DirecTV Now review: Live TV streamer is stronger on channels, weaker on DVR

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The Good DirecTV Now offers more channels for the money than competitors and includes local channels (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) for most markets. It has a breezy interface with some welcome "cable-like" features like swiping between channels. AT&T wireless customers won't be charged for data when streaming via the DirecTV Now app.

The Bad The cloud DVR is still very much in beta, falling well short of competitors in size and poorly implemented live TV pause. The Roku app is less capable than the Apple TV app, with slower boot-up and channel changes.

The Bottom Line DirecTV Now delivers an impressive mix of channels for the money, but people who prioritize a cloud DVR should look elsewhere.

Visit for details.

7.7 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Ecosystem 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6
  • Value 8

Review Sections

Editors' note, August 20: This review was last published on Feb. 20, 2019 but is no longer being updated. DirecTV Now has since changed its name to AT&TV Now, and announced an increase in price to $50 a month and reduced its channel count by a third. For more information on DirecTV Now go here.

With a bunch of live TV streaming services competing against cable TV, the main differences are price and number of channels. DirecTV Now wins the channels game, with more top channels in its base package than every competitor.

On the other hand its price, now that AT&T's steep discounts are at an end, is similar to the competition. DirecTV Now costs $40 per month, the same as YouTube TV and $5 less than competitors PlayStation Vue and Hulu with LIve TV. Among major alternatives only Sling TV costs less at $25 per month, but it lacks local channels like ABC and CBS as well as Fox and NBC in most markets.

Read moreCompare the best live TV streaming services for cord-cutters

DirecTV Now's interface integrates the all-important cloud DVR offered by all of its competitors. The cloud DVR is still in beta, however, and it shows with only 20 hours of storage. If you prioritize DVR functionality, YouTube TV is a better choice.

Roku is the most popular streaming device platform but unfortunately for its owners, DirecTV Now on Roku is hardly the zippy, reliable cable-cutter you might expect. For example, there's no pausing live TV at all, and "Record" may or may not work -- even on channels where it's available. On the other hand, the Apple TV version is pretty much "cooked" and everything works better.

Sarah Tew/CNET

DirecTV Now: 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.
  • Unlike a cable box or satellite service, DirecTV Now is streamed remotely from an internet server, and you can access it from a mobile device, web browser, media streamer or TV. 
  • Prices range from $40 to $75 per month, depending on channels.
  • The price includes a DVR to record up to 20 hours of programming, which is stored in the cloud.
  • To watch on a TV, you'll need an Amazon Fire TV or Fire TV Stick, a Roku streamer or Roku TV, an Apple TV ($180 at Crutchfield), a Chromecast (Android and iOS), or a Google Cast-enabled TV (like Vizio SmartCast TVs).
  • To watch on a computer, you can use Chrome or Safari web browsers. Firefox and Internet Explorer can manage your account settings but cannot stream content.
  • You can also watch on any any iPhone ($900 at Boost Mobile), iPad ($356 at eBay) (iOS 10 or better) or Android (4.4 KitKat or better) phone or tablet.
  • Xbox One and Samsung Tizen Smart TV are "not yet available."
  • Subscribers to AT&T's wireless service can watch without using their mobile data, but other services use data as normal.
  • There's a free seven-day trial available.
  • There's no contract or early termination fee, so you can cancel at any time.
  • It's only available in the US.

Big Five TV streaming services compared

Hulu with Live TV YouTube TV Sling TV PlayStation Vue DirecTV Now
Base price $45/month for 60+ channels $40/month for 60+ channels $25/month for 30+ channels $45/month for 55+ channels $40/month for 60+ channels
Free trial Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC channels Yes, in many markets Yes, in many markets Fox and NBC only in select cities Yes, in many markets Yes, in many markets
Video on demand from local channels Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Step-up packages with more channels No No Yes, an extra $5/month each $50/month, $60/month or $80/month $55/month, $65/month or $75/month
Simultaneous streams per account 2 ($15 option for unlimited) 3 1 or 3 5 2 ($5 option for 3)
Family member/user profiles Yes Yes No Yes No
Pause, rewind, fast-forward Yes Yes Yes, except for Disney or ESPN channels Yes Yes
Record shows for later (cloud DVR) Yes Yes (keep for 9 months) Yes ($5 per month, can't record Disney or ESPN channels) Yes (keep for 28 days) Yes (20GB, keep for 30 days)
Fast-forward through or skip commercials with cloud DVR No (Yes with $15 option) Yes Yes Yes Yes
DVR show replaced by on-demand version No Yes No No No
Video on demand/3-day replay Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Parental controls Yes No Yes No No
Bandwidth limiter No No Yes No No
Sarah Tew/CNET

What does DirecTV Now have going for it?

DirecTV's long history of running a satellite service shows through on DirecTV Now. Our favorite example of this heritage is the ability to swipe left or right to change channels quickly (or not so quickly for Roku users -- see below). If you want the full "flip" experience, you could even program left and right arrows into your Ch +/- buttons on a universal remote.

Beyond the service's strong channel lineup, including most local broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) in 99 of the country's major TV markets, a 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, and something competitors don't offer. Unlike a service like HBO Go or HBO Now, however, not every episode of every HBO series is included on demand. 

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. DirecTV Now currently authenticates with more than 60 other apps, including NBC, ABC, ESPN and Showtime.

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