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DIRECTV STREAM is an ambitious live TV streaming service that brings the DIRECTV experience to streaming devices. This service got a new name in August of 2021 (it used to be called AT&T TV), so it’s high time that we took another look at what it has to offer. Let’s dive into our DIRECTV STREAM review.
DIRECTV STREAM has a new name and all-new branding, but as I retested it I found that many of the things I’d written in our CordCutting.com AT&T TV review still held true. This service is huge and comprehensive, and it truly feels like cable or satellite TV.
Our Take: DIRECTV STREAM feels bigger and more complete than most of its streaming competitors — but it also feels more like cable, which isn’t always a good thing.
DIRECTV STREAM is a live TV streaming service that is designed to replace your cable or satellite service. Just like cable or satellite, DIRECTV STREAM offers live feeds of lots of big-time channels, including major networks like CBS, sports channels like ESPN, and news networks like FOX News.
DIRECTV STREAM is not the only service like this, of course. Cord-cutters who miss the live TV experience can also turn to options like Sling TV, Hulu + Live TV, and YouTube TV. STREAMing alternatives to cable tend to be cheaper and have leaner channel lineups. They’re also low-commitment and tend not to offer contracts or bundle deals.
What makes DIRECTV STREAM stand out — for better or for worse — is its similarity to old-school cable and satellite options. DIRECTV has big-time channel packages, offers (optional) contracts, and will even let you work out a bundle with AT&T Internet.
DIRECTV STREAM was originally called DIRECTV NOW when it debuted five years ago. It was later rebranded as AT&T TV NOW and then just AT&T TV, before being relaunched as DIRECTV STREAM in 2021.
Live TV channels are what DIRECTV STREAM is all about. All of these streaming cable alternatives — DIRECTV STREAM, Sling TV, YouTube TV, and the rest — are only as good as their channel lineups.
And DIRECTV STREAM’s channel list is excellent. Things start strong with DIRECTV STREAM’s cheapest plan, Entertainment, which includes what DIRECTV STREAM calls the “essentials.” I’m inclined to agree: The Entertainment plan includes the major networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC); big-time sports networks like ESPN and FS1; and news networks like CNN and FOX News.
To get regional sports networks (RSNs), you’ll need to step up to the second-tier DIRECTV CHOICE™ package. RSNs are, as the name implies, regional, so you’ll get only the ones that apply to your area. Here in New York, I was very impressed with the selection: I could watch SNY (New York Mets), YES (New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets), and MSG (New York Rangers and New York Knicks) on DIRECTV STREAM. The DIRECTV CHOICE™ package isn’t just about sports, though — you’ll get more entertainment and news channels, too, bumping the channel count from 65+ to 90+.
Bumping things up to DIRECTV ULTIMATE raises the channel count to over 130, and DIRECTV PREMIER adds a handful of premium networks like STARZ. Of course, there’s more than one way to watch channels like STARZ and HBO without cable: You could always get an HBO Max subscription or a STARZ subscription directly from the HBO Max app or STARZ app, but you might prefer the convenience of having all of your TV in one place.
One thing that’s not on DIRECTV STREAM is NFL Sunday Ticket. That popular add-on to DIRECTV’s satellite service hasn’t made the jump to the streaming world, which is a shame. (Luckily, there are other ways to watch NFL games without cable.)
On top of all of the live TV, DIRECTV STREAM includes a healthy selection of on-demand content, including the same sorts of movies and TV shows you might find airing on a network like FX or AMC.
DIRECTV STREAM’s core feature set is pretty standard stuff for a live TV streaming service. The cloud DVR, 720p-and-up streaming quality, and favorites system are all here. There’s only one somewhat unusual feature: DIRECTV STREAM has an optional streaming device of its own. Most other services are content to let other brands handle the devices (the only exception, unless you count Google-owned YouTube TV, is Sling TV and its AirTV device).
Let’s take a closer look at some of the key DIRECTV STREAM features.
DIRECTV STREAM comes with a cloud DVR on board. Since your recordings are stored in the cloud, you can access them from the DIRECTV STREAM on any device, not just the one that you used to schedule the recording.
By default, the DVR limits you to 10 hours of recordings. That may not be enough for everyone, but you can rid yourself of the cap by paying an extra $10 per month. You’ll still be stuck with other restrictions, though: DIRECTV STREAM recordings expire after 90 days, and only 20 episodes of any given show can be saved to your cloud DVR at once.
