BOTTOM LINE: DIRECTV NOW wants to be the best of both worlds for traditional TV and streaming video, but it ends up tripping over its own feet. It’s buggy and clunky, and it doesn’t work as expected. However, despite its flaws, DIRECTV NOW does have potential. It’s way cheaper than satellite DIRECTV, and we’re hoping updates will squash many of the bugs we came across.
- Lower pricing than cable or satellite TV
- Access to live network channels, news, and sports
- HBO or Cinemax for $5 a month
- No way to avoid commercials when viewing live TV
- No DVR to record live TV
- Limited availability for local channels
What is DIRECTV NOW?
DIRECTV NOW is a standalone internet TV streaming service. All you need to watch DIRECTV NOW is an internet connection and a compatible device (PC, iPhone, tablet, streaming media player, etc.). There’s also no contract or extra fees.
DIRECTV NOW channels, plans, and pricing
It’s easy to get started and cheaper than cable or satellite TV.
DIRECTV NOW has four plans, and they only differ in pricing and channels. The cheapest plan has 60+ live channels, and to our surprise, there are plenty of channels we would actually watch: AMC, Cartoon Network, Comedy Central, ESPN, FX, Hallmark Channel, TNT, USA, and more. Typically, cheaper TV plans have bare-bones channel selection, but DIRECTV NOW’s isn’t bad at all.
The other three DIRECTV NOW plans add more channels at higher prices (see below).
The DIRECTV NOW plan names make no sense, but choosing a plan is easier than we thought it would be.
The DIRECTV NOW plan selection screen is clear and simple. Compared to DIRECTV satellite plans, deciding on a DIRECTV NOW plan is a million times easier—you only need to decide on channels and pricing (see screenshot below). DIRECTV satellite service tacks on price increases, hidden fees, and additional equipment; DIRECTV NOW doesn’t bother with any of that. We have to give kudos to DIRECTV NOW for making the decision process easy.
If you want to see every single channel in each plan, use the DIRECTV NOW channel comparison. It’s not nearly as user friendly as the plan selection screen, but it lists all 120+ channels and which plans have them. The channel comparison is also the only place where we could find out which channels have video on demand (VOD) or live programming.
DIRECTV NOW doesn’t carry CBS, and you can’t watch local NBC channels on streaming devices (Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, etc.). If you can’t stand to be without local channels, you can always snag an HD TV antenna for pretty cheap.
The DIRECTV NOW experience
It doesn’t work like it should, and commercials are hard to avoid.
DIRECTV NOW’s setup is quick and simple. In under five minutes, we were signed up and watching Nicolas Cage in Con Air. With DIRECTV NOW, it felt like we were watching DIRECTV’s traditional satellite TV service but without the signup and setup hassle. DIRECTV NOW’s interface is somewhat similar to the satellite service, and navigation is pretty intuitive. However, the more time we spent with DIRECTV NOW, the more apparent its flaws became.
DIRECTV NOW does some things we simply don’t understand. For example, when pausing a movie or show, you’d think pressing play would resume the movie or show. Nope. Pressing the pause button will freeze the screen, but when you press play, it skips forward to what’s live. We found this out the hard way and ended up missing some of our movie. If resuming a show after pausing is not an option, why make the pause button available? It’s baffling.
To be fair, we later found out some on-demand shows and movies don’t have this problem, but it’s not easy to tell beforehand when the pause feature is available. For instance, when we started watching 21 Jump Street, we got the following screen:
Notice the screen says “fast forward, rewind and/or pause” may not be available. So even after starting a movie, you can’t be sure if you’re okay to pause it. In our opinion, it’s a bigger negative to be unsure if a feature works than to not have it at all.
Does it have commercials? We can’t tell.
Another issue is that it’s hard to tell which movies or shows have commercials and which don’t. The exception is live TV, which will always have commercials. There’s no DVR with DIRECTV NOW, so there’s no way to record a live show and watch it later without commercials. The odd thing is, you can’t tell which on-demand shows or movies will have commercials throughout before you start watching them. For example, we added HBO for $5 a month, but when we went to the on-demand movies screen, we couldn’t tell which movies were HBO and which weren’t (see below).
