YouTube TV Review: The Best Channel Selection Bar None
YouTube TV delivers a top-notch live TV streaming service experience with an extensive list of channels, but it isn't quite the value it used to be.
Updated May 15, 2023 12:01 p.m. PT
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Reviews ethics statement
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.
ExpertiseTy has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He majored in Cinema Studies when studying at RMIT. He is an avid record collector and streaming music enthusiast.Credentials
Ty was nominated for Best New Journalist at the Australian IT Journalism awards, but he has only ever won one thing. As a youth, he was awarded a free session for the photography studio at a local supermarket.
YouTube TV's main strength for cord-cutters is its sheer number of channels. It now offers 77 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 nationwide.
Beyond channels, YouTube TV is easy to use: it's slick and speedy on a variety of TVs and mobile devices. Its cloud DVR is also one of the best, with unlimited storage and pretty much all the capabilities of a hardware DVR. The service also offers a 4K streaming upgrade -- for an additional $20 monthly -- which, importantly, includes unlimited simultaneous streams and downloadable DVR recordings.
The big snag is the price, and if you're a cord-cutter, the cut-down Sling TV Blue at $40 a month is the best way to save money. At the other end of the spectrum, the $70 Hulu Plus Live TV is a slightly better value with a similar mix of channels and the addition of the modified Disney Bundle. That said, if you're used to the myriad channels and easy DVR experience of a cable service, YouTube TV's base $73 package is worth the money. It's slick, easy to use and is still a good deal for what you're getting.
The service operates in much the same way as its competitors: There's a program guide, a DVR and dozens of channels. But what is it that really separates YouTube TV from competing premium ($60-plus a month) services such as DirecTV Stream, Hulu Plus Live TV and FuboTV? Let's take a look.
Premium services compared
Hulu Plus Live TV
Total number of top 100 channels
ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC channels
Record shows for later (cloud DVR)
Yes (keep for 9 months)
Yes (keep for 9 months)
Yes (50 hours, 200 hours plus commercial skip for $10/month)
Yes (250 hours)
Step-up packages with more channels
No ($20/month for 4K, unlimited streams, offline DVR downloads)
Simultaneous streams per account
2 ($10 option for unlimited)
YouTube TV's channel selection is excellent, with more from CNET's list of 100 top channels than any other competitor (though Hulu isn't too far behind). However, more channels don't necessarily mean more of what you want. Some services, such as FuboTV, lean heavily on sports, while others are increasingly expansive. It's best to check the list at the end of this article, which compares individual channels across services, to ensure you're getting the channels you want. While competitors include a number of channel upgrade packages, YouTube includes everything for one price, though with one exception explained below.
The service also includes 5.1 surround sound, where available, for all subscribers (most competitors are only in stereo) and an expansion of the DVR search, which can now pick out specific sports (most useful for events such as the Olympics).
What's it like to use?
Compared to some services with multilevel interfaces, YouTube TV is fairly simple. There are three tabs at the top of the interface: Library, Home and Live. Library is where your DVR content lives, and Home is where featured and live thumbnails appear. The Live tab is a familiar-looking program grid that displays both currently playing and upcoming shows. You can search for content from the top of any page, making it relatively easy to jump straight to the programming you want. You can also perform searches with a compatible voice remote or Google Assistant. Though this is easier if you have an Android TV streamer, you could also perform searches on your Google Nest Mini and play it on a Roku, for example.
The DVR works as you'd expect -- both time-shifting live content and playing back recorded shows -- and the system assigns your recorded content to manageable categories, such as recently recorded and most viewed. The DVR also 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 via the Siri Remote is even better. You can use the touchpad to scroll through videos -- and it's glorious! It's so much fun, and auto-generated thumbnails make it relatively easy to get to the part you want.
In the past, when a show appeared in a network's on-demand library, it would automatically replace the version in your cloud DVR, meaning 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 isn't truly unlimited -- the shows will expire after nine months (just like Hulu), but this is still much longer than the 30 days you get with most rivals.
Though Google used to integrate YouTube into YouTube TV -- with trailers and related content on a show's About page -- this appears to no longer be the case. However, the company is continually tweaking the interface, and we may see YouTube content appear again at some point.
Is it worth the $20 for 4K?
In a word, no. There isn't enough content right now to justify the $20 upgrade, but there's one new feature that may prove the most useful, especially for travelers. Introduced to coincide with the Olympics, YouTube TV's $20 4K Plus add-on offers benefits, including 4K sports and on-demand, an unlimited number of simultaneous streams, and the ability to save DVR recordings for offline mobile viewing. If you're a frequent flyer or subway rider, the ability to watch prerecorded shows without an active connection could be a real boon.
As per YouTube TV's 4K page, the additional content includes shows from Discovery, ESPN, Fox Sports, FX, Nat Geo, NBC Sports and Tastemade. The interface includes a 4K button to help find content, but at present, this doesn't constitute enough to stick around for. In addition to a handful of shows, there's Thursday Night Football, "live" Premier League soccer and college football on ESPN. The NCAA adds a bunch of 4K content, but if you want football, 4K or a combination of the two, FuboTV offers even more sports for an $85 price tag.
The 4K content that is available, such as the cooking show Make This Tonight or the travel competition show Basic Versus Baller, does look good, with better contrast and color than regular broadcast TV. In context, though, the top tier of Netflix is cheaper at $18 per month and offers thousands of hours of 4K content alone, plus offline viewing.
Think of it as a cable replacement
When it originally appeared for $35, YouTube TV was an exceedingly attractive way to save money over cable. Yet as the service has piled on more channels, it's added further costs. So, when you take that $73 monthly fee and apply it to the $50 you're already paying for internet service, it means you're paying over $120 a month. Many cable TV providers will give you a TV-and-internet bundle for around the same money. Read more here: Is Streaming Actually Cheaper Than Cable? We Do the Math.
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 anytime. Streaming services also have other advantages over cable. They're easier to watch on phones and tablets, for example. At $73 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 YouTube TV?
If price is no object, YouTube TV goes neck and neck with Hulu Plus Live TV as the premier live TV streaming service, with a huge array of entertainment options and one of the best DVR/search combos on the market. It offers more channels than anyone else and its 5.1 surround is great for sports and movie fans. If you don't want to be beholden to a traditional cable company, it's a great alternative.
Though $73 a month is a tough expenditure for some people, without a contract to worry about, you're free to jump ship to a better deal at any time. The extra $20 on top is simply a bridge too far for so little 4K content, even if unlimited streams and DVR downloads are useful for extended families or travelers. If you want the best bang for your buck, then Hulu Plus Live TV's Disney bundle is fairly unbeatable.
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 -- aren't listed.