Last year, I spent an unreasonable amount of time on the phone with my cable company. My bill, which bundled TV with high-speed internet and a landline that I didn't want, kept increasing: $135, then inexplicably $163, a jump to $183 and then $194. There was nothing they could do, customer service reps said every time I inquired about lowering my bill (even when I threatened to jump ship).
My promotional rate had expired; the rate I was paying was the best they could offer, oh, and didn't I realize I could save money by downgrading to 200 megabits per second? What did I need such fast internet for?
In February, I decided I'd had enough: $200 is too much to pay for hundreds of channels I never watch, and it's none of their business what I need fast internet for. I was finally ready to cut the cord.
Choosing a Streaming Service
My challenge was finding a streaming bundle with a well-designed app for the fourth-gen Apple TV (the set-top box I already owned) and the right mix of channels. That mix would need to satisfy both my love of classic movies and cooking shows and my husband’s affinity for Adult Swim cartoons — sorry, "animated comedies" — and every sport ever. I longed to cut the cord back in 2012, but finding a way to stream sports was a challenge then.
Now, there are several options that can do that. Sling TV, YouTube TV, Hulu Live, PlayStation Vue and DirecTV Now all offer tiers of channels at various prices, some of which include a swath of sports channels and some of which don't. None of these services require contracts, and all offer free weeklong trials, so trying them out and switching among them is easy enough. For my first foray into cord cutting, I decided on DirecTV Now.
Why I Picked DirecTV Now
AT&T's DirecTV Now didn't win universal acclaim when it launched in 2017. The service was glitchy in our reviewer's experience, and it wasn't available on as wide an array of platforms as its rivals.
But the service won me over with the promise of a free weeklong trial, a variety of channels I actually watch in a package that isn't insanely expensive and, perhaps the biggest selling point, a free 4K Apple TV. DirecTV requires you to prepay for three months of its streaming service to get the set-top box, but that's still a great deal.
Technically, you can get Apple's fifth-generation Apple TV with 32GB of storage, which retails for $180, by selecting DirecTV Now's cheapest package, which is $35 a month. That means you can get the 4K Apple TV for just $105. But that option didn't have all the channels I wanted, so I splurged on the $50 bundle.
For $150, I got a new set-top box and saved a ton of money by ditching cable. The Apple TV arrived at my house within days of when I signed up for the service, so I didn't even have to wait until the end of my prepaid period to set up my new hardware.
I did upgrade my internet speed to a higher tier, which is costing me a bit more than it was as part of a cable bundle: $89.99 unbundled versus $49.99 as part of a package. But because I'll be streaming more, I figured it was worth the trade-off.
What I Wish DirecTV Now Would Fix
In my first few weeks with DirecTV Now, I've experienced some issues with the service that need to be fixed.
The first is a big one: streaming reliability. In my first two weeks of service, DirecTV Now would interrupt whatever show or movie I was watching and give me a server error message. All I had to do was tap my Apple TV remote to reload the stream, and it would quickly resume, but the fact that I ever had to do that is problematic. This was a bigger issue during the NCAA basketball tournament, when the error message popped up at least six times. My husband nearly tossed our Apple TV in the trash in frustration. Don't worry — everything is fine now.
This happens at least once a week, which is problematic, and it seems to be an issue with the service itself and not my internet connection or Apple TV hardware. We hardwired the Apple TV to an Ethernet port to improve streaming reliability, but haven't seen much difference. If these error messages continue to be a regular occurrence, this will be the biggest reason I leave DirecTV Now to try another streaming service (though this problem may extend to other services beyond DirecTV Now).
There are other, smaller issues that are more specific to the Apple TV interface, such as the lack of a back button to return to the channel I was previously watching. I wish there were channel numbers that I could memorize so I didn't have to swipe up to the guide every time I wanted to switch to a different network. Even better would be support for the voice-activated assistant that Apple includes with the Apple TV remote. "Hey, Siri, play ESPN on DirecTV Now." A girl's gotta dream, right?
The 4K Apple TV sealed the initial deal for me, but I'm not sold on DirecTV Now as my cable replacement — at least, not yet. The frequency of error messages has decreased, which is reassuring. I haven't seen one in about two weeks. And AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said in January that DirecTV Now will be redesigned this spring, with an easier-to-use interface and new features, including cloud DVR and live-TV pausing. Hopefully, that update rolls out sooner rather than later.
My total bill for TV and internet is now $139.99, so I'm still saving $60, even with the faster internet speed. I also have more control over the TV part of the equation, because I can downgrade to a less expensive package or switch services whenever I want to. Even if I cancel DirecTV Now after my prepaid three-month subscription ends, I feel like this was a great deal.
I plan to see my three months through, enjoy my new set-top box and re-evaluate when my test run ends. Stay tuned.
Credit: Tom's Guide