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.
WOW! (short for Wide Open West) offers a compelling case for switching to internet-based TV. You get a solid channel lineup at a great rate, all using top-notch Wi-Fi gear from eero—provided you’re willing to have a chillier relationship with your DVR and you don’t mind beta-testing the WOW! tv+ app.
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.
WOW! doesn't have an incredible channel lineup, but it has a decent amount of content for just about everyone. That is, unless you want to watch in Spanish.
WOW! tv+ give you only about half the local channels you might expect. You get the big ones like NBC, ABC, FOX, CBA, and PBS, but you won’t get Ion, Cozi, or Comet. You won’t get a single Spanish-language local channel either. So if you want Telemundo, UniMas, Estrella, or Univision, you’re out of luck.
When it comes to sports channels, you win some and lose some. You get the Tennis Channel in a Medium plan, whereas some providers only include it in their top-tier plans or as an add-on. NFL Network and NFL RedZone are both included in the Large plan, which is hit or miss among competitors. However, WOW! tv+ strikes out completely when it comes to the MLB channel, and there’s no way to get NFL SUNDAY TICKET.
Family and education: 3/5
With WOW!, you’ll get a decent amount of family-friendly content, but we’d like to see more channels for toddlers and young kids. You’ll get Cartoon Network, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, and the History Channel. But you’ll get only one Disney, Nickelodeon, and National Geographic channel. Disney Junior, Nick Junior, and Nat Geo Wild are all missing, leaving less content aimed at the youngest kids.
News and politics: 3.5/5
WOW! has enough news and political coverage for most English-speaking viewers. You can keep up with Congress on C-SPAN and world events with BBC America. You’ll also get the biggest news channels like CNN, CNBC, Fox News, and MSNBC, along with Newsmax, HLN, and The Weather Channel. The biggest hole in coverage is Spanish-language news, but you’ll also miss CNN International, Bloomberg, CBS News, and Fox Business News.
Entertainment and lifestyle: 3/5
WOW! tv+ gives you a wide variety of entertainment and lifestyle, with at least one channel in some of our favorite categories: comedy, westerns, feel-good movies, food, and travel. But you might find only one channel that delivers your favorite genres. You’ll get Grit but not INSP (westerns) and Food Network but not the Cooking channel. But you’ll get all the best music channels—CMT, VH1, and MTV—and the top DIY channels HGTV and TLC. WOW! tv+ doesn’t include premium channels in any of its plans. You can add them to a Medium or Large plan, but they’ll cost more than other providers charge.
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.
WOW! Has some great introductory prices, but we’ve seen longer channel lineups from other companies. Channel quality is decent, but nothing to write home about. The real bargain comes when you realize your plan price already includes regional sports and broadcast fees, which can add $20–$40 in monthly fees with other providers.
You’ll have to get a WOW! internet plan, since this TV service is internet-based, but that comes at an excellent price too. All things said, WOW! provides a ton of value, but if you want all the channels and premiums to boot, it’s probably not the company for you.
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.
Because WOW! is internet-based TV, its equipment is makes it feel more like a streaming service than traditional TV. However, its features fall short of many streaming services when it comes to catching your shows where and when you want.
Ability to watch: Good
Since WOW! tv+ uses WOW! Internet, you need Wi-Fi gear. WOW!’s modem is free for your first year ($14/month after that), and its eero Wi-Fi system ($9.99 per month) is reasonably priced to rent. It’s also some of the best, most reliable Wi-Fi gear we’ve seen. WOW!’s TV boxes can get pricey if you want more than one ($10 per month), but since you can use WOW! tv+ with Amazon Firesticks, you shouldn’t need more than one box to get your shows on multiple TVs. You just need multiple Firesticks ($29.99 and up), but these will be one-time purchases instead of a monthly rental rate.
While you can use your phone to watch WOW! TV, its Android and iOS apps are in beta, which means they’re still working out some of the kinks. The apps have a pretty low rating on both Android and iOS (1, 2), which is a bummer. If you end up throwing your phone across the room in frustration, you can circumvent the app altogether by going to an individual channel’s website and logging in with your WOW! credentials. But you might still end up frustrated—and watching your shows through a cracked phone screen.
Ability to record: Fine
The WOW! tv+ box and remote are pretty standard, and you can find content and set up DVR recordings using voice commands or navigating through a guide. The downside is that all three of WOW!’s plans come with 50 hours of DVR cloud storage, which is pretty low. You can jump up to 100 (for about $20 per month) or 200 (for about $30 per month) hours, but that’s a steep charge when some competitors include 1,000 hours in their top-tier plans.
Ability to find: Good
WOW! doesn't have its own voice remote, but it's compatible with Google Voice. Without voice, it's still pretty easy to find channels in the guide, and parental controls make it easy to block the content you don't want your kids to see—or restrict TV time altogether. However, finding recorded shows can be challenging without sorting and filtering capabilities, even if you only get 50 hours of storage. That's still a lot of scrolling.
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.
WOW! is a decent experience, and most customers feel good about this provider. We love that you don't have to sign a contract. And although you have to get WOW! internet to get WOW!'s TV service, we like WOW! internet even more.
Self-installation is free and fairly easy, but you can hire a pro to come by and get you set up for $75. The website has plenty of self-help content if you run into trouble, or you can use its chat service to talk with a specialist.
What we don't like is WOW!'s lack of transparency. Prices aren't listed on its website, and you can't order TV without talking to a sales representative on the phone. That's not a great start.