DirecTV Stream review: Only for (certain) sports fans
Cutting the cord is easier than ever. Live TV streaming services like DirecTV Stream are plentiful now. Each delivers a unique set of pros and cons, which can make it confusing to choose one over the other.
DirecTV Stream is in the top echelon of the best cable TV alternatives as far as price and number of channels, counting YouTube TV, Hulu With Live TV and Fubo TV as its main competitors. Plans start at $69.99 per month for 65 channels, including the broadcast networks and (uniquely) PBS. Unlimited cloud DVR also gives DirecTV Stream a leg up on its rivals, aside from YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV.
Yet, as this DirecTV Stream review will show, this service doesn’t really stand out, unless you’re a fan of a team that plays on one of the many regional sports networks that DirecTV Stream has that others don’t. It’s not the cheapest, it doesn’t offer the most channels and it’s not the best value. Is there a reason to choose DirecTV Stream as your cord-cutting option? Read my review to find out.
DirecTV Stream review: Pricing and availability
DirecTV Stream offers four packages (opens in new tab), which are priced according to the number and types of channels that come with each. All four packages have unlimited cloud DVR and unlimited simultaneous streams within your home (three streams on the go).
The entry-level starter plan, Entertainment, is $69.99 per month and has 65 channels.The next tier is Choice, which is $89.99 per month and 90 channels, including regional sports networks, NBA TV, MLB Network and college sports networks.
Above that is the Ultimate package at $104.99 per month and 130 channels, including Golf Channel and NHL Network. The highest level is Premier, which is a whopping $149.99 per month and bundles in HBO Max, Showtime, Starz and Cinemax.
Sometimes, new subscribers can find discounts on these rates. For instance, as of March 2022, all four DirecTV Stream packages are $10 off for three months.
DirecTV Stream’s Entertainment plan is on par with other major cable alternatives that offer all the broadcast channels as well as top cable brands. Fubo and Hulu With Live TV are the same price, while YouTube TV is a few dollars cheaper. It’s a lot more expensive than Sling ($35 for the Orange or Blue plans) and Philo ($25), but those two services don’t offer as many channels.
The prices of the upper tiers are eye-popping at first, but understandable when you factor in the extra channels. The Premier plan is essentially a complete cable replacement, plus four premium networks, with a cable-like bill.
As far as availability, the DirecTV Stream app can be found on most major platforms:
- Web browsers (Chrome, Safari, Edge)
- iPhone and iPads (iOS 11 and higher)
- Android phones and tablets version 7.1 and higher)
- Apple TV (4th gen and later)
- Roku devices and television sets
- Amazon Fire TV devices and television sets
- Google Chromecast (2nd gen and higher)
- Samsung televisions (select models 2017- 2021)
- DirecTV Stream device
DirecTV Stream review: Interface
After signing up for DirecTV Stream, the set-up process is fairly simple. I was able to start watching television within five minutes. I tested the app on an Apple TV 4K, Roku Streaming Stick 4K, Fire TV Stick 4K, an iPhone 13 Pro and the Chrome web browser. The experience was the same on the first three devices. All worked fine and seamlessly, for the most part.
The interface looks sleek, not all that different from YouTube TV or Hulu With Live TV and a bit more stylish than Fubo. Like those services, DirecTV Stream features large program thumbnails that are colorful and easy to read. To be honest, all of these services have similar enough interfaces that none of them really stands out as head-and-shoulders better than the rest. They all have minute differences in fonts and color palettes, so it’s really a matter of personal preference. I rather like the utilitarian, stark-white aesthetic of YouTube TV, but DirecTV Stream is acceptable in its unobtrusiveness.
On the streaming devices and Chrome, DirecTV Stream opens to the Watch Now tab with a program in progress. That’s a little annoying and something that unfortunately cannot be changed in preferences. The other tabs are Guide, My Library, Sports and On Demand. On the phone, Watch Now and Guide are combined.
Each tab is exactly what it sounds like. Watch Now displays what you are literally watching, as well as thumbnails of other shows that are airing live at that moment. Below that is a Continue Watching section with recordings and on-demand episodes you haven’t completed. The thumbnails have a helpful progress bar at the bottom to remind you where you left off.
The guide is a grid of channels, which will be familiar if you’ve had cable in the past. I was able to sort the grid by channel number or A-Z, or filter by my favorites, movies, TV shows, sports and kids. Like Watch Now, the Grid plays whatever program is in progress, which I found a bit distracting as I browsed through the channels.
My Library, aka the DVR, holds all your recordings as well as bookmarks, which function as favorites for shows and movies. If you go one level down into All Recordings, the app reminds you that your saved shows expired after 90 days. Here, you can also delete recordings by selecting a trash can icon next to each one.
Sports is basically Watch Now, but filtered for sports content. On Demand highlights the networks, movies and shows in DirecTV Stream’s library.
Finally, the menu bar contains search and settings. The latter allows you to update preferences, parental controls, next episode autoplay and streaming quality (more on that below).
Mostly, I found DirecTV Stream easy to navigate. Everything is clearly labeled and behaves as I expect. My only gripe is that I wish the app didn’t automatically start playing the channel I last used. I much prefer a non-active home screen, like I get on Sling.
