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.
YouTube TV is a refreshing option for cable or satellite TV cord cutters. It feels just like a traditional TV service, but without the hidden fees or equipment rental. Shows and games are easy to find and record, simultaneous streams are a breeze, and the interface felt familiar and intuitive on every device we tested.
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.
YouTube TV offers a well-rounded channel selection, ranging from sports and entertainment to news and network TV. We think YouTube TV is a good option if you want a classic live TV experience with a solid on-demand library, but we have a couple minor complaints.
YouTube TV carries almost all your local networks, unlike competitor Philo, and even offers PBS, unlike Hulu + Live TV. You even get multiple Spanish-language local channels with YouTube TV. However, you won’t find Antenna TV, and Estrella TV is available only as an add-on.
There are some things we love for sports fans with YouTube TV, and others we really dislike. Having the option to buy NFL Sunday Ticket is fantastic, with regular prices of $349–$389 per season for YouTube TV subscribers and $449-$489 if you just want the football and not live TV. (1) Beyond pig skins, we love that NBA TV and the Golf Channel are included with the base channel price. We also like that you get your local channels, TNT, USA Network, and more, and the sports add-on is nice for the price. It comes with NFL RedZone, live poker and billiards, OutsideTV+, and FOX Soccer. No MLB coverage is disappointing (2), and you’ll miss out on some regional major league games, even with the sports add-on. That said, you can watch and DVR games in 4K if you get the unlimited add-on for about $10 a month.
Family and education: 4/5
YouTube TV has a lot to offer for kids and anyone interested in using their screen time to learn about the world. You will miss out on favorites like Science and History, but you get multiple Disney and Nickelodeon options and a dedicated channel for PBS Kids. We also really like the Curiosity Stream add-on for educational documentaries and the Hopster Learning add-on for little kids.
News and politics: 4/5
You can find a lot of political commentary from both the left and the right on YouTube TV, but you won’t find Newsmax or Vice, or any C-SPAN channels (which are common with most traditional TV providers). There are nice options for international news, though, and we like that you can satisfy your appetite for local news in either Spanish or English. You might want to pick up a digital antenna, though, if you want to catch some niche broadcast favorites.
Entertainment and lifestyle: 3.5/5
YouTube TV can’t quite compete with traditional and satellite TV when it comes to movies, documentaries, and reality TV, but you still get dozens of options. There’s no A&E, Cooking Channel, and GAC (Great American Country), for example, and no Lifetime movies. SHOWTIME and STARZ are available, but only as add-ons. There’s also not much original programming to be found, but you can catch a couple nice options by jumping over to YouTube Premium (confoundingly, a separate subscription on a separate 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). 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.
YouTube TV is an excellent choice for streaming live TV, and it all costs about what you’d pay for a mid-range subscription package from a cable or satellite TV provider (but without the hidden fees). The price is about average among the premium live TV services we tested. The only extra charge on your bill is local sales tax, but you’re going to find that with virtually every TV provider out there.
If you want add-ons like NFL Sunday Ticket, sports in 4K, or entertainment channels such as HBO, add-on pricing applies. But buying and canceling add-ons was pretty seamless in our tests, and many of the upgrades (like YouTube TV itself) come with free trials.
Starting in October of 2022, YouTube made it possible to get most of its add-ons without paying the full monthly price, either through YouTube TV or the separate Premium Channels feature on regular YouTube. The prices were a bit higher or the same as purchasing the services separately, but it's nice to watch them with a familiar app and just one bill.
We were a little bummed to discover that you still have to watch ads with a lot of the content, and you don’t get to skip ads on regular YouTube or YouTube Music, since YouTube Premium is a separate service, but we welcome the simplified pricing with open arms.
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.
YouTube TV comes with everything you expect from a live TV service: easy channel surfing via the Live option, video on-demand (VOD) and DVR in the Library, and access to live sports, events, and shows from the Home tab. Its English-language monthly subscription offers more than 100 channels. If you want content in Spanish only, your monthly price is less than half of the English-language price.
