DirecTV Stream effortlessly transitions from satellite to streaming, retaining an interface viewers new to cord cutting will appreciate, while also offering plenty of streaming-focused features. However, it can get expensive compared to rivals, and higher-end A/V features are lacking.
- Excellent TV guide
- Restart feature is very useful
- Good performance with reliable streams
- Lots of package customisation options
- Only live TV streaming service with regional sports networks (RSNs)
- No 4K or HDR
- “Unlimited” DVR is only 30 hours
- Can get expensive beyond basic Entertainment package
- Live and on-demand HD TV streamsA familiar TV guide makes the transition from a traditional Pay TV provider seamless, but no 4K
- Regional Sports Networks are hereDirecTV Stream is the only streaming service where you can to watch the dedicated RSNs and catch your local teams in action
- AppsSelected support for smart TV and mobile platforms
Like Sling TV, DirecTV is a legacy provider ensuring it grabs a piece of the live TV streaming pie. You can still get the full satellite package from DirecTV – now mostly owned by AT&T – but this alternative, gives you more flexibility, minus the long contract and endless extra fees associated with legacy providers.
With a comprehensive live channel line-up, varied packages, a familiar channel guide, regional sports channels, and tons of add on content, DirecTV Stream (formerly DirecTV Now, and AT&T TV) is the service that feels most like a traditional television service, within the streaming realm.
Is DirecTV Stream the best of all worlds?
DirecTV Stream – like its satellite parent – is only available in the United States. A subscription is needed to access content, but there is a five-day trial available. You can bundle everything the service has to offer into this trial, including the likes of HBO Max and Showtime.
After the introductory offers you get for signing up, prices start at $69.99 for the Entertainment Package, which includes 75+ channels, unlimited cloud DVR and unlimited devices. For $20/month more get more channels and regional sports and 105+ channels.
You can get the Premier package for $149.99/month and that includes 150+ channels including HBO Max and Showtime. Pick your poison, but to get a satellite-like proposition without the dish, you’re going to be paying satellite-like prices.
- Support not as comprehensive
It’s a mixed bag with no support for LG TVs or the games consoles, but decent support from the major set top box providers, mobile operating systems and Samsung smart TVs. There’s also a DirecTV Stream set top box you can get from the company, which enables you to jump to other apps too. However, this review was done on an Apple TV 4K, iPad (8th Gen) and via the Chrome web browser. Here’s the full list of supported platforms from the horse’s mouth:
Amazon: Amazon Fire TV (2nd generation or higher), Amazon Fire TV Stick (2nd generation or higher), Amazon Fire TV Edition Smart TV (2nd generation and higher), Amazon Fire TV Cube.
Android: Phones and tablets (v7.1 and up)
Apple: Apple TV (4th generation), Safari browser (version 13+ is recommended), iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touch running version iOS 11+ (iOS 12+ recommended).
Google: Chrome browser (version 68 or higher), Chromecast-compatible TVs (select models), Chromecast (2nd generation and higher).
Microsoft: Edge browser (latest version)
Roku: Various models of Roku Streaming Stick, Roku Express and Express+, Roku Premiere and Premiere+, Roku Ultra and Roku LT, Roku 1 SE, Roku 2, Roku 3, Roku 4, Non-4K Roku TV, 4K Roku TV, Roku Smart Soundbar
Samsung: 2017 – 2021 TVs (select models)
- The most TV-like of the live streaming services
- Restart enables you to go back to beginning
- Channel numbers are back!
The live guide is the most akin to a traditional cable or satellite TV service, so it’s ideal for people cutting the cord for the first time. Indeed, it even retains the traditional channel numbers you’ll be familiar with.
You can sort the A-Z TV guide or by channel number order. Recent, Sports, Kids, Movies, and TV Shows are among the filter options and you can also hold the select button on a remote to add a channel to Favourites. It’s also quite unique among live TV streaming services due to two-week TV EPG guide you can jump through.
One of my favourite features is the ability to restart a large section of the channels and live programming if you miss the start. It’s something we’ve seen from the BBC iPlayer for quite some time. YouTube TV has a similar capability, but you need to add the show to your library and be recording to restart. Restartable shows are helpfully identified in the guide by an icon, which you can see in the below.
The Guide is the landing page for the entire interface, but there’s also a largely translucent version that sits on top of the programming you’re watching you can access by hitting ‘back’ from the TV feed. That way you can see what’s on while still enjoying full screen TV.
There are also more familiar cord cutting menus that are more visual. Like Watch Now, which showcases live content and new episodes available on demand from various categories. It blends quite well as a ‘find something to stick on’ screen. You can also pin your favourite sports teams (from a wide selection of leagues) to a dedicated row on the homepage, That way you can see any replays or when the next live came can be found.
However, it must be said, rivals like YouTube TV do a better job of intelligently surfacing the content you enjoy when the time comes.
When you do choose a show, there’s a slight pause for a title screen. It doesn’t last more than a couple of seconds, usually. However, the programme usually loads at full resolution thereafter. Again, it’s akin to the experience of turning on a TV channel and it just being there rather than waiting for it to hit full res’ from a stream.
- Some channels max out at 720p
- No 4K
- Lookback offers content from channel’s last 72 hours
- Unlimited number of devices supported in the home
Considering DirecTV offers 4K via its satellite service, it’s a little disappointing that the Stream version maxes out at HD resolution. Fubo TV and YouTube TV (with an add-on) are only streaming providers that offer 4K live programming. Direct TV stream maxes out at HD resolution (some 720p, others 1080p/1080i @30fps, depending on the channel). Your only options within the video settings are “best” “better” and “good”. There’s no HDR and audio formats are limited without options for change at an app level.
