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.
Philo is a great value if you love feel-good movies, reality TV, and shows about home and family, but you’ll miss out on sports, news, and local channels. We put it to the test on browsers, phones, and streaming sticks, and we think it’s a fair contender for the softer side of live TV.
In our tests, the DIRECTV STREAM lineup was one of the best we found. You get more of the most popular options than with any other live TV streaming service we tested. (1) You also get more of these channels than the majority of traditional TV services, and only one or two less than our top picks for channel lineup: Xfinity, DISH, DIRECTV satellite, Optimum, and Verizon. When you add in a heaping ton of regional sports networks, it’s easy to see why cord-cutters are giving this service a try.
DIRECTV STREAM doesn’t disappoint when it comes to local channels. It has each of the big four networks (ABC, NBC, FOX, and CBS) in most markets, and offers national coverage from each in case of a carrier dispute with a local broadcaster. You won’t find some of the smaller broadcasters like Antenna TV and Estrella TV—and there’s no local Univision affiliate in some markets—but you can still find national news, sports, and programming in both English and Spanish.
In addition to having almost all the national sports channels out there, 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 (as long as there aren’t local blackouts). 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 with a lot of streaming competitors.
Unfortunately, NFL SUNDAY TICKET, NFL Network, and NFL Red Zone are no longer available from either DIRECTV STREAM or DIRECTV Satellite. The rights were sold to live TV streaming competitor YouTube TV.
However, you can catch MLB on DIRECTV STREAM—a benefit you won’t find with YouTube TV.
Family and education: 4.5/5
DIRECTV STREAM gets a nearly perfect score when it comes to shows for families and kids. You get Cartoon Network, a variety of Nickelodeon channels, PBS, Disney and Disney Junior, two National Geographic options, and more. You won't find Family Education TV (FETV), but you’ll still be able to catch all your kiddo’s favorites. The on-demand library for young audiences is quite good, too.
News and politics: 4.5/5
Except for a few smaller channels like Antenna TV, DIRECTV STREAM’s news options are comprehensive. You get all your local stations, both Newsmax and Fox News for right-leaning coverage, both Bloomberg and Cheddar for financial news, and both MSNBC and Vice for left-leaning insight and investigations. There’s also international news on the third and fourth tiers and multiple C-SPAN options at every tier. For the best news selection, we usually recommend the CHOICE package or above.
Entertainment and lifestyle: 4.5/5
DIRECTV STREAM shines when it comes to movies, reality TV, and stories of all kinds. You also get home improvement shows and both Lifetime and Hallmark channels, which is uncommon in the streaming space. For the first three months on lower-tier packages, you get access to premium channels like HBO. They are included with the PREMIER package and if you want to buy the individually, they cost about the same as they would with traditional TV providers.
If you love home renovation shows, feel-good movies, and reality TV, Philo has a channel lineup you’ll love. But you won’t find sports, local channels, or news.
Philo doesn’t offer any local channels, so that means no local news, no primetime favorites, no local sports, and no awards shows. If you want this programming, we recommend checking out live TV streaming options YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV or a traditional TV provider like your local cable company or satellite TV providers DISH or DIRECTV.
Like with local channels, Philo doesn’t offer any sports coverage. You can catch some sports content on ESPN+ or get a decent variety on services like Fubo or Sling TV. If you want to catch every NFL game, you could even try the NFL Sunday Ticket premium channel from YouTube.
Family and education: 2/5
Where Philo is a poor choice for sports and news, it’s a great choice for families and kids. You get multiple channels from Discovery with the base package price, plus Animal Planet, Great American Family, Family Entertainment TV (FETV), three Nickelodeon channels, Story Television, and Science. There’s no Disney, Cartoon Network, or PBS, but we love that Philo makes it easy to access free programming from services including Crackle, Cheddar News, Gusto TV, and RetroCrush, the new station featuring classic anime hits.
News and politics: 0/5
While you can technically catch BBC America and BBC World News on Philo, there’s virtually none of the news or analysis you would expect from traditional TV. There’s not even Late Night Tonight, and no 60 Minutes or PBS Newshour. You don’t get Fox News, MSNBC, HBO, or CNN either, and we didn’t happen upon any foreign-language news programming in our tests.
Entertainment and lifestyle: 2.5/5
Philo does better—a lot better—when it comes to stories, movies, and inspirational shows. You get all the Hallmark and Lifetime channels before add-on pricing, plus A&E and the up-and-coming INSP channel. We also found shows from TV’s rich past, including I Love Lucy, Father Knows Best, Matlock, Doctor Who, and even Touched by an Angel. There’s a strong selection of shows about the Black experience, too, including Rasheeda Frost's Boss Moves and much more. Even better, you get to choose from four different MTV channels before add-ons.
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). 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.
That said, we’re very pleased DIRECTV STREAM has done away with hidden fees, including broadcast fees, early cancelation fees, and regional sports fees. For that reason alone, we’d recommend it over the DIRECTV Satellite service to anyone who has high-speed internet access.
Cleverly named after the inventor of the television, Philo is one of the cheapest live TV options we tested. It’s a great value for limited live TV and an endless array of movies, entertainment, and lifestyle shows. There are other add-ons, but even if you pay for them all, you’ll still pay less than most of the other live TV services we reviewed. You’ll also find more than 60,000 shows in the on-demand library, but it’s hard to recommend Philo for most cord cutters.
The service stays super cheap by skipping local channels, sports, national news, and many of the most popular national networks. (1) You’re also locked out of recently aired entertainment from PBS, NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox. A digital antenna is an easy workaround, but you’ll need a separate DVR if you want to save the content to watch later. You could sign up for on-demand streaming apps to make up the difference, but prices add up quickly.
