DIRECTV is our top choice for regional sports networks and offers channels for every appetite, but watch out for second-rate DVR tech and hidden fees.
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.
DIRECTV satellite offers a metric ton of channels, including almost all the most popular networks in the US. It also offers more regional sports networks than any other TV provider, making it one of our top choices for content among all the providers we review.
Local channels are the heart of a good TV package, and DIRECTV has you covered at every tier. You get access to the big four networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX) plus a handful of Spanish-language channels. You’ll miss out on a few of the nation’s top 100 picks because they’re only available over the air, but there’s no provider out there that can beat out DIRECTV for local coverage.
DIRECTV offers access to every one of the top sports channels out there plus a bunch of regional sports networks, meaning you can catch nearly every game under the sun. We have to say nearly, though, because DIRECTV lost its exclusive contract with NFL Sunday Ticket at the end of 2022. We still think DIRECTV is a stellar choice for sports fans of all kinds, but you’ll have to add the Sunday Ticket channel from YouTube TV if you want every out-of-market game. Pricing starts at $349 per season for YouTube TV subscribers and $449 for just the premium channel.
Family and education: 5/5
When it comes to shows for kids and families, you can’t do better than DIRECTV. You get access to all the heavy hitters, from Disney Jr. to PBS and National Geographic. There’s also PBS, Cartoon Network, and plenty of shows and movies to choose from.
News and politics: 5/5
Like with sports, DIRECTV offers almost all the news and analysis you could hope for. You get local, national, and international coverage plus commentary from both sides of the aisle.
Entertainment and lifestyle: 4.5/5
DIRECTV offers all the movies, reality shows, home improvement series, and true crime channels you can think of. At its top tier, you even get premium channels like HBO, Showtime, and STARZ. When you want everything under the sun with just one package price, DIRECTV is a fantastic option.
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).
DIRECTV’s satellite service is a solid choice for viewers who don’t have access to cable TV or fast internet, and it has all the most popular channels, plus access to more regional sports networks than any other provider. However, its high prices and required two-year contract make it a poor fit for budget-conscious shoppers.
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.
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.
DIRECTV offers one of the best day-to-day viewing experiences available from any live TV service, and its picture quality is hard to beat.
Ability to watch: Great
Watching DIRECTV is a pleasure, whether you’re watching from your couch or catching up on your DVR shows from bed. The companion app is also easy to use, and it lets you watch from all the top streaming devices, including Apple TV and Roku.
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.
Ability to record: Great
DIRECTV’s Genie HD DVR receiver is everything you’d expect from a premium cable TV or satellite service. We like how easy it is to find shows you’ve saved to your DVR or bookmarked, and the on-demand library is solid. Your Genie 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.
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.
Ability to find: Great
DIRECTV has done a stellar job with its channel guide, making it easy to find your shows in a variety of ways. You can sort the channels in a few ways, choose favorites, or browse by category. You can also select favorites for quick access.
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.
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.
DIRECTV has some factors that make the customer experience great, but others that we find almost unacceptable. You get free professional installation if you sign a 2-year contract, for example, but there’s a weird $20 activation fee. 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 2-year commitment. Plus, there are massive cancelation fees of nearly $20 per month remaining on your contract if you want to get out early. There are other fees to watch out for, too. Check the fee schedule from DIRECTV for a complete breakdown.
If you need to contact customer service, your experience will be about average among TV providers we reviewed. You’ll find a lot of complaints in online reviews, but that’s pretty par for the course.
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.