DirecTV Stream review: Expensive, but the best option for streaming NBA and NHL

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In its six-year life span,  has had one of the most tumultuous histories of all of the . After starting life as DirecTV Now in 2016, it’s endured three different name changes, flip-flops on compulsory hardware and a series of price hikes. The current version of DirecTV Stream is separate from the DirecTV satellite service, and instead competes against cord-cutter services  and .

DirecTV Stream is not cheap. A monthly subscription starts at $70, and to get access to your local regional sports network you’ll need to pay for the $90 Choice package (which just , while higher tiers are now $10 more). Those local sports channels, which carry the regular season games of , and teams, are the best reason to subscribe to DirecTV Stream. No competitor has nearly as many RSNs, so for fans who want to catch all the action of their teams live, paying $90 a month to DirecTV Stream is often the only streaming option. As a bonus, that price also includes three months of . A cable TV subscription, which typically also offers RSNs, is likely cheaper, however.

7.4

DirecTV Stream

Like

  • Offers most regional sports networks on $90 tier
  • Great for channel surfing
  • Live pause works well

Don’t Like

  • Expensive
  • Not as many nonsports channels as competitors
  • Channel changing slow on Roku
  • No Google TV or Android app

In daily use the DirecTV stream app also feels more cable-like than any of its competitors, in part because you can easily flip channels. While it’s compatible with multiple platforms, I liked it best on an , which loads channels twice as fast as . If you crave a familiar interface and want access to its extensive sports coverage DirecTV Stream is worth a look. However, if you don’t need your local RSNs, then YouTube TV — which costs less and has more channels overall — is a better choice, .

Read more: 

Multiple channel packages, with RSNs starting at $90

DirecTV Stream is a live TV streaming service (), Apple TV, Roku, Android and iOS, TVs and browsers. It doesn’t currently support Android or Google TV devices, however.  

One of the benefits of choosing a streaming service over cable is that you’re not tied to a contract, so you can cancel at any time without penalty. DirecTV Stream’s basic package starts at $70 a month with 65-plus channels and a 20-hour DVR, but it does miss channels such as MLB Network, NFL Network and Travel Channel found on the competition. 

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If you’re a cord-cutter and want to follow your local NBA, NHL or MLB team during the regular season, DirecTV Stream’s $90 Choice package is a better option. It gives you access to almost all regional sports networks. RSNs are local channels devoted to showing the live, regular-season games of a particular local team. There are numerous such networks across the country, including YES Network (which carries the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets), NBA Sports Chicago (White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks) and Bally’s Sports Sun (Tampa Bay Rays and Lightning). 

Unless you subscribe to cable or satellite, your only option for getting your local RSN, and the live games it carries for your team, is most likely DirecTV Stream. Other services like and YouTube TV used to carry more RSNs, and they still offer a handful (YouTube TV has five RSNs and , for example), but .

DirecTV Stream also has an Ultimate tier that costs $105 with more channels including Starz and Encore. The “whole enchilada” $150 Premier level adds even more channels including HBO (and HBO Max), Starz, Showtime and Cinemax.

AT&T TVAT&T TV

The DirecTV Stream set-top box costs an extra $5 a month, but you can also use devices like Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV.

Sarah Tew/CNET

When it was still called TV, users had the option of entering a contract for a cheaper price with a streaming set-top box bundled in. Now that the service has been rebranded DirecTV Stream, the contract has been scrapped and the optional  box costs $5 a month. 

Premium live TV streaming services compared

Premium services

YouTube TV

DirecTV Stream

Hulu Plus Live TV

FuboTV

Base price

$65 a month

$70 a month

$70 a month

$65 a month

Total number of top 100 channels

79

62

73

59

ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC channels

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Record shows for later (cloud DVR)

Yes (keep for 9 months)

Yes (20 hours, unlimited hours for $10 a month)

Yes (50 hours, 200 hours plus commercial skip for $10 a month)

Yes (250 hours)

Step-up packages with more channels

No ($20 for 4K only) 

Yes

Yes

Yes

Simultaneous streams per account

3

20 

2 ($10 option for unlimited)

3

The service recently , which is good news for households with lots of people who want to watch at once. The out-of-home concurrent streaming limit is three, which should still be plenty.

What’s it like to use?

My favorite feature of DirecTV Stream is the ability to click (or swipe) left or right to quickly change channels, much like channel flipping on a cable box. Unfortunately the “flip” to a new channel isn’t instantaneous, and how long it takes varies according to which device you’re using. For instance, I found that changing channels via a web browser or an took about 3 seconds, while a took 6 seconds. However, even though there is a lag before you can see video, the channel and current program do display immediately on a loading screen.

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DirecTV Stream comes with a grid-style program guide.

Sarah Tew/CNET

When using DirecTV Stream with a remote, the controls center around the direction buttons and the Enter/OK button. This makes it quick to pick up and use, and also means you don’t need a complicated remote control to make it work, making the minimalist Apple TV clicker a great companion. If you want the full “surfing” experience on a universal remote, you could even program left and right arrows into your Channel up and down buttons.

The service loads straight into the last channel watched — further enhancing its cable credentials — and pressing down brings up the interface with a choice of the 14-day guide, Watch Now, My Library recordings and a Discover option. Navigation is intuitive and quick, unlike the painfully slow YouTube TV.

One of the major upgrades recently has been to the live pause feature. Previously only Apple TV could pause the action for 寂然無聲 up to 2 minutes. But now you can pause both Apple TV and Roku broadcasts seemingly indefinitely, just as with YouTube TV.       

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Depending on the tier you choose, DirecTV’s cloud DVR offers between 20 hours and an unlimited number, while YouTube TV offers unlimited storage by default. YouTube TV lets you keep recordings for up to nine months, while you’re limited to 30 days on DirecTV. 

