15/04/2021

Licensing Consultant

Not just any technology

AT&T TV review: Great for sports fans and channel flippers, but expensive


Sarah Tew/CNET

Change is the norm when it comes to live TV streaming services, but AT&T TV has had a particularly tumultuous history. It started life as DirecTV Now in 2016, and in the time since it has added and dropped channels, changed its name twice and hiked prices numerous times. The latest iteration no longer requires a contract or a set-top box — yay! — making it similar at first blush to competitors like YouTube TV and Hulu Plus Live TV. The downside is the high price: A monthly subscription starts at $70, and to get access to your local regional sports network you’ll need to pay for the $85 package.

Like

  • $85 plan has robust regional sports channels for NBA and MLB games
  • Fun channel-surfing capabilities

Don’t Like

  • Expensive, especially with sports and DVR add-ons
  • $70 plan has fewer channels for more money than YouTube TV
  • Roku app doesn’t work as well as Apple TV’s or web

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Those local channels, which carry the regular season games of NBA basketball and MLB baseball teams, are the best reason to subscribe to AT&T TV. No competitor has nearly as many RSNs, so for fans who want to catch all the action of their team live, paying $85 per month to AT&T TV is often the only streaming option. (As a bonus, that price also includes a year of HBO Max and NBA League Pass Premium.) A cable TV subscription, which typically also offers RSNs, is likely cheaper, however.

Read more: MLB 2021 streaming: How to watch the Dodgers, Mets, Yankees and more baseball without cable

Using the AT&T app feels more cablelike than any of its competitors, with a unique swiping channel-change mechanic. The service is best appreciated on an Apple TV because even though Roku is our favorite streaming device, its app lacks the ability to pause live TV. If you crave a familiar interface and want access to its extensive sports coverage AT&T TV is worth a look, but if you don’t need those RSNs, then YouTube TV, which costs less and has more non-sports channels, is a better choice.

Optional contract, multiple channel packages

One of the benefits of choosing a live TV streaming service over cable is that you’re not tied to a contract. AT&T TV does offer an optional two-year contract, but it’s not a very good deal.

Off-contract, the 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. For cord-cutters who want to follow their local NBA or MLB team, AT&T TV’s $85 Choice package is a better option, with access to those regional sports networks. The Ultimate tier costs $95 with more channels including Starz and Encore, while the “whole enchilada” $140 Premier level adds even more channels with HBO (and HBO Max), Starz, Showtime and Cinemax.

AT&T TV

The AT&T TV Stream set-top box is free if you get a contract, but you can also use devices like Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Opting for the contract gives you an AT&T TV Stream set-top box, an unlimited cloud DVR (normally $10 per month extra) and a discount on the first year — with a steep price increase in year 2.

With a contract, the basic Entertainment package’s first-year price is $60 per month, which then jumps to $93 per month in the second. The Choice package drops from $85 per month to $65 per month for the first year of the two-year contract, but the second year would jack the price back up to $110 per month. Those with Choice on a two-year contract would also be on the hook for paying an additional $8.49 per month as a “regional sports fee” for two years. Month-to-month Choice subscribers don’t have to pay the regional sports fee.

Those second-year price hikes make the overall cost of both packages higher than simply going month-to-month for two years, so we don’t recommend getting a contract. 

Premium live TV streaming services compared

Premium services YouTube TV AT&T TV Hulu Plus Live TV FuboTV
Base price $65/month $70/month $65/month $65/month
Total number of top 100 channels 75 61 62 65
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/mo.) Yes (50 hours, 200 hours plus commercial skip for $10/mo.) Yes (30GB, 500GB for $10/mo.)
Step-up packages with more channels No Yes Yes Yes
Simultaneous streams per account 3 20  2 ($10 option for unlimited) 2 ($6 option for 3)

AT&T recently upped the number of concurrent in-home streams to 20, which is good news to 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?

AT&T bought DirecTV in 2015, and that service’s history still informs the functionality of AT&T TV. Our favorite cablelike feature is the ability to swipe left or right to change channels, even if it’s not quite instantaneous. There’s about three to five seconds of loading time when changing channels.

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AT&T TV comes with a program guide


Sarah Tew/CNET

When using AT&T TV with a remote, the controls center around the direction buttons and Enter/OK. This makes it relatively 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/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, something that the painfully slow YouTube TV is not.

While Roku is very similar to Apple TV, there is one major difference: There’s still no live TV pause on Roku. This is also potentially frustrating to sports fans who need to pause the action momentarily. Instead, pressing pause freezes the screen while the program keeps playing in the background. Meanwhile Apple TV will allow two minutes until it cuts to the live feed and pauses again, and will keep skipping forward and pausing each minute or two until you press Play. In comparison, YouTube TV lets you pause indefinitely, just like a normal DVR. 

