X

YouTube TV review: The best premium live TV streaming service

With the best channel selection and an unlimited DVR, YouTube TV is the high-end live TV service to choose.

Ty_Pendlebury.jpg
Ty Pendlebury
Ty_Pendlebury.jpg

Ty Pendlebury

Editor

Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.

See full bio
7 min read

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

Youtube TV
Sarah Tew/CNET

Ever since its launch in 2017, YouTube TV has proven to be one of the best live TV streaming services, with an excellent channel selection and unbeatable user experience. While it has almost doubled in price since, it continues to be a better choice than any of its premium competitors, including Hulu Plus Live TVFuboTV and DirecTV Stream.

01-youtube-tv
9.0

YouTube TV

Like

  • More channels than any competitor, and includes PBS
  • Superb cloud DVR
  • Excellent on-screen interface and handy search bar

Don't like

  • Costly
  • 4K content not worth $20 upgrade right now

YouTube TV's main strength for cable-cutters is the sheer number of channels. It now offers 78 of the top 100 networks, the most of any streaming service, a count that includes numerous cable staples plus all four local networks -- ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC -- and local PBS stations in most markets nationwide. It also introduced a 4K streaming upgrade -- for an additional $20 monthly -- which coincided with the Tokyo Olympics.

Beyond channels, YouTube TV is easy to use, slick and speedy on a variety of TV and mobile devices. Its cloud DVR is the best in the business, with unlimited storage and pretty much all the capabilities of a hardware DVR such as TiVo

The big snag is the price. First off, for most people, it's definitely not worth paying the extra $20 for 4K, which has very little content to offer beyond a few NFL and college football games. For people used to the myriad channels and easy DVR of cable or satellite, however, YouTube TV's base $65 package is worth the extra expense over Sling TV Blue at $35 a month. On the other hand, if you're a cord-cutter, the cut-down Sling is the best way to save money.

What do you get?

YouTube TV is different from YouTube, the free video service with more than 2 billion users a month. YouTube TV offers an experience similar to cable TV, with live channels and on-demand content available on a variety of devices. It works with Apple TV, Roku, Android TV, ChromecastAmazon Fire TV along with numerous smart TVsphones, tablets and web browsers. 

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 ($60-plus a month) services such as DirecTV Stream, Hulu Plus Live TV and FuboTV? Let's take a look.

Premium services compared


YouTube TVDirecTV Stream Hulu Plus Live TVFuboTV
Base price $65/month$70/month$65/month $65/month
Total number of top 100 channels 78627259
ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC channels YesYesYesYes
Record shows for later (cloud DVR) Yes (keep for 9 months)Yes (20 hours, unlimited hours for $10/month)Yes (50 hours, 200 hours plus commercial skip for $10/month)Yes (250 hours)
Step-up packages with more channels No ($20 for 4K, unlimited streams) YesYesYes
Simultaneous streams per account 320 2 ($10 option for unlimited)3

YouTube TV's channel selection is excellent, with more from our list of 100 top channels than any other competitor, though Hulu is catching up. That said, more channels doesn't necessarily mean more of what you want: Some services such as FuboTV lean heavily on sports while others are increasingly wide-ranging. It's best to check the list at the end of this article, which compares individual channels across services, to make sure you're getting the channels you want.

The Olympics in 4K may have come and gone, but YouTube TV's $20 4K add-on is here to stay. The 4K Plus upgrade offers a number of benefits including 4K sports, such as college football, plus on-demand content (more on that shortly). The upcharge also increases the number of simultaneous streams to unlimited, which is good for households full of football teams, or something. In contrast, FuboTV includes 4K for no extra charge.

Another couple of changes came with the 4K Plus update including 5.1 surround to all subscribers -- most competitors only include stereo sound. The other is that DVR recordings can now be searched for specific sports, which was especially helpful for events like the gigantic grab bag of the Olympics.

youtube-tv-4k

The 4K upgrade includes a small selection of shows, but most are over two years old.

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Is it worth the $20 for 4K?

In a word, no. There's simply not enough content right now to justify the upgrade. At $20 it's only $2 more than the top tier of Netflix and that offers thousands of hours of 4K content alone. Let me break it down to help illustrate what's included right now. 

According to YouTube TV's 4K page, the content includes shows from Discovery, ESPN, Fox Sports, FX, Nat Geo, NBC Sports and Tastemade. At present this doesn't constitute enough to stick around for -- a dozen three-year-old shows and sometimes it's just a single episode. There's also Thursday Night Football, "live" Premier League soccer, a "selection" of college football on ESPN, plus an MLB All-Star Game on Fox in 2022. 

To make relevant content easier to find the interface includes a 4K button but you'll quickly exhaust all 14 selections. The guide does have a 4K sticker on applicable content, but there was nothing offered during our testing bar an upcoming soccer match. The content that's available, such as the cooking show Make This Tonight and the travel competition show Basic Versus Baller, does look good, with better contrast and color than regular broadcast TV. 

