Add another streaming television offering to the fray. AT&T officially unveiled DirecTV Now today, its attempt to take on Sling TV and Sony's PlayStation Vue. It was first revealed way back in March, but now we've got the fully skinny: It'll start at $35 with 60 channels and will launch on November 30th. As a promotion, early adopters will be able to lock in 100 channels for that price (that package will normally cost $60 a month). In comparison, Vue starts at $30 a month with around 45 channels, while Sling TV starts at $20 with fewer networks.
Gallery: DirecTV Now launch | 8 Photos
Gallery: DirecTV Now launch | 8 Photos
As for other packages, you can get 80 channels for $50 a month and more than 120 for $70 a month. You'll be able to view the service on the Apple TV, Fire TV devices, iOS, Android, Internet Explorer, Chrome and Safari. As you'd expect, there's also Chromecast support on Android, LeeCo and Vizio TVs (iOS Chromecast users will have to wait until next year). Surprisingly, there's no Roku support yet, though AT&T says that's coming in 2017.
Now for the downsides. Despite having most of the major channels aboard, AT&T is still working "actively" to bring CBS and Showtime onto the service. You'll also be limited to two simultaneous streams, which will definitely be a problem in households with several viewers. And despite cloud DVR being a defining feature for PlayStation Vue (Sling just announced its DVR service as well), AT&T didn't have details to share about that yet. Perhaps most damning for sports fans: there's also no integration with NFL Sunday Ticket yet.
AT&T also says mobile subscribers won't have DirecTV Now streaming count against their data caps. That might sound like a good thing to its customers, but it's another potentially dangerous move against net neutrality. It's an unfair advantage for DirecTV Now, since it could easily sway AT&T subscribers away from Sling and Vue (and there's not much those services can do about it).
To make the service even more tempting, AT&T is offering several bundles. You'll get an Apple TV for pre-paying for three months of DirecTV Now, or an Amazon Fire TV stick (with Alexa voice remote) if pay a month in advance. You'll also get up to one year of DirecTV Now service with the purchase of some LeEco TV models.
In many ways, DirecTV Now is a new move for AT&T. It's the company's first mobile-first entertainment service, and it's also the first time they have control of the "full stack" of the experience, according to AT&T Entertainment CEO John Stankey. He describes it as an even bigger undertaking than the launch of AT&T's UVerse TV service a decade ago.
So what makes this service different than the rest? Enrique Rodriguez, AT&T Entertainment's CTO, claims there's more of a focus on personalization. The service will learn more about you as you use it, and hopefully highlight better recommendations. Since AT&T also owns the entire pipeline of DirecTV Now, the company says it should be able to optimize streaming better than the competition.
If there are any speed benefits to DirecTV Now, they weren't readily apparent during a demonstration at the launch event. While the mobile and Fire TV apps were smooth to navigate, loading videos typically took around five seconds. That could just be due to the crowded nature of the event, which is hell on network speeds -- but it's not exactly fast. Once they got going, though, video quality looked good, with no noticeable artifacts or blurriness.
AT&T is clearly ready to take on the more established streaming TV competition, but it still seems like there's plenty of room for it to mature. I was previously excited by the potential of having 100 channels for only $35 a month, a figure that AT&T execs touted last month. But now that we've learned that's a promotional price, it's a lot less exciting.