AT&T TV review: Great for sports fans and cable addicts, 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 networks (RSNs) 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 LikeExpensive, 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.

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.

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. 

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



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