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YouTube TV review: A reasonably priced cable TV alternative

YouTube TV is a simple and robust live TV streaming service for cord-cutters

YouTube TV
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

YouTube TV offers a robust channel lineup for a reasonable price.

For

  • Unlimited DVR
  • Local channels
  • Easy to use

Against

  • Lackluster originals
  • No Viacom channels
  • No HBO add-on

Cord-cutting has never been easier, with a variety of live TV streaming services at different prices offering an array of channels. YouTube TV is one of the most robust options, delivering over 70 channels including local broadcast networks (depending on your region). Because of that breadth of content, it's also one of the more expensive live TV services at $49.99 a month. 

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. 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. 

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 option for cord-cutting.

YouTube TV

(Image credit: Future)

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 $49.99 per month for access to up to 70- plus channels. In contrast, Hulu with Live TV costs $54.99 per month for 60- plus channels. 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).

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.

The YouTube TV app is available to download on:

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. 

YouTube TV

(Image credit: Future)

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. The only thing missing is more premium channels, like adding on HBO, and the Viacom networks. If YouTube could sign deals with those companies, it would definitely become the best option for cord-cutters.

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.

YouTube TV

(Image credit: Future)

There are a number of premium add-on channels you can include in your plan, too, each with a separate monthly fee. They are: 

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. Aside from Cobra Kai, there's an Ariana Grande tour diary, the comedy Liza on Demand and the sci-fi thriller Origin. But 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. 

That's better than Hulu with Live TV, which caps you at 50 hours of recordings unless you pay $15 more a month to get 200 hours with the Enhanced Cloud DVR add-on. Sling offers even less DVR storage, just 10 hours in the Cloud DVR with an option to get 50 hours for $5 more.

YouTube TV

(Image credit: Future)

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, all recordings are saved for nine months, so 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.

YouTube TV

(Image credit: Future)

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.

Bottom line

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 local channels and top cable networks from Hulu with Live TV, but it costs $5 more a month. Or you can pay Sling $5 less than YouTube TV for a less robust 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.

  • T2Jock
    The reviewer missed one of the most important features of YouTubeTV: Included in the price for many localities is the regional sports network. For example, my subscription (Massachusetts based) includes New England Sports Network, giving me the Red Sox games during the summer. To my knowledge this makes YouTube TV the first to offer these regional sports networks.
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