As far as performance, I found switching channels a little slow. At one point, I clicked on CNN and it took a good 10 seconds to load. And I ran into the same issue as my colleague Henry T. Casey did when he tried out DirecTV Stream last summer — it’s often 10-30 seconds behind the actual broadcast. I used the service to watch the Oscars and I realized my stream was delayed when I got a cryptic text from a friend mentioning Chris Rock before actually seeing the moment when he was slapped by Will Smith. I tested for this problem again the next day by turning on The Kelly Clarkson Show on both Sling and DirecTV Stream. The latter was behind by about 20 seconds.
DirecTV Stream review: Content and channels
For this review, I signed up for the entry-level Entertainment package, which comes with more than 65 channels. That’s a little less than DirecTV Stream’s main competitors. Fubo’s entry-level Pro plan boasts 117 channels, YouTube TV has 85 and Hulu With Live TV offers 75. Check out our Sling vs YouTube TV vs Hulu vs Fubo vs DirecTV face-off to see which services have the top 100 most popular channels.
Aside from being a bit smaller, the DirecTV Stream channel lineup is excellent. I get all four broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox) and PBS, which no other live TV service offers. All the major cable channels are included, such as AMC, CNN, Comedy Central, ESPN, Food Network, FX, HGTV, MTV, TBS, TLC, TNT and USA.
I have the option to add on premium networks like HBO and Showtime (and DirecTV Stream gives three months free before charging you for them). They also offer sports and international extras, but if I want specific specialty sports networks, I have to upgrade to a bigger package. The $89.99 per month Choice tier is probably the best bet for finding what makes DirecTV Stream unique, as it has many of the Bally Sports and NBC Sports regional networks fans need to watch sports online.
DirecTV Stream also has movies and TV shows on demand. I was surprised to see all Yellowstone season 4 episodes are available to view since I thought Peacock had exclusive streaming rights. Among the shows, I found the current seasons of Married at First Sight, Abbott Elementary and Atlanta. When I played one, I was again pleasantly surprised — I could fast-forward and rewind to my heart’s content. Like several other live TV services, DirecTV Stream also lets you sample the first episodes of premium network shows like Showtime’s Yellowjackets, HBO’s Euphoria and Starz’s Outlander.
The movies were less current —mostly older titles like The Amazing Spider-Man, Happy Gilmore and Tomb Raider. I wouldn’t count on DirecTV Stream for movie night.
DirecTV Stream does not produce originals, but none of their rivals do except for Hulu With Live TV.
DirecTV Stream review: DVR
At the beginning of 2022, DirecTV Stream increased its prices and announced that new subscribers would get unlimited cloud DVR. Previously, all plans came with 20 hours of DVR, with a $10 fee to upgrade to unlimited.
This was absolutely the right move, particularly after a rate hike. Unlimited cloud DVR should be a mandatory feature for any live TV service, yet most don’t provide it. DirecTV now sits in good company with YouTube TV and (coming soon) Hulu With Live TV. In this area, Fubo and Sling should follow their lead.
Recordings do expire after 90 days, though, which is a bummer. YouTube TV and Hulu with live TV recordings are saved for nine months. Meanwhile, Fubo and Sling never delete your programs. Perhaps this is because they have limited storage, which will push users to manage their DVR capacity. I suppose if I kept every single DirecTV Stream recording forever, the “cloud” would need to add more servers. Still, 90 days isn’t very long and I’d like to see the service push the expiration date to six months.
DirecTV Stream review: Video quality
DirecTV Stream isn’t very forthright about its video quality. In the app, you can set your streaming quality preference to “Best, Better, or Good.” What does that mean? Who knows! The service doesn’t explain any of those terms in its support section. I tried all three settings and didn’t see a difference while watching sports, news and a comedy show. Perhaps they vary more if you have lower-speed internet or if a bunch of devices are hogging the bandwidth.
Browsing through programs, it looked like most were at 720p or 1080p resolution. DirecTV Stream does not offer 4K streaming at this time, but few do, outside of YouTube TV and Fubo, which only offer it for select events. Most of the time, the video looked great, on par with YouTube TV and Hulu With Live TV. And it was more consistent in achieving higher resolutions than my cord-cutting choice Sling, which sometimes plays programs in low-def for several minutes.
DirecTV Stream review: Verdict
As this DirecTV Stream review has shown, this service doesn’t stand out in any way — unless your sports fandom makes its RSN access a serious priority. Its price puts it in league with YouTube TV, Hulu With Live TV and Fubo TV, yet it has fewer channels that all of them. Unlimited DVR is an excellent feature, but YouTube TV also has it, is $5 cheaper per month and has more channels. Granted, only DirecTV Stream has PBS, but I can’t see that being the deciding factor for most people. And DirecTV Stream’s upper-tier packages may fit your needs if you watch a lot of regional sports.
As far as interface and performance goes, DirecTV Stream works adequately apart from the delay problem. But again, its competitors work just as well or better, while providing more value. Cutting the cord is doable with DirecTV Stream, but I also can’t think of a major reason to recommend it above other services.