Ability to watch: Excellent
YouTube TV doesn’t come with an option for a dedicated remote, but you can buy a Chromecast with Google TV for about a third of the price of the DIRECTV STREAM box if you want a voice remote. If you spring for the 4K Plus add-on, you get unlimited streams at home and three away from home. If you have a device compatible with Dolby 5.1 surround sound, it will work nicely with YouTube TV.
We were less satisfied with the ads—you’ll see a lot of them on YouTube TV, and they’re quite noticeable if you’re switching from on-demand streaming apps like Netflix, HBO Max, or Amazon's Prime Video. You can fast forward through ads on your DVR content, and some shows don’t have any ads on the DVR version.
When you watch live, you get the same ads the channels show over the air. A few times in our tests, we even saw ad visuals on the screen hyper-imposed on top of what we were trying to watch. It wasn’t a dealbreaker, but it took us out of the viewing experience. You will need broadband internet to enjoy YouTube TV, but streaming a show or game in 4K requires only about 20 Mbps of bandwidth at any given time, so you don’t need to worry about paying for the fastest possible internet speeds.
Ability to record: Excellent
YouTube TV comes with unlimited cloud DVR, and your recordings are saved for nine months. You can pause, rewind, and fast forward on most (but not all) DVR recordings, and it’s pretty simple to add them to your library. Curiously, adding any episode means you’ll record every future episode of that program, even reruns. It’s not a huge deal, but it does mean your library can feel bloated in a hurry.
There were a few standout features, too. We loved the sports highlights and how you can watch only key plays until you catch up to the live broadcast, hide scores of games you haven’t watched, or watch in Fantasy Football or Stats mode.
January 2023 updates to the interface made navigating the library a little easier, and we look forward to more promised improvements.
Ability to find: Great
YouTube TV is owned by search giant Google, and it shows. Finding specific programs, channels, and even recommendations from a browser was a delight. In fact, logging in on a browser is the best way to rearrange your Live guide for channel surfing, and it’s the best way to manage your account. The desktop app and mobile app felt familiar and easy to use, but we were annoyed that we couldn’t turn the volume up very high.
The experience on the Samsung smart TV we tested wasn’t quite as seamless. To get to YouTube TV, you have to open the regular YouTube app and find the YouTube TV button at the bottom left. Once we were in, there was a nice option to verify the account on a smartphone rather than typing your secure password with the remote. We didn’t love the pause and rewind functionality on the smart TV, and we once had to turn everything off and restart because the screen went black.
We also tested YouTube TV on an Apple TV, and it worked pretty well. It wasn’t hidden within the regular YouTube app, which was nice, and controls worked better. The app experience was even better when we tested on the Chromecast with Google TV. The remote was small but easy to use, and the voice functionality was fantastic. Unfortunately, the button labeled YouTube on the remote goes to the regular YouTube app, not YouTube TV.
Ability to share: Great
One YouTube TV subscription comes with six seats, so you and up to five members of your family can have their own private Google profile. With the basic subscription, you can watch up to three simultaneous streams at once, or you can get unlimited streams at home with the Unlimited add-on for about $10 per month.
If we had a magic wand and could improve any feature of YouTube TV, it would be parental controls. If you’re an adult sharing the subscription with other adults, it’s nice that profiles are 100% private—that means other accounts can’t see your DVR, your watch history, or your search history. But if you’re a parent, it’s a little problematic. There is a setting that prevents particular devices from viewing anything beyond TV-G or PG, but it doesn’t apply to accounts (just devices), and it’s not password-protected. Using the Family Link controls may give you more options, but most of those seem to be for regular YouTube and YouTube Kids, not YouTube TV.
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.
If you’re accustomed to shopping online and familiar with how streaming services work, YouTube TV is very easy to use. The interface is fairly easy to navigate and there’s just one package rather than multiple tiers to choose from. However, add-on pricing can be a little hard to track down.
Fortunately, you can get a 21-day free trial of YouTube TV if you’re a new user, and most of the add-ons also have free trials. If you’re not 100% pleased, we love that everything is surprisingly easy to cancel. Reactivation is also a breeze—YouTube TV saves all your info forever, and even saves your DVR recordings for 21 days after you pull the plug.
YouTube TV is so easy to use, most users won’t miss out on a customer service telephone line or a live chat experience, but it’s worth noting that those channels are not available.