July 2 Update: This story was updated per the new $40 per month price of DirecTV Now.
DirecTV Now has been up and running for more than a year, and customers have two important questions: What is it, and how is it different from regular old DirecTV? In the simplest terms, DirecTV is a satellite-TV subscription service, while DirecTV Now is an online streaming service that delivers live TV channels. Both are owned by telecom giant AT&T.
But if you want to know how each one works, which channels each one offers and which one — if either — is right for you, those questions are a bit harder to answer. We’ve gathered some of the most salient facts to help you make your own decisions.
|How You Get It||Satellite dish||Internet|
|Channels||145 to 315||60 to 120|
|Pricing||$90 to $187 per month*|
*Introductory prices: $50 to $125 per month
|$40 to $75 per month|
|Required Hardware||TV, Genie box, satellite dish||Compatible device (Android, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, iOS, Roku), TV* |
*Not necessary for Android/iOS devices
|Pros||More channels; DirecTV sets it up for you||Relatively cheap; No contract|
|Cons||More expensive than streaming; Long-term contracts||Some performance bugs|
Before you start looking into the pros and cons of a DirecTV or DirecTV Now subscription, you should probably check to see if DirecTV is available in your area. While DirecTV Now is available everywhere in the United States, DirecTV is a satellite service, so you’ll need a satellite dish. While the beauty of a satellite dish is that you can use it from just about anywhere, it does mean that you’ve got to start modifying the outside of your house. Apartment dwellers or people who belong to particularly strict housing associations can probably forget about it.
Channel selection and cost
DirecTV Now offers a variety of channel packages, ranging from Live a Little, with more than 60 channels at $40 per month, to Gotta Have It, with about 120 channels at $70 per month. This may sound like a lot, but even the most modest DirecTV satellite package offers a great deal more: The basic DirecTV package starts at around 145 channels, and the most extreme options range up to about 315 channels. There’s a flip side, though: The packages also range in price from $90 per month to $187 per month. (DirecTV offers considerable discounts to first-time subscribers, however.)
DirectTV Now package selectionGiving an exact channel breakdown would depend on too many variables, including where you live and what kinds of packages you're willing to buy. However, no matter which package you invest in, you’ll get the basics: A&E, Bravo, CNN, Cartoon Network, Disney, History, Lifetime, Nickelodeon, Syfy and so forth. For both satellite and DirecTV Now subscriptions, the presence of local channels very much depends on both your location and on DirecTV’s standing with those channels.
Just bear in mind that DirecTV Now's DVR features are rolling out as a beta. By default, accounts come with 20 hours of recording capacity, and recordings last 30 days. In the summer of 2018, a more-expensive tier, — 100 hours of storage, with recordings that last 90 days — will launch for an extra $10 per month.
Of the two services, DirecTV Now has a lower barrier to entry. All you need is a computer, mobile device or streaming player (Android, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, iOS, Google Chromecast or newer Rokus). While the service isn’t available on Android TV or game consoles (but really should be), you can spend about $30 on hardware and be up and running within half an hour.
Not so for a DirecTV subscription, however, which requires both the aforementioned satellite dish and an HD DVR box known as the Genie. If you’re a new DirecTV subscriber, the company will install both the satellite dish and the Genie for you. The dish won't cost you anything extra, and the Genie fees (usually $7 per month) are included with newer subscriptions, unless you want five or more boxes.
One bit of good news is that you can access your content on computers, mobile devices and streaming players, regardless of the service you use. The DirecTV (not DirecTV Now) app allows satellite subscribers to view programs on devices other than their TVs. DirecTV subscribers can download the app to both iOS and Android devices, then proceed to watch both live TV and content from their DVR boxes (provided that their Genie is connected to the Internet, of course).
DirecTV also sweetens the deal for AT&T mobile customers. If you’re a customer and you're out and about, you can stream DirecTV content to your phone or tablet, and it won’t count against your mobile data cap. While customers from other wireless providers can still use the app, they’ll probably want to do so on Wi-Fi connections; streaming video tends to eat up data pretty fast.
DirecTV Now, on the other hand, is a streaming app first and foremost. You can download it right to your mobile devices and watch it just like any other streaming service. The same deal is in place for AT&T mobile subscribers: While anyone can access the DirecTV Now app, AT&T subscribers can stream as much of it as they want without having to see their mobile data plans take a hit.
Which one should you get?
Assuming you watch a lot of TV, either DirecTV Now or DirecTV is a feasible option. Although Tom’s Guide has encountered a lot of problems with DirecTV Now’s service, the amount of content you get for the money is more than fair. DirecTV, on the other hand, provides consistent service, but it's heir to the problem that any satellite dish encounters: poor reception, especially during bad weather and the like, and extremely high prices.
DirecTV is a more traditional service. As such, it’s more straightforward to watch on your TV and it offers more channels, but it’s also much more expensive and ties you into a yearly contract. DirecTV Now offers fewer channels, and it's considerably more limited when it comes to the ways you can watch it, but the price tag is much easier to stomach, and you don’t need any expensive, specialized equipment.
Since DirecTV Now offers a free trial and doesn’t require a contract, I’d recommend checking that out first. If it meets your needs, you could save a lot of money; if not, you can always cancel and switch over to the full satellite subscription.
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