DIRECTV NOW has worked out its bugs and is the best live TV streaming service (review)

Very few major software launches get everything right on the first try. The largest software companies in the world – Google, Microsoft and Apple – get it wrong. Apple usually has bugs with major software version upgrades, from slow servers to bugs not fixed in beta testing, it has seen its fair share of bumpy roads. Google leaves many of its new products in beta form to work out its kinks. Microsoft is the most notorious for releasing endless Windows update that restart your computers in what seems like every week. No one is immune from launch bugs, including AT&T with its most recent major release in DIRECTV NOW. But we stick with the software because we know fixes happen after the product is launched.

DIRECTV NOW was launched at the end of November, 2016 and is AT&T’s answer to Netflix, YouTube, Sling TV and Hulu. It was a considerable release for AT&T considering it was getting into the video streaming services rather late. Just like every other major software launch, it experienced bugs that led to almost all negative reviews from major media outlets. The problem with those reviews is the writers didn’t give AT&T a fair shot to work out some of the kinks. They’ve since moved on and are now missing out on one heck of an experience.

I am usually on the negative end of the spectrum when it comes to my experiences with AT&T wireless, but I couldn’t be happier with DIRECTV NOW. As much as AT&T bothers me with its sneaky tactics at times, I think all of the major carriers have their issues and I choose to stick with AT&T for its network (better than T-Mobile and Sprint by a long shot) and wide range of compatible devices (Verizon’s is the network champ, but is severely limited by compatible devices). I don’t think the early reviews are fair of DIRECTV NOW, especially because I have been using it across my computers, tablets and phones on WiFi and cellular connections without any major issues since its launch. Any reviews that came out within two weeks of its inception didn’t give AT&T and DIRECTV a fair shot to work out the bugs.

Since I cancelled my UVERSE cable TV subscription over a year ago, I’ve turned to YouTube, Hulu, Netflix and Sling TV for my video watching habit. I’m a little too old to truly love YouTube; I grew up with a certain expectation for video content. While I do love certain things about YouTube, its content still feels too amateurish for my taste. Hulu and Netflix are great, but still don’t satisfy my channel surfing needs. Sling TV was an acceptable alternative to TV when it came to sports, but lacked the diverse content I needed with networks like Fox, TNT, Velocity, MLB Network and Discovery. AT least it had the Food Network, The History Channel and VICELAND. I know everyone’s tastes in TV content are different, but Sling TV is truly limited by its lack of networks. Its most expansive plan on has about 50 channels, and costs $40 which is more than I pay for 100. It was also plagued with bugs that it never really worked out in my experience.

When DIRECTV NOW launched, it came out with three pricing plans. The one that caught my attention was the Go Big plan with 100+ channels that I could sign up for an introductory price of $35 per month. It once an early adopter pricing plan where it locked me into promotional pricing, to save $25 off the normal $60 per month fee. I can keep that pricing for as long as I maintain my service. What made the deal a lock was the free 32GB Apple TV ($150 value) I would get for prepaying for three months of service up front at a cost of $105. Luckily, for those of you who want to try DIRECTV NOW, AT&T is still running the free Apple TV promotion. Right now the Go Big plan is now $60 for new subscribers, but there are three other plans to choose from: Live a Little ($35 for 60 channels), Just Right ($50 for 80 channels) and Gotta Have It ($70 for 120 channels). You can see the entire lineup of channels associated with each plan here.

With the Go Big plan, I increased my live tv streaming fees by $10 a month over Sling TV. But I gained a whole host of channels that I was missing. Discovery, Velocity, BBC World News, Fox, MLB Network, MTV, NBC and the USA Network are just some of the channels I gained. That was enough for me to cancel my Hulu, Netflix and Sling TV subscriptions. Instead of paying for Netflix ($12), Hulu ($12 commercial free) and Sling TV ($25), I ended up saving $14 a month.  Just like those services, DIRECTV NOW also offers video on demand but with commercials.

In the first week, I read lots of reviews that reported unexplained streaming or blackout errors. Unlike Netflix and Hulu which buffer its content, Sling TV and DIRECTV NOW stream live which means they aren’t downloading media to your device before it is being watched. This type of streaming requires a much more stable WiFi or data connection, both of which I have in San Diego. I have a mesh network setup in my home to keep my WiFi signal strong (100mbps), and I regularly get a minimum of 15mbps download rate over cellular in my area. Streaming 720p video shouldn’t require that much effort for home networks, but in households with old routers, thick walls, or multiple devices streaming at the same time, laggy live tv streaming might suffer. I would generate streaming slowness if I walked far away from my wireless signal, or if I streamed video on three other devices around my house concurrently. I stream about 5-20 hours of DIRECTV NOW per week and since January have not received the bugs that others have, but maybe I am just lucky.

The interface is as intuitive as it gets for video software. The channel guide is better than what you’d use on cable TV, and you can browse it while watching live TV as well. If you switch channels, it takes no more than two seconds to load. There’s on demand movies and TV shows too, but you will have to sit through commercials just like you would with live TV. While I might be in the minority about commercials, I don’t always find them annoying. I’ve been trained to deal with commercials ever since I was a kid in the 80s. I rarely, if ever, binge watch live TV, and the commercials offer time to find another show to watch, or they offer mini breaks for me to do little things around the house. If you’re a sports fan, there’s no avoiding commercials no matter which service you have. Quite frankly I prefer seeing my advertising over tv commercials than being hammered with pop up ads on every free website I visit across the web.

For those of you who like to stream to your television sets, DIRECTV NOW is compatible with a wide range of devices. I frequently stream live TV to my Apple TV and Amazon Fire Stick while I exercise in my home, and find it extremely easy to use whether I’m on Android or iOS. I have yet to try DIRECTV NOW with my Chromecasts, but assume it works just as well.

Another major benefit to going with DIRECTV NOW over ala carte services such as HBO Now is you can add those premium channels to your package for just $5. If you were to subscribe to HBO Now through its dedicated app, you’d pay $15 for an individual subscription.

One downside to DIRECTV NOW is your limitation to stream to two devices at a time. This might be an annoyance for anyone who has three or more users per household, but at that point actual cable TV might be a better option. Other than that, I am usually pretty picky when it comes to my video streaming services, and can tell you that DIRECTV NOW is the best live TV streaming service available. The channel lineup is bigger than what’s offered from Sling TV and Playstation Vue which make it a better value even if I have to pay a little more each month. Having the ability to stream endless video to my AT&T connected devices, without affecting my data cap, is also a huge bonus.

I highly recommend trying out DIRECTV if you’re a current subscriber of Sling TV, Playstation VUE or are simply interested in cutting out your monthly cable bill. Pricing starts at $35 per month with no annual contracts or strings attached. You can try DIRECTV NOW free for seven days by signing up at directvnow.com.

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