DirecTV Now has now been out for almost two months, and while it's a far sight better than it was at launch, it's still not really worth your money. After giving the service a fairly harsh review upon launch, I decided to revisit it and see whether AT&T had sorted out the service's problems. DirecTV Now's latest version is more stable, but many of its biggest problems still persist — and the pricing has gotten a lot less attractive.
DirecTV Now is better than it was at launch, though that's faint praise. When I first tested DirecTV Now, it was sluggish, jittery and plagued by the mysterious catchall "Error 40," which rendered content unwatchable for no reason. More than a month later, DirecTV Now is still sluggish, jittery and plagued by the mysterious "Error 40."
However, the error message crops up much less frequently now, and you'll no longer find channels that just flat-out don't work. (The Disney Channel was an especially notorious offender in the service's early days.)
The service still has a ways to go. Some live channels stuttered every few seconds, while on-demand content frequently stopped to buffer, even on a rock-solid Ethernet connection. DirecTV Now also had trouble maintaining HD resolutions.
These annoyances are not present in any other streaming service, from on-demand programs such as Netflix to other cable replacements like Sling TV. I expect that DirecTV Now's performance issues will disappear in the future, but for the time being, they're still here.
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We all heard the same lines: "DirecTV Now will bring you more than 100 live channels for just $35 a month!" If it sounded too good to last, well, it was. If you were one of the early adopters, you'll continue paying $35 per month, for now.
For new subscribers, the "Go Big" 100-channel package now costs $60 per month. That's not unreasonable, given what PlayStation Vue and cable/satellite subscriptions cost. Users can spend as little as $35 per month on the 50-channel "Live a Little" package, or up to $70 on the 120-channel "Gotta Have It" package.
From a pure numbers perspective, the amount of money you pay for the number of channels you get is fair, but it's no longer a significantly better deal than you'd get with either one of DirecTV Now's competitors.
DirecTV Now works on computers, mobile devices, Google Chromecasts, Amazon Fire TVs, Apple TVs and a select few smart TVs. That's not a bad selection, but it's missing a few major players. You won't find a Roku app, an Android TV app or any game-console apps. Considering that both PlayStation Vue and Sling TV expanded to those platforms months or years ago, DirecTV Now came out of the gate at a severe disadvantage. These apps will come eventually, but they should have been here already.
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While you can't judge a live TV service strictly by its on-demand content, let's face it: We're now accustomed to watching whatever we want, whenever we want. DirecTV Now doesn't offer any DVR functionality, which puts the service well behind PlayStation Vue (full DVR capabilities) and Sling TV (DVR functionality in beta).
DirecTV Now does offer a healthy assortment of movies and TV shows on demand, but the selection is too eclectic and changeable to make this on-demand service a staple in anyone's viewing library. Movies hang around for less than a month before rotating out, while TV shows tend to be random episodes from halfway through seasons. In my tests, on-demand content also had to buffer a lot, even when the episode had already been playing for a few minutes.
Wait a While
DirecTV Now isn't irredeemable, and some people who signed up for the $35-per-month early adopter rate are quite happy with it. On the other hand, it's easily the weakest of the three major cable-replacement services and needs more fine-tuning before it's ready to go head to head with them on an equal playing field.
If you're dying for a cable-replacement service, DirecTV Now offers a free trial, so it couldn't hurt to give it a shot. For the time being, though, I'd recommend Sling TV or PlayStation Vue instead. If and when DirecTV Now irons out its issues, you can always cancel your monthly subscription and switch over.