I’ve talked with a number of people about streaming TV options and the experience of “cutting the cord”, and they always have lots of questions. To address a few, here’s a tour of DirecTV’s new DirecTV Now streaming service…
First off, a disclosure: DirecTV gave us a complimentary DirecTV Now account so we could try out the service. You can get a 7-day trial too if you sign up on their site. We also have Comcast Xfinity streaming and SlingTV streaming services on our various devices too. Lots of media, lots of options.
Television and streaming video content has definitely evolved in unexpected ways over the last 10-20 years. Go back to the 70’s and 80’s and it was all about your antenna: if you had a good one and were in a good area, you could get dozens of channels, sprawled across the VHF and UHF bands. Cable was first introduced in the late 1940’s, but grew slowly given that the alternative for most people was a one-time antenna purchase and free content. Cable subscriptions in the United States peaked around 2000 and have been dropping ever since. Indeed, “the number of households with cable has fallen 10% in the past five years”
These millions of subscribers aren’t going back to their antenna, they’re streaming all the programming nowadays through their increasingly speedy Internet connection. And it makes lots of sense when you consider the cost of traditional satellite or cable television: DirecTV Now, for example, offers over 100 streaming channels for $35/mo and you can watch it on your smartphone, tablet, computer or television. More convenience and lower cost. A win.
But what’s it look like? If you’re used to traditional cable or satellite, it’s a whole new world. Here’s the home page, from my Web browser:
Lots going on, but you can easily expand the screen to just show the particular channel you’re interested in — I’m watching South Park on Comedy Central — or even make it full screen and turn your computer screen into an instant television.
Scroll down the screen a bit and you’ll quickly realize just how different a streaming service can be. Just below the “What’s On Now” information above is this info:
Yes, f0r a few bucks a month extra — $5/mo — you can subscribe to HBO and watch excellent programming like Game of Thrones and Westworld (both of which I love). It also makes finding new content a breeze. In fact, I’d never heard of the Syfy series Aftermath until I saw it listed here on DirecTV Now.
Scroll a bit further and the fun really begins:
Movies. Tons of movies. All ready to watch with a single click or tap. Few people realize that when you switch from a “live” input system like cable to a streaming service, you also gain access to their often huge library of content, including lots of very good films.
I haven’t watched the terrific Rise of the Planet of the Apes in a while, so I’ll click on it to get a bit more info:
Handy information to know about the film. Notice the “Add to Watchlist” feature too. It lets you queue up some of your favorite movies (and TV series!) for later viewing on a different device. Imagine, you could queue things up while at work, then watch it on your smartphone on the train trip or carpool home.
I’ll jump into Rise of the Planet of the Apes by simply clicking on the movie poster, and it’s big, crisp and sounds great:
This time notice that the stream is taking over the entire browser window. No distractions! All the info on the bottom is only shown because my cursor is over the window (you can see it just above Caesar’s head if you look closely).
What about live? There’s a simple, easily understood live program guide that’s just a single click away:
The blue line denotes the current time. If I wanted to switch to The Last Alaskans on Animal Planet, for example, that’s just another click.
One big complaint about streaming services is that there’s no DVR, no way to record favorite programming. But a surprisingly amount of content is available on demand. For example, a quick peek at Designated Survivor shows that almost all the episodes from Season 1 are available:
If you were an avid fan, you’d be frustrated to realize that episode 10 isn’t yet listed even though it aired a few weeks ago. That’s where a DVR capability would be darn useful. Quite frankly, some way to record specific programs I want is a missing feature (that’s also missing in SlingTV), but it’s coming in 2017. At some point. If you want to watch this on your television set itself, you’ll also need to connect a device to your TV, either a phone via HDMI + adapter, a tablet, your computer or a box. A box? Yep, it works with Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast and both Vizio and LeEco have TV models that include Chromecast capabilities too. Roku should have a unit with DirecTV Now support within a few months too.
You can also get some local network channels though CBS seems to be refusing to negotiate a deal, weirdly. It’s a limitation to consider before cutting the cord and living with just a streaming TV service, though the specific channels you’ll be able to receive depends on your area, so you’ll want to check the site for more info. And there is always that (dramatic pause) antenna in the attic!
While DirecTV NOW isn’t perfect — having to wait a few weeks for the latest episode of a show is crummy — dropping your expensive cable TV or satellite TV for the more flexible and mobile friendly streaming service can be a real game changer. I’ll say this: with these sort of services, I’m never stuck with the crummy channel lineup on a hotel room television. As long as they have decent Internet access, I have access to hundreds of channels, thousands of TV show episodes and countless movies. And that’s a pretty sweet deal for $35/mo.
Note: The $35/mo + $5/mo for HBO is a promotional pricing, so don’t wait too long if you want to take advantage! In fact, rumor has it that this promo ends on Jan 9, 2017.