DIRECTV NOW has one perk that no other streaming service can match: It includes HBO in every package. This costs $15 per month with every other streaming service that offers it, so its inclusion is a huge win for DIRECTV NOW. If HBO is a must for you, its inclusion might justify an otherwise-meager channel selection.
Not only will you have three HBO channels with DIRECTV NOW’s Plus package, you’ll also be able to use your account to log in to HBO GO. This gives you access to HBO’s massive and legendary back catalogue of TV shows and movies. Landmark television like “The Sopranos,” “Game of Thrones,” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” are all available to binge-watch whenever and wherever you want.
Fewer channels at a higher price
How the mighty have fallen. DIRECTV NOW once had the best channel lineup of any streaming service around, but after its March 2019 purge, it now sits squarely in last place out of the six major providers. It only has seven out of the top 10 most-desired channels in TiVo’s survey, 32 out of the top 50, and 37 of the top 92. That puts it at around the same value as Sling’s Orange + Blue package, which is $10 cheaper per month.
DIRECTV NOW is missing some of the most-watched channels on TV: Discovery Channel, History, A&E, AMC, Food Network, Lifetime, Animal Planet, HGTV, and TLC. It’s not as if it makes up for these gaps with lower prices, either; DIRECTV NOW’s cheapest option is currently $50 per month, more than the starting price points for Hulu, Sling, and PlayStation Vue.
One of the biggest marks in DIRECTV NOW’s favor is that it does include all of the local channels — ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC — something that otherwise-superior lineups from Sling and fubo can’t match. That said, these are also the easiest channels to find elsewhere. You can get them in HD for free by using a TV antenna, and nine U.S. cities can also stream them using Locast.org, a not-for-profit dedicated to broadcasting local stations for free.
Weak selection for sports fans
If you’re one of the 91% of sports fans who subscribe to pay-TV primarily to watch live sports, DIRECTV NOW is one of your worst options. DIRECTV NOW is missing at least one network for each of the big leagues: the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL. That means you’ll miss a lot of marquee, nationally televised matchups. It doesn’t have the NFL Network in any of its packages, and you have to upgrade to $124 per month for other league-run channels like the NHL Network or NBA TV, an absurd price to pay for a live TV streaming service. The only streaming service that has fewer sports channels from those top four sports was fubo, which focuses on European soccer.
What’s more, you have to upgrade to DIRECTV NOW’s Max plan at $70 per month to get access to your regional sports networks (RSNs). These are the channels that show your local NBA, MLB, and NHL team’s games — arguably the most important ones for a lot of sports fans. Nielsen even noted that, in many markets, more people watch these channels in primetime than the “big four” local networks: ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC.
If you watch your local MLB, NBA, or NHL team regularly, this is a dealbreaker. Every other live streaming service carries most regional sports networks at $40 to $55 per month, compared to DIRECTV NOW’s $70.
Even when you look past the most popular leagues, DIRECTV NOW is highly disappointing. As far as sports news channels go, it only carries ESPN, ESPN 2, NBC Sports, and FS1 in its $50 package — no channels for college sports fans like ESPN U or Big Ten Network, no soccer channels, and no golf. Outside of the most casual sports fans, DIRECTV NOW is probably missing something you can easily get elsewhere for cheaper.
Stingy DVR storage and simultaneous streams
DIRECTV NOW was one of the last live TV streaming providers to add cloud DVR storage back in May 2018, and it’s been one of the least generous from the get-go. You’ll only be able to store 20 hours of video at a time, and it all deletes 30 days after it originally airs. That might seem like plenty, but it’s significantly behind other services in its weight class: Both YouTube TV and PlayStation Vue offer unlimited storage, while Hulu goes up to 50 hours.
DIRECTV NOW also skimps on how many streams you can have going at the same time. You’ll only be able to use it on two separate devices at once, compared to three for YouTube TV and five for PlayStation Vue. This won’t be a problem for a lot of people, but if you’re in a home that wages war over the remote, those extra streams come in handy.
Ultimately, these aren’t the things that make or break a streaming service. But with DIRECTV NOW’s higher starting price, we would have liked to see it dole out a little more with these extra perks.
Average user experience
To get a sense for how it felt to use DIRECTV NOW, we tested it on three devices: an Amazon Fire TV, a Roku Streaming Stick, and a MacBook Pro. Overall, channel-surfing DIRECTV NOW didn’t feel much different than browsing a traditional cable TV package — par for the course for most live TV streaming services.
The first thing you see is a guide with all of the channels in your package. As you browse on a Roku or Fire TV, the audio of the channel you’re currently on keeps playing in the background, while the TV schedule takes up the full screen. On a browser, the video is minimized to the corner of the screen while you browse. Neither of these were perfect solutions — we preferred them to Hulu’s one-show-at-a-time guide, but not YouTube TV’s elegant program-preview feature — but they weren’t particularly frustrating, either.
We preferred YouTube TV’s program-preview feature (bottom) to DIRECTV NOW’s traditional interface (top).