DirectTV does offer “unlimited” cloud DVR though, lightening previously stringent allowances with recordings. Recordings are kept for nine months, but there’s no opportunity to download for offline viewing. That “unlimited” DVR? It’s only good for 30 episodes whereby on YouTube TV there are no such restrictions. However, if you are recording, there’s often the option to record the home or away commentary feeds for sporting events.
I’ve covered the excellent Restart feature, but the other noteworthy option is Lookback. It’s only available on Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Roku devices, but it’s effectively a time machine that allows you to watch TV from up to 72-hours ago.
You simply select a channel from the guide, and you’ll be able to look at available programming from the previous three days. It doesn’t cover everything but it’s great for, say, finding the sports game you didn’t get around to watching.
DirecTV Stream does fall a little flat compared to rivals in terms of intuitive streaming friendly features, though. Live sports access is great, but YouTube TV has amazing live stats options for sports like the NBA and you can catch up on most others through key plays.
- Lots of package options, but can get expensive
- Base package isn’t as comprehensive as rivals’
- Regional Sports Networks a huge plus
- Can’t get NFL Sunday Ticket with DirecTV Stream
Again, DirecTV Stream is the live TV streaming service most akin to old school cable or satellite television. Depending on the package you opt for, there’s very little you’ll be without, and DirecTV has done an excellent job of parlaying its relationships with the content providers into the streaming realm. You can see the full line-up here in a helpful graph that shows the line-up for each package with available add-ons.
For the purposes of this review though, I’ll focus on the Entertainment package that’s competitively priced to rivals. Everything else is more expensive.
A lot of the entertainment basics are covered with all local network channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox) Comedy Central, Discovery, Food Network, FX, History, MTV, SyFy, TBS, TNT, TruTV and USA. For the kids, there’s Boomerang, Cartoon Network, three Disney channels and Nickelodeon. All the major domestic news channels are covered here.
Sports channels are a little lacking for addicts. They include ESPN, FS1, but you’ll need the next package up for ESPN U, FS2, MLB Network and NBA TV. The Regional Sports Networks (RSN) we talk about below are also absent from the lowest-priced package. The NFL Network and RedZone are completely absent.
So, I’d say it falls slightly behind YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV for the price of the Entertainment package, but you’re not missing out on much if you opt for that. As we mentioned, the Premium network add-ons (HBO Max, Showtime, Starz, etc.), are available here and you can get them on the house for a few months, depending on the package you sign up for.
Perhaps DirectTV Stream’s greatest selling point over other services is access to the regional sports networks (RSN) that have disappeared from every other like-minded service. RSNs are the channels that have the rights to some of the sports teams in that market. In most cases it’s the NBA, MLB, NHL and possibly MLS teams. In South Florida, where I live, that’s means Bally Sports networks. In others, they may be NBC affiliates.
Most of the streaming providers had then and then lost them because they couldn’t agree new contracts with the rights owners. DirecTV Stream is the exception.
It means I can watch the Miami Heat, Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays games live if I choose, whereas I can’t on YouTube TV, etc. Because of the way the ‘market’ system works in the US, you can’t buy MLB.TV NBA TV, etc. and watch local games. So this is a huge incentive for sports fans who don’t want to go back to cable.
Speaking of live sports, the 350lb offensive lineman in the room is NFL Sunday Ticket, which offers every NFL game on Sundays, across the league (not just what the networks choose to show), so it’s ideal if you live outside your team’s TV market.
This is complicated, but if you’re thinking of signing up to DirecTV Stream to get Sunday Ticket, don’t. DirecTV might be the exclusive home of Sunday ticket, but only for satellite customers. DirecTV’s satellite customers can stream it via their mobile devices, but DirecTV Stream customers cannot. The popular RedZone channel is also completely absent from the Stream platform.
- Reliable streams don’t require ultrafast connections
Despite the absence of some premium A/V features, DirecTV Stream works excellently across a number of platforms. I tested it on an Apple TV 4K connected to an LG C1 OLED, an iPad (8th gen) and the Safari web browser and experienced no issues.
Of course, the larger your screen, the more you may notice the absence of 4K HDR footage, but DirecTV stream is not an outlier here. When you consider a lot of HD TV stations max out at 720p, it adds a little perspective.
The recommended speed required for stable streaming is 8Mbps per streaming device. So, if you’re watching TV on ten different sets throughout the home, you can expect to require 80Mbps.
Should you buy it?
If you like your traditional TV service, but want more flexibility and no binding contracts, DirecTV Stream comes closest to replicating the experience and overall interface. This is also the only streaming game in town for the regional sports networks many rely on to watch their favourite teams.
If you want 4K content (although limited elsewhere too), you won’t find it here. The $69.99 starting price offers fewer important channels than competitors, and things can get expensive quickly once you start adding. Unlimited Cloud DVR is far from unlimited and, if you want a more streaming-esque interface YouTube TV does it better.
DirecTV Stream blends the old and new worlds very well and is ideal for viewers making the transition. The guide (with traditional channel numbers!) is excellent and the Restart feature is really useful if you’re late to your set for your favourite show. However, DirecTV Stream can get expensive compared to rivals and A/V enthusiasts will find the service wanting. Bottom line though, if you want a traditional-style TV service with some streaming-forward features with more freedom and less commitment, this may be the live TV cord cutting service for you.
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Tested on a 4K Ultra HD TV
Tested with mobile apps and Smart TV systems
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Unfortunately not. NFL Sunday Ticket is only available to DirecTV satellite customers. Don’t ask us why.
DirecTV Stream is the ONLY cord-cutting live TV service with RSNs. You can see whether yours are covered here: https://www.directv.com/stream/channel-lineup/
There is a limited free trial, currently at five days for new subscribers
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