Made up of brands Wave, RCN, Grande, and enTouch, Astound offers internet-based entertainment that uses TiVo, Sling TV, and the Google Play store. Fabulous first-year pricing includes internet, but if you want premium perks or a provider you can grow old with, swipe left on this one.
The DIRECTV STREAM experience is very similar to traditional TV, but we love that it requires no contracts or equipment rentals. Our tests surfaced issues with audio, screen size, and casting on mobile and browsers, but we liked channel surfing and catching games on bigger screens.
Astound’s base plans are pretty standard compared to competitors, and initial costs are low. However, if you start adding custom channels, costs quickly add up. Plus, after a year-long honeymoon with great introductory rates, Astound turns up the heat and quickly drains your bank account. Although Astound leans on Sling TV to deliver its live TV channels, it offers a better experience and more channels than just Sling alone.
Astound sells its TV and internet plans together. First, you’ll pick your internet plan, then you can add a TV plan. Whichever TV plan you choose, you’ll stream all your shows over your Astound internet connection, so getting the right internet plan is critical. If you’re a small household that doesn’t stream a ton of HD content, a 110 Mbps internet plan could be plenty. But if you want to take full advantage of Astound’s 4k streaming capabilities, we recommend at least the 400 Mbps plan.
The basic ENTERTAINMENT package for DIRECTV STREAM costs about the same as other premium live TV streaming options we tested, and about $5 more per month than DIRECTV’s satellite TV service (before a bunch of hidden fees). You get more than 75 channels for the base price with the streaming service, including all your local channels and a few major sports networks. It’s a decent price for what you get, and we like how similar it feels to traditional TV. We also like that DIRECTV STREAM is free of hidden fees and second-year price hikes, unlike its satellite counterpart.
That said, most people who opt for premium TV (at premium prices) will be better served by DIRECTV STREAM’s second-tier package, CHOICE. For about $20 more each month, you get 30 more channels and access to regional sports networks (RSNs). It’s expensive, but it’s the best sports coverage we found in the live TV streaming space. Just watch out for premium channels that expire after the first three months! If you forget to cancel, your bill could nearly double in month four.
DIRECTV STREAM’s third and fourth tiers are harder to recommend. You get more than 140 channels with ULTIMATE tier, at a price of more than $100 per month. At the PREMIER tier, you get more than 150 channels, including several premium entertainment options, but you’ll pay more than $150 every month. Those are the highest prices we found, and we don’t think they’re worth it for most people.
For even more every month (or $120 up front), you can get a dedicated streaming box with a voice remote and 10-digit keypad. We like that the remote has all the numbers, and the voice assistant is pretty cool. You could save big by choosing a different streaming device or using a Smart TV, and we recommend it for most people. If you want a classic TV experience delivered over the internet, though, the DIRECTV STREAM box is the way to go.
Astound leans on TiVo’s Stream 4k device to combine the capabilities of a DVR, live TV (via Sling), and streaming services (via Android apps). If that sounds like a lot of stuff to try to sort through while your popcorn gets cold, you can use the voice button on the remote to tell your TiVo what you’re looking for—or ask it to give you a few curated options.
If you ever want to leave your couch (like, say, to run out and get more popcorn), you can use the Astound TV+ app to watch shows in line at the quickie mart, tap into a respectable 125 included hours of Cloud DVR storage, or schedule a future recording. Register up to 12 devices, and watch on up to five at a time.
DIRECTV stands out in an increasingly crowded streaming marketplace for having agreements with almost all the regional sports networks in the US. With the second-tier package and higher, you can find almost any game across the country. If you pay for the highest tier, you get access to even more. You also get all your local channels, which isn’t the case for a lot of DIRECTV STREAM’s streaming competitors. (1)
Unfortunately, NFL SUNDAY TICKET and NFL Red Zone are no longer available from either DIRECTV STREAM or DIRECTV. The rights were sold to live TV streaming competitor YouTube TV, and its available starting in the 2023 season for the add-on price of $64.99 per month.
With DIRECTV STREAM, you can catch the NFL post-season and a lot of Sunday games on local channels, and you can get Thursday Night Football with the Prime Video add-on from Amazon. Regional sports networks may also have your teams, but blackouts may apply.
Looking beyond sports with DIRECTV STREAM, we were pleasantly surprised by the selection. You get access to all your local channels and access to 90% of America’s top 100 channels. (1) That means you get home improvement shows, popular cable news stations, both Lifetime and Hallmark channels, cooking shows, programming for kids, and all the movies you could ever watch. You also get access to premium channels like HBO for free for the first few months in the CHOICE and ULTIMATE package, or included with the PREMIER package.
