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.
Sling TV is one of the lowest-cost live TV streaming services we tested at just $40–$55 per month. Unfortunately, we found it hard to share its small channel lineup with the whole family. But if you’re looking for a live TV service just for you, Sling TV could be your match.
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.
Sling delivers a solid value. Its cost per channel is high (around $1–$1.33 per channel), but it also comes with a ton of on-demand content and the ability to record live shows and skip the commercials when you watch them later. You get only 50 hours of DVR cloud storage, but you can quadruple that for just a few bucks extra.
Sling also provides a good mix of channels, including a few sports, kids, lifestyle, and comedy channels. If you want more of any genre, you can grab a package or two to customize your content. Most add around $6 to your bill, or you can grab a bundle if you find one you like.
The Sports Extra add-on is pricier at $11–15 per month. The pricing and channels you get vary depending on whether you're adding the sports pack to Sling Orange, Sling Blue, or Sling Orange + Sling Blue (unnecessarily complicated, in our opinion). But with Sports Extra on Sling Orange + Sling Blue, you get an extensive list of channels (20 more), including the NFL Red Zone, MLB, NBA, and Olympic networks—some of which you can purchase separately for more than the cost of this whole package. You can also add over 40 premium packages, and many are priced lower than we’ve seen elsewhere.
Unlike other streaming services, Sling TV has a free version. This is no time-limited free trial that you forget to cancel until you see your credit card bill two months later. This is genuinely, indefinitely free—no credit card required. You can’t record shows with it, but it’s a great way to dip your toe into the cable-cutting waters at no cost.
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.
Sling TV offers a solid channel lineup, but it doesn’t include any local channels. You can add these with an HD antenna or an AirTV device, but that means you can’t watch them on the go. And if you’re looking for 4K content, you won’t find it here. Live content streams in 720p and on-demand content is 1080p.
Which channels you get depends on which plan you choose (and here’s where it gets a little confusing). Sling has three plans: Orange, Blue, and an Orange + Blue combo. The Orange and Blue plans each have a few channels in the same genre the other doesn’t, so be prepared to make some hard choices unless you spring for the combo plan. If you’re a sports fan, you’ll have to choose between ESPN (Orange) or FOX Sports, NFL Network, and NBC (Blue). If you have kids, you’ll have to choose between Disney Channel (Orange) or the Discovery Channel (Blue). Channels like BBC America, Nick Jr., Cartoon Network, AMC, and CNN are included in both plans.
Oddly, the free version of Sling gives you way more channels: 150+. But many of the free Sling TV channels are super specific (there’s a channel that plays The Carol Burnette Show 24/7) or on-demand channels, which is cheating. But there are some gems, like Outside TV+, Bon Appetit, and CMT. The downside is you don’t get DVR capabilities, and you’ll end up watching more commercials.
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.
All Sling plans include 50 hours of cloud DVR storage, which isn’t much, especially if you want to share your plan with family or roommates. Adding DVR Plus for $5 will get you 200 hours and—we’re willing to bet—fewer fights over deleted shows. And you’ll get the ability to lock your favorite episodes so they aren’t automatically deleted to make room for new recordings if you go over the limit.
Unlike most of the other live TV streaming services we’ve tried, you can’t make separate profiles for different users to watch, record, and save their favorite shows. That’s a bummer because figuring out how to stream multiple live shows at once is confusing. Sling TV decides how many streams you can have based on the channel you’re watching: Orange channels have just one stream and Blue channels have up to three.
If you have the Orange + Blue combo plan, you’ll see both Orange and Blue versions of some channels in your Guide, since these lineups have some overlap. One person can watch the Orange version of TNT, for example, but three people can watch the Blue version. If too many people start watching the same channel, someone will be kicked off about a minute later—but the offending viewer will never know they just ruined someone’s day because Sling doesn’t tell them.
Add it all up, and sharing a single Sling TV subscription with members of your household could cause more arguments than it's worth.
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.
The browser and app interfaces were generally easy to use, and Sling is compatible on a ton of devices. Sling says you can run it on just a 5 Mbps internet connection but recommends at least 25 Mbps. When we tested it, Sling was laggy on a cell signal connection, but that’s not uncommon. And when it comes to watching shows on the go, there are a few areas where Sling can improve.
With on-demand content, we sometimes had trouble picking shows back up if we’d started them and had to step away. Finding the “Continue watching” section on the home tab was hard because it kept moving. And when we switched back and forth between devices (like between the app on an Android phone and the Safari browser on a Mac laptop), Sling didn’t always remember where we were in a movie. Sometimes, this kind of switch stumped Sling completely, resulting in an error and Sling forgetting that we’d ever watched the show. That meant having to find our place again—and having to sit through commercial blocks we’d already watched.
The DVR is a decent experience. It’s easy to record shows as you find them in the Guide, but starting a recording mid-show won’t record what you’ve missed. And you can’t use your phone to start recording a show that’s already started. The record button just isn’t there. Shows you’ve already recorded pop up behind the DVR tab, along with how much storage you’ve used and your scheduled recordings. If you delete something you didn’t mean to (or Sling deleted a show to make room for new recordings), it’ll stay in the Trash section for 48 hours in case you want to reinstate it. We found that handy, especially if you don’t want to spring for extra DVR storage.