DIRECTV is our top choice for regional sports networks and offers channels for every appetite, but watch for price hikes, second-rate DVR tech, and hidden fees.
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.
DIRECTV’s satellite service is a solid choice for viewers who don’t have access to cable TV or fast internet, and it’s the only way to catch every Sunday NFL game. However, its high prices, required two-year contract, and steep second-year price hikes (up to $70 per month) make it a poor fit for budget-conscious shoppers.
Starting with DIRECTV’s first-tier subscription, you get access to HGTV, cable news, Nickelodeon, and ESPN. That basic offering starts at about the same price as its biggest competitor, DISH. For around $10 more each month with DIRECTV, you also get one season of NFL SUNDAY TICKET. But compared to both satellite and cable TV competitors, DIRECTV gets expensive fast.
With DIRECTV’S top offering, PREMIER, you get more than 340 channels. That’s more channels than you can get through most other cable or satellite services and more channels per dollar. You might not care about all the channels—specifically the music and advertising ones—but there’s sure to be something for everyone. You’ll pay extra for sports add-ons, but prices for these extras are on par with the competition.
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.
DIRECTV’s Genie HD DVR receiver is everything you’d expect from a premium cable TV or satellite service. It can record five channels at once and store up to 200 hours of HD content. That’s not quite as many channels as with the latest DISH Hopper 3 DVR, and you also get less storage capacity than with almost any live TV streaming service we tested. But unless you need to record a ton of content or several channels at once, DIRECTV’s tech should be adequate.
The included backlit remote comes with all the controls you expect for finding, recording, and selecting channels. It doesn’t come standard with voice control, but it’s possible to set that up if you have one of Amazon’s Alexa devices. You also won’t be able to watch streaming services like Netflix and Hulu on your Genie, but that comes standard with DISH.
DIRECTV reports 99% signal reliability (virtually the same as DISH), but if you live in an area with a lot of storms or other interference, it’s possible for your signal to drop out. If that happens, you can still access your DVR, find on-demand content, or stream online. You can also stream away from home using the DIRECTV app on your iPhone or Android.
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.
Professional installation of your new DIRECTV satellite dish is included with your subscription and $19.95 activation fee, but you’ll have to schedule an appointment with a local technician. DISH also includes installation at no extra cost, but traditional cable TV providers can charge $50–$100 or more, even if you do the work yourself. Included installation is a big benefit, but you’ll pay for it in the long-run over the course of your two-year commitment.
Rental of your first Genie HD DVR receiver is included with your subscription, but you may have to pay up to $25 every month to use the HD DVR. You will also be charged $7 per month (plus activation fees) to rent additional mini receivers or to upgrade to the wireless version of the Genie HD DVR. Check the fee schedule from DIRECTV for a complete breakdown.
In comparison, DISH charges about the same for additional receivers and about $10 less to connect your DVR every month. Most cable companies also charge a DVR connection fee, but the DIRECTV DVR fee is one of the highest we found.
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.
DIRECTV is the only way to get NFL SUNDAY TICKET, at least through the end of this season, and it offers more regional sports coverage than the competition. That’s a big win! It offers premium packages for MLB, NBA, and international sports as well, but you’ll pay extra. You can also get a wide variety of college games, but it might be easier with DISH than with DIRECTV.
For the best of the best in entertainment and solid foreign language coverage, DIRECTV has you covered. If a particular channel isn’t included in your package, there’s a good chance you can add it for a fee. You even get the first three months of top movie channels included with the second and third tiers—just don’t forget to call and cancel or you’ll be charged premium fees.
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.