A couple of months ago, I switched my internet service from Xfinity cable to AT&T Fiber. The price was comparable but fiber has the advantage of giving you the same speed in both directions, meaning faster upload speeds. Once I quit its internet service, I could no longer take advantage of Xfinity’s bundle, which reduced the price of cable TV, so I
decided to check out a couple of streaming options — DirecTV (which is owned by AT&T) and YouTube TV.
The first thing I noticed about both these services is the price, which is cheaper than cable, mostly because streaming services don’t add extra fees like “broadcast fee” and “regional sports fee” that can add up to $44 to the price of your service. Knowing the actual cost of your service is sometimes tricky because almost all of them advertise promotional deals that expire after a matter of weeks, months or, in some cases, one or two years. What interests me is the ongoing price I’ll pay after the promotion ends.
After a two-week free trial and a three month $10 discount, YouTube TV costs $64.99 a month. DirecTV costs $69.99 a month after its one-week free trial and two month discount of $15 a month. To their credit, both companies make their prices pretty clear on their websites.
If you don’t dig deeper, Xfinity’s website makes it appear that you can get its basic package for $44.99 a month with a one-year agreement. But, aside from the fact that’s only for the first 12 months, if you click on the plan details you’ll learn about those mandatory broadcast and sports fees. Plus there may be additional equipment costs.
DirecTV’s $69.99 plan includes 65+ channels plus 40,000 on-demand titles. For $89.99 a month (after a two month $74.99 teaser rate) you get a 90+ channel lineup. There are other higher-end packages and you can also purchase premium channels like Showtime and HBO MAX AND Starz.
YouTube TV offers 85+ channels on its $54.99 plan plus the ability to purchase add-on channels. YouTube TV charges $19.99 a month extra for its 4K package (that also includes the ability to download content on mobile devices). It might be a reasonable value for avid sports fans but most entertainment and on-demand channels don’t yet offer 4K programming.
Like just about everything, prices are subject to change and there have been increases in the cost of streaming which the services typically blame on content providers. Whatever the reason, consumers can wind up paying more in the future so always check to see the latest prices and — again — pay attention to any promotional offers with discounts that are only temporary.
While having 20 more channels might seem like a great deal, I don’t find the difference significant because both services offer most of the channels I care about. Look at the channel listing before selecting any service to see if it carries the content you want. I’m a fan of old movies so I’m thrilled that both services offer Turner Classic Movies (TCM) for no additional cost. Both also offer local channels and cable news channels. Both offer PBS but Bay Area YouTube TV watchers get the Sacramento channel while DirecTV offers the local (KQED) San Francisco channel.
Both services do everything in the cloud, including live streaming and digital video recording and both give you unlimited DVR storage, which is a great perk.
They both work on mobile devices, web browsers and multiple smart-TVs and streaming devices like Roku, Apple TV and Samsung smart TVs but be sure to check DirecTV’s and YouTube TVs device lists before ordering. I love the fact that I can watch my shows anywhere, including while out of town (at least while in the US). Sometimes, during my walks, I listen to the audio of TV news programs on my phone and take it out of my pocket to skip over the commercials for recorded programs.
Saving on electricity
Although you can stream Xfinity, including on Roku, I was not only paying extra for four set-top boxes, I was leaving them plugged in 24/7, and after putting an energy meter on the boxes, I noticed that the set-top boxes were drawing an additional $60 a year worth electricity over what my smart TVs were already drawing. Also, with streaming, I’m not limited to watching TV in rooms where I have a cable connected so it made it easy to watch my shows anywhere in my house or — on PCs and mobile — anywhere in the U.S. I happen to be.
My experience with both services
If you’re used to and comfortable with typical cable TV interface, you’ll feel more at home with DirecTV stream, especially if you order the optional $5-a-month set-top box, which gives it a cable-like interface, including the ability to change live channels by punching their channel number into the remote control. I tried out the set-top box but rarely use it because I have Rokus on all my TVs and have gotten used to viewing streaming content on Roku.
YouTube TV has a less-traditional interface that took me a while to get used to. The first thing I noticed was that my recorded shows weren’t in reverse chronological order as was the case with my Xfinity X1 DVR, but there is a “shows” option that does let you view the listing of all your recorded TV shows in the reverse order they were recorded. I also like that there is a “movies” option that separates our movies from shows. I record a lot of movies, and it’s nice not to have to scroll through them when I’m looking for news or other content.
Like most DVRs, both allow you to pause live and skip backwards on live content and skip in either direction on recorded content, including fast forwarding through commercials though — with both services — some on-demand content doesn’t allow you to skip forward to avoid commercials.
DirecTV lets you skip ahead by 30 seconds, which is handy to get through commercial breaks. Both let you fast-forward but what I love about YouTube TV is that the fast-forward button instantly jumps 15 seconds each time you press it. It’s a more efficient way to get through commercials because you quickly see where you are and can easily tell when the commercial is over.
There are other streaming services to consider including Sling TV and Hulu+ Live TV. Sling is less expensive, but you need an antenna to get local channels. Hulu + Live TV has some attractive offers, including a cost-effective bundle with Disney+ and ESPN+, but unlike DirecTV and YouTube TV, Hulu doesn’t offer a free trial for its live programming, which is a problem considering that their bundled plan starts at $69.99 a month.
Another option is to cut the cord entirely and subscribe to streaming services like Netflix and HBO Max and get your live TV from an antenna. I would consider this option, but I’m a news junkie and want access to cable news channels that aren’t available independently from either a cable, satellite or “live TV” streaming service like YouTube TV and DirecTV.
Not for everyone
The easiest service to use is the one you already have, so before you switch, ask yourself if you and everyone in your household are ready to learn a new way to watch TV. For me and my techie friends, this is no big deal, but it is for some people. One of the downsides to being a member of my family is having to put up with the new tech I review. It still drives my wife crazy. Everytime I “upgrade” to a new set, DVR or service, she looks at me quizzically and exclaims, “all I want to do is watch TV.”
Larry Magid is a tech journalist and internet safety activist.
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