While some video streaming services primarily feature on-demand or original content, others can completely replace your cable subscription. YouTube TV takes the latter approach, offering over 70 channels of news, sports, and entertainment in one package. It also integrates excellent DVR features and supports a ton of platforms. Although YouTube TV’s price has gone up over time, it’s still cheaper than most full-fledged live TV options. The combination makes YouTube TV an Editors’ Choice video streaming service. YouTube TV also won a PCMag Readers’ Choice Award for live TV streaming services.
What Channels Can You Watch on YouTube TV?
YouTube TV features a collection of over 70 channels, which stacks up well against the competition. In fact, it offers one of the most complete channel lineups of all the video streaming services I’ve reviewed. Starting withthe locals, you get all the major networks such as ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC. News channels include ABC, BBC America, CNBC, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC.
Sports channels on YouTube TV include CBS Sports, ESPN, ESPN 2, NBC Sports, MLB Network, and NBA TV. YouTube TV briefly lost all Fox regional sports networks, including YES, as a result of failed negotiations with Sinclair. However, it has restored those channels as it resumes negotiations. This a huge deal, since sports fans in many areas of the country will no longer be able to watch their favorite teams, should YouTube TV ultimately lose thse channels. Check Fox’s regional sports network page to see each channel’s team coverage. AT&T TV Now and Hulu are the only other live TV services with these regional networks.
Sports fans should check out our roundup of the best sports streaming services for more options. For NFL coverage specifically, take a look at our roundup of the best NFL streaming services. YouTube TV compares well in both categories, though it is notably missing the NFL Network channel.
YouTube TV also serves a good variety of entertainment and lifestyle content, even more so now with the addition of Discovery channels to its lineup. Channels include AMC, Cartoon Network, The CW, FX, National Geographic, TNT, and USA. New additions from the Discovery network include Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, Food Network, HGTV, TLC, and Travel Channel. After a recent change, it also notably offers local PBS channels, a first among the major live TV services.
YouTube TV’s content mix is most similar to that of Hulu with Live TV, especially since you get access to some on-demand shows and movies from YouTube TV’s channels. However, Hulu’s on-demand library is much more extensive. AT&T TV Now’s channel lineup is also comparable, though it splits channels across multiple tiers of service.
Other live TV services may offer a better range of content for specific areas. For example, fuboTV matches YouTube TV’s sports lineup (with the exception of ESPN channels) and differentiates itself with international sports content. Philo fills some of the entertainment gaps in YouTube TV’s lineup and features A&E, BET, Comedy Central, Hallmark, and Nick.
How Much Does YouTube TV Cost?
YouTube TV costs $49.99 per month. Note that effective March 13 you can no longer subscribe to YouTube TV via Apple’s App Store. This change does not affect your ability to watch YouTube TV on your Mac or iOS devices, but you have to make your payments directly to YouTube TV.
At $49.99, YouTube is one of the cheaper full-featured options, now that Hulu with Live TV’s price is $54.99 per month. Sling’s Orange and Blue plans only cost $30 per month, but their channel lineups are limited. If you really want to keep costs down, Philo only charges $20 per month for about 58 live channels, though most are of the entertainment genre. Pluto TV is a completely free option, though it doesn’t include many traditional cable channels.
Other options are more expensive. FuboTV charges $54.99 per month and AT&T TV Now starts at $65 per month. On-demand services are much cheaper, but appeal to a different subset of subscribers. Netflix, for example, starts at $8.99 per month, while Disney+ is $6.99 per month.
YouTube TV is available on many platforms including Android and iOS devices, as well as via the browser. Additionally, YouTube TV works on Android TVs, Apple TVs, Fire TVs, Rokus, select smart TVs, the Xbox One, and now the PlayStation 4. Given that PlayStation Vue, the only major live TV previously available on the PlayStation 4, is ending, this is the best cable-replacement option for owners of that console. YouTube TV lets you set up six different user accounts, but sets a limit of three simultaneous users, which is about average.
YouTube TV’s additional subscription options include AMC Premium ($5 per month), NBA League Pass ($40 per month), Showtime ($7 per month), and Starz ($9 per month). You don’t get the option for any HBO add-on subscriptions.
YouTube TV’s Web Interface
YouTube TV’s interface is, as you might expect, very similar to that of the regular YouTube website. The design looks clean and most elements are clad in white or light grey. There’s even a dark mode you can enable in the settings. Up in the top right corner, you can access a robust search tool for finding content to watch from specific genres or channels, which is helpful given YouTube TV’s extensive channel catalog. You can even concatenate searches. For example, my search for “science fiction + 2004” brought up a result for an upcoming airing of iRobot. From the settings panel, you can manage subscription details, billing information, and subscriptions to add-on channels. Also here are preferences for setting up family accounts, customizing what appears in the channel guide, and keeping tabs (or pausing) your watch and search history.
You mainly navigate between three top-level tabs: Library, Home, and Live. The Library section organizes everything you’ve recorded in sections for new content, scheduled recordings, and all recordings. You can sort the last section by content type (shows, movies, sports, and events), alphabetically, recentness, and popularity.
The Home section is where you discover content to watch. At the top, YouTube TV shows recommended content, which it bases on things you have searched for or already watched. As you move down the page, various categories of content populate horizontally scrolling categories.
In the Live section, you can scroll down the list of available channels to see what’s currently playing. As mentioned, you can exclude the channels you don’t want to see here via the settings menu. To watch something, simply click on the live preview.
