DirecTV Stream App review: How to watch television without any wires

YouTube TV and Hulu are not the only standalone apps for watching live television these days. In fact, there might be a better option, depending on your tastes.

A few weeks ago, DirecTV set me up with their streaming app, which doesn’t require a set-top box, a satellite, or any wires at all behind your television. It costs $70 per month for the package that includes about 75 channels (like ESPN, Fox, and Discovery channel). 

From there, you can choose packages that add more sports channels ($80 per month), more movie channels ($95 per month), or all of the above ($140 per month.

I was surprised how easy it is to install and start using. Again, no wires, no connections to the wall whatsoever, and yet this is DirecTV in terms of all the channels you’d expect, and another nice surprise because you can record any show, game or movie on the unlimited cloud storage. I figure it might be best to cover what I like best about it first, along with a few small caveats.

Because this is an app, the install is lightning quick. You install the app, login using your account, and start watching. I’ve tested YouTube TV and Hulu many times, and they are about the same in terms of speed of install. Once you start using the DirectTV app, you can quickly find shows using the guide, do a search, browse on-demand content, and use the library.

Now, the speed of operation for the app will depend on your television. I happen to have a nice Samsung model that is beefy and fast. I wondered what it would be like an older, slower smart television. The search function works great even if you have to do a few clicks to get there (click search, click again to start typing). I looked up Miss Scarlett and the Duke quickly and set the app to record the whole season. I really like how easy it is to record sports. 

In a few quick clicks, you can find a favorite sports team and record any of their games that air. I will be curious how this works with the FIFA world Cup coming up this fall. I hope to be able to select any team and have the app record those games, even if that team name is “Germany” and now Minnesota Timberwolves. It’s an amazingly handy feature to make sure you never miss a favorite team, though, and I’ve already watched several Golden state Warriors games. I don’t even know which channel was used for recording the games, and I don’t need to know.

The app works on your phone, tablets, and computer as well. I prefer using a television, but I also know on trips it will be easy to watch recorded shows and movies.

For on-demand content, I was impressed with how the app organizes shows and movies and shows all of the popular and trending options on one screen. I found a show called Walker: Independence and another called Professionals this way, without having heard of either. I like shows and movies that are not MA rated, so I’m always on the hunt for options that are TV14 or PG-13, which means I have to hunt around a lot. I also found some older movies like Misery this way (for some reason, I’d never seen it before). The app also suggested a movie called Chinatown which I had never seen, either. It’s a handy way to find shows, especially the ones that are worth watching and trending for the trite reasons (because they are well made).

One slight ding against the DirecTV Stream app is that you have to use your television remote. Now, that’s a bonus in a way because you don’t need two remotes. The downside is that your TV remote is not mapped to the control functions of the app. For me, that meant, to fast forward, you first press select on the TV remote, move over to fast forward, click again, and then hit stop. It’s not as cumbersome as it sounds, and I got used to that mechanic, but I also hope they release a remote that can be programmed to your TV someday and supports the app directly. I know this is possible, but might deter people with the added expense.

Overall, I have not found anything that makes the app hard to use or would impede me from recording and watching shows. I miss one feature from DISH that automatically recorded all primetime shows, but I think they have that copyrighted somehow. DirecTV told me that “transactional” video-on-demand (that is, movies you can rent) is coming soon, so I plan to do another review of VOD when that feature is available later on.

DirecTV reps said the app will work on most smart televisions. I tested it on an Amazon Fire TV and it worked fine. I like  how it all works, the easy search and on-demand sections, the unlimited storage, and the fact that the install was so easy. It’s probably familiar to anyone who has used the satellite service; for me, it meant I found shows and movies faster.