In our tests, the DIRECTV STREAM lineup was one of the best we found.
Astound uses a mix of cable, DSL, and fiber infrastructure, so depending on where you live, performance could vary widely. Your Wi-Fi router is your new best friend because you’ll be streaming everything, even live TV (Astound uses Sling for this). You aren’t required to run wires from a modem to your Stream 4k box, but you might experience more interference or have a harder time troubleshooting if you don’t. Because Wi-Fi.
Equipment costs with Astound vary based on where you live, and therefore whether you’re using Astound powered by Wave, RCN, Grande, or enTouch. Generally, equipment rental costs are low—just remember you’ll need to budget for both internet gear (like a modem and Wi-Fi router) and TV gear (like a DVR player).
Astound has a free self-setup option and often runs promotions for free professional installation (otherwise around $80). If your house already has working coax outlets, you’ll probably get off scot-free with no installation costs.
DIRECTV STREAM feels like traditional TV, but with perks. You can watch in real time, pause and rewind live TV, make recordings, and access the extensive on-demand library from anywhere. Hypothetically, you get unlimited streams at home and up to three away from home. It’s nice if you want to catch a game while you’re out and about, but the best thing about DIRECTV STREAM is how similar it is to a traditional TV experience.
In fact, DIRECTV STREAM is the only streaming provider we reviewed that offers a custom set-top box for purchase or monthly rental, including a full-size remote. The cost is $5 per month or $120 up front, but we didn’t order it for our tests because the DIRECTV STREAM app is also available on a handful of streaming devices we already know and love.
Like your number of home streams, saved recordings with DIRECTV STREAM are also hypothetically unlimited. We ran into some problems, though. First, only the newest 30 episodes of a show are saved, meaning old episodes are automatically deleted. Next, you can’t use Google’s Chromecast devices or Apple’s screen mirroring to cast any of your DVR content, and you can’t pause live TV while casting. Since most of our watching these days is asynchronous, that’s a significant downside.
Getting back to the upsides, we liked that you can access content in 4K resolution with any of the DIRECTV STREAM plans. You’ll get the most out of this feature with the second-tier plan and above, since that’s when all the regional sports networks kick in.
We also liked the parental controls on DIRECTV STREAM, which work by way of a four-digit pin. You have to set them up on every device you’re logged into, and they’re not yet available for Chromecast with Google TV. Many of the competitors we tested don’t have any parental controls at all, though, so DIRECTV wins the day here.
Overall, Astound’s Basic and Signature plan channel lineups are about average. The Premier plan has a few premiums included, but you’ll have to add most of these a-la-carte ($15–$19/month), for an additional fee. The upside is you can pick and choose a little more, but you won’t save much, so we’re not that into it.
Unlike many competitors, Astound’s lowest-tier plan (Basic) includes Fox Sports. Its mid-level plan (Signature) is pretty standard and includes sports like ESPN, Fox Sports, TNT, and the Golf and Tennis Channels. A top-tier plan (Premier) adds more music (CMT and MTV) and cartoon channels (like all the Nickelodeons). (1)
We tested the DIRECTV STREAM interface on browsers, mobile devices, smart TVs, and streaming devices. We get that any new service takes a while to get used to, but the experience with DIRECTV STREAM had more hiccups than other live TV streaming competitors we tested.
On every new device, we had to select whether we wanted to see game scores before we could watch anything (even if we weren't watching games at all). Then, when we found and selected a show on non-TV devices, there was no audio. We had to search around for the volume button within the player to hear anything. We can see how this might be a perk if you’re streaming games while working in an office or something, but for our testers it just felt broken.
To watch on mobile, location sharing is required. We may be more concerned about privacy than the average bear, but why does DIRECTV need to know your precise location in order to provide services you’ve paid for, especially when they already have your home address? Not cool.
Slow load times were also an issue on every device we tested. The payoff is stellar picture quality, eventually, but we had to wait a few seconds for any picture at all when we changed channels, and then suffer through several seconds of blurry picture before we got a high-quality image.
The built-in mini player loaded much faster, as you might expect. The delay still showed up on mobile, but wasn’t as long as with larger screens.
Once we got in and got used to the volume quirk, we got right to channel surfing. In full screen view, it was easy to go to the next or previous channel—a feature we didn’t find with other services. We had a little trouble figuring out how to get back to the channel guide on most devices, but we liked that you can sort channels either alphabetically or numerically when you get there.