Published on May 16th, 2018 | by Brad Gibson1
What’s good and what could improve in DirecTV Now 2.0 for Apple TV
The new update of DirecTV Now has been months in the making since its first beta testing as far back as September of last year. Since then, much has been reported, speculated and debated about not only when it would be released, but what features it would have and whether the much-talked-about Cloud DVR would ever work.
The jury is still out on the Cloud DVR being that it is still in beta. But the initial look at version 2.0 released Tuesday shows some nice enhancements that clear up the clutter and put the majority of controls in easy proximity to each other.
The ‘Watchlist’, as they are calling it, is more like a ‘Control Center’ (and that’s what we’re going to call it for the sake of this story). It’s the place where you can find what to watch that is currently live, what you’ve recorded on your Cloud recorder through ‘My Library’, and ‘Discover’ new things through browsing.
Unlike the previous version of the DirecTV Now software and other similar streaming services, version 2.0 doesn’t cram the content from top to bottom on your page. Instead, it starts halfway down the page – as shown above – allowing you to transparently watch live (and listen to) content you may have been watching before accessing the control panel with a quick click of the ‘Menu’ button on your Apple remote. It might require a little more scrolling down depending on what you want to do, but for the most part, it doesn’t impede your ability to find content.
As you scroll up and down through live content ideas, you find various categories including ’Trending’, ’Top Free Movies,’ ‘Kids,’ ‘Catch Up,’ and “Featured Series’. A swipe to the left and a click of the trackpad lets you ‘View All’ the selections in that group on another page. A click of the ‘Menu’ button will take you back to the control center. From what we’ve been able to figure out so far, none of the live content ideas includes programs from networks I’m not subscribing to which is a good thing.
The ‘My Library’ tab is just what you’d expect it to be…your Cloud DVR content of recordings up to 20 hours. The list on the control panel will be a short sampling of your latest recordings. A swipe to the left and a click of the trackpad will take you on a journey to the entire list of recordings to either watch or delete individually, as shown above.
We recorded a number of test programs and we’re pleased to report that after pausing, rewinding, and fast-forwarding in fast succession on each video, we had no hiccups or crashes. That in itself is a HUGE positive after months of reports from beta testers who complained of repeated problems that never seem to get better.
Scrubbing through a recorded program to get past commercials is somewhat cumbersome. We recommend either adjusting the touch sensitivity of your Apple TV remotes trackpad in general settings (Settings>Remotes & Devices>Touch Service Tracking) or using the new 15-second quick-jump feature.
We say “new” because this feature wasn’t available in the beta release. Here’s how it works…with a click of the far left and right corners of the trackpad you can reverse or fast-forward 15 seconds in recorded programs and after doing rapid-fire advances and rewinds, we found no problems in it working.
While it might be important at this point to caution that your experiences with the Cloud DVR might not be as smooth as mine, I want to utter the victorious statement after initially testing…Hooray! Even beta testers of 2.0 are reporting the Cloud DVR is more stable than what they experienced before the final release.
20 hours is a good initial number of recording time to be included in your basic package. One concern that we can’t answer just yet is whether or not as the day and time approaches for a recording to expire if you’ll get some type of warning or not before it automatically deletes. Only time will tell.
And as for what happens when you get close to filling 20 hours – such as a warning or older recordings simply deleting on their own – the simple answer is we don’t know right now.
The ‘Discover’ option on the control panel – as shown above – allows you to browse TV shows, movies, and networks. Scroll down, and you’ll find various genres from ‘Popular TV Shows,’ to ‘Popular Movies,’ ‘True Crime,’ and ’Staff Picks’ to name a few. Like with ‘Watch Now’, you can swipe to the left, select ‘View All”, and click the trackpad to see an entire list of these categories as shown below.
The new, full-screen program guide (shown above) is faster and more intuitive. A swipe to the right moves the guide forward in time while a swipe to the left goes back in time or reveals a list to customize the guide for all, favorites, or genre. You can even use the ‘Jump to Day’ feature to move forward in 24-hour increments.
As you move with the trackpad over programs highlighted in white, a detailed listing will appear below it. A click of the trackpad will take you to that program if it’s live while a future program will take you to another screen with program information and a button to record to the Cloud DVR. A click of the ‘Menu’ button will step you back one window to the complete Guide listings.
