I'm nearly ready to cut the cord, but after testing DirecTV Stream I've realized that it comes with an asterisk I didn't anticipate. This service, readers, is a lesson in reading the fine print. Because while you may have heard that it's the place for regional sports networks, you don't get them in every package.
DirecTV Steam, if you've not heard of it, is the newly rebranded AT&T TV. It was AT&T TV Now before that, and DirecTV Now before that. It's never been one of our favorites, but I feel the need to make sure I've checked under every rock. And unfortunately its wins are mostly found in competition to cable TV, and not up against the likes of Sling TV or YouTube TV.
To give you some context, I am cutting the cord because of the cable box's archaic nature. That said, my roommates don't want to give up their specific channels, and so I'm planning on getting rid of my cable box, and telling them that their $127 per month cable bill (which will get cheaper without that cable box) is their problem. I'll even offer to let them share my account with me.
Price: $70 per month
Channels: More than 65
DVR: 20 hours
Simultaneous streams: 3
Broadcast networks: ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC
My ultimate goal in all of this is to find a service that is great enough to convince them it's time for all of us to wave goodbye to cable. I was trying to be optimistic about DirecTV Stream, formerly known as AT&T TV, since it's the only place you can get the YES Network (and I live with some Yankees fans).
The top two competitors for my dollar are Sling TV and YouTube TV, which impressed with price and excellent apps, respectively. Unfortunately, not all of its competitors can say that much. Hulu with Live TV, for example, didn't prove stable enough for my liking. And fuboTV doesn't have TNT, which means much fewer NBA Playoff games.
Based on my testing, here's the pros and cons of DirecTV Stream for cord-cutters.
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Where DirecTV Stream beats (or matches) cable
Unfortunately, the upsides of DirecTV Stream against cable are the same upsides you get with all of the best cable TV alternatives. For starters, you can stream all your favorite channels anywhere you go on your phone. Spectrum's mobile app only gives me that whole channel guide if I'm logged in on my home network.
Secondly, DirecTV Stream offers the same month-to-month contract structure that the other cord-cutter services do. It's great, especially if you find that you don't like DirecTV Stream.
I wish this section were longer. But that's not the case.
Where DirecTV Stream fails against cable (and Sling and YouTube TV)
DirecTV Stream suffers from one of the issues I found in Sling: less-than-live TV. YouTube TV is already about 20 seconds or more behind my cable box, and that's not great (watching live events with friends and constantly being behind them stinks). But Sling was even further behind YouTube TV, and I timed it out that DirecTV is 10+ seconds behind YouTube TV.
But I had issues with DirecTV Stream before I could even get my account going. It all started when I clicked the wrong Google result for DirecTV Stream, which gave me traditional DirecTV package options. Things got even more annoying when I thought I'd made it to the right page, and a DirecTV rep called me out of the blue (which my iPhone flagged as a spam risk) to sell me standard traditional DirecTV and not the DirecTV Stream package.
It turns out I didn't look closely enough at the fine print of the site I was using, which states "By clicking "SEE PLANS" above, I consent to receive from DIRECTV and any party on behalf of DIRECTV emails, telemarketing calls using an autodialer or pre-recordings and SMS text messages, which could result in wireless charges, at the number provided. I understand that consent is not a condition of purchase."
And that's not great. I hate to be a cliche millennial, but I do not want to get a call from DirecTV ever. That's why we have websites. But then when I found the correct Google result, I couldn't check out, as it kept giving me errors at the billing page. When I got it to work on another device, I learned that the 'payment address' field may not have been working correctly.
This is all to say, though, that any suspicions of DirecTV Stream being a service that seems stuck in the antiquated methods of DirecTV and cable providers are warranted. Everything about the service just feels old. I don't want to cut the cord to go back to something that's rooted in the past.
And then there's the whole "rewinding live shows" issue that I've run into elsewhere. Say you're watching a show that you've got set to record, and then channel surf over to something else during the commercial break (to check out your other options). When I did this, and went back to the show I was watching, I lost the ability to rewind past a certain point, even though I was recording the show. I had to then navigate the menus in the system to the My Library section to find the full recording of the live show.
