YouTube TV review: A reasonably priced cable TV alternative
Cord cutters have never had it easier, thanks to an increasing number of live TV streaming services like YouTube TV. It is one of the most robust of the best cable TV alternatives, delivering over 70 channels including local broadcast networks (depending on your region). Because of that breadth of content, it’s priced at $64.99.
Recently, YouTube TV’s lineup became even more complete with the addition of Viacom channels like MTV and VH1. And it’s going to become an excellent choice for sports fans, since the service added NFL Network for all subscribers and a Sports Plus package with NFL RedZone, Fox College Sports, GOLTV, MAVTV, Stadium, and TVG.
YouTube TV has an easy-to-use, intuitive interface and is available on every major platform, including iOS, Android, Xbox, Playstation 4 and select smart TVs. The YouTube TV iPhone app is about to leapfrog YouTube’s app. What really sets it apart from competitors is unlimited DVR storage — there are no caps on simultaneous recordings and you can keep recordings for nine months. One competitor, though, is catching up on that.
The subscription also includes access to YouTube Originals, such as the Karate Kid series Cobra Kai, as well as the option to add premium channels, including Showtime. In that category, YouTube TV falls behind its biggest competitor, Hulu with Live TV, which comes with award-winning shows like The Handmaid’s Tale and Ramy.
But if all you’re looking for is access to local channels and top cable networks, plus unlimited DVR storage, then YouTube TV is a great cable TV alternative.
YouTube TV pricing and availability
To sign up for YouTube TV, you need a Google account. The streaming service offers a free two-week trial. After that, YouTube TV costs $64.99 per month for access to up to 70-plus channels. That’s the new price as of June 30, 2020 (it was previously $49).
That’s in line with its main competitors. Hulu with Live TV also costs $65, as does FuboTV’s Family Plan. Sling TV is $45 per month for 53 channels, but to get all the broadcast networks, you need an antenna (they throw one in with the $99 Cord Cutter Bundle, which also comes with Air TV devices to integrate the channels into the Sling TV app). Philo TV is very low-cost live TV streaming service at $20 per month, but the channel lineup is somewhat lackluster.
Its price went down to $50 temporarily during the Disney / YouTube TV dispute, which was since resolved.
Your exact channel line-up on YouTube TV will depend on where you live, so enter your ZIP code to see which local networks you get. YouTube TV also offers premium add-on channels and packages, which you can read more about below.
YouTube TV is available to stream to your TV with Chromecast devices (or on a Chromecast TV), via Apple AirPlay or Google Smart Display. You can also watch on a web browser on Mac and Windows computers.
Every subscription comes with up to six accounts and three simultaneous streams, so different family members can customize their libraries.
YouTube TV interface
YouTube TV’s interface will be familiar to anyone who’s ever used YouTube. The utilitarian design is simple, intuitive and extremely easy to use. It’s not pretty (the Philo streaming service’s interface is much slicker) but it does what it needs to do. Finding shows and movies is a breeze, as is navigating what’s airing live at the moment.
The interface toggles between three screens: Home, Library and Live. At the top of Home is a top picks selection, essentially a mix of shows you’ve saved, shows you’ve watched and related shows based on your favorites. Below that is a section filled with recommendations to add to your library, serving as a helpful reminder of upcoming shows and movies you may want to record.
Further down the Home page are categories for sports, news and movies as well as YouTube Originals.
Library is the home for your DVR, displaying your saved shows, movies and other programming and upcoming recordings.
The Live screen is a cable-television-like grid on some devices (like web browsers, gaming stations and smart TVs). On smaller devices, such as phones, Live presents a list of what’s airing on all the channels you get.
Every platform also has a Search tool in the navigation bar, which takes you to an intuitive search page. YouTube TV shines here — not surprising since it’s owned by Google. You can search for a show or movie title, a person or even themes and genres (for example, “Oscar winning movies”). The search is lightning fast, and results begin populating as you type. They’re broken down by live and upcoming airings, recordings from your library and what’s on demand.
