Three years ago, I wrote an article entitled “The Changing TV Landscape.” In it, I wrote, “It is clear that the future of TV is online streaming.” That future is now.
DirecTV No Longer the Gold Standard
For traditional linear TV programming, satellite DirecTV used to be the gold standard both for content (it exclusively had NFL Sunday Ticket), and for picture quality. No more. DirecTV has lost NFL Sunday Ticket (starting this fall YouTube TV has it), and it is now behind YouTube TV in the number of 4K channels it supports. (Note that YouTube TV is a separate product entirely from YouTube. Both are owned by Google, but the former delivers linear TV, while the latter delivers independently produced video from creator channels.)
DirecTV is de-emphasizing their satellite dish service and are now transitioning over to their own streaming service where you get their channel lineup over the Internet. The legacy satellite service will continue for many more years to service rural customers who don’t have good Internet service, although the clock is ticking on that since DirecTV launched their last satellite in 2018.
TV over Internet
So what are the requirements, benefits and problems with switching from a traditional TV service like DirecTV, Dish, Cox Cable, or Race TV to TV over the Internet via a service like YouTube TV, or DirecTV Stream?
Well, first of course, you need a rock solid Internet connection. Not only one that doesn’t “go down,” but one that doesn’t get congested in the early evenings when the Internet hits its peak traffic rush hour.
Coax cable based Internet connections (the technology that Cox Cable and Spectrum use) can barely keep up with the huge load that all this TV and video content is placing on the local distribution networks. One of the key requirements we had in mind when building the RSF Association’s RSF Connect (service provided by Race Communications) fiber network was that there would be no bottlenecks either in local distribution or in reaching the streaming service providers like YouTube, Netflix, etc.
I’ve personally had zero Internet related problems after transitioning to a full TV streaming service two years ago (while using RSF Connect). I’ve never had any buffering or dropped video. If your Internet connection isn’t rock solid at all times of the day, consider upgrading your Internet.
A second requirement is some way to connect to the streaming provider. The easiest way is to have or upgrade to a modern 4K TV that will have a plethora of streaming apps built in. Such TVs allow you to install apps (just like you would on your phone) that access all the major video delivery platforms including DirecTV Stream, Apple TV, YouTube TV, YouTube, Netflix, HBO Max, etc.
If you must use an older TV, then DirecTV Stream, for instance, has a set top box. And you can also buy a third party set top box from Roku, Apple or use a Firestick from Amazon.
I always recommend connecting your TV or set top box via wired Ethernet if at all possible rather than WiFi just to eliminate one possible trouble spot.
Unlike satellite DirecTV, where even I could never figure out how to watch recorded shows on my iPad, the streaming TV providers all have smartphone and web browser apps. So you can indeed watch a recorded show from your hotel room while on a business trip. I also use the apps to search for and choose shows to record – I find it easier than using the TV interface, leaving that mostly for picking out shows from my recorded library.
And yes, you do still get a standard channel grid on these services.
Various TV Streaming services have different capabilities. YouTube TV has unlimited recording (which is all in the cloud). It also now has NFL Sunday Ticket. DirecTV Stream is the only place to get Bally Sports which has all the blacked out Padres games (non-local blacked out ones are available via the MLB app on your TV or web browser).
Finally, the streaming TV services tend to be cheaper than the traditional TV services.
None of these apps and TV apps works exactly like a traditional TV service. YouTube TV in particular doesn’t allow you to flip between channels rapidly. Instead, the channel lineup (which is customizable, so you can place your favorite channels up top) shows live video thumbnails of what is playing in each channel as your scroll through the list. So, similar functionality to channel surfing, but you do have to change how you use the system.
On the better TV streaming services, again like YouTube TV, they do have good fast forward and rewind ability, showing you clips of the scenes as you are skipping over them. A DirecTV set top box will do this better, but it works well enough on YouTube TV.
There is a whole world of other content on other streaming platforms, also all available via the apps in a modern 4K TV.
For movies, I rent or buy them from Apple TV, Netflix, or Amazon Prime.
For sports, I have a subscription to ESPN+.
For great series, I watch them using HBO Max, Netflix, Apple TV, or sometimes Hulu.
And then there are specialty apps to watch minor league hockey, wrestling, lacrosse, your grandson’s water polo games, etc. It’s amazing the amount of live video that is available if you search for it.
The kinks have been worked out of the various TV streaming services by now, and they are reliable and work well. The two that I would recommend looking at are YouTube TV and DirecTV Stream, with YouTube TV being the easiest to set up and work with.