DIRECTV Now - A Review of the Plans and Service

DIRECTV Now

While it's technically not satellite TV, we were buzzed by a lot of folks to offer up our take on DIRECTV's new streaming TV service, DIRECTV Now. First off, the service launched with four plans ranging in price from $35-$70/month... all with no annual contracts and fun, chewy granola names (Live a Little, Just Right, Go Big and Get it All) -- so, they're definitely geared towards the millenial, techie, cord-cuttin' crowd. An immediate rival to Sling TV and Playstation Vue, it's internet/over-the-top TV, so there's no DVR box or installation involved. You simply access it via any integrated app or device, for example: Apple TV, Chromcast, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, at DIRECTVNow.com, etc. DIRECTV didn't restrict access on any "competing" or rival-partnered devices, so any smartphone, streaming device, TV or gaming console works. From sign-up to your first streamed show, you're probably looking at under 5 minutes...beats waiting for an installer to re-decorate your roof. Here's a quick rundown of the pros and cons of DIRECTV Now vs their traditional satellite plans:

Advantages

  • No annual contracts (cancel anytime)
  • No hardware or set-top receiver
  • No installation or extra wiring needed
  • No credit check
  • Change plans with a single click/tap
  • Add HBO or Cinemax for $5/mo (vs $15/mo for satellite plans)

Disadvantages

  • No access to the NFL Sunday Ticket
  • No CBS-licensed channels, at least at launch (CBS local, Showtime, etc.)
  • No recording option (no OTT service has that yet)
  • Limited local channels
  • Not transmitted in 4K
  • Maximum of 2 streams at a time (vs every TV w/ satellite plans)

Local Channels are somewhat limited

At least at launch of the service, your local channel coverage isn't all the great. Depending on the zip code you used during sign-up and the IP address of your internet signal, the system will automatically give you access to local channels in your area. And, for now, there are only 4 local channels integrated: ABC, NBC, FOX and Telemundo...and, unfortunately, most zip codes will only get 1 or 2 of those channels, some cities won't get any. Local coverage maps are tied to your proximity to the largest city in your region of the country. For example, folks in or around Chicago and Los Angeles get access to all 4 local channels. However, Houstonites only get 2 (ABC, Telemundo), Detroiters 1 (Telemundo)...you get the idea, local channel service is spotty, but the service is new and negotiations with the local carriers are still in play (discussions with CBS are reportedly in the final stages). So, expect the number of local channels available to slowly increase over time.

One last note, the NBC local channel stream is only available via mobile and desktop devices... meaning you can watch it on your computer, smartphone or tablet, but you won't be able to access it via your regular TV. This a contractual thing, and annoying limitations like these pop-up every so often with over-the-top services (a lot of networks have pre-existing contracts with traditional cable and TV providers so they're usually not itchin' to devalue - or lose control over - how that content gets into your living room). The other 3 local channels, ABC, FOX, Telemundo, have no viewing restrictions, so fire up your local weather or news coverage anytime, anywhere.

DIRECTV Now Plans: more Healthily Rotund than "Skinny"

The DIRECTV Now service currently includes four different plans and they're not your typical streamlined and skinny OTT packages. Ranging from packs of 60 to 120 channels, we took a real close look at each and, true to DIRECTV's word, they definitely only contain core, high-value channels (no filler music or local access channels). Each plan gives you a progressively broader number of channels from different categories (sports, news, movies, etc.). So, while they're not particularly theme-based, you'll probably find more of your favorite programs/channels as you upgrade. While the vast majority of the channels in the satellite plans (Choice, XTRA, etc) are also included in DIRECTV Now, the following are currently missing: CBS local, CW, Pop channel, Showtime (all 8); basically, most of CBS-owned properties.

Here's a side-by-side of all the plans:

Regular: $35
What you get...
  • Over 60 Channels
  • Price will always be $35/mo
  • No annual contract (cancel anytime)
  • Free Apple TV device w/ 3 mths pre-paid
  • Free Amazon Fire TV stick w/ 1 mth pre-paid
Regular: $50
What you get...
  • Over 80 Channels
  • Price will always be $50/mo
  • No annual contract (cancel anytime)
  • Free Apple TV device w/ 3 mths pre-paid
  • Free Amazon Fire TV stick w/ 1 mth pre-paid
  • Access to local sports channels (if in area)
Regular: $60
What you get...
  • Over 100 Channels
  • Price will always be $60/mo
  • No annual contract (cancel anytime)
  • Free Apple TV device w/ 3 mths pre-paid
  • Free Amazon Fire TV stick w/ 1 mth pre-paid
  • Access to local sports channels (if in area)
Regular: $70
What you get...
  • Over 120 Channels
  • Price will always be $70/mo
  • No annual contract (cancel anytime)
  • Free Apple TV device w/ 3 mths pre-paid
  • Free Amazon Fire TV stick w/ 1 mth pre-paid
  • Access to local sports channels (if in area)

Regional Sports Channels on DIRECTV Now

Just as with the local channels, your access here all depends on your zip code. For Just Right plan subscribers and higher (Live a Little doesn't get you access to local sports), there's a fair chance you'll still be able to watch your favorite regional sports channel...i.e., the ones that may bring you your MLB, NBA, NFL or college home teams' games. The quickest way to check is via the DIRECTV Now local sports and channel finder. Here's the quick and dirty list:

YES Network - if you were able to watch Yankee games via cable or satellite, you'll probably also be on the zip code access list.
Fox Sports regional - whether it's FSN West, Florida, etc., roughly the same rules apply here. Cities with access to a regional FS network via other providers should also get it here.
All the rest: for the others, a good chunk of the local sports channel from the satellite plans made it over to DIRECTV Now: Comcast SportsNet (Bay Area, California, Chicago, Mid-Atlantic and New England), SportsTime Ohio and Prime Ticket.
Notably Missing: the following will either never be on DIRECTV Now or are still under negotiation: NESN, MSG, SNY, Longhorn Network, ROOT Sports

All told, not a bad local sports line-up, especially for a new streaming service.

Final Thoughts

On demand and custom plans are here to stay in our 1090p and 4K digital TV world. From Netflix to Sling TV (owned by DISH) and now DIRECTV's first crack at the OTT crowd, DIRECTV Now appears to be another solid option for streamers (people, not confetti's ugly partner). The intuitiveness and robustness of their app-integrated and website's user interface, at first glance/use, seem and perform quite well and logically, but the proof is in customer feedback, short and long-term. As we receive feedback from new DIRECTV Now subscribers, we'll post it here. We've also signed up for a plan to try out all the bells and whistles ourselves, and will update this page as features and/or issues evolve. Feel free to get in touch with your thoughts as well. For now, kudos to DIRECTV on expanding their programming options...and, especially, not at the expense of their existing plans.

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