Some programs do give you the option to restart, and pressing down on the Apple TV remote will bring up show info, a recording option and Restart (if available). Pressing the Select button will pause the program. In contrast, pressing the middle button on Roku brings up a different menu with similar functionality and the ability to restart. 

I briefly used a and found the experience closer to Apple TV than Roku. If you don’t have an Apple TV, the Fire TV is my next choice for using the service. Using an iPhone also offered a smooth experience with quick channel changes.

Is it worth your $70 (or $90) a month?

The cable experience is what DirecTV Stream is all about — the swipe left and right functionality is quite inspired. While the service has really bulked up on its content since 2019 — when it had fewer than 50 of the most popular channels — the service still lags behind every other rival in terms of breadth. The real reason to get it is if you’re an avid sports fan — the $90 Choice package with its numerous RSNs is unmatched by the competition.

If you don’t need your local sports network, however, almost any other service offers a better value than this, and many cable packages will be cheaper too, and usually include your local RSNs. 

Channel comparison

Below you’ll find a chart that’s a smaller version of . It contains the top 100 channels from each service. Some notes:

  • Yes = The channel is available on the cheapest pricing tier.
  • No = The channel isn’t available at all on that service. 

  • $ = The channel is available for an extra fee, either a la carte or as part of a more expensive package or add-on. 

  • Not every channel a service carries is listed, just the “top 100” as determined by CNET’s editors. Minor channels such as AXS TV, CNBC World, Discovery Life, GSN, POP and Universal Kids didn’t make the cut.
  •  — channels devoted to showing regular-season games of particular pro baseball, basketball and hockey teams — are not listed. 

Top 100 Channels

Channel

Sling Blue ($35)

FuboTV ($65)

Hulu with Live TV ($70)

YouTube TV ($65)

DirecTV Stream ($70)

Total channels:

36

59

73

79

62

ABC

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

CBS

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Fox

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

NBC

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

PBS

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

CW

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

MyNetworkTV

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Channel

Sling Blue ($35)

FuboTV ($65)

Hulu with Live TV ($70)

YouTube TV ($65)

DirecTV Stream ($70)

A&E

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

ACC Network

No

$

Yes

Yes

$

Accuweather

No

Yes

No

No

Yes

AMC

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Animal Planet

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

BBC America

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

BBC World News

$

$

No

Yes

$

BET

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Big Ten Network

$

Yes

Yes

Yes

$

Bloomberg TV

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

Boomerang

$

No

Yes

No

Yes

Bravo

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Channel

Sling Blue ($35)

FuboTV ($65)

Hulu with Live TV ($70)

YouTube TV ($65)

DirecTV Stream ($70)

Cartoon Network

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

CBS Sports Network

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

$

Cheddar

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

$

Cinemax

No

No

$

$

$

CMT

$

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

CNBC

$

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

CNN

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Comedy Central

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Cooking Channel

$

$

$

No

$

Destination America

$

$

$

No

$

Discovery Channel

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Disney Channel

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Disney Junior

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Disney XD

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

DIY

$

$

$

No

$

E!

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

EPIX

$

No

No

$

$

ESPN

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

ESPN 2

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

ESPNEWS

No

$

Yes

Yes

$

ESPNU

No

$

Yes

Yes

$

Channel

Sling Blue ($35)

FuboTV ($65)

Hulu with Live TV ($70)

YouTube TV ($65)

DirecTV Stream ($70)

Food Network

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Fox Business

$

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Fox News

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Fox Sports 1

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Fox Sports 2

$

Yes

Yes

Yes

$

Freeform

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

FX

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

FX Movies

$

$

Yes

Yes

$

FXX

$

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

FYI

$

No

Yes

No

$

Golf Channel

$

Yes

Yes

Yes

$

Hallmark

$

Yes

No

No

Yes

HBO/HBO Max

No

No

$

$

$

HGTV

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

History

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

HLN

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

IFC

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Investigation Discovery

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Lifetime

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

Lifetime Movie Network

$

No

Yes

No

$

Channel

Sling Blue ($35)

FuboTV ($65)

Hulu with Live TV ($70)

YouTube TV ($65)

DirecTV Stream ($70)

MLB Network

$

$

No

Yes

$

Motor Trend

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

MSNBC

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

MTV

$

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

MTV2

$

$

$

Yes

Yes

National Geographic

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Nat Geo Wild

$

$

Yes

Yes

$

NBA TV

$

$

No

Yes

$

NBC Sports Network

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

NFL Network

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

NFL Red Zone

$

$

$

$

No

NHL Network

$

$

No

No

$

Nickelodeon

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Nick Jr.

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

$

Nicktoons

$

$

$

Yes

$

Olympic Channel

$

Yes

Yes

Yes

$

OWN

No

Yes

No

Yes

$

Oxygen

$

Yes

Yes

Yes

$

Paramount Network

$

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Channel

Sling Blue ($35)

FuboTV ($65)

Hulu with Live TV ($70)

YouTube TV ($65)

DirecTV Stream ($70)

Science

$

$

$

No

$

SEC Network

No

$

Yes

Yes

$

Showtime

$

$

$

$

$

Smithsonian

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

$

Starz

$

$

$

$

$

Sundance TV

$

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Syfy

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Tastemade

$

Yes

No

Yes

$

TBS

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

TCM

$

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Telemundo

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

$

Tennis Channel

$

$

No

No

$

TLC

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

TNT

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Travel Channel

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

$

TruTV

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

TV Land

$

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

USA Network

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

VH1

$

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Vice

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

WE tv

$

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Channel

Sling Blue ($35)

FuboTV ($65)

Hulu with Live TV ($70)

YouTube TV ($65)

DirecTV Stream ($70)

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