Starting price: $55 per month
Supported devices: AT&T TV device, Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Apple iPhone and iPad, Android phones and tablets, Chromecast, Samsung Smart TVs
Cloud DVR: 500 hours
Simultaneous streams: 3
Is AT&T TV Now a good cable alternative? As a longtime cable subscriber, I’m constantly looking for ways to cut the cord. Cord-cutting is now easier than ever, with half-a-dozen cable alternatives that provide live TV streaming.
Finding a cable replacement with the right price and the right channel lineup can be tricky, though. AT&T TV Now is an option that recently updated its packages, so that its lowest tier starts at $55 a month for 45+ channels. That puts it right in the middle of live TV services, in terms of both cost and channels.
AT&T TV Now, previously called DirecTV Now, has undergone a ton of changes in the last couple of years. It used to be one of the most expensive, but comprehensive, live TV services in the market. That’s not the case anymore. Now, it’s cheaper than YouTube TV and on a par with Hulu With Live TV, but doesn’t have the robust channel lineup that those competitors boast. Of course, you can get more channels (including HBO Max) if you invest in the higher tier packages.
The service is fairly easy to use, and is available on a number of major devices — although not all of them, as the app is missing from gaming consoles and non-Samsung smart TVs. While the interface is well-designed, I found quite a few strange quirks, not to mention some lag while navigating the guide.
For cord cutters, AT&T TV Now is likely less expensive than your cable bill. If you’re just looking to watch local broadcast networks and some popular cable channels, then the service could be a good fit for you, especially since it comes with 500 hours of DVR storage. But in general, our AT&T TV Now review shows that the service needs improvement to truly compete in the live TV space.
AT&T TV Now review: Price and packages
AT&T TV Now offers a free seven-day trial to check out all that it has to offer. After that, you can sign up for one of eight packages. All eight packages come with 500 hours of Cloud DVR, and three simultaneous streams.
Plus is the entry-level package, at $55 per month and 45 channels. The next tier (Max) includes HBO Max, Cinemax and some regional sports networks, and costs $80.
The other six packages differ in the number and types of channels they offer. Some come with regional sports networks; others don’t. The regional sports networks you get with each package depend on your ZIP code, which you can check here. But the Max package is the lowest priced plan that includes them.
The other tiers are as follows:
- Entertainment: 65 channels ($93)
- Choice: 85 channels ($110)
- Xtra: 105 channels ($124)
- Ultimate: 125 channels ($135)
- Premier: 140 channels ($183)
- Optimo Mas: 50 Spanish language channels, 40 English language channels ($86)
At their price points, the Ultimate and Premier plans are essentially the same as getting a cable package; you just don’t need a cable box.
These plans don't compare well to Hulu With Live TV, which costs $55 a month for 60 channels, plus access to Hulu’s streaming library and original series. YouTube TV costs more, but you also get more ($65 per month for 85 channels). Fubo TV also costs $65, but packs a whopping 115 channels. On the lower end of the spectrum are live TV services like Sling ($30 for 50 channels) and Philo ($20 for over 61 channels).
AT&T TV Now review: Supported devices
The AT&T TV Now app (called simply AT&T TV in the Google Play or Apple Stores) is available on a number of devices. You can also access it through standard web browsers on Mac and PC.
The AT&T TV Now app is available to download on:
- The AT&T TV device
- Amazon Fire TV Stick, Cube, streaming player and Smart TVs (2nd gen. and later)
- Android phones and tablets running version 5.0 and up (Android 8 and later recommended)
- Apple TV (4th generation)
- Apple iPhones, iPad and iTouch running iOS 11 and later (iOS 12 and later recommended)
- Chromecast (2nd gen and later) and Chromecast TVs
- Roku (all devices)
- Samsung Smart TVs (2017, 2018 and 2019 models)
As you can see, there are a number of major devices missing from the list, including Xbox and Playstation consoles. And aside from Samsung, AT&T TV Now is not available on other smart TVs.
That puts AT&T TV Now behind almost all of its competitors. YouTube TV supports both Xbox and Playstation, while Hulu With Live TV supports Xbox and Nintendo Switch. Sling and Fubo are both on Xbox. In terms of smart TV support, Hulu, YouTube and Sling are all available on select LG and Vizio TVs in addition to Samsung models.
AT&T TV Now review: Interface
AT&T TV Now’s interface is clean and intuitive. It’s easy to find the Guide, search for titles and access your DVR recordings.
We tested the app on my Apple TV, iPhone 11 Pro and TCL Roku television, as well as the Fire TV Stick 4K.
AT&T TV Now opens on a home screen called Watch Now, which features either the channel you were last browsing, or another current program. Below the player, there's a section called What’s on Now, which is exactly what it sounds like. But it’s not clear how the app decides what to show in the player, or the order of programs in the section.
The individual show and movie pages are barebones, containing a minimal amount of info about each selection's cast and premise. For instance, when selecting Saving Private Ryan, it gave me a two-sentence summary that mentioned only Tom Hanks.
The interface toggles among several other screens: Guide, Library and Discover. The Guide is a cable-like grid where you can scroll up and down to channel surf, and left and right to see what’s airing in the future. There was a little bit of lag while scrolling through the channels, and a significant amount of buffering to load a show — at least four to five seconds. That may not seem like a long time, but a show on Hulu With Live TV loads in 1-2 seconds.