DIRECTV STREAM also has a “bookmark” system. Not to be confused with the DVR, this feature lets you add on-demand content to a watchlist. In my testing, this feature felt a little redundant. On the other hand, this is a nice way to organize DVR-like on-demand content without using up your recording hours on the DVR.
DIRECTV STREAM’s device support is strong. I was able to test the service on Roku, Fire TV, iOS, Android, Chromecast, and the Chrome web browser. It also works on Samsung Smart TVs.
On top of that, there’s the DIRECTV STREAM device, which is an optional streaming box for folks who don’t already have one at home.
I have more than my share of streaming devices at CordCutting.com HQ. But this review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t test out the DIRECTV STREAM device, so I got my hands on one and put it through its paces.
The DIRECTV STREAM device runs a modified version of Google’s Android TV operating system, and it boots up directly to the DIRECTV STREAM app. In fact, the whole experience is contained within the DIRECTV STREAM app — even the menu that lets you switch to outside apps like Netflix and Hulu is contained within the DIRECTV STREAM app interface rather than on a “home page”-style screen of its own.
The best part of the DIRECTV STREAM device is the remote, which can serve as a universal remote (meaning you can program it to work with your TV and other devices, not just with the DIRECTV STREAM box). With the remote’s channel up and down buttons and this device’s version of the DIRECTV STREAM app, channel surfing feels like it does with cable or satellite.
With that said, I’d stop short of recommending this device over alternatives like Roku or Fire TV, which would still be at their best even if you eventually decide to unsubscribe from DIRECTV STREAM.
DIRECTV STREAM is a little cagey about its streaming quality. STREAMs can be “low,” “medium,” or “high” quality, but it’s not always clear what that means. In my tests, 720p appeared to be the norm — a fairly standard thing in live TV streaming, though some of DIRECTV STREAM’s competitors manage 1080p.
In my tests, I was able to occasionally get DIRECTV STREAM’s quality to dip into standard definition or worse. It wasn’t a common problem, but it is something I’d expect to see on slower internet connections. DIRECTV STREAM has generally decent streaming quality, but it didn’t stick to HD quite as reliably as competitors like YouTube TV.
I found DIRECTV STREAM easy to use. The service keeps things simple, and I found myself using the “channel guide” menu — a staple of live TV streaming services, as well as of cable and satellite — even more often than I have with DIRECTV STREAM’s competitors. That was likely because DIRECTV STREAM goes pretty light on content-discovery features like algorithm-backed recommendations. I found I didn’t miss most of these sorts of menus. The few that DIRECTV STREAM did have were more than enough.
The channel guide is easy to navigate. By default, channels are listed in alphabetical order, which isn’t the most useful layout. Luckily, the screen is easy to customize. I marked channels as favorites (another pretty standard feature) and was off to the races.
DIRECTV STREAM’s interface felt a bit sluggish at times, and there were moments when I scrolled faster than the channel guide loaded. Still, my overall impression was that the app was pretty competent. It’s unspectacular but has the features it needs.
DIRECTV STREAM feels more like cable than most other cable replacement services do. That feeling extends to DIRECTV STREAM’s pricing scheme, too. DIRECTV STREAM has a competitively priced introductory package, but its larger channel packages are noticeably pricier than most other streaming services. Unlike most competitors, DIRECTV STREAM also offers bundling options and long-term contracts, though I was happy to see that those are optional.
DIRECTV STREAM costs $69.99 per month for the entry-level DIRECTV ENTERTAINMENT package. That strikes me as a pretty fair value for the 65+ channels that come with the subscription, though I wish that they would have included RSNs (to get those, you’ll have to choose the DIRECTV CHOICE™ package for $84.99 per month).
The pricier bundles — the $94.99-per-month DIRECTV ULTIMATE package and the $139.99-per-month DIRECTV PREMIER package — are better values on a per-channel basis, but they feel a little expensive to me. Throw in the DVR upgrade, which many of us are going to want, and you’re looking at quite a steep monthly bill.
If you’re looking for comprehensive coverage, these bundles can’t be beat — but if you’re looking for cheap streaming alternatives, you might want to look elsewhere.
DIRECTV STREAM is the biggest and most comprehensive of the live TV streaming services. It feels like cable in ways that are both good and bad. If you’re a serious fan of live TV and can’t live without a massive number of channels, this is your best bet in streaming. Still, I found myself wishing for a bit more flexibility and a cheaper entry-level subscription option.
Ultimately, DIRECTV STREAM is a very competent live TV streaming option, and it’s a top choice for folks who want as many channels as they can get. Cord-cutters looking for a leaner setup, on the other hand, won’t be as impressed.