Editor's Note: This story was updated on July 2 per new $40 per month pricing.
As cord cutting becomes more popular, more companies are offering online TV services as alternatives to cable. And those cable competitors include satellite TV companies like DirecTV.
Starting at $40 per month (a price hike coming August 1 will raise rates, from $35 per month), DirecTV Now lets you stream live TV to your TV, phone or tablet. It's also a better value on paper than some of its competitors, offering 60 channels in its starting package. Sling TV, for example, gives you 30 channels for its starting $20 price. YouTube TV charges $40 for its 60+ channels.
Having lagged behind in certain categories, DirecTV Now is finally catching up to the kings of the category by launching its cloud-based DVR. The service has also increased its on-demand title selection. Here's everything you need to know.
What is DirecTV Now, and how does it work?
Ever think DirecTV would be great if it weren't for the set-top box you watch it on? Then you might be interested in DirecTV Now, an online live-streaming service that requires zero new hardware but still gives you the TV channels and on-demand content you love.
How much does DirecTV Now cost, and is there a contract?
DirecTV Now starts at $40 per month with its Live a Little package, which includes more than 60 live channels. DirecTV Now doesn't lock you into an annual contract but instead bills you monthly, so you can cancel whenever you like.
What packages does DirecTV Now offer, and what channels are included?
The Live a Little ($40 per month) package includes major networks such as AMC, BBC America, Bravo, Cartoon Network, CNN, Comedy Central, Discovery, E!, Food Network, FX, FXX, National Geographic, Syfy, TBS, TNT and USA, as well as local broadcast networks (where available).
DirecTV Now Packages Compared
|Cost||Number of Channels||Notable Channels|
|Live a Little||$40 per month||More than 60||AMC, CNN, ESPN, Food Network, FX and local broadcast networks|
|Just Right||$55 per month||More than 80||ESPN News, IFC, Travel Channel, MLB Network, The Weather Channel|
|Go Big||$65 per month||More than 100||FX Movie Channel, Nat Geo Wild, Fox Sports 2, NBA TV|
|Gotta Have It||$75 per month||More than 120||El Rey, Starz, Univision Deportes|
Upgrading to the $55-per-month Just Right package grants access to more than 80 channels, adding the Cooking Channel, IFC, SundanceTV, Travel Channel and The Weather Channel. The $65-per-month Go Big package offers more than 100 channels — including the FX Movie Channel, Logo and Nat Geo Wild — and the $75 Gotta Have It package features more than 120 channels, adding eight Starz networks, El Rey and Boomerang.
How many users can simultaneously stream on a single subscription?
Up to two simultaneous streams can happen on the same DirecTV Now account. A third stream, which you might need for a large household, can be added for an extra $5 per month. Sling includes one in its Orange package and three with its Blue package (both cost $25 per month) and four at its $40-per-month plan. Hulu with Live TV also offers two streams, while YouTube TV provides three and PlayStation Vue offers five, with one for each of its consoles (PS4 and PS3) and three on other hardware.
Where is DirecTV Now available?
DirecTV Now is available in all 50 states (plus the District of Columbia), and it can go with you when you travel within those areas. Unfortunately, you'll lose access if you travel to U.S. territories (such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) or if you leave the U.S. altogether.
Which streaming devices work with DirecTV Now?
Because DirecTV Now is one of the more established streaming services, it's available on most devices. Those include Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast, iOS and Android devices, and the Chrome and Safari web browsers.
Can I get DirecTV Now on my smart TV?
Yes, but only if your smart TV features Android, Chromecast, Roku or Amazon Fire TV.
What sports does DirecTV Now offer?
DirecTV Now comes with a decent selection of sports programming, with its entry-level Live A Little package including ESPN, ESPN2, FOX Sports 1 and NBCSN. Upgrading to the Just Right package gets you the Big Ten Network, ESPN News, ESPNU, the MLB Network, the SEC Network and the Tennis Channel.
The Go Big package adds the CBS Sports Network, Fox Sports 2, NBA TV, the NHL Network and the Sportsman Channel. And if you pay for the Gotta Have It package, you get the Univision Deportes Network, too.
How can I DVR shows, and how many can I store?
DirecTV Now recently introduced its True Cloud DVR, which is currently in beta, and limits users to 20 hours of content. As of June 4, DVR-recorded content is available not only on Android, iOS, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast and web browsers, but also on Roku devices and select Smart TVs. Roku notes that the DirecTV app may take longer to load on Roku Express sticks and certain TCL TVs, and that it's looking to "speed this up in the near future" and that it will be reaching out to those users who own those devices, "with a special offer."
Recordings expire after 30 days.
How do I get a free trial of DirecTV Now?
If you sign up here, you'll get a seven-day free trial offer for DirecTV Now.
To make sure you don't get unintentionally billed, set a reminder on your smartphone for six days from the time you sign up, so you can reconsider if it's worth the monthly fee.
What kind of on-demand content is there?
DirecTV Now's on-demand content becomes available immediately after a program airs (for select channels) and "within hours after a program airs" for other content. DirecTV Now's Spring 2018 update increased its library to more than 25,000 titles. Your listings may vary depending on your subscription package.
How good are the reviews of DirecTV Now?
Not very good. Over a span of two reviews (original, follow-up) in 2017, Tom's Guide editor Marshall Honorof encountered inconsistent streaming quality. While his second try of DirecTV Now wasn't as bug-riddled as his first, the mysterious Error 40 remained to haunt the streaming experience, only less frequently.
How bad was it? Live programming stuttered, and on-demand content frequently hit buffering errors. And while streams reached HD resolution, they didn't stay there consistently.
Tom's Guide senior writer Caitlin McGarry encountered a similarly buggy experience in 2018. In her report, she noted, "DirecTV Now would interrupt whatever show or movie I was watching and give me a server error message." She dismissed this message by tapping on her Apple remote, but "the fact that I ever had to do that is problematic," she said.
While that's a bad way to watch a sitcom or drama, it got even worse for her husband during the NCAA basketball tournament, "when the error message popped up at least six times." He almost chucked their Apple TV (which they got for free by prepaying for DirecTV Now) in the trash in frustration.
Caitlin also noted that the Siri remote doesn't play nicely with DirecTV Now — something she hopes changes soon.
On the upside, though, Caitlin noted that she's happy to be saving $60 per month. That, plus the 4K Apple TV she got for free, made the experience "a great deal" for her.
Over at Fortune, Aaron Pressman's review notes that DirecTV Now wasn't as bug-laden during his testing. His major gripe, though, was that, although he gets to watch his Boston Celtics, he doesn't get the channels that play Red Sox games.
How does DirecTV Now compare to Sling TV, PlayStation Vue and other cable replacement services?
DirecTV Now's programming options stack up well against those of its competitors, as the service starts with more than 60 channels. That's more than what you get from rivals YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV; both start with "more than 50" channels for $40 per month. PlayStation Vue provides "more than 45" channels for $40 per month and won us over for offering an intuitive interface and being one of the first cable replacement services with a cloud-based DVR.
And while its new DVR service brings it closer to its rivals than ever before, DirecTV Now falls in comparisons because of its poor, error-laden performance. So, ask yourself, what good are those extra channels if the experience is stuttery? We are in the process of evaluating DirecTV Now once more and will keep you posted on our findings.
If you're looking for the most affordable option, the $40-per-month DirecTV Now is $15 percent more expensive than the $25 Sling TV (which offers fewer channels and charges $5 extra per month for DVR service).
Credit: DirecTV Now