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.
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.
With WOW! tv+, you can watch live TV or on-demand content, record your favorite shows, and use streaming apps like Netflix—all over WOW!’s Wi-Fi. You need to order a WOW! internet plan with a speed of at least 100 Mbps (which is inexpensive) and at least one WOW! tv+ box (which is included in most plans).
Most of WOW!’s channel lineups are decent. The Small TV plan has only 30 basic channels, but you get 120+ channels with a Medium plan and 185+ channels with a Large plan, plus 50 Music Choice channels. (1) You won’t get any premium channels (you have to add those separately), but with a Large plan, you get more sports (NFL Network and NFL Red Zone), music (CMT and MTV), and kids’ channels (all the Nickelodeons). At around $10 per month more, it’s definitely worth considering.
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.
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.
The best way to use the WOW! tv+ app is with an Amazon Firestick. 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 (2, 3), 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.
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.
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.
Self-setup is free and fairly easy, but you can hire a pro to come by and get you set up for $75.
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.
WOW! tv+ doesn’t include premium channels in any of its plans, but you can add them to a Medium or Large plan for $11–$19 per month. We’ve seen STARZ and Cinemax for as little as $5 per month with some providers, so we’re a little bummed about WOW!’s pricing, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
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. 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.