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DirecTV Stream Review: Worth It For Some, But Not For Most

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DirecTV Stream is and isn’t worth the asking price. If that sounds confusing, that’s because DirecTV Stream is a confusing service on many levels making it hard to form a definitive opinion one way or the other. Essentially, it is a service that will greatly appeal to some subscribers, but be a complete non-starter for others. Which one of these two camps you fall in will primarily depend on how much you want to spend, the channels you want access to, and the streaming devices you have at home.

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One of the good things about DirecTV Stream is the selection of channels. However, this is caveated by the plan. In total, there are four main plans to choose from with the selection of channels varying between 65 and 130 and the price ranging from $69.99 to $149.99 after the initial free trial. These are just the base plans as well, with DirecTV Stream offering plenty of additional channels that can be bundled with a plan at an additional monthly cost. Basically, DirecTV Stream likely has the channel(s) you’re looking for, including local and sports channels, providing you are willing to pay the respective asking price.

DirecTV Stream Review $69.99+
  • Experience
  • Channels
  • Content
  • DVR
  • Price
3.3

Our opinion

DirecTV Stream is a good live TV streaming service, but there are just too many caveats to the subscription. Not only can device support be an issue, but the various plans and channel lineups can also be confusing. Still, if you are willing to pay the price of the more expensive plans, you do get a lot of TV in return. For everyone else, there are probably better and more suitable options available.

Pros

Channel selection (at a cost)
Good for sports
Good for local channels

Cons

Can be expensive
Too many plans and options
Device support can be an issue
Difficult to cancel

For those new to DirecTV Stream, it is and isn’t a new service – just the first example of its confusing nature. It is a new service in its current guise, but has gone through a number of rebrands and adjustments over the years. After starting life as DirecTV Now, the service changed to AT&T TV Now. Some time later, the “Now” was dropped in favor of AT&T TV. Then came the switch to DirecTV Stream in 2021. The changes weren’t resigned to just the name either. The price has risen over the years and the plans have been renamed, dropped, added, with the channel lineups tweaked along the way.

Before signing up to DirecTV Stream, it is worth taking a closer look at what consumers actually get for the monthly subscription price, including the live TV, on-demand, and DVR experiences.

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DirecTV Stream: live TV

Needless to say, if the live TV experience is not up to scratch, then there will be little point in actually subscribing in the first place. Overall, DirecTV Stream did prove to be a highly reliable service. Whether watching on-demand videos or any of the live TV channels, very few issues with playback, buffering, or app closures were encountered. That’s not to say everyone will have an as seamless streaming experience as I did, and especially if using different devices, but there were no major reliability issues when tested over a five-week period. That said, there were some smaller issues that surfaced.

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One of the most annoying was how the app would always immediately start playing a channel once opened, typically the last channel viewed. Even though it is possible to turn this off through the settings menu, it is only disabled on the single device, requiring the user to make the same change on all of the devices they’ll be using to access the service.

Furthermore, it is not possible to disable the autoplay feature on all devices. For example, while it could be disabled on the DirecTV Stream website and in the mobile app, there was no option to avoid autoplay on Apple TV.

DirecTV Stream home screen Apple TV
DirecTV Stream Apple TV home screen (Source: Streaming Better)

If left enabled, the playback continues in the background even when accessing the main menu. If wanting to watch what’s playing in the background, but also wanting to check what’s on, it can be useful. However, it did quickly become frustrating to have the channel or video you don’t want to watch continually playing in the background. If choosing not to disable, the only other option is to physically pause what’s playing before accessing the main menu or the live TV guide.

Speaking of which, the live TV guide lists channels alphabetically by default. Users can opt to change this to sort by channel number. There is also the option to filter channels by either Recents, Favorites, Sports, Kids, Movies or TV Shows. For those interested in seeing what’s due to be shown in the future, the interface allows the user to jump to a particular day, with the guide covering the next 14 days.

DirecTV Stream live guide
DirecTV Stream live TV guide

Unfortunately, the ability to check future days doesn’t work when any of the filters are enabled. For example, you can’t check what movies are on next Friday night. In fact, the filters only show what’s on right now.

