6 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Deciding Whether To Try ‘DirecTV Now’

Last night, AT&T finally pulled back the veil on its long-awaited DirecTV Now streaming service, which will launch tomorrow starting at $35/month. But before you take a sledgehammer to your cable box or refashion the satellite dish into a sled and/or serving bowl, there are some important things to consider.

After reading through the available details, getting some hands-on time with a live demo of the service, and talking to a DirecTV exec about what people should expect, here are a handful of questions you should ask yourself to to determine if DirecTV Now is something you might want to consider:

1. Where Do I Live?

AT&T has made deals to carry live TV from NBC, ABC, and FOX (CBS is still being negotiated), but only in those markets where the networks owns the local station. So, for instance, if you live in Chicago you should be able to get your local stations (minus CBS for now), but if you live in Minneapolis it looks like the only network owned-and-operated affiliate is the local FOX channel, so no NBC or ABC.

You will, however, we believe you will have access to an on-demand library from these networks. [NOTE: We are trying to confirm this with AT&T and will update.] So while DirecTV Now users in Minneapolis couldn’t watch NBC live on the service, they would still be able to catch up via on-demand video.

AT&T says it will try to negotiate deals with the many (many) regional and national media companies that own the remaining affiliates, but there’s currently no timeline on when DirecTV Now viewers in affected markets can expect to get all their local stations.

The bottom line: Viewers in markets like NYC, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia need not worry (unless you love CBS), but many people in smaller markets may not be able to watch live network TV (or their local news) on DirecTV Now. If you’re able to get these local stations over the air with an antenna without much problem, this may not be an issue for you. Similarly, if you’re not a big viewer of network TV, you simply might not care.

2. How Much Do I Love My DVR?

Are you the type of TV viewer who has a set list of shows you watch each week? Do you have to watch them live or do you prefer to DVR them and watch at your leisure?

DirecTV Now will not have anything resembling a traditional DVR functionality — no pausing of live TV, no “recording” that you can access at will forever.

Certain stations will have a 72-hour window of available content where you’ll be able to quickly jump back to anything that aired during the previous few days, and there is the aforementioned on-demand library of content.

One thing that appears to set this non-live content apart from traditional on-demand video is your ability to easily jump around from one point in the video to another. During our demo, it was remarkably easy to leap ahead to any point of a video — minimal buffering or other hiccups you might expect. Again, we have to point out that this is based on a demo of a closed beta version of DirecTV Now; things may be (or may not be) very different when the service actually launches.

The bottom line: If use your DVR just to record shows and watch them when it’s convenient, DirecTV Now’s on-demand library may not be too much of a change (unless you intend to watch those shows long after they aired). But if you’re the kind of TV viewer that primarily uses the DVR to pause live TV when you’re answering the phone or taking a bathroom break, then this might be a problem.

3. What Wireless Carrier Do I Have?

If you plan to use DirecTV Now to watch video on your mobile device, your carrier of choice may make a major difference.

After AT&T acquired DirecTV, it announced that DirecTV streaming video would not count against AT&T wireless customers’ data allotments. That policy is also being extended to DirecTV Now subscribers.

So an AT&T wireless customer will be able to stream DirecTV Now without fear of hitting a data cap or having their connection throttled, but the same can’t be said for people who watch DirecTV Now using a different wireless provider.

This practice — known as “zero-rating” — is very controversial. The FCC recently voiced its concerns about this possibly being an unfair business practice, but given the upcoming leadership change at the FCC and the fact that the president-elect has been openly derisive of net neutrality, we don’t expect the regulators will ultimately do anything to halt these sorts of arrangements.

The bottom line: How much this data issue matters to you will depend on how much you plan to watch video on your phone. If you’re looking at DirecTV Now as a way to entertain yourself during a daily 45-minute train commute, you could be looking at a hefty wireless bill, unless you’re an AT&T customer.

4. Am I In Contract With My Cable Company?

Before you take on another subscription, you should know if you’re locked into your current pay-TV provider; this includes DirecTV.

Ending your pay-TV service before your contract is up could cost you a significant amount of money in early termination fees. Of course, it’s all those fees and commitments that have people clamoring for something like DirecTV Now (or Sling TV or PlayStation Vue) that has no contract.

The bottom line: You may be itching to leap at something new that isn’t cable TV, but make sure you’re not either going to get bit in the rear-end by early termination fees, or that you’re paying for services that effectively duplicate each other.

5. How Many People Are In My House?

When it launches, DirecTV Now will allow two simultaneous streams per account. So if you’re part of a family with every member watching video in their rooms or on their mobile devices, you’d have to either get multiple accounts or have to negotiate who gets to watch TV and when.

Of course, if it’s just you and a spouse/roommate/friend/whatever-you-all-are-doing-we-don’t-judge, then two streams may be just fine.

It’s also the kind of video plan a parent could buy for their college student kid, since it’s portable and the service could be turned off during the months that the student is back home.

The bottom line: DirecTV Now could be a cable replacement for households with a small number of people, or where TV viewing is limited. But for large households with people used to watching whatever they want in their personal spaces, it probably won’t go over well — unless you want your family to hate you.

6. What Streaming Device(s) Do I Own?

When DirecTV Now launches, getting the service to work on your TV set will require one of three options: an Amazon Fire TV device (the stick or the box); an Apple TV; or a Google Chromecast dongle.

The service will eventually have apps that are native to some smart TVs and AT&T says it plans to have DirecTV Now working on Roku devices in the near future, but for now these are not options.

AT&T is trying to ease that sting by offering free compatible devices. If you’re willing to commit to three months, you can score an Apple TV; prepaying for a month gets you a Fire TV stick.

With Chromecast (no mention of a discount offer for this product), the interface is all on your smartphone. That may actually be a plus if you’re prone to losing small remotes, but it may also be a negative if you like being able to scroll through the guides and on-demand options on the big screen that you paid a lot of money for.

The bottom line: If you already own an Apple TV, Chromecast, or Amazon Fire TV, this is probably a non-issue. If you’re a Roku fan or prefer the apps built into your TV or gaming console, you’re going to have to wait, splash out some money, or at least prepay for one month to get the Fire TV stick.

There are probably a lot more things you could ask yourself, but these six questions are likely the most important. Keep in mind that DirecTV Now will offer a 7-day trial window for new users, so you can give it a go for a few days to make up your own mind about whether this service is right for you.

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