Once the player screen loads, it has most of the features you’d expect, such as the ability to pause, record, adjust the volume and turn on closed captioning. Some live programs allow you to restart them from the beginning. When watching a recording, you can rewind and fast forward — even through commercials (on many programs). That’s standard on live TV services, including YouTube TV, Hulu and Fubo.
The Library screen houses your DVR content (including a list of upcoming recordings), as well as a list of the programs you’ve bookmarked. Here, AT&T TV Now’s interface is much better than Hulu With Live TV (which is a navigational nightmare) and on a par with YouTube TV’s clean design. The Library is simple and streamlined. I particularly liked the ability to bookmark shows and movies that don’t have upcoming airdates, so I could remember to record them later.
The most confounding screen is Discover. The layout is well done: a top menu divvies up content to browse by network, shows and movies. Below that are sections categorized by genre: popular movies, free first episodes (of premium network shows), animated series, true crime series, etc. But if the point of the Discovery tab is to, well, discover stuff to watch, then it’s a failure. I clicked on several films in the popular movies row, only to find that I couldn’t actually watch them. For instance, The Dark Knight was on a channel not included in my package. That's fine;, AT&T TV Now is trying to upsell me, like numerous other services do. But in other cases, I had no idea why a program wasn’t available. Not only was there no option to record it, but I couldn’t even bookmark it. When I clicked on Deadpool, I got a short four-sentence synopsis, but no option to record or bookmark the film. So, highlighting Deadpool in the Discover area was totally useless.
AT&T TV Now review: Content and channels
AT&T TV Now’s basic Plus package comes with more than 45 channels, including local broadcasts of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, depending on your region. And yes, it’s called Plus even though it’s not adding on top of an even lower-tier plan.
The cable networks on offer likely include many of your favorites, such as Bravo, CNN, Comedy Central, ESPN, Fox News, FX, MTV, National Geographic Channel, Syfy, TNT and VH1. But Plus is also lacking in quite a few of my personal must-haves, such as AMC, Discovery, Food Network, Lifetime and TLC. All of those networks are available with Philo, which is $35 cheaper, though Philo doesn’t have local channels. And I can get almost all of those options via Hulu With Live TV.
If you want any of those (or specialty sports networks like NBA TV and Tennis Channel), you’ll need to upgrade to one of the higher-priced packages like Choice, Xtra, Ultimate or Premier.
As I mentioned before, the Max package comes with HBO Max and Cinemax, as well as several regional sports networks. Showtime and Starz come with the top-level Premier package.Or you can add on those premium networks, as well as Epix, the Movies Extra Pack (with new releases and more), Latino channels and international TV packages.
In terms of content, AT&T TV Now doesn’t offer any exclusives or originals, unlike Hulu With Live TV and (to a lesser extent) YouTube TV.
AT&T TV Now review: Cloud DVR
When it comes to its Cloud DVR, AT&T TV Now is in the middle of the live TV streaming services pack. At 500 hours of recordings, it comes in behind the unlimited offering of YouTube TV, but far ahead of the paltry 50 hours included with Hulu With Live TV’s basic plan. The Library screen keeps track of how many available hours you have left in the DVR.
It’s a cinch to record an entire series, or just one episode or movie, and you can keep recordings for 90 days. You can manage and delete saved programs easily on the Library screen. You can see at a glance which recordings are in progress, as well as get basic info like the recording’s length, original air date and channel.
AT&T TV Now review: Video quality
AT&T TV Now supports up to 1080p resolution, depending on the channel and program. Most of the content I watched seemed to play at 720p. That’s standard across live TV streaming services, including YouTube TV and Hulu. Sling doesn't have detailed information about its streaming resolutions, while Philo streams live TV at 720p and on-demand content at 1080p.
On my sometimes-slow home internet connection, programs achieved HD resolution fairly quickly once they loaded — around 3-4 seconds — and they held steady at that resolution. Again, that's standard for live-streaming services.
AT&T TV Now review: Verdict
AT&T TV Now is decidedly in the middle of the pack when it comes to live TV streaming services. It’s not as expensive or comprehensive as YouTube TV and Fubo, but it has more top channels than the lower-priced Philo and Sling. AT&T TV Now’s closest competitor is Hulu With Live TV, since they cost the same amount. They have different strengths and weaknesses. AT&T TV Now offers more DVR storage, while Hulu backs up its live service with a huge library of content and originals.
The two other major drawbacks for AT&T Now are the lack of gaming console support and the somewhat slow load times for navigation and playback. These days, a streaming service really can’t afford to be unavailable on popular devices like Xbox and Playstation. And its performance issues make AT&T TV Now seem like a bumbling rube in the streaming landscape.
In the end, AT&T TV Now left me feeling extremely unimpressed. Its basic Plus package is affordable, but doesn’t have all of the channels I want, while the higher tiers are too exorbitantly priced. Of course, when it comes to channel preferences, to each their own, so if AT&T TV Now offers all of the ones you need, then it could be the right fit. But compared to the other options in the market, AT&T TV Now simply doesn’t have a strong enough value proposition to stand out.