AT&T’s DirecTV Now online streaming service goes live tomorrow, and the best pricing will only be available for a limited time. That’s a problem, because the service is missing key features at launch and it’s not clear when they’ll arrive.
The biggest technical limitations might be the lack of recording functionality and the inability to pause live TV for more than a few seconds. DirecTV Now won’t have DVR functionality until sometime next year, according to several news reports. If DVR launches in January or February, then it isn’t such a huge deal, but if the functionality only comes late in 2017 that would dramatically reduce the value proposition for customers who sign up right away to lock in the most favorable pricing.
It’s not even definite that DVR functionality will come to DirecTV Now in 2017. When contacted by Ars today, the company said that “DVR and pause capability is coming in the future, likely next year.” (For customers’ sake, we hope “likely next year” doesn’t turn into “2018.”)
AT&T tells us that customers can pause live TV, but only for five or 10 seconds. After that, when customers hit play they will return to the live portion of the stream. You can pause video on demand.
Another limit that might concern families is that DirecTV Now only allows two concurrent streams per account. An additional subscription is needed for more than two simultaneous streams.
By contrast, PlayStation Vue already has a DVR feature that lets customers save a show for up to 28 days. Sling TV announced DVR functionality yesterday without the 28-day limit, though at first it will only be available in a beta and on Roku devices. Playstation Vue lets you stream on up to five devices at once, but there are some limits to that; you can’t stream on two PS4 consoles or two PS3 consoles simultaneously. Sling TV allows one to three concurrent streams depending on which package customers buy.
AT&T is trying to out-do competitors by allowing DirecTV to stream on the AT&T mobile network without counting against data caps—while charging other companies for the same privilege. The Federal Communications Commission alleged that this arrangement may violate net neutrality rules, but AT&T probably has nothing to worry about under President-elect Donald Trump.
Limits on channels and live programming
A few weeks before the launch, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson boasted that DirecTV Now would offer 100 channels for $35 a month, including “all the premium” content consumers want. But as we reported yesterday, that offer will be available only for a limited time after the launch. The 100-channel package will cost $60 a month after that, while $35 will provide 60 channels and lack regional sports networks and other channels.
AT&T refuses to say how long the special pricing will be available and when exactly key features will be added, making it hard to decide whether it’s better to wait for the service to add advanced functionality. There are no annual contracts, but customers would lose their special pricing if they cancel and sign up again later.
There were several good articles detailing DirecTV Now’s limitations, including pieces in Consumerist, DSLReports, The Verge, and Yahoo Tech. We’ll summarize some of the key points here.