This matters because HBO doesn’t broadcast commercials. When we put on Fast & Furious 6, we assumed it was a movie included in the HBO plan. We knew it wasn’t when the following commercial popped up:
We were hit with commercials before the movie even started. Not cool! It was enough for us to skip out on Vin Diesel’s antics this time around.
After trying out on-demand movies, we thought we’d try on-demand TV shows, but the experience wasn’t any better. For example, we wanted to catch up on ABC’s The Bachelor. We noticed the new episode icon on the DIRECTV NOW home screen (see below) and selected it. It didn’t go well.
Instead of getting our reality romance fix, we got the following error message:
The error message says The Bachelor is not part of our plan, but we’re pretty sure it is (we were using the Go Big plan). We double-checked, and sure enough, ABC should be in our plan. We’re not die-hard Bachelor fans, so we weren’t too upset to miss out on the latest episode. However, we don’t expect others to be so forgiving (looking at you, Corrine haters!).
Even after spending hours with DIRECTV NOW, we kept finding some surprising bugs. When we tried searching for the ABC network, nothing came up. When we tried to check out the show Big Fan with Andy Richter, there were no episodes to select.
We only noticed the show because it appeared on our home screen. It raises this question: why is a show with no available episodes being promoted on the home screen? Again and again, we’re left scratching heads as to why DIRECTV NOW doesn’t work like it should.
Though the bugs are hard to get past, there are some things we liked about DIRECTV NOW.
A free Apple TV? Yes, please.
DIRECTV NOW does do some things better than PlayStation Vue and Sling TV. If you prepay for the first three months of service, you get a free Apple TV ($149 value). If you prepay for the first month of service, you get a free Amazon Fire Stick ($39.99 value). Those are awesome promotions, but we have no idea how long they will last. You can also add HBO to any DIRECTV NOW plan for $5 a month, which is cheaper than the standalone price for HBO NOW ($14.99 a month). The free streaming-device promotion and HBO for $5 a month are two big positives for DIRECTV NOW.
Though we already talked channel selection, we haven’t mentioned DIRECTV NOW has more channels than PlayStation Vue or Sling TV. To compare, DIRECTV NOW has over 120 channels total, whereas Sling TV has 45 and PlayStation Vue has 90. More doesn’t always mean better—some channels just aren’t worth your time—but DIRECTV NOW’s cheapest plan has more than 60 channels. Sling TV’s cheapest plan only has 20 channels, and PlayStation Vue’s cheapest plan has 45 channels. If channels per dollar matters most, DIRECTV NOW offers more value than others.
If DIRECTV NOW worked like it should, it would be easier to recommend.
Because DIRECTV NOW still needs work, you might be better off waiting for updates. However, if you want to cut the cord, DIRECTV NOW gives you another reason to do it. Its basic plan costs only $35 per month, and it has more than 60 live channels. That’s not a bad price for a plan that includes channels like AMC, Comedy Central, CNN, and ESPN.
If curiosity gets the better of you, you can sign up for the seven-day trial. It only takes a few minutes to get started with DIRECTV NOW.
FAQs about DIRECTV NOW
Q: What channels can I watch on DIRECTV NOW?
A: You can check out DIRECTV NOW’s channel listing here.
Q: Can I watch live local channels?
A: Watching local, live channels is a bit messy. You can check which local affiliates are available, but they’re pretty limited. Also, CBS is currently not available on DIRECTV NOW because it has a competing streaming service: CBS ALL ACCESS.
Q: How many people can watch DIRECTV NOW at the same time?
A: DIRECTV NOW allows two concurrent streams, so two people can watch it at the same time. However, DIRECTV NOW’s terms and conditions1 state that “the number of devices available for use and the simultaneous streams may change from time to time at our discretion.”
Q: Does DIRECTV NOW block local games (e.g., NBA games)?
A: Yes, but “blackout restrictions are decided by the sports leagues and other entities that own the local broadcast rights,” according to the DIRECTV NOW terms and conditions.2
Q: Does DIRECTV NOW have 5.1 surround sound?
A: Yes, but only on Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV.
Q: Does DIRECTV NOW broadcast in HD?
A: DIRECTV NOW streams up to 1080p, but consistent HD quality depends on your internet/Wi-Fi connection.
Q: Does DIRECTV NOW support 4K?
A: No, but there are future plans to support it.