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I Cut the Cord for DirecTV Now: Here’s the Pros and Cons

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).

Credit: DirecTV

(Image credit: DirecTV)

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.

Credit: DirecTV

(Image credit: DirecTV)

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.

Credit: DirecTV

(Image credit: DirecTV)

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?

Outlook: Fuzzy

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

Caitlin is a Senior editor for Gizmodo. She has also worked on Tom's Guide, Macworld, PCWorld and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. When she's not testing out the latest devices, you can find her running around the streets of Los Angeles, putting in morning miles or searching for the best tacos.

  • tdtme2
    I just cut the cord a few days ago, DirecTV is gone! That company is already bad but now the AT&T owns them it's going to get even worse. AT&T has got to be the worst customer service that I have ever seen. I have a brand new smart TV it's actually very beautiful from Samsung and it does everything that I wanted to do. All we had to do was up to speed on our internet and we rarely have any problem and we live out in the Sticks. I mean that is great now and I like it but if you're not paying attention you you could actually start paying as much or more than what you were paying the cable companies. So if you do it smart and watch your ass and don't let anybody have your credit card number I think it will be great.
  • minnion
    Thinking your server error issue may still be with the Apple TV. I got the Fire TV 4K when I signed up and even on my 40 meg CenturyLink DSL I've never seen that issue.
  • brer.rabbit
    Playstation Vue has been very good, but have had recent problems due to switching isp's that I have to many devices. Only fix seems to be close your account and start a new one.

    Tried Hulu TV for about 4 hours, hated it. Really poor interface, inability to add season to dvr, and major audio lip synch problems. (not sure if that is limited to 4k fire tv or not)
  • rodgman
    I thought about cutting the cord, but after looking into the pros and cons of the different streaming services currently available I ended up calling my cable company (Frontier) and getting them to lower my monthly bill to about $150. My package includes HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax and internet at 50 mbs, which is more than enough speed to stream 4K content. Also includes the DVR media center (and a small box for my bedroom TV) which is far better than any cloud based DVR currently available through a streaming provider. Yes, I agreed to a two-year contract, but who cares. I wanted the contract to lock in my pricing. I can break the contract for only $100 if necessary. So in my situation I didn't see the advantage of switching to a streaming service. You may save a little money, but you're giving up a lot in return. Maybe at some point down the road streaming will be the way to go, but not yet ... all things considered.
  • bromano814
    Maybe your service errors are getting fewer but mine aren't! DIRECT TV NOW buffering is horrible! It's not my Internet service or the hardware.... it's DTVN..... they have not been investing in their system because they knew AT&T was going to buy them out. And I doubt that AT&T will invest in it either.... they will buy a cable company and dissolve DTVN as soon as they can!

    This industry is owned by the major cable providers and that will never change. We may think we are "cord cutters" but the truth is...we're just all suckers.
  • markbauer4895
    I dropped Comcast and opted for Direct Now with the Roku. I also got Comcast internet and for $65 month with 12 month contract got the basic TV service with cloud DVR. We have watched almost zero TV since we cut the cord. Direct Now works but the Comcast interface is actually easier to use so we watch PBS on the Comcast feed. I chose Direct Now for the ESPN stations strictly to watch F1. However, the F1 coverage on ESPN sucks so bad I'm going to pay for the F1 channel and purchase a separate home DVR to record this streaming channel. Next, I'm likely to stop with the Direct Now and just settle for the basic Comcast channels.
  • jdcampbell
    Try YouTube TV. You will not only be able to Pause live tv but also timeshift (rewind it & fforward back to live), it has a great DVR system, a Last 4 channels feature, & they are consistently adding improvements. Recently, they added the ability to customize your own guide & arrange channels however you want to on your guide. They will likely add more & more channels but most of all, it is much more reliable than Dtvnow.
  • mozartsghost

    I tried wiring my AppleTV 4K to my router with a 10gps rated CAT7 cable and it was running at 100mbps. Wirelessly the AC WLAN connection streams at 280-350mbps (I have gigabit internet). I seriously suggest that, contrary to intuiton, you unplug your AppleTV 4k from your router and move it a little bit away from your router, like to the other side of your TV.

  • rickhal
    We are pretty much fed up with Comcast's incessant increases in monthly fees. I do have a Samsung Smart TV as well as Amazon Fire TV and a subscription to Netflix' 4k service (which at this point doesn't seem to present very much 4k content). I am somewhat satisfied with what Amazon and Netflix offer. I have a good internet connection (Comcast home Inet) and also a Wi-Fi booster upstairs which helps with the frequent buffering or stoppages I was experiencing when watching 4k content. We would love to drop Comcast's cable and switch to a streaming service. But, it is tough to evaluate which one will work for us. We are being charged over $200 per month for Cable and Internet service. Now, we do have a analog cable box in our kitchen. Hooked up to a small, wall mounted TV. Comcast wants us to send that box back and get a set top box that is much bigger than the, small analog converter (about 2" by 3"). Which would mean having to put up a shelf to hold this much bigger box. And we would save $12.00 per month. Also, I have been noticing a very irritating, digital type "noise" while watching Amazon or Netflix recently. Not sure as of yet where this noise is originating from. Wi-Fi interference from a neighbor's Wi-Fi? Doesn't seem likely. And it is intermittent. I suspect it is coming from the source. Either Amazon's stream or Netflix's stream. Either way, customer service for either will not be of very much use. As their solutions almost always seem to involve resetting the Fire TV back to factory settings and then having to do the initial setup of the box all over again. Only to find that the problem still exists. Many of these corporations want to skimp on customer service. Outsourcing it to India. Where the CS agents read from scripts and have very little technical knowledge or none at all. So, that is a frustrating exercise at best. But, I will investigate further as to what streaming service would work for us over what Comcast's cable is providing.