In terms of the streaming quality and consistency, this was considered one of DirecTV Stream’s strong points. At the same time, it is a little difficult to know some elements of the streaming quality experience. For example, there’s no information on the resolution or speed and there’s only the option to choose between Best, Better and Good ‘Streaming Quality’ levels in the settings. In situations where the quality appears bad, the level can be adjusted up to Best, and if struggling to maintain a reliable connection, the level can be adjusted down to Good. For those looking for more granular details, none are really available within the apps.

DirecTV Stream: Apps and device support

The main DirecTV Stream app interface consists of up to five sections: Guide, Watch Now, My Library, Sports and On Demand. Most of these are fairly self-explanatory, and the On Demand section is broken down into three additional sub-sections: Networks, Movies and TV Shows.

DirecTV Stream on demand
DirecTV Stream on demand main menu

Clicking on any of these will help to filter the content down and if opting for either Movies or TV Shows, the user will be presented with various genre options to further filter down the results. However, DirecTV Stream does also include shows and movies in the results that are not available with the subscriber’s current plan, and it’s not clear that they are unavailable unless clicking through. At which point, the subscriber is presented with a “Subscribe” option. This was a little disappointing as it just slows down the process of knowing and finding something to watch without having to upgrade a subscription.

The interface for My Library, Sports and On Demand are all shown over what’s playing in the background. If navigating to the on-demand movies section, the audio and video continues to play, but if clicking on a specific on-demand title, the interface stops playing video while the audio continues to play in the background. Users are then presented with a video page that provides additional information on the show episode or movie. There are also some additional actions available including Watch Now, Record (if it is due to be shown live soon), Bookmark, and Ways to Watch.

DirectTV Stream Episode listing
DirectTV Stream Episode listing

The Ways to Watch options feels a little pointless and appears to be yet another way to get the consumer to add other premium services to their plan – the option is even shown when the episode/movie is already available to watch with the plan. It’s also worth noting that some of these title page options are not always available for all titles. In general, the minimum options are Watch Now and Bookmark.

For those new to streaming, the On Demand section is fairly easy to get used to, but it can also be somewhat annoying. Compared to other streaming services, the interface feels confusing, awkward to use and just generally not as intuitive. Miles will vary in this respect and some may find it better or worse than I did when testing on Apple TV, an Android smartphone, and the web. Speaking of which, and depending on a home’s setup and devices, device support is going to be an issue for many consumers.

One of the really confusing elements of DirecTV Stream is the total lack of support for Android TV devices. While there are only a few streaming players that run on Android TV, there are plenty of smart TVs that do. None of these devices can download an official version of the DirecTV Stream app, effectively ruling this service out as an option. If Android TV support matters, this review ends here for you. The same may actually be the case if smart TV support is important considering LG, Sony and Vizio smart TVs are also completely missing support.

It’s hard to view any of these support issues as mistakes or accidents, as DirecTV Stream comes with fairly robust support for many devices including Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and Apple TV. In fact, DirecTV Stream even had its own device that subscribers can either rent or buy, and this device does run on Android TV. The video below shows an overview of the DirecTV Stream player and its features.

It is possible that the existence of its own device is why DirecTV Stream seemingly refuses to add Android TV support. Regardless of the reason, this service is a no-go for anyone who relies on Android TV-powered streaming players or smart TVs.

If planning to watch on mobile devices, such as smartphones, it is worth being aware that DirecTV Stream requires location services to be enabled on the devices. If not enabled, the app will load but users will be unable to watch anything and will be presented with the warning message shown below.

Directv Stream mobile app location error
Directv Stream mobile app location error

To be clear, this is not just for live TV as on-demand videos and DVR recordings are also blocked as well. This requirement is also permanent. For example, it is not possible to enable the permission and then disable again without the app blocking the user from watching. Although this might be a small point, in the current age of privacy concerns, the requirement felt a little aggressive.