Various user reports on Reddit complain of the guide jumping or stuttering while scrolling. We haven’t experienced this issue, but the problem appears to be a coding issue that needs to be addressed by developers.
When watching channels fullscreen, a swipe to the left or right on the trackpad changes channels up or down. There’s a new, cleaner screen when changing channels with an animated blue bar showing the progress of loading a new channel, as shown below.
We also found the responsiveness of channel changing slightly faster in version 2.0. Channels also seem to be buffering and streaming as quickly in this version as in previous ones, something other streaming services can’t say with as strong a certainty.
Channels can be added to a ‘Favorites’ list to lock out channels you have no interest in. Simply scroll to the channels primary logo in the Guide, click the trackpad, swipe left to select ‘Add Favorite,’ and click again.
Two nice little features we found…as your watching programming, you’ll sometimes see a blue bar appear on the left and right sides of your screen. These are simple messages to teach new users that a simple swipe in either direction will change channels. It happens just once shortly after a channel is changed and we like that it’s unobtrusive, yet a ‘lesson’, in better using the app.
The other sweet addition is the ability to record a program you’re currently viewing live with a quick swipe down on the remote. You’ll see a ‘Record’ button. Simply swipe right twice, click, and click again to get an on-screen confirmation of the recording. With limited buttons on the Apple remote, much less any remote, this simple addition adds real functionality without getting in the way.
You’ll be glad to know that unlike some other live streaming media apps, Siri search capabilities are built into DirecTV Now 2.0. We easily found ‘ESPN SportsCenter’ with our voice from within the app, giving us the ability to record an episode with a simple swipe and click.
Various reports from DirecTV Now subscribers through Reddit say that local stations are no longer available after upgrading to the newest version and that even some 24 hours later they are still not appearing. We suspect this is more of a database issue of content for various subscribers, not an app problem, and fixable in the short term.
We highly recommend a hard reboot of your Apple TV unit after installing DirecTV Now 2.0 and logging in. A simple holding down for about five seconds of the menu button and TV icon button next to it will easily do the trick. Some features we saw reappeared in the app after the hard reset.
The Not So Good, But Fixable
There are few problems and things missing that could really enhance DirecTV Now. There are obvious new features that could better enhance the ability to use DirecTV Now and a few come directly to mind.
The ability to not rewind and fast-forward through live, un-recorded content is probably the biggest issue we have with the service and its app. That could be just as much as a licensing issue with the networks, but we couldn’t find any channel that offered the capability. This is an essential feature that DirecTV Now must address soon.
Little niggles that could enhance things on DirecTV Now are the very features you see on AT&T’s satellite equivalent, DirecTV. Things like maybe clicking the corner of the trackpad while just in the program Guide to move back or forward 12 hours in listings; bundling Cloud DVR videos from one program into a folder in the ‘My Library’; and the ability to mark programs for deletion.
It would be nice while scrubbing through a recorded program to see a thumbnail of content on the timeline as you move back or forwards, similar to other streaming services like Netflix.
In some of the suggested ‘Discover’ content are listings for programs on channels you might not be a subscriber of like HBO, Showtime, or other programs not in your subscribed bundle. That could get annoying. While it’s a way for DirecTV Now to tease subscribers into paying more, it left us with the feeling that we were being ‘advertised to’ to spend more money. While it might have been a simple programming issue of what I subscribe to, it might be much more than that.
Finally, the ability to build content into the Apple TV app from streaming services like DirecTV Now would be extremely helpful. While this might be just as much as an issue of software development for AT&T, we’ve been told by multiple tvOS developers that Apple has been virtually unresponsive in sharing the TV App API with the majority of developers so they could build the ability to search out content on their services. That in itself is a major disappoint not in the developer, but in the hardware manufacturer who is limiting the very people who are buying their expensive streaming devices. That’s not the fault of DirecTV Now and it’s parent company, AT&T. It’s the fault of Apple. Period.
We’re impressed with DirecTV Now 2.0. Why it took so long for this to come out when reports from beta testers are that little has changed in terms of features for many months is confusing, but we chalk that up to further Cloud DVR testing to works out bugs even consumers like us don’t see.
There are lots more features AT&T could add that wouldn’t get in the way of navigating through the content. We look forward to seeing where they go moving forward.