The show and movie profile pages are well-designed and extremely robust. A show profile page displays available and upcoming episodes, cast members and related videos from YouTube. In the case of Friends, those include clips of Jennifer Aniston on late-night programs. There’s also a section touting similar shows.
YouTube TV content and channels
YouTube TV’s channel lineup is great and on a par with what’s available on competitors like Hulu with Live TV and Sling TV. YouTube TV recently added the Viacom family of cable channels, including BET, Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon, as well as the premium network Showtime. And football fans will be happy that the service is adding NFL Network. The new additions have made YouTube TV’s channel lineup one of the most complete among cable TV alternatives. Check out our Hulu Live vs. YouTube TV vs. Sling vs. DirecTV Stream face off to see how it compares.
The cable networks include ESPN, CNN, AMC, HGTV, TBS, TNT, the Disney Channel and USA. But the lineup is missing Viacom networks like MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon. The only live TV services that have those networks are FuboTV and Philo.
YouTube TV offers local broadcasts of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, depending on your region. The service says it has complete local network coverage in over 98% of U.S. TV households.
But, as mentioned above, ESPN and ABC disappeared briefly during Disney and YouTube TV’s current dispute. Those channels were restored in less than two days.
There are a number of premium add-on channels you can include in your plan, too, each with a separate monthly fee. YouTube TV is also adding a new Sports Plus add-on with NFL RedZone, Fox College Sports, GOLTV, MAVTV, Stadium, and TVG. If you want more international sports, check out our Fubo TV review.
Be warned that there are a lot of ads, though that isn’t YouTube’s fault since advertising is preprogrammed by the networks.
As far as content, it’s nice to have access to YouTube Originals but the offerings are fairly meager. YouTube isn’t trying to compete with the likes of Hulu or Netflix in original programming. Also, YouTube TV is cheaper than Hulu with Live TV, so you’re paying less for less content.
YouTube TV DVR
YouTube TV’s best feature is its unlimited DVR. You can save all the recordings you want for nine months. There’s no cap on simultaneous recordings.
This used to be a relatively rare thing in the market. But then Hulu with Live TV finally stepped up to match. Now that service has unlimited DVR as well. Both services keep your recordings for nine months before deleting them. DirecTV Stream is also adding unlimited DVR, but it’s only available to new customers right now, and they only hold onto recordings for 90 days.
That’s better than Sling, which includes 50 hours by default. You can jump up to 200 hours for $5 more per month.
Saving shows and movies is extremely easy — just click the plus sign on a show page or next to the title when you’re watching. YouTube TV will then record every episode on any channel (or just once for movies).
Since the DVR is unlimited, you can’t delete a recording after you’ve watched it. This is fairly standard for streaming services; only Sling gives you the option to delete saved recordings.
YouTube TV video quality
YouTube TV supports up to 1080p, depending on the channel and program. Most of the content I watched played at 720p.
Still, by even offering some channels at 1080p, YouTube TV vaults over its competitors. Hulu with Live TV only just started streaming some channels at 1080p. Sling doesn’t have detailed information about its streaming resolution, while Philo streams live TV at 720p and on-demand at 1080p.
Regarding how quickly programs achieved HD resolution, it was quick — usually around 5 seconds. That’s standard for livestreaming services.
On a fast home connection, programs held steady after stabilizing, but on slower networks, there was some fluctuation in HD quality while playing.
YouTube TV is one of the best options for cord-cutters looking for a live TV streaming service to replace their cable television package. For $49.99 a month, you get quite a lot — a strong channel lineup, unlimited DVR and an easy-to-use app available on every major platform. The service doesn’t have everything, but none of them do. You can get Sling for less than YouTube TV, but receive a smaller channel lineup. You can pay even less than that, just $20, for Philo, but you won’t get local channels or top cable networks.
If you want live TV at a reasonable price, YouTube TV may be your best bet.
Next: You can read about how I can’t live without the YouTube TV key plays feature.