The NCAA adds a bunch of 4K content, but at the moment it still looks like FuboTV is the choice if you want football, 4K or a combination of the two. 

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 both featured and live thumbnails appear. The Live tab is a familiar-looking program grid that displays currently playing and upcoming shows. You can search for content from the top of any page, which makes it relatively easy to jump straight to the programming you want. You can also perform searches with a compatible voice remote or Google Assistant. While this is easier if you have an Android TV streamer you can also perform searches on your Google Home and play it on a Roku.

Be aware that Roku and Google were recently in negotiations which meant Roku users had needed to access YouTube TV from the YouTube app. People who already had the YouTube TV app added to their Roku account or were using other platforms like Fire TV have been unaffected. A last minute accord between the two companies meant they avoided removing YouTube from Roku devices altogether. 

img-2930

You can connect to YouTube to watch related clips.

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

In the meantime, YouTube TV's tie-in to YouTube proper is welcome -- with YouTube originals included in the TV app -- though it could be more tightly integrated, especially on TV devices. For example, a content page appears when you press the Go To button on a show, and a 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 well and includes 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. You can use the touchpad to scroll through videos -- and it's glorious! It's so much fun and the appearance of thumbnails makes it relatively easy to get to the part you want.

youtube-tv01

The DVR enables you to fast-forward and rewind, while Apple TV enables you to scrub through the timeline.

Sarah Tew/CNET

In the past, when a show appeared in a network's on-demand library, it would automatically replace the version in your cloud DVR. That means you'd lose the ability to fast-forward through commercials. YouTube TV says it got rid of that restriction in October 2018, but some CNET readers have complained that it still occurs at times. Additionally, YouTube TV's DVR is not truly unlimited. The shows will expire after nine months, but this is still a lot longer than the 30 days you get with most rivals.

Streaming may not save you money

When it only costs $50 (or less) YouTube TV was very attractive as a way to save money. Yet as the service has piled on more channels it has also added further costs. So, when you take that $65 monthly fee and apply it to the $50 you're already paying for internet, it means you're paying over $110 a month. Many cable TV providers will give you a TV-and-internet bundle for around the same money.

Prices vary a lot, 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. The same goes for "streaming" offerings such as Comcast's Xfinity Flex.

The reason you want to cut cable in the first place remains. Like Hulu with Live TV, Sling TV and others, YouTube TV is contract-free, so you can cancel at any time. Streaming services also have other advantages over cable. They're easier to watch on phones and tablets, for example. At $65 per month, however, you'll have to be coming from a relatively expensive cable bill to realize substantial savings with YouTube TV. 

youtube-tv03

The service comes with a comprehensive program guide.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Should you get YouTube TV?

If price is no object, YouTube TV is my favorite live streaming service, with a whole swathe of entertainment options and one of the best DVR and search combos on the market. It offers more channels than anyone else and the inclusion of 5.1 surround is great for sports and movie fans alike. If you don't want to be beholden to a traditional cable company it's a great alternative. 

That said, $65 a month could be a tough expenditure for some people, and yet without a contract to worry about you are free to jump ship to a better deal at any time. That extra $20 on top is simply a bridge too far for so little 4K content, even if unlimited streams are useful if you have an extended family. 

If you're a hardcore cord-cutter and determined to save money, Sling TV Blue offers a compelling alternative, especially when paired with an antenna or an AirTV 2

Below you'll find a comparison of the top 100 channels offered by a few of YouTube TV's competitors. For more information and comparisons with additional services, check out the full article.

  • Yes = The channel is available on the cheapest pricing tier.

  • No = The channel isn't available at all on that service. 

  • $ = The channel is available for an extra fee, either a la carte or as part of a more expensive package or add-on. 

  • Not every channel a service carries is listed, just the "top 100" as determined by CNET's editors. Minor channels such as AXS TV, CNBC World, Discovery Life, GSN, POP and Universal Kids didn't make the cut.
  • Regional sports networks -- channels devoted to showing regular-season games of particular pro baseball, basketball and hockey teams -- are not listed. 

Top 100 Channels

ChannelSling Blue ($35)FuboTV ($65)Hulu with Live TV ($65)YouTube TV ($65)DirecTV Stream ($70)
Total channels: 3759727862
ABC NoYesYesYesYes
CBS NoYesYesYesYes
Fox YesYesYesYesYes
NBC YesYesYesYesYes
TV Land$YesYesYesYes
USA NetworkYesYesYesYesYes
VH1$YesYesYesYes
ViceYesNoYesNoYes
WE tv$YesNoYesYes
ChannelSling Blue ($35)FuboTV ($65)Hulu with Live TV ($65)YouTube TV ($65)DirecTV Stream ($70)
01-youtube-tv
9.0

YouTube TV

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 10Content 10Value 8