DirecTV Now may be your best option for replacing cable

Photo via DirecTV Now

DirecTV Now brings a massive package of channels and a great deal for AT&T Unlimited subscribers to the cord-cutting debate.

There’s more competition than ever in the streaming TV market, with new services leading the charge and cable companies struggling to keep up. There’s one legacy brand, however, that’s not content to sit back as the industry changes: DirectTV. Teaming up with AT&T, DirectTV has launched DirecTV Now, it’s very own live streaming TV service. And right now, DirecTV is offering a free Apple 4K TV for signing up for service. Yes, you read that right, but it’s worth repeating: a free Apple 4K TV

Before you rush it, there are a few questions about DirecTV Now worth answering. How does it measure up to Sling TV and Hulu with Live TV, and is it worth the cost? Let’s take a look.

What is DirecTV Now?

Launched in November 2016, DirecTV Now in a streaming TV service. DirecTV has entered the market aggressively, offering lots of channels and features. An entry-level package will set you back $35 but gives you 60-plus channels, with four tiers of programming to choose from. Founded in partnership with AT&T, DirecTV Now offers exclusive discounts for AT&T Unlimited mobile subscribers that significantly sweeten the deal. Sadly, to see the biggest benefits from DirecTV Now, you have to be an AT&T Unlimited subscriber, but there are still reasons to check it out if you’re with a different mobile carrier.

Screengrab via DirecTV Now

DirecTV Now devices

DirecTV Now is a standalone service that does not require you to be a preexisting DirecTV subscriber to join. All the major news networks, Cartoon Network, Food Network, and family hits like Disney come with even the most basic package.

Along with a selection of the most popular cable channels on the market, DirecTV Now offers local channels to limited parts of the United States. You can check which local channels are available in your area here. Here’s what came back when we tested a Washington, DC, zip code. 

Screengrab via DirecTV Now

It all sounds great, but there’s just one catch: a lack of streaming options. If you use a gaming console as your main streaming device, DirecTV Now is out of the question. However, DirecTV still available on Roku, Apple TVGoogle ChromecastAmazon Fire Stick and Amazon Fire TV, and iOS and Android devices, as well as with the web browsers Chrome and Safari.

Screengrab via DirecTV Now

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DirecTV Now channels

DirecTV Now comes in four packages, each named like sizes of ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery. Each package comes with at least 60-plus channels, more than any of their competitors at the same price point. DirecTV is notable for offering Viacom channels, something none of the other live streaming TV services can offer.

Keep in mind AT&T subscribers can get each of these packages for $25 less a month. That’s right: The basic subscription for AT&T Unlimited subscribers starts at $10 a month.

Here’s how it breaks down.

Photo via DirecTV Now

1. DirecTV Now Live a Little

For $35 per month, Live a Little subscribers get 60-plus channels, including everything from VH1 to CNN to Cartoon Network. Sports fans will appreciate ESPN and ESPN2 finding a home in the core package. There are a few odd missing options, like the Weather Channel, but this is an excellent package for the price.

Photo via DirecTV Now

2. DirecTV Now Just Right

For $50 per month, Just Right package adds 20 channels, including ESPN SEC, Nicktoons, the Travel Channel, and the aforementioned Weather Channel. With more than 80 channels, this package is a considerable bargain. 

Photo via DirecTV Now

3. DirecTV Now Go Big

This is where DirecTV Now starts to flex its channel muscles. The Go Big package is $60 per month and offers 100-plus channels, from MTV Classic to NBC Golf to BBC World News. The only service that comes close to this number of channels for the price is PS Vue, which offers more than 90 channels for $60 per month.

Photo via DirecTV Now

4. DirecTV Now Gotta Have It

With 120-plus channels for $70, Gotta Have It is the biggest live streaming TV package available on the market, adding the Starz network and its affiliated channels, the horror- and exploitation-themed Chiller and El Ray networks and more. This is a remarkable number of channels for the money, but do you need that many channels for the cost of a traditional cable plan? That’s up to you.

Photo via DirecTV Now

DirecTV Now add-ons

DirecTV Now offers the cheapest movie add-on packages of any streaming service. HBO and Cinemax can each be added for just $5 apiece per month while Showtime and Starz can join your package for $8 per month. Each of these movies channels comes with a livestream of the channel and on-demand access to their libraries.

Photo via DirecTV Now

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DirecTV Now features

At the moment, DirecTV Now is lacking in special features. The company has announced beta testing for features like cloud DVR, live TV pausing, 4K quality video, and the ability to download media to watch on the go shortly. However, at the moment, they only have one real special feature. Granted it’s a doozy.

