Review updated below
I’ll cut to the chase. DirecTV Now is a train wreck. AT&T had every opportunity to make this a great service, but apparently felt that holiday sales were more important than satisfied customers. In essence, I paid to become a beta tester of the service. Not cool AT&T, not cool.
I’ve been using DirecTV Now for three weeks, with a 70 Mbps internet connection. I prepaid for three months of service and was given an Apple TV at no extra cost. This offer is non-refundable. I suspect that many customers will be contesting the charge with their credit card issuers. With a service this unreliable, AT&T didn’t live up to any reasonable expectation of quality. (I contacted DirecTV Now support regarding compensation for my troubles. I’ll keep my personal situation confidential.)
So what’s wrong with DirecTV Now? I’ll break it down:
• The video stream frequently pauses and sometimes stops dead in its tracks. When the stream is unrecoverable, the dreaded QP1502 error appears on a black screen. To watch the stream again, you need to navigate to another channel and then back to the original channel. How prevalent is this issue? Here are the Twitter hashtag mentions and an AT&T forum thread.
• Local NBC is not available on the Apple TV or other streaming devices. This fact is buried on a help page. What are the chances that a prospective DirecTV Now customer finds this information before signing up?
• Many of the on-demand shows that are shown in the user interface have no actual episodes available to stream. Pick a show, pick a season…no content.
• The user interface is difficult to master on the Apple TV. Here’s an example of how unintuitive the UI is:
While viewing a show…
– Swipe down: This presents the top navigation menu. To remove the menu, swipe up. Pressing the back button while the menu is displayed will exit the app. But you can use the back button to return to your program once you’ve entered a sub-menu of the top navigation menu. Got that?
– Swipe up: This presents the full content panel. To remove the panel, press the back button.
• The support team, via Twitter and web chat, offers canned PR lines and repeats the same useless “help” for frustrated customers. Most of the early adopters are undoubtedly tech savvy. The “solution” to the QP1502 error is an insult to your customers’ intelligence. (And by the way AT&T, waiting two minutes for the issue to “clear up on its own” does absolutely nothing on the Apple TV.) There is no phone support available.
There are a couple of positive notes:
• When the stream works, the picture quality is generally excellent.
• The $35/month introductory offer for over 100 channels is a good value (if the service worked reliably.) At the regular $60/month price for the Go Big package, you’re better off with a lower tier or alternative services.
Enrique Rodriguez, CTO of AT&T’s Entertainment and Internet business: You need to deliver content without any streaming interruptions. If you can’t accomplish this, then provide full refunds or other suitable compensation to your early adopters. You shouldn’t have launched the service if you expected problems. Reputable companies don’t do that sort of thing.
I’m pleased to report that DirecTV Now is now watchable on an Apple TV. Since version 1.0.4 of the app was released, I haven’t seen a QP1502 error. The experience still isn’t great though. I get occasional pauses that last a couple of seconds. While typing this update, I experienced a 15 second freeze while watching CNN during prime time. It appears that the app automatically reloads the stream instead of displaying the QP1502 error. Live NBC still isn’t available on the Apple TV.
AT&T gave their early adopters a free year of HBO. This deal is too good to refuse, so I’m going to remain a customer. The Apple TV app is now at version 1.0.6. Streaming is now rock-solid. DirectTV is now a valid sign-on provider for many apps, including HBO GO. However, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. It takes about eight seconds to tune into a stream. That’s way too long. I’m still not a fan of the user interface. Everything seems sluggish, despite the Apple TV being a relatively fast device. AT&T needs to hire a UI/UX expert pronto.
Version 1.0.7 of the Apple TV app was released today. NBC is now available. Finally!
Stream loading has gotten much quicker. It’s now taking less than four seconds to start viewing a channel. This is a huge improvement and allows channel surfing without pain. Stream interruptions remain an issue, but they are infrequent. The Apple TV app is at version 1.0.9.