AT&T TV launches nationwide today after it was first launched in over a dozen markets last year. The subscription TV service – not to be confused with AT & T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now) – is based on contracts. This is a departure from the freedom you get with monthly streaming TV apps like YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV and Sling TV. When you sign up for a two-year contract, you get an Android TV set-top box and a very wired remote (with a Google Assistant button).
AT&T tries to position AT&T TV as a premium streaming TV experience. It's more for people looking for a better cable / satellite alternative than a cheaper one. This is basically AT & T's next game if DirecTV continues, subscribers continue to bleed quarterly as more consumers cut the cable. In addition to live TV, you can install apps like Netflix, Disney Plus and others from the Google Play Store or control smart home devices with the assistant-compatible remote control. Chromecast support is also built in.
You can watch AT&T TV on the box in front of your TV, and there is also an AT&T TV app for iOS, iPadOS and Android. The setup is fairly simple. You connect the box to your TV's HDMI port, enter your WiFi information, log in with your AT&T TV credentials, and then start watching. Cable / satellite conversions will all feel familiar: the remote control has numeric keys and a channel guide that adheres closely to the DirecTV lists. But here everything is streamed over the web.
The “home screen” of the AT&T TV custom Android TV experience is always live TV. Whenever you turn it on, it will be recorded by the last channel you were on. Very cable-like again, and that's actually a touch that I appreciate. Having to watch live TV can make things feel disconnected.
AT&T TV alone costs $ 49.99 a month. Here is the company's channel listing so you can see what's offered in each package. The basic entertainment package includes local broadcast channels, ESPN, AMC, HGTV, FX, USA and a decent selection of other cable networks. Sports fans will want to take advantage of the medium-sized “Choice” channel package ($ 54.99), which adds regional sports networks – like everyone who almost lost YouTube TV – and others like the YES network. The company is promoting a package deal that includes Gigabit Internet at home (if available) and AT&T TV for a total of $ 80 per month. All plans include free HBO for the first three months, but you'll have to pay afterwards to keep it.
These prices would be fine (or at least competitive) if they stayed that way. But … they don't.
The prices for AT & T TV rise dramatically after 12 months of service. Entertainment ranges from $ 49.99 to $ 93. The choice is $ 110. Xtra at $ 124; and Ultimate at $ 135. You'll also have to deal with an activation fee and early termination fees if you cancel the service before your service contract is signed. (The ETF costs $ 15 for every month that is still included in your contract.) If you have YouTube TV or the like, you may find the cable days ugly memories. And since you're sticking to this two-year deal, there's really no way to avoid the significant price hike.
Then what is it about? Well, AT&T is expressing a message of simplicity. You can search from a central location via live TV, on-demand content and streaming apps without having to change HDMI ports or juggle remote controls. "For example, you can easily switch between a live basketball game, Netflix, YouTube, or music on Pandora or Spotify," the company wrote in its press release. Unfortunately there are gaps in this app selection as Amazon Prime Video and Hulu are not available on the box. AT & T does not quite fulfill its vision right away.
With the included cloud DVR, you can save up to 500 hours of shows and movies, even though content is deleted after 90 days. AT&T TV allows up to three simultaneous streams, so that a few people can stream live TV outside the house when someone is also watching on the couch. I have tested the box in the past few days and have had a pleasant experience with the service so far. The general user interface and menus are easy to navigate, and there's an old-fashioned channel grid if you prefer to surf the channel. If you don't want to bother to go through the guide, you can simply instruct Google Assistant to set up a particular network by name, which mostly works properly.
I will be spending more time with AT&T TV in the next few weeks, and the company has announced that HBO Max will experience a deep integration into the experience after its launch in May. But does AT&T TV make sense if you are already satisfied with another Internet TV service on your Roku or another streaming device? Certainly not. It is particularly difficult to justify these prices after graduation compared to other streaming TV apps, which are currently around $ 50 a month. AT & T hopes that AT & T TV will come out as a replacement for next generation cables and satellites and will help curb video loss. However, price-conscious consumers may never seriously consider the service compared to cheaper competition. AT&T has done well to make live TV a central part of AT&T TV, but basically the bottom line is not far from subscribing to YouTube TV on an Nvidia Shield.