It’s not great, but there is a silver lining. Philo comes with a free trial and is easy to cancel online, so you can sign up for just a month or two whenever you’re in the mood for all the movies and programming it offers. It’s also a nice option for subscription hopping, if you can remember to cancel within a few months.
We tested the DIRECTV STREAM interface on browsers, mobile devices, smart TVs, and streaming devices and ran into a few annoying glitches. Once we got used to it, though, it worked consistently.
Ability to watch: Good
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.
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.
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.
Finally, 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.
Ability to record: Great
DVR recordings are unlimited with DIRECTV STREAM (as long as you order online), and recordings are saved for nine months. We ran into a few trouble spots, though. First, only the newest 30 episodes of a show are saved, meaning old episodes are automatically deleted.
That said, we like that you can hide scores of games you’ve missed, and download from your DVR library using the highly rated mobile app.
Ability to find: Excellent
DIRECTV STREAM makes it easy to find what you want to watch. It’s the only streaming provider we reviewed that offers a custom set-top box for purchase or monthly rental, including a full-size voice remote, and that means easy channel surfing. The box even takes you right to the last channel you were watching on startup, just like live TV. The cost is $5 per month or $120 up front.
We also like the different views, and appreciate that you get both channel numbers and icons on the TV guide. The recommendation engine is decent, too. Overall, DIRECTV hits this one out of the park.
Ability to share: Bad
You can technically watch up to three simultaneous streams on your DIRECTV STREAM membership away from home, and an unlimited number of streams at home. But it’s far from perfect. 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.
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.
That aside, we really 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.
Unfortunately, you can’t set up different profiles for different users on DIRECTV STREAM like you can on Hulu + Live TV and YouTube TV. It’s one more way DIRECTV STREAM is more like traditional TV than a streaming service.
Philo is pleasant on a day-to-day basis, and works better than some of its higher-priced competitors. There's no 4K, though, and we found some platform-specific quirks.
Ability to watch: Good
We tested the Philo interface on iOS and Android mobile phones, a few different web browsers, and an Apple TV. The interface was similar across devices, and the setup was one of the simplest among all the live TV streaming services we tested. After we entered payment info, we got right into the guide. The original browser saved our login info. Signing in later on different browsers and apps required two-step verification using a mobile phone number or email address, but we never had to enter (or remember) a password.
We didn’t run into any issues when we tried multiple devices and browsers from different locations, which was a refreshing change from services like Hulu + Live TV, which tracks your IP address. Unfortunately, there is no way to watch in 4K—Philo maxes out at 1080p resolution no matter how you’re watching.
The viewing experience is about what you’d expect from a live TV provider, but with some oddities. Watching live, the only way to skip commercials is to record the episode in progress, wait several minutes, and skip ahead whenever the commercials come on. You can also fast forward through most commercials on DVR content, and some channels let you skip ads with one click on Roku streaming devices.
We ran into some buffering issues with Philo on the Apple TV we tested, particularly with the channel guide. It happened on different devices in multiple locations, so we’re pretty sure it wasn’t a bandwidth issue. The slow loading wasn’t a dealbreaker, but we can see how channel surfers would be annoyed.
Ability to record: Excellent
The DVR and on-demand experiences with Philo were pretty par for the course in our tests, and Philo recently upgraded its cloud DVR to save recordings for up to a year. We are impressed that you get three extra months to watch your recordings, compared to competitors Hulu + Live TV and YouTube TV, which give you only nine months. Unlimited recordings is also pretty sweet, and we liked Philo’s 72-hour Rewind feature. You can use it to watch almost anything that’s aired in the last 72 hours, even if you forgot to add it to your library before it aired.
To get the most out of Philo, we recommend spending some time in the beginning to find and add your favorite shows. Within a few days, your Saved library will fill up with dozens of episodes to choose from.
Ability to find: Good
When you get to the Home screen on Philo, you’ll find a roundup of trending live and recommended shows, plus top movies and other categories. You can see whether a show is available on demand by clicking through to the episode description or by hovering your mouse over a particular episode, but there’s no way to tell at the series level. However, you can favorite shows at either the episode or series level, and saving a series means all future episodes will be recorded in your Saved library. You can also favorite channels, and that makes them show up first in the channel guide. It’s fairly simple to unfavorite, and the changes appear across devices instantly.
The channel guide itself is less impressive. Channel numbers aren’t listed (just logos) and you have to click into a program to get additional preview info. It works, but there aren’t a lot of bells and whistles to rave about.
Ability to share: Good
Philo offers many of the features you’d expect from a modern live TV streaming service. In our tests, it was easy to create profiles for different viewers, and the DVR libraries and favorites were kept separate. You can add up to 10 profiles and assign each a separate mobile phone number, so different users can sign in using their personal phones. However, there were no parental controls to be found.
You can watch Philo on up to three screens at a time, without a lot of verification or hassle.
Being a DIRECTV STREAM customer is pretty similar to being a DIRECTV satellite customer, just without the hole in your roof. It’s easy to sign up online (and we recommend it), but packages are very expensive and it’s difficult to cancel. If you do need help, we like that there are both phone and live chat options, but we can’t give the service 100% credit for that because hold times can be several hours long. If you’re used to traditional TV, DIRECTV STREAM has some nice perks. But if you’re used to streaming services, DIRECTV STREAM will feel like a blast from the past.
Philo makes it easy to sign up for the service, easy to sign in on different devices, and easy to cancel if you so choose. It’s also fairly simple to find and understand add-on pricing, and we love that the free trial lasts a full seven days even if you cancel midway through.
If you run into trouble, there’s a nice Help Center, a chat line, or a phone number to call. In this category, we believe Philo’s perfect score is well-deserved.