On the heels of its launch of the DirectTV Now streaming service, AT&T is offering a number of deals for consumers considering moving their television viewing experience away from traditional cable or satellite TV services. The offers include a free Apple TV 4th Generation box (32 GB version) with a 3-month pre-pay, or a free Amazon Fire TV Stick with a 1-month pre-pay. The Apple TV offer may be particularly appealing for Apple-centric homeowners considering taking a definitive step toward making their dwelling a smart home, as the Apple TV box can do double duty as an Apple HomeKit hub—a feature enabled in iOS 10 concurrent with the inaugural release of the Home app, Apple’s elegant smart-home automation interface. You can read much more about the Apple iOS 10 Home app and HomeKit in our recent in-depth review.
As for the DirectTV Now service itself, the Apple TV app (which requires a 4th Generation box) is probably the most elegant television interface among of all of the platforms supported. In addition to the Amazon Fire TV Stick and Fire TV, Google Chromecast and Google Cast are available options, as well as Apple iPad and iPhone apps for iOS 9 or higher, and Android support for version 4.4 or higher. DirecTV Now also runs in most web browsers, including Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Safari.
Designed to be attractive to consumers wanting to lower their monthly TV costs, DirecTV Now has no annual contract commitment and needs no special on-site hardware or installation service—it simply requires the existence of a recommended 6 MB or higher broadband Internet connection in the home. The service enables live streaming of television from networks such as AMC, CNN, ESPN, Fox, NBC, Syfy, and a host of others, plus delivers a Netflix-like on-demand service. Various packages are available, ranging from 60+ live channels at $35 per month to 120+ live channels for $70 per month. HBO and Cinemax premium services can also be added for an incremental $5 each per month.
Introductory offers from AT&T, however, can bring the cost down considerably. For example, the Go Big package—which includes 100+ live channels—is normally priced at $60 per month. A limited-time introductory offer brings the cost down to $35 per month—and when one pre-pays for the first 3 months, the aforementioned Apple TV box is free.
We have used the DirecTV Now service extensively on the Apple TV and iOS apps as well as web browsers since it launched at the end of November, and found the service to be a reasonable alternative to more-traditional TV services, though there are gaps in live-streaming channel coverage and the depth of on-demand services. So, be sure to check to ensure your most-watched channels are included in the respective package before signing on. Additionally, there is no DVR capability, though AT&T says they will add that feature later in 2017.
We have also run into repeated issues with live streaming, though AT&T says they have been working to resolve those issues and we have seen visible improvements. For the Apple TV and iOS apps, they have issued two updates since the 1.0.0 version at launch, and the latest 1.0.3 version has cured many of the issues we have been experiencing. But there is certainly much room for improvement in the reliability of streaming, and AT&T will need to solidly resolve those issues before we would finally cut the cord to our DirecTV satellite service.
For those considering the Apple TV option with DirecTV Now, there are additional benefits beyond the Apple HomeKit hub feature, which graces the home with additional smart-home automation capabilities. For example, the included Siri Remote can be used with voice commands to search for DirecTV Now television programming. Furthermore, by virtue of enabling Apple AirPlay on Apple TV, considerable flexibility comes to small, medium, and big screens: Any iOS mobile device running the DirecTV Now app can instantly redirect their display to the big television screen, and supported iOS and macOS devices can easily mirror their displays to the television.
So, overall we think DirecTV Now is worth consideration, and as there is no annual contract commitment the risk is relatively low. We will continue to exercise and report on the system as it evolves.
Tom Kolnowski is the Chief Content Officer & Founder of Digitized House Media, LLC, the publisher of Digitized House | Guide to the Connected Home. When he isn’t writing about smart home technology, sustainability, and high-performance architecture, you’ll find him exploring faraway destinations with his family.