DirecTV Stream review: Expensive, but the best option for streaming NBA and NHL
With access to most regional sports networks on its $90 tier, DirecTV stream is the go-to choice for cable-cutting fans of basketball and hockey.
Updated Jan. 24, 2022 1:02 p.m. PT
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Reviews ethics statement
Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.
ExpertiseTy has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He majored in Cinema Studies when studying at RMIT. He is an avid record collector and streaming music enthusiast.Credentials
Ty was nominated for Best New Journalist at the Australian IT Journalism awards, but he has only ever won one thing. As a youth, he was awarded a free session for the photography studio at a local supermarket.
In its six-year life span, DirecTV Stream has had one of the most tumultuous histories of all of the live TV streaming services. After starting life as DirecTV Now in 2016, it's endured three different name changes, flip-flops on compulsory hardware and a series of price hikes. The current version of DirecTV Stream is separate from the DirecTV satellite service, and instead competes against cord-cutter services YouTube TV and Hulu Plus Live TV.
DirecTV Stream is not cheap. A monthly subscription starts at $70, and to get access to your local regional sports network you'll need to pay for the $90 Choice package (which just experienced its own $5 hike, while higher tiers are now $10 more). Those local sports channels, which carry the regular season games of NBA basketball, NHL hockey and MLB baseball teams, are the best reason to subscribe to DirecTV Stream. No competitor has nearly as many RSNs, so for fans who want to catch all the action of their teams live, paying $90 a month to DirecTV Stream is often the only streaming option. As a bonus, that price also includes three months of HBO Max. A cable TV subscription, which typically also offers RSNs, is likely cheaper, however.
In daily use the DirecTV stream app also feels more cable-like than any of its competitors, in part because you can easily flip channels. While it's compatible with multiple platforms, I liked it best on an Apple TV, which loads channels twice as fast as Roku. If you crave a familiar interface and want access to its extensive sports coverage DirecTV Stream is worth a look. However, if you don't need your local RSNs, then YouTube TV -- which costs less and has more channels overall -- is a better choice, especially for NFL fans.
Multiple channel packages, with RSNs starting at $90
DirecTV Stream is a live TV streaming service designed to replace a traditional cable or satellite subscription by streaming dozens of channels live over the internet. Its pricing is similar to competitors YouTube TV, Hulu Plus Live TV and FuboTV, and it's more expensive than Sling TV and Philo, which offer fewer channels. DirecTV Stream is available on multiple devices including
Amazon Fire TV
, Apple TV, Roku, Android and iOS,
TVs and browsers. It doesn't currently support Android or Google TV devices, however.
One of the benefits of choosing a streaming service over cable is that you're not tied to a contract, so you can cancel at any time without penalty. DirecTV Stream's basic package starts at $70 a month with 65-plus channels and a 20-hour DVR, but it does miss channels such as MLB Network, NFL Network and Travel Channel found on the competition.
Watch this: Live TV streaming services for cord cutters: How to choose the best one for you
If you're a cord-cutter and want to follow your local NBA, NHL or MLB team during the regular season, DirecTV Stream's $90 Choice package is a better option. It gives you access to almost all regional sports networks. RSNs are local channels devoted to showing the live, regular-season games of a particular local team. There are numerous such networks across the country, including YES Network (which carries the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets), NBA Sports Chicago (White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks) and Bally's Sports Sun (Tampa Bay Rays and Lightning).
Unless you subscribe to cable or satellite, your only option for getting your local RSN, and the live games it carries for your team, is most likely DirecTV Stream. Other services like
and YouTube TV used to carry more RSNs, and they still offer a handful (YouTube TV has five RSNs and Fubo has over 10, for example), but DirecTV Stream has the most by far.
DirecTV Stream also has an Ultimate tier that costs $105 with more channels including Starz and Encore. The "whole enchilada" $150 Premier level adds even more channels including HBO (and HBO Max), Starz, Showtime and Cinemax.
When it was still called
TV, users had the option of entering a contract for a cheaper price with a streaming set-top box bundled in. Now that the service has been rebranded DirecTV Stream, the contract has been scrapped and the optional Stream box costs $5 a month.
Premium live TV streaming services compared
Hulu Plus Live TV
$65 a month
$70 a month
$70 a month
$65 a month
Total number of top 100 channels
ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC channels
Record shows for later (cloud DVR)
Yes (keep for 9 months)
Yes (20 hours, unlimited hours for $10 a month)
Yes (50 hours, 200 hours plus commercial skip for $10 a month)
My favorite feature of DirecTV Stream is the ability to click (or swipe) left or right to quickly change channels, much like channel flipping on a cable box. Unfortunately the "flip" to a new channel isn't instantaneous, and how long it takes varies according to which device you're using. For instance, I found that changing channels via a web browser or an Apple TV 4K took about 3 seconds, while a Roku Ultra (2019) took 6 seconds. However, even though there is a lag before you can see video, the channel and current program do display immediately on a loading screen.
When using DirecTV Stream with a remote, the controls center around the direction buttons and the Enter/OK button. This makes it quick to pick up and use, and also means you don't need a complicated remote control to make it work, making the minimalist Apple TV clicker a great companion. If you want the full "surfing" experience on a universal remote, you could even program left and right arrows into your Channel up and down buttons.
The service loads straight into the last channel watched -- further enhancing its cable credentials -- and pressing down brings up the interface with a choice of the 14-day guide, Watch Now, My Library recordings and a Discover option. Navigation is intuitive and quick, unlike the painfully slow YouTube TV.
One of the major upgrades recently has been to the live pause feature. Previously only Apple TV could pause the action for up to 2 minutes. But now you can pause both Apple TV and Roku broadcasts seemingly indefinitely, just as with YouTube TV.
Depending on the tier you choose, DirecTV's cloud DVR offers between 20 hours and an unlimited number, while YouTube TV offers unlimited storage by default. YouTube TV lets you keep recordings for up to nine months, while you're limited to 30 days on DirecTV.
Some programs do give you the option to restart, and pressing down on the Apple TV remote will bring up show info, a recording option and Restart (if available). Pressing the Select button will pause the program. In contrast, pressing the middle button on Roku brings up a different menu with similar functionality and the ability to restart.
I briefly used a Fire TV and found the experience closer to Apple TV than Roku. If you don't have an Apple TV, the Fire TV is my next choice for using the service. Using an iPhone also offered a smooth experience with quick channel changes.
Is it worth your $70 (or $90) a month?
The cable experience is what DirecTV Stream is all about -- the swipe left and right functionality is quite inspired. While the service has really bulked up on its content since 2019 -- when it had fewer than 50 of the most popular channels -- the service still lags behind every other rival in terms of breadth. The real reason to get it is if you're an avid sports fan -- the $90 Choice package with its numerous RSNs is unmatched by the competition.
If you don't need your local sports network, however, almost any other service offers a better value than this, and many cable packages will be cheaper too, and usually include your local RSNs.
Yes = The channel is available on the cheapest pricing tier.
No = The channel isn't available at all on that service.
$ = The channel is available for an extra fee, either a la carte or as part of a more expensive package or add-on.
Not every channel a service carries is listed, just the "top 100" as determined by CNET's editors. Minor channels such as AXS TV, CNBC World, Discovery Life, GSN, POP and Universal Kids didn't make the cut.
Regional sports networks -- channels devoted to showing regular-season games of particular pro baseball, basketball and hockey teams -- are not listed.