This is worse than cable (shocking, I know) and is the kind of thing that could send people running back to their cable box. You don't have this issue on YouTube TV either. If you've set a show to record, the service you're using should know you'll want to search around it, and not force you to do weird things to get there. Sling has been inconsistent at this, sometimes letting me rewind live recorded content, and other times not.
DirecTV Stream also just doesn't help itself. It puts up these interstitial title cards for the channel and show you're about to watch when it's loading — which makes it seem like the load time is longer than it should be. But when I tested YouTube TV and Sling TV, I realized that those apps just have a black screen that shows up as the channel loads, which takes up the same second or two.
The DirecTV Stream app on the Apple TV 4K also just seems very buggy. It once randomly spammed me with the Welcome to DirecTV Stream splash window when I was switching apps, long after I'd signed up. It would also randomly throw up a title card for the show and channel I was watching.
Another annoyance you may have with DirecTV Stream is the lack of a Chromecast with Google TV app. It's one of the best streaming devices, and I can't imagine what the hold-up is. I also looked for an AT&T TV app. Nothing. Instead, DirecTV advises you cast your mobile device app to your TV. And that's not enough.
Does DirecTV Stream hit my sweet spot for channels and price?
DirecTV Stream has been one of the services we're interested in for channel package reasons, but after I started using the service I realized that the DirecTV Stream entry-level package is lacking in the one way the service stands out.
That's regional sports networks, such as the YES Network our apartment full of Yankees fans is interested in. It turns out that YES (which is only on DirecTV Stream, and no other service) is not in the $70 per month DirecTV Stream Entertainment package, but limited to the $85 per month Choice package. And that price, vs the $127 cable bill, doesn't offer enough savings.
It's really irksome that people would have to spend an extra $20 — vs. fuboTV or YouTube TV, two relatively strong picks in this field — to follow the sports team of your choice more closely. Especially for all of DirecTV Stream's other flaws.
Otherwise, though, the $70 per month Entertainment package of DirecTV Stream has a perfectly decent channel lineup, but not one that makes paying $5 more per month over those competitors make sense. You get CNN, MSNBC and Fox for news, and some of the ESPN networks (but not ESPNews, which might irk you).
You get all the local broadcast channels such as ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC (something Sling can't offer without AirTV now that Locast is under ground), and I get all the other channels I need, with AMC, USA Network, TNT, Comedy Central and Cartoon Network.
DirecTV Stream, by way of charging more for these channels, takes an L on the Roommates Test, charging $15 more for the package with YES and a whopping $25 more for the $95 per month Ultimate package that has the BBC World News (which YouTube TV has in its regular package). That said, PBS is accessible for donors via the Thirteen Passport. It would just be nice to have it packaged in with everything else.
The other DirecTV Stream pricing fail is its DVR, which only has 20 hours of storage by default, though an extra $10 per month gets you 500 hours. By comparison, Hulu and Sling give you 50 hours by default, fuboTV includes 250 hours and YouTube TV has an unlimited DVR (with a nine-month expiration window).
All of this — channels and DVR — adds up fast, and we'd probably spend $105 per month for DirecTV Stream. That's way too much.
DirecTV Stream is not a contender to replace cable
Now having tested five of the best cable TV alternatives, I've still got two main contenders and three coulda-been-a-contendas. DirecTV Stream's pricing and bugginess and rewinding issues just kick it to the curb.
DirecTV Stream is basically the same app as AT&T TV and AT&T TV Now before it. The name may change, but the problems stay the same.
Next up, I'm making sure I've tried everything by kicking the tires on Philo to see what it's like. That said, it lacks TNT and USA, two of the most important channels for me, so I'm worried about its chances.
Right now, Sling is still winning with the best pricing for my particular needs. YouTube TV's superior app and mid-stream navigation help make it my favorite if money were no option. However, a year of YouTube TV is $780, which is 85% more than the $420 per year for Sling Blue.
If only DirecTV Stream didn't seem like DirecTV minus the cable box.
Stream Time is where Tom's Guide senior editor Henry T. Casey dives into the big choices we make about streaming media. We tackle it all, from the best and worst streaming services and devices, to the never-ending list of shows to watch.
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