YouTube TV review: The best premium live TV streaming service Leave a comment

id=”article-body” class=”row” section=”article-body”> Sarah Tew/CNET If you’re the kind of cord cutter who wants to experience as painless a transition from cable TV as possible, and don’t mind paying a bit extra, YouTube TV is the live TV streaming service for you. It’s easy to use, slick and fast on a variety of devices, and it 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 numerous cable stables and coverage of all four local networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) in most markets nationwide. (Note that CBS is the parent company of CNET and Showtime.) It will also be the first streaming service to get local PBS stations later this year.

At $50, YouTube TV belongs among other premium services such as PlayStation Vue, Hulu with Live TV and AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now), and yet it’s better than all three. At that price it may not actually save you much money over cable TV, however, especially if you have a good TV-plus-internet bundle from your current provider. For cord cutters who want more savings in their live TV package, we recommend Sling TV instead at $25 monthly, making it our Editors’ Choice as the best budget option.

YouTube TV costs twice as much as Sling TV, but for people used to the myriad channels and easy DVR of cable or satellite, it’s worth it. That’s why YouTube TV is our Editors’ Choice among premium live TV services.

Now playing: Watch this: Live TV streaming services for cord cutters: How to choose… 2:44 What do you get?

YouTube TV is completely separate from YouTube, the free video service with more than 2 billion users a month. YouTube TV offers a cable-TV-like experience through a variety of devices including Apple TV, Roku, Android TV, Chromecast, numerous smart TVs, phones, tablets and web browsers. The only major streaming platform missing is Amazon Fire TV, which will get a YouTube TV app later this year.

The service operates in much the same way as competitors — there’s a program guide, Filma a DVR and dozens of channels. But what really separates YouTube TV from other premium (over $40 a month) services like DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV and Fubo TV?

Services compared

Premium services YouTube TV DirecTV Now/ AT&T TV 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 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 our list of 100 top channels than 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 a post-Game of Thrones world this may not be as important. And of course you could always stream HBO from somewhere else, like the HBO Now app, the Apple TV app or Amazon Prime Video Channels.

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.

Users can watch YouTube clips related to many programs

Ty Pendlebury/CNET 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.

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

Sarah Tew/CNET The early version of YouTube TV’s cloud DVR had an issue, however. When a show appeared in a network’s on-demand library, it would automatically replace the version in your cloud DVR. That means users would lose the ability to fast-forward through commercials. Happily YouTube TV got rid of that restriction in October 2018, with one exception: CBS. Shows from that network’s on-demand library will still automatically replace the DVR recordings. With every other network except for CBS, the DVR behaves exactly as you’d expect, complete with the ability to fast-forward through commercials.

Additionally, YouTube TV’s DVR is not truly unlimited. The shows expire after 9 months, which is still a lot longer than the 30 days of most rivals.

Will YouTube TV actually save you money?

That $50 monthly price makes it that much tougher to save money 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.

The service comes with a comprehensive program guide

Sarah Tew/CNET Should you get it?

Price no object, YouTube TV my favorite live streaming service, 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, Sling TV is a better bet, especially when paired with an antenna.

Channel lineups compared

Channel Hulu with Live TV ($45) PS Vue ($45) YouTube TV ($50) DirecTV Now ($50)

Total channels: 58 47 63 45

ABC Yes Yes Yes Yes

CBS Yes Yes Yes Yes

Fox Yes Yes Yes Yes

NBC Yes Yes Yes Yes

PBS No No No No

CW Yes No Yes Yes

MyNetworkTV Yes Yes Yes Yes

A&E Yes No No No

AMC No Yes Yes No

Animal Planet Yes Yes Yes No

BBC America No Yes Yes No

BBC World News No $ Yes No

BET No No No Yes

Big Ten Network Yes $ Yes $

Bloomberg TV No No No No

Boomerang Yes $ No Yes

Bravo Yes Yes Yes Yes

Cartoon Network Yes Yes Yes Yes

CBS Sports Network Yes $ Yes $

Cheddar Yes Yes Yes No

Cinemax $ $ No $

CMT No No No $

CNBC Yes Yes Yes Yes

CNN Yes Yes Yes Yes

Comedy Central No No No Yes

Cooking Channel No $ No No

C-SPAN No No No No

Destination America No Yes No No

Discovery Channel Yes Yes Yes No

Disney Channel Yes Yes Yes Yes

Disney Junior Yes Yes Yes Yes

Disney XD Yes Yes Yes Yes

DIY No $ No No

E! Yes Yes Yes Yes

EPIX No $ $ No

ESPN Yes Yes Yes Yes

ESPN 2 Yes Yes Yes Yes

ESPNEWS Yes $ Yes $

ESPNU Yes $ Yes $

Food Network Yes Yes Yes No

Fox Business Yes Yes Yes Yes

Fox News Yes Yes Yes Yes

Fox Sports 1 Yes Yes Yes Yes

Fox Sports 2 Yes Yes Yes $

Freeform Yes Yes Yes Yes

FX Yes Yes Yes Yes

FX Movie Channel Yes $ Yes Yes

FXX Yes Yes Yes Yes

Golf Channel Yes $ Yes $

Hallmark No $ No Yes

HBO $ $ No Yes

HGTV Yes Yes Yes No

History Yes No No No

HLN Yes Yes Yes Yes

IFC No $ Yes No

Investigation Discovery Yes Yes Yes No

Lifetime Yes No No No

Lifetime Movie Network No No No No

Motor Trend Yes $ Yes No

MLB Network No $ Yes No

MSNBC Yes Yes Yes Yes

MTV No No No Yes

MTV2 No No No No

National Geographic Yes Yes Yes Yes

Nat Geo Wild Yes $ Yes Yes

NBA TV No $ Yes No

NBC Sports Network Yes Yes Yes Yes

Newsy No No Yes No

NFL Network No $ No No

NFL Red Zone No $ No No

NHL Network No No No No

Nick Jr. No No No Yes

Nickelodeon No No No Yes

Nicktoons No No No No

OWN No Yes No No

Oxygen Yes Yes Yes Yes

Paramount Network No No No $

Science No Yes No No

SEC Network Yes $ No $

Showtime $ $ $ $

Smithsonian Yes No Yes No

Starz No No $ $

Sundance TV No $ Yes No

Syfy Yes Yes Yes Yes

Tastemade No $ Yes No

TBS Yes Yes Yes Yes

Telemundo Yes Yes Yes Yes

Tennis Channel No $ Yes No

TLC Yes Yes Yes No

TNT Yes Yes Yes Yes

Travel Channel Yes Yes Yes No

TruTV Yes Yes Yes Yes

Turner Classic Movies Yes $ Yes Yes

TV Land No No No $

Univision No No No No

USA Network Yes Yes Yes Yes

VH1 No No No Yes

Viceland Yes No No No

WE tv No Yes Yes No

Weather Channel No No No No

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