What is YouTube TV? Here’s everything you need to know

YouTube TV is Google’s live TV streaming product designed for those who want to cut the cord and ditch their cable or satellite subscriptions. Though it has a lot in common with other livestreaming services like AT&T TV Now, Sling TV, and Hulu + Live TV, YouTube TV offers a unique mix of features that make it very appealing.

It’s the only livestreaming service that includes PBS stations and content, and its selection of over 85 traditional cable and broadcast channels grows on a regular basis. For many, the big attraction has been its simplicity of pricing: With the exception of some premium channels, the all-in price was $50 per month. For new customers, that price just jumped to $65 per month as of June 30, 2020 (the date is July 30 for existing subscribers).

In the hopes of offsetting the sting of a 30% price increase, the service has also announced new channels and new features, which we’ll get into a little farther down.

PlayStation 4 owners may want to pay special attention to YouTube TV: It’s now one of a few live TV streaming alternatives to Sony’s PS Vue on the popular gaming console — an important consideration, now that Sony’s service has been shuttered.

If you’re looking to cut the cord for the first time and need to know if YouTube TV will give you the channels you’re used to, we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know about YouTube TV.

What is YouTube TV?

When it launched in 2017, YouTube TV was restricted to a small number of locations in North America, but that changed in 2019 when a large expansion introduced support for all 210 markets in the region. It has also greatly expanded its collection of channels. Now at more than 70, including the four major national broadcasters (ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX), you get an excellent choice of content.

Despite the name, YouTube TV is not a part of YouTube; Google operates them as separate entities. There are some areas where