DirecTV Stream: DVR and recordings

Under its previous names, the cloud DVR was one of the service’s weaker points. However, the modern DirecTV Stream version does now provide all new and most existing subscribers with an unlimited cloud DVR, making it possible for them to record as much live TV as they want. However, there are some limitations here. For example, recordings are only stored for a maximum of nine months and DirecTV Stream will only allow subscribers to store up to 30 episodes of a show at one time. These restrictions aside, it is pretty much an unlimited DVR.

The DVR works pretty well in general and consumers shouldn’t run into too many issues when setting or watching recordings. There are multiple ways to record, depending on the device, and all of the recordings are stored in an easy to access and manage My Library section. There are also additional filters that can be useful. For example, the ability to record a single episode or an entire series, as well as a single sports event, every game for a sports league, and even the option to just record all of the games for a specific team.

DirecTV Stream Sports
DirecTV Stream sports recording options

One of the clear downsides is the lack of support for profiles. DirecTV Stream stores all recordings together. While it does separate in the sense that episodes are all grouped under the one listing, there’s no way to separate recordings based on the person who recorded them. Even though this might not be an issue for everyone, it is likely to prove more of an issue for busier households where everyone is taking advantage of the unlimited nature of the DVR.

DirecTV Stream: Price and value

The value of DirecTV Stream is one of those things that’s near impossible to universally make a judgement on. For one thing, the value totally depends on the plan chosen. With DirecTV Stream offering so many plans, it’s hard to draw comparisons with other live TV services. That is, unless judging based on the cheapest Entertainment plan. At $69.99 per month, this plan is directly comparable to Hulu Live TV and fuboTV, and it doesn’t stack up all that well. 65 channels is fewer than both of these services, and even the slightly cheaper YouTube TV. While the fewer channels may actually prove to be more suited to some homes, for most homes, one of the alternative live TV services is likely to be a better option.

Current priceChannels
DirecTV Stream$69.99+65+
fuboTV$69+120+
Hulu Live TV$69.9975+
Philo$2560+
Sling TV$3530+
YouTube TV$64.9985+

However, if considering upgrading to the $89.99 Choice plan, the value becomes a lot better. On paper, Choice adds 30 more channels for an additional $20 per month. More importantly, that extra $20 not only unlocks a lot more sports, but local channels as well. Which, in turn, unlocks even more sports. Put simply, if wanting a decent level of access to sports, Choice is the minimum DirecTV Stream plan to consider. The only problem here is $89.99 per month is expensive. Again, consumers are likely to find better deals elsewhere, albeit possibly at a loss of some channels that might matter. Bally Sports being a prime example.

Moving beyond Choice, the price just continues to escalate and it is hard to justify paying up to and beyond $149.99 per month on a single streaming service. Yes, DirecTV Stream does try to pack in the benefits with the top tier Premier plan including premium subscriptions. And yes, if already subscribing to those services then the actual cost of the DirecTV Stream package will likely work out to be lower. However, the price is just too much in general, and likely significantly more than many consumers will want to pay.

DirecTV Stream review summary

As stated at the start of this review, DirecTV Stream is and isn’t worth the price. Whether it is worth the price to you will depend on how much you’re willing to pay, what you want in return, whether you’re willing to dig through the too many plan options and add-ons, and the devices you intend to watch on. If the cost doesn’t matter and you want everything, and have compatible devices, then DirecTV Stream may very well be worth it, and especially if opting for the most expensive Premier plan. Arguably, there is also value in the Choice plan, and specifically for those that want access to sports, including local live sports.

When it comes to the Entertainment and Ultimate plans, it’s far more difficult to justify the price. Taking into consideration the cost and the channel lineups, there are better options available. Again, this will all vary to some degree as every home’s channel needs are different. Generally speaking, however, these plans would not be reason enough for me to sign up and remain subscribed to DirecTV Stream. Of course, if the app isn’t available on the devices you use on a daily basis, the DirecTV Stream channel lineup, price, or how confusing it all is won’t matter.

John Finn

By John Finn

John started Streaming Better to help consumers navigate the live TV streaming and subscription service landscape. John has been writing about technology and TV-related services and devices since 2014 and believes the best streaming approach is to bounce between services as needed. Contact John via email at john@streamingbetter.com or on Twitter

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