$35 per month for 100 channels. That's what DirecTV Now delivers today. If that was all you needed to know, you could stop reading right now, cancel your cable or satellite service, subscribe and start saving.
Alas, it's more complex than that.
For starters, you'll need a compatible device and a fast-enough internet connection. Those aren't big hurdles for a lot of people (compatible devices, if you don't already have one, start at just $35), but the main issue is that TV and internet are often bundled together, and canceling your cable subscription could mean paying more for "just internet," nullifying some of that precious savings.
Then you'll have to consider channels and features. DirecTV Now has most channels you're used to with traditional cable, but it's missing CBS. (Full disclosure: CNET is owned by CBS). Other local channels (ABC, Fox and NBC) are only available live in a few major cities, and your favorite team's sports network might not be available at all. NFL football games (on NBC, Fox and ESPN) are effectively blacked out on non-Verizon mobile devices, although you can watch them on TVs and PCs.
Unlike cable TV and competing service PlayStation Vue, there's no DVR (yet) so you can't record programs to watch later or skip commercials. You'll have to depend on the service's on-demand offerings for non-Live shows, and while DirecTV claims they're substantial, they're not comprehensive.
Finally there's the biggest caveat: That $35 a month price is an introductory offer, only good for a "limited time." DirecTV isn't saying when the offer expires. Even after it does, however, people who subscribed for that price won't lose any channels. In other words, early subscribers are grandfathered into that price and can keep the 100+ channel package for $35 a month, as long as they don't cancel. If you decide to cancel and then resubscribe, you'll have to pay the standard prices -- which aren't that much better than the competition, or much savings over a typical cable or satellite package.
But it's not all bad news. One big advantage of DirecTV Now is that AT&T subscribers who stream DirecTV Now on their phones won't have the data count against their monthly cap. You can also run two independent simultaneous streams on a single DirecTV Now account. And, like Sling TV and PlayStation Vue, there are absolutely no contracts, so you can cancel any time.
Aside from the introductory price, all those aforementioned caveats and conditions are fairly common in the brave new world of multichannel live TV over the internet. DirecTV Now is a very important new addition to that world, and in many ways (especially sheer number of channels) it surpasses competitors like Sling TV and PlayStation Vue. I still like Vue better overall, mainly because of its cloud DVR and its access to CBS, and Sling is much cheaper, but DirecTV Now holds its own. If you're interested, it's worth talking advantage of the free 7-day trial.
Editors' Note: This review was conducted with pre-launch software over eight hours of testing on a single piece of hardware (Apple TV), and I expect to update it as I gain more experience with the service and try different devices.
The basics: What you need to know
Before we get too deep into it, here's the basics on DirecTV Now, including how it's different from TV you may know, pricing, device support and other important stuff.
- It's separate from DirecTV, the satellite service, but both are owned by AT&T
- Subscribers can watch numerous live TV channels using their internet connection
- Prices range from $35 to $70 per month, depending on channels (see below)
- A channel package that normally costs $60 per month is discounted to $35 for a limited time
- One you download the app or visit the web site, you can watch on a TV, a mobile device like a phone or tablet, or a computer
- To watch on a TV, you'll need an Amazon Fire TV or Fire TV Stick, an Apple TV, a Chromecast (Android at launch; iOS in 2017), or a Google Cast-enabled TV (like LeEco or Vizio SmartCast TVs)
- To watch on a computer, you can use Internet Explorer, Chrome or Safari web browsers
- You can also watch on any any iPhone, iPad or Android phone or tablet
- Roku, Amazon Fire tablet and additional Smart TV support is coming in 2017
- Subscribers to AT&T's cell phone service can watch without using their mobile data; Subscribers to other services use mobile data as normal
- There's a free 7-day trial available
- There's no contract or early termination fee, so you can cancel at any time
- It's available as of November 30
- It's only available in the United States
The channels: Lots and lots of live TV
DirecTV Now offers more live channels than competitors Sling TV and PlayStation Vue, and almost as many as a typical cable package. The big exception is CBS. That broadcast network is not available on DirecTV Now (and neither is CBS-owned premium channel Showtime). That said, there's an easy workaround: To get CBS, you could subscribe to CBS All Access ($6 a month) or use an antenna to receive the local broadcast for free. The standalone Showtime app costs $11 a month.
Check out the article below for the full channel breakdown.
Another big exception has to do with where you live. To watch other broadcast networks, namely ABC, Fox and NBC you'll need to live in or near certain major cities -- and coverage isn't great right now. Unless you live in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or San Jose you won't get all three networks, and many major cities get only one. If you don't live in one of those markets, shows from those networks will be available on demand with a 24 hour delay. Check out the chart below for details.
The arrangement is similar to PlayStation Vue, although that service covers more cities, does include CBS and charges extra for people who live in those major markets. For its part Sling TV only offers ABC in a handful of select markets, and it costs another $5 a month.
DirecTV Now has four basic channel packages. Here's how they stack up.
DirecTV Now packages
|Package name||Monthly price||Introductory price||Number of channels||Highlights|
|Live a Little||$35||N/A||60+||ABC, Fox, NBC (where available), most basic cable channels|
|Just Right||$50||N/A||80+||Adds select regional sports networks, ESPN News, more|
|Go Big||$60||$35||100+||Adds NBA TV, NHL Network, FXM, Sundance TV, more|
|Gotta Have It||$70||N/A||120+||Adds 8 Starz/Encore channels, Boomerang, El Rey, more|
The big deal here is the introductory offer of $35 a month for the 100-channel "Go Big" package. During the introductory period there's basically no reason to subscribe to the two smaller packages, and very little reason to pay double for the full monty "Gotta Have It" package. Even after that deal expires, the cheapest tier of DirecTV Now has more channels than the basic tiers of Sling TV and PlayStation Vue.
Another big deal is the ability to add HBO or Cinemax for just $5 extra (each) to any package. That's a substantial discount ($10) off the normal premium channel rate. Unlike a service like HBO Go however, not every episode of every HBO series is included on-demand. For example, "Game of Thrones" only has one episode from season 6, and many episodes are missing from other seasons.
You can use your DirecTV Now login credentials to sign in (authenticate) the HBO Go app, however, and gain access to the full library of shows that way. Other TV everywhere apps that will work with DirecTV Now at launch are Max Go, Watch ABC, Watch Disney Channel, Watch Disney Jr., Watch Disney XD, Watch Freeform and Watch ESPN. DirecTV Now says it's planning to add more in the future (Vue, by comparison, authenticates with more than 60 apps).