Does your DIRECTV Now picture seem less sharp and clear than it was a few weeks ago?

UPDATE: AT&T acknowledges that some subscribers are getting a sub-par picture and says it’s working on a resolution. See full AT&T statement at the end of this article.

If so, you are not alone. Many DIRECTV Now subscribers are saying the picture quality of their live stream has been reduced in the last few weeks to 540p, which would be a standard-definition image rather than a high-definition one. Subscriber complaints over the alleged dilution in picture quality has become a hot topic on social media sites and DIRECTV Now-related message forums.

Amazon: Fire TV w/4K: $89.

Justin Lott, for instance, has posted pictures on Twitter that show an Amazon Fire TV feature that measures the DIRECTV Now live stream at 540p. (You can see the picture here.) Before you say Lott’s Internet service is lacking, causing his picture quality to be reduced, the DIRECTV Now subscriber has also posted a picture of a DIRECTV Now Video on Demand stream at 1080p, which is the best high-def picture quality there is. (You can see that picture here.)

Amazon: Roku 32-inch Smart TV: $169.

In addition, Lott’s findings have been supported by other subscribers at AT&T’s customer message board (AT&T owns DIRECTV Now) and on Twitter, among other social media sites. They say the DIRECTV Now picture was in crystal-clear HD from its debut on November 30 up to a few weeks ago when it switched to SD.

The 540p picture, say the subscribers, is found on connected TVs, using the Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV streaming devices (DIRECTV Now is not yet on Roku.) The DIRECTV Now picture on phones and tablets is even worse, by the service’s own admission, clocking in at 480p. (It’s unclear if mobiles and tablets had a 480p picture from launch.)

Amazon Fire TV streaming stick: $39.

Some subscribers say that some channels, such as CNN, recently changed back to a high-def image, but most other channels are still only in 540p.

Why would DIRECTV Now suddenly reduce the quality of the live stream, if indeed it has?

DIRECTV Now’s live stream has been riddled with errors such as buffering and freezing since its debut and the reduction in the picture quality could be part of an effort to eliminate those issues. A standard-definition stream, which requires less bandwidth, would be less prone to picture break-ups and other snafus.

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Earlier this week, I asked AT&T for a response to the subscriber complaints and a company spokeswoman denied via e-mail that 540p has become the service’s new picture “standard.” But she acknowledged that some customers could be getting a 540p picture “based on the Internet and customer device.” Asked to elaborate, she did not respond.

UPDATE: Here is AT&T’s statement in response to our article:

“For context, we have many profiles, including resolutions higher and lower than 540p, that we send to customers depending on a range of factors that could include device and internet connection. These profiles vary on resolution, framerate and bitrate, among other things. We understand that a handful of customers are receiving only 540p, and are working on a resolution for them right now.”

AT&T did not explain which subscribers get 540p or below, or why that they do while others may not.

— Phillip Swann