We're four years into the existence ofas an option for , and it feels like we're entering the awkward teen phase. While the technology is generally more stable now than ever, the pricing model is still working itself out. Most services are constantly ratcheting up their prices, including from $40 to $50 per month.
YouTube TV is definitely one of the best live TV streaming experiences you can buy. The interface is easy to use, slick and fast on a variety of devices, and supports up to six separate family member profiles. Its cloud DVR is the best in the business, with unlimited storage and pretty much all the capabilities of a hardware DVR like TiVo. And its channel selection is top-notch, including and coverage of all four local networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) in most markets (note that CBS is the parent company of CNET and Showtime).
The catch? Given the $50 price tag, it may not actually save you much money over cable TV. Let's dive in.
What do you get?
YouTube TV is completely separate from YouTube, the free video service with Roku, , , numerous smart TVs, phones, tablets and web browsers. The only major streaming platform that doesn't have a YouTube TV app is , which will get later this year.. YouTube TV offers a cable-TV-like experience through a variety of devices including ,
The service operates in much the same way as competitors -- there's a program guide, a DVR and dozens of channels. But what really separates YouTube TV from other premium (over $40/month) services like DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV and Fubo TV?
|Premium services||YouTube TV||DirecTV Now||Hulu with Live TV||FuboTV|
|Base price||$50/month for 70+ channels||$50/month for 45+ channels||$45/month for 60+ channels||$55/month for 100+ channels|
|Total number of popular (top 100) channels||63||45||58||62|
|ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC channels||Yes||Yes markets||Yes||Only CBS, Fox and NBC (no ABC)|
|Record shows for later (cloud DVR)||Yes (keep for 9 months)||Yes (20GB, keep for 30 days)||Yes||Yes (30GB, 500GB for $10 a month|
|Step-up packages with more channels||No||Yes||No||Yes|
|Simultaneous streams per account||3||2 ($5 option for 3)||2 ($15 option for unlimited)||2 ($6 option for 3)|
|Fast-forward through or skip commercials with cloud DVR||Yes||Yes||No (Yes with $15 option)||Yes|
YouTube TV's channel selection is excellent, with more from ourthan any other competitor. I've said this before, but more channels doesn't mean better: some services such as Fubo lean heavily on sports while others are more wide-ranging. It's best to check the list at the end of this article to make sure you're getting the channels you want.
Like Hulu, YouTube TV doesn't offer any add-on channel packages, although it does have a handful of single-channel add-ons like Showtime and Epix. Significantly, HBO is not offered, though now that we're in athis may not be as important. And of course you could always stream HBO from somewhere else, like the app, the or .
What's it like to use?
YouTube TV's user interface is fairly simple. There are three top-level tabs broken into Library, Home and Live. Library is where your DVR content lives. Home is where featured and live thumbnails appear. The Live tab is a familiar-looking program grid which shows currently-playing and upcoming shows. Users are able to search from the top of any page, which makes it relatively easy to jump straight to the content you want.
The service's tie in to YouTube proper is welcome -- with YouTube originals included -- though it could be more tightly integrated, especially on set top boxes. For example, a content page appears when you press the "Go To" button on a show, and Related on YouTube item appears at the bottom. It would be helpful to have thumbnails of related interviews and trailers appear more prominently on this page without having to delve into menus.
The DVR works very well, including the ability to rewind and fast-forward freely through recordings, even ones that aren't yet completed. The Roku interface offers a 15-second skip by default while the Apple TV's control system is even better. Utilizing the touch pad, the ability to scroll through content is glorious -- it's so much fun and thumbnails make it relatively easy to hone into the part you want.
On the downside, YouTube TV replaces DVR content with the on-demand version if it's available, so you'll lose the ability to skip commercials on shows when that happens. Additionally, YouTube TV's DVR is not truly unlimited as there is still a time limit, though it is a lot longer than the 30 days of most rivals at 9 months.
Will YouTube TV actually save you money?
At $40 YouTube TV was a much better value, but the $50 monthly price makes it that much tougher to save compared to cable. If you pay around $50 for just Internet service, that's a total of $100 per month. Many cable TV providers will give you a TV+Internet bundle for around the same price.
Prices vary widely of course, and with cable you probably have to pay rental equipment fees, taxes and other extras. And cable providers usually reserve the best bundle pricing for people who sign a contract. YouTube TV (and other streaming services) are contract-free so you can cancel anytime, and have other advantages over cable, for example being easier to watch on phones and tablets. At $50 per month, however, you'll have to be coming from a relatively expensive cable bill to realize substantial savings with YouTube TV.
Should you get it?
Price no object, YouTube TV is one of my favorite live streaming services, but the value proposition will be tough for a lot of people. If you don't want to be beholden to a traditional cable company -- and can get a good broadband-only Internet package on the cheap -- YouTube TV is very attractive. For serious cord cutters on a budget, however, an option likeor is a better bet, especially when .
Channel lineups compared
|Channel||Hulu with Live TV ($45)||PS Vue ($45)||YouTube TV ($50)||DirecTV Now ($50)|
|BBC World News||No||$||Yes||No|
|Big Ten Network||Yes||$||Yes||$|
|CBS Sports Network||Yes||$||Yes||$|
|Fox Sports 1||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Fox Sports 2||Yes||Yes||Yes||$|
|FX Movie Channel||Yes||$||Yes||Yes|
|Lifetime Movie Network||No||No||No||No|
|Nat Geo Wild||Yes||$||Yes||Yes|
|NBC Sports Network||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|NFL Red Zone||No||$||No||No|
|Turner Classic Movies||Yes||$||Yes||Yes|