On the Now Playing screen, you get a standard set of playback tools, including 15-second fast-forward and reverse buttons on the right. On the left, you can toggle closed-captioning, select a streaming quality, pick an audio track, and change the playback speed. You can even click the information button for more details of the playing content. For example, clicking this button on an NBA game brought up info on the starting lineup and standings for the involved teams. Scrolling down from there, you can switch between any of the main three content tabs.
Watching YouTube TV
When I last tested YouTube TV’s performance, I streamed a Thursday night NFL game on a Windows 10 desktop. Its streaming performance was solid on my home network, which averages around 200Mbps download speeds according to the Ookla Speed Test. (Note that Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag’s publisher.) I did not encounter any performance lags or stutters, and the audio kept up well with the pace of the game. On a mobile device, I launched a stream of an MSNBC news show at 1080p and 60 frames per second (fps), and even over PCMag’s standard Wi-Fi network (14Mbps download), its streaming performance was good.
Note, however, that the streaming resolution will vary based on the source. For example, since the football game was broadcast by Fox Sports, it was limited to 720p resolution and 60fps. The picture quality still looked sharp, but on my 1080p monitor, I definitely noticed the resolution downgrade, especially when I compared it to streaming an NBA game in 1080p. YouTube TV is notably one of the only live TV services that streams any channels in 1080p.
Of course, since YouTube TV is a cable-replacement service, you will see the same (and the same number of) ads that you would with a regular cable service. The benefit of YouTube TV, though, is that its DVR functionality lets you fast-forward over ads in your recordings.
DVR Features and Accessibility
YouTube TV’s DVR features compare favorably to the competition’s. For example, there is no DVR storage limit; as long as you are connected to the internet, you can add as many shows and movies to your library as you desire. Furthermore, recordings are saved for nine months. One potential drawback of the online requirement is that you can’t download recordings for offline viewing, which may be disappointing for people with long commutes or restrictive data plans. For comparison, fuboTV’s base plan lets you record 30 hours’ worth of content, but it keeps them indefinitely. Sling TV charges extra for DVR functionality.
To initiate a DVR recording, simply hit the + button beneath any playing show or from the channel guide. To remove content from your library, click the Expand button, and then the Remove button. One feature I appreciate is the ability to set up DVR recordings for specific sports teams. For example, when I clicked the Expand button on an NFL game it gave me the option to add both teams to my library. YouTube TV can then record upcoming games of those teams as they air.
All of the channels I watched had options for closed-captioning, which is standard for most services. It lagged slightly behind the video stream in testing, but the subtitles themselves seemed mostly accurate. YouTube TV includes a decent number of options for customizing the subtitle text, including the font, font color, and background opacity, but notably, it’s missing an option to change the text position.
You also won’t find anything like Amazon Prime Video’s Audio Description option. When this option is enabled, scenes and actions on-screen are accompanied by descriptions of audible and visual events, such as if the phone rings or a character exits the room.
YouTube TV does let you enable a filter for only showing TV-Y, TV-Y7 & TV-G shows and G & PG films, but you need to set this preference on every device, rather than at a profile level. Sling TV, on the other hand, allows you to restrict content based on individual show and movie ratings, as well as lock those settings with a PIN.
I downloaded YouTube TV on my Google Pixel 3 running Android 9 and had no trouble signing in to my account. The mobile app looks and works similarly to the desktop interface, which is a good thing. The interface has clean lines, attractive colors, and clear tabs for the separation of content. Unfortunately, the dark mode didn’t make the transition. That said, all of YouTube TV’s excellent search and library organization tools are present.
You navigate via the same three tabs: Library, Home, and Live. On the Now Playing screen, you can enable closed captioning, change the streaming quality, or toggle notifications for the program. You can also view the programming set to air next and other recommended content.
On my device, the YouTube TV app also supports a picture-in-picture (PIP) mode, so you can keep an eye on currently playing content without needing to remain in the app. The minimized window can be dragged to any corner of your device screen and sits on top of the active window.
Using YouTube TV With a VPN
If you’re concerned with privacy and security, you should use a virtual private network, or VPN, whenever you connect to the internet. Note, however, that many video streaming services may block you from using a VPN, since some content is subject to licensing rules or other geographic restrictions. Even if you find a VPN that works with one video streaming service, it is less likely to work with all the ones to which you subscribe.
YouTube TV is only available in certain regions in the United States, so the service needs to be able to identify your home location. VPNs and proxies make it difficult for a service to determine your actual location, which is why this combination is problematic. For reference, I tested YouTube TV with the free version of Editors’ Choice VPN TunnelBear and ran into connection issues. Video streaming compatibility should not be the main reason you use a VPN though. Instead, you should choose the VPN that best protects your presence online.
A Top Choice for Cord Cutters
If you are looking to leave behind your cable subscription forever, YouTube TV is a great option. With its expanded channel lineup, the service now covers the news, sports, and entertainment genres with aplomb, whereas it was previously lacking in that last category. YouTube TV also features best-in-class DVR functionality and well-designed interfaces across multiple platforms. You still have to deal with the annoyances of cable television, though, such as ads during live TV and potential streaming resolution limitations by the broadcast networks. The loss of regional Fox sports networks is notable, too. Otherwise, YouTube TV is a seamless experience and earns an Editors’ Choice distinction along with Hulu with Live TV. For on-demand shows and movies, Netflix is our Editors’ Choice winner.