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Depending on the tier you choose, AT&T TV’s DVR offers between 20 and an unlimited number of hours, while YouTube TV offers unlimited storage by default. YouTube TV lets you keep recordings for up to 9 months, while you are limited to 30 days on AT&T TV. If you live in a small to medium-size household, the service offers three simultaneous streams without the need to pay extra.

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 but no pause, but there is the ability to restart. 

I briefly used a Fire TV 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 (an iPhone 6 Plus on AT&T, to be specific) also offered a smooth experience with quick channel changes.

Is it worth your $70 (or $85) a month?

The cable experience is what AT&T TV is all about — the swipe left and right functionality is quite inspired. While the company has really bulked up on its content since we last looked in 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 $85 Choice package with its twin draws of HBO and RSNs is unmatched by the competition.

If you want to save money though? Stay clear — almost any other service offers a better value than this, and many cable packages are comparable. Even if you’re an Apple user, other services such as YouTube TV and Hulu Plus Live TV offer a superior and cheaper experience. 

Channel comparison

Below you’ll find a chart that’s a smaller version of this massive channel comparison. 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.
  • Regional sports networks — channels devoted to showing regular-season games of particular pro baseball, basketball and hockey teams — are not listed. 

Top 100 channels compared

Channel Sling Blue ($35) Fubo TV ($60) YouTube TV ($65) Hulu with Live TV ($65) AT&T TV ($70)
Total channels: 38 65 75 62 61
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 Yes No No
CW No Yes Yes Yes Yes
MyNetworkTV No No Yes Yes Yes
Channel Sling Blue ($35) Fubo TV ($60) YouTube TV ($65) Hulu with Live TV ($65) AT&T TV ($70)
A&E Yes Yes No Yes Yes
ACC Network No $ Yes Yes $
AMC Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Animal Planet No Yes Yes Yes Yes
BBC America Yes Yes Yes No Yes
BBC World News $ $ Yes No $
BET Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Big Ten Network $ Yes Yes Yes $
Bloomberg TV Yes No No Yes Yes
Boomerang $ No No Yes Yes
Bravo Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Channel Sling Blue ($35) Fubo TV ($60) YouTube TV ($65) Hulu with Live TV ($65) AT&T TV ($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 No Yes
CNBC $ Yes Yes Yes Yes
CNN Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Comedy Central Yes Yes Yes No 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) Fubo TV ($60) YouTube TV ($65) Hulu with Live TV ($65) AT&T TV ($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 $ Yes No Yes $
Golf Channel $ Yes Yes Yes $
Hallmark $ Yes No No Yes
HBO/HBO Max No No $ $ $
HGTV Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
History Yes Yes No Yes Yes
HLN Yes No Yes Yes Yes
IFC Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Investigation Discovery Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Lifetime Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Lifetime Movie Network $ Yes No Yes $
Channel Sling Blue ($35) Fubo TV ($60) YouTube TV ($65) Hulu with Live TV ($65) AT&T TV ($70)
MLB Network $ $ Yes No $
Motor Trend No Yes Yes Yes Yes
MSNBC Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
MTV $ Yes Yes No Yes
MTV2 $ $ No No Yes
National Geographic Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Nat Geo Wild $ $ Yes Yes $
NBA TV $ $ Yes No $
NBC Sports Network Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Newsy Yes $ Yes No No
NFL Network Yes Yes Yes No No
NFL Red Zone $ $ $ No No
NHL Network $ $ No No $
Nickelodeon No Yes Yes No Yes
Nick Jr. Yes Yes No No $
Nicktoons $ $ No No $
OWN No Yes Yes No $
Oxygen $ Yes Yes Yes $
Paramount Network $ Yes Yes No Yes
Channel Sling Blue ($35) Fubo TV ($60) YouTube TV ($65) Hulu with Live TV ($65) AT&T TV ($70)
Science $ $ No $ $
SEC Network No $ Yes Yes $
Showtime $ $ $ $ $
Smithsonian No Yes Yes Yes $
Starz $ No $ $ $
Sundance TV $ Yes Yes No Yes
Syfy Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Tastemade $ Yes Yes No $
TBS Yes No Yes Yes Yes
TCM $ No Yes Yes Yes
Telemundo No Yes 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 No Yes
USA Network Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
VH1 $ Yes Yes No Yes
Vice Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Weather Channel No Yes No No $
WE tv $ Yes Yes No Yes