By Jared Newman
AT&T TV Now, formerly known as DirecTV Now, was never the best live TV streaming service, but it used to be a lot harder to resist.
In its early years, DirecTV Now offered a broad channel lineup, bundle discounts for AT&T wireless customers, and deals on streaming devices for new subscribers. That generosity made DirecTV Now’s clunky interface and stingy DVR seem tolerable.
But times have changed for corporate parent AT&T, and so has AT&T TV Now. In a push for more profitability, AT&T has slashed channels, raised prices, and discontinued all its deals and discounts. The result is a live TV service that has all the same problems as before, but almost none of the benefits. Unless AT&T TV Now’s remaining channels line up perfectly with your needs, it probably isn’t the live TV streaming service for you.
Updated April 7, 2020 to report the new reduced price for AT&T TV Now: $55 per month, but the channel bundle no longer includes HBO.
Like other live TV streaming services, AT&T TV Now is an app that you can download on phones, tablets, streaming players, and smart TVs. Once you’ve installed the app, you can sign up for service and use it across all your devices for one monthly fee. As of this writing, AT&T TV Now works with Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV (but not first-generation models), Roku, Chromecast, iOS, Android, and the web.
Unless you’re grandfathered into one of AT&T TV Now’s older plans, the service now offers just two price tiers: The $55 base package, which is oddly named “AT&T TV Now Plus,” includes all four major broadcast networks, major cable news networks, several national sports channels (including ESPN and FS1), and several entertainment channels. For regional sports, you’ll need the $80 “Max” package, which offers local Fox Sports channels, HBO, and Cinemax, among other things. (See the bottom of this review for the full AT&T TV Now lineup.)
Most other live TV services start at $50 or $55 per month, and HBO adds another $15 per month. With its Plus package, AT&T charges an extra $10 per month for HBO and $11 per month for Cinemax. Still, the lack of regional sports channels in AT&T TV Now’s base package, along with its lack of popular entertainment channels such as HGTV and AMC, will make it a tough sell from a cost perspective.
With AT&T TV Now, you can watch on up to three devices at a time. The service also works with more than 60 TV Everywhere apps, which you can access on devices that AT&T TV Now doesn’t support.
Beyond live TV, AT&T TV Now includes a catalog of on-demand programming, and many channels allow you to scroll back in time through the TV guide and watch certain programs that have aired in the past 72 hours. But in both cases, availability can depend on the program and the network, which is why you really need a DVR to make sure your favorite programs are available.
To that end, AT&T TV Now includes a cloud DVR with 500 hours of storage, but only if you’re not grandfathered into one of the service’s cheaper plans, which are no longer available to new subscribers. While this offering isn’t quite as generous as that of YouTube TV, which offers unlimited storage space for nine months, AT&T TV Now keeps recordings indefinitely.
And unlike Hulu + Live TV, which includes 50 hours of DVR storage in its $55 per month plan, AT&T TV Now doesn’t charge extra to skip commercials. (To skip ads with Hulu’s DVR, you need to pay $10 per month for “Enhanced DVR,” which also ups storage to 200 hours.) Still, the actual ad-skipping experience on AT&T TV Now can be a hassle, with no visual preview of what’s coming when you fast forward.
If grid-based channel guides are your preferred way to watch TV, you might love AT&T TV Now. Channels appear in alphabetical order, and the grid displays the next two hours of programming without having to scroll. Highlighting a program brings up an image thumbnail and a text description of the episode, and you can view just favorite channels, filter by genre, and quickly jump ahead to a specific day. No other streaming bundle executes the grid guide as well as AT&T TV Now does.
AT&T TV Now’s main DVR menu isn’t bad either, though it takes a few clicks to get to. You can see a list of all recorded shows, quickly delete series or individual episodes, and view a chronological list of upcoming recordings. All this is helpful for managing the limited amount of storage space that AT&T TV Now provides.
So, where does AT&T TV Now’s software fall short? Pretty much everywhere else.
There’s no attempt at personalization in AT&T TV Now’s menus, so when you scroll through the “Watch Now” and “Recommended” sections, you’ll see only generic trending programs and curated picks. (Even if AT&T TV Now did offer more personalization, the service does not support multiple user profiles.) And while AT&T TV Now has a “Continue Watching” section on its home screen, it only shows individual episodes or movies you haven’t finished, rather than entire series that you’re in the middle of watching.
For reasons unclear, AT&T also still thinks people want to blindly flip through channels like they did in the analog TV era, letting you swipe or press left or right from any live TV channel to switch to the next one. This could be somewhat useful if it flipped to the last channel you were watching or cycled through just your favorites, but why would anyone want to move one-by-one between dozens of channels in alphabetical order? You can always try to ignore this feature, but because most apps use directional buttons for fast forward and rewind, you’re likely to flip channels by accident at some point.
Trying to navigate the interface while watching video isn’t ideal either. AT&T TV Now continues to play audio in the background while a video is playing, but it doesn’t offer a mini-guide or picture-in-picture mode on TV devices, so the video becomes obscured behind AT&T TV Now’s main menus. In some parts of the interface, the menu covers up the video entirely.
I’ve also run into some glitches, including image thumbnails that disappear, menus that fail to display any content, and general sluggishness to render images and text on the screen. And on Roku players, AT&T TV Now is currently unable to pause live TV. AT&T TV Now had lots of problems during its initial launch in late 2016, and with the redesign, it seems to be going through growing pains all over again.
As with other streaming bundles, the resolution with most live channels is 720p, but AT&T TV Now supports 60-frames-per-second video on all sports, news, and broadcast channels on Apple TV, Roku, and Fire TV. (This is less of a differentiator than it used to be, as other bundles including Hulu and YouTube TV have expanded their own 60-frames-per-second support.) Some on-demand programming also supports Dolby Digital 5.1 audio on Apple TV.
For the most part, streams have been reliable and fast to load, but I did run into one unusual error on Amazon’s Fire TV that prevented a couple of local broadcast channels from playing. After attempting to load Fox and CBS, AT&T TV Now displayed a 10006-008 error code and a “This content has an issue and can’t play” message. Restarting the app and the Fire TV did not immediately resolve the problem, though it eventually went away on its own.
Given how many issues AT&T TV Now has, it’s hard to recommend for anything but its unique channel lineup. For $50 per month, it’s the cheapest live TV streaming service that includes local channels, cable news, national sports, and HBO, but it has the worst user experience outside of its cable-style grid guide, and its DVR is too limited to rely on. Without deep discounts and lots of channels, most cord-cutters are better off with other options, which might explain why AT&T TV Now has been shedding subscribers almost as quickly as it acquired them.
AT&T TV Now Plus ($55 per month):
AT&T TV Now Max ($80 per month):
This story, “AT&T TV Now review: The fall of a once-mighty bundle” was originally published by
DirecTV—now AT&T Now—was never a perfect streaming TV service, but we liked it a lot more before AT&T decided to squeeze the service for profits.
Jared Newman covers personal technology from his remote Cincinnati outpost. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for help with ditching cable or satellite TV.
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