” enough points.

Let's look first at AT&T TV Now's “Plus” bundle. It costs $65 per month. Included are more than 45 channels, and among those channels are HBO, HBO Family, and HBO Latino. That all scans: HBO usually costs $15 per month on its own, and $50 is a pretty typical price for a skinny bundle with around 40 or 50 channels. Add $15 and $50 and you get $65. Seems fair.

But “Plus” is AT&T TV Now's cheapest bundle. $65 is quite steep for an entry-level skinny bundle. Customers looking for a leaner bundle — one without HBO, perhaps — won't find a good option.

We can't move down the price ladder, so let's move up instead. “Max” is our next stop. For $80 per month, Max gives customers more than 60 channels. HBO is still here, and Cinemax is now in the mix.

Next up is “Entertainment,” which offers more than 65 channels for $93 per month. Then there's “Choice,” which will give you more than 85 channels for $110 per month. Larger still is “Xtra,” which sports more than 105 channels and costs $124 per month. The largest bundle is “Ultimate,” which has more than 125 channels and costs $135 per month.

There is also a Spanish-language bundle, “Ultimo y Más,” which includes 90 channels and costs $86 per month.

Verdict

Back when it was still called DirecTV Now, AT&T TV Now looked poised to topple Sling TV as the most popular of the live TV streaming options. Then, the service's subscriber numbers suddenly collapsed. After another couple of rough quarters, the service got an overhaul and its new name: AT&T TV Now.

This new-ish offering doesn't look like enough to turn the tide, though. The lack of Roku platform support is disastrous; Roku is the most popular platform of its kind. The inclusion of HBO would be a nice perk if it were not so clearly baked into the price. AT&T TV Now insists that customers choose bundles that include HBO, but it doesn't price those bundles in such a way as to make them clearly superior to combining an HBO Now subscription with a skinny bundle from an AT&T TV Now competitor.

A fairly priced skinny bundle can still be a great option, assuming it excels in areas like streaming quality, user experience, and platform support. AT&T TV Now does pretty well in most of these areas, but it has some serious problems in one of them: platform support. Without a working Roku app, and with glitches and exceptions plaguing its support for other platforms, AT&T TV Now is just not a fit for many cord cutters.

None of this is to say that AT&T TV Now is a bad service. It certainly isn't. If you're a Fire TV user who wants HBO and prefers HBO content to be merged completely with your live TV channels (much as it is with cable), then this service is a great choice. It's just that AT&T TV Now's missteps make it hard to recommend unreservedly and to the cord cutting community at large. It's hard to see AT&T TV Now's present state as anything other than a big step back from its heyday as DirecTV Now.

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