AT&T Unlimited Streaming and Pricing

AT&T Unlimited subscribers have no reason not to use DirecTV Now. Along with their mobile plan, they get a $25 credit towards DirecTV Now packages, giving them a starting rate of just $10 a month for service. Even better AT&T Unlimited includes streaming DirecTV Now on the go, so you can keep up with your favorite shows even when wifi is nowhere to be found. After 22GB of data usage each month AT&T will slow your speeds so don’t go crazy with it, but if you’ve ever had a surprise layover at the airport the appeal of this service is easy to understand.

Photo via DirecTV Now

72-hour Rewind

DirecTV Now allows users to go back three days to watch shows they missed the first time around. Until cloud DVR is introduced, this is an excellent way to keep up with shows when you’re out of the house during prime time. This feature doesn’t work on every network due to licensing issues, but you can see the complete list of Rewind channels right here before pulling the trigger.

DirecTV Now review

We tested DirecTV Now on Roku and iOS. On Roku, DirecTV Now was smooth and intuitive, with livestreams hitting around 720p and on-demand programming coming in at 1080p. The interface is a little slow, but the menus are easy to navigate. Finding what’s currently playing, jumping between on-demand content, and finding movies to watch is a breeze. On iOS, streams were typically about 480p, but on the iPhone SE, the picture was crisp and clear. In each case, we streamed on a 100MB internet connection. However, you don’t need your mobile device to be on Wi-Fi to stream.

Screengrab via Google Play

DirecTV Now vs Sling TV

DirecTV Now is easy to recommend if you’re a AT&T subscriber, thanks to the $25/month credit those customers receive. No one in the market can compete with streaming TV for $10 a month, especially when considering that DirecTV Now offers Viacom channels. But for everyone else, the value is less clear. DirecTV Now offers the most channels of any service, but it’s low on special features and can’t be used on game consoles.

In regards to Sling TV, the current frontrunner in the market, DirecTV Now offers a better interface. But Sling TV starts at just $20 per month, albeit with a more limited channel offering. If all you’re looking for is the cheapest way to watch a handful of channels, Sling TV is your better bet, but DirecTV Now has the most channels for a mid-range price.

DirecTV Now vs Hulu with Live TV

As with Sling TV, if you’re an already AT&T customer, you might as well sign up for DirecTV Now. While the service may lack some of the bells and whistles you might get elsewhere, it’s hard to beat for $10. By contrast, Hulu with Live TV costs $39.99 for 50-plus channels that cover all of your basics for news, sports, and entertainment. But Hulu adds value by including access to its streaming service (albeit with limited commercials), meaning you can access its full library of movies TV showsanimedocumentariesscary movies, and must-see Hulu originals. That alone might tilt the conversation in its favor.

Photo via Hulu with Live TV

DirecTV Now vs YouTube TV

In the world of live TV streaming, YouTube TV is still a relative non-factor. Its biggest perk is that you can share an account with up to six people in your household, and each person gets access to unlimited DVR. There’s also a free Google Chromecast for signing up, but that’s nothing compared to the free Apple 4K TV DirecTV Now is offering. What’s more, YouTubeTV’s package is $35, the same as DirecTV Now’s Live a Little, but it includes 10 less channels and doesn’t include local channels. You also can’t add HBO.

Here’s a complete breakdown of the current live TV streaming landscape:

Jason Reed

Is DirecTV worth it?

How much DirecTV Now will appeal to you depends on three factors: how you stream, if you have AT&T Unlimited, and how much you miss a massive cable package. If your only streaming option is an Xbox or PlayStation, you’re out of luck at the moment. For AT&T Unlimited subscribers, signing up for DirecTV Now is a no-brainer, giving you a full-featured cable package for the cost of a Netflix subscription.

It’s the final category we’re most interested in. One of the appeals of cord-cutting is removing the fluff, and DirecTV Now packages quickly fill up with niche channels you might not need. However, of all the services DirecTV Now feels the most complete, thanks to the inclusion of Viacom channels like MTV and VH1. If you miss having access to a host of channels, DirecTV Now offers the most options for the least amount of money.

Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance. 

The Daily Dot may receive a payment in connection with purchases of products or services featured in this article. Click here to learn more.

John-Michael Bond is a tech reporter and culture writer for Daily Dot. A longtime cord-cutter and early adapter, he's an expert on streaming services (Hulu with Live TV), devices (Roku, Amazon Fire), and anime. A former staff writer for TUAW, he's knowledgeable on all things Apple and Android. You can also find him talking about religion each week on the Who’s Your God podcast and performing standup comedy in Los Angeles.

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There’s more competition than ever in the streaming TV market, with new services leading the charge and cable companies struggling to keep up. There’s one legacy brand, however, that’s not content to sit back as the industry changes: DirectTV. Teaming up with AT&T, DirectTV has launched DirecTV Now, it’s very own live streaming TV service. And right now, DirecTV is offering a free Apple 4K TV for signing up for service. Yes, you read that right, but it’s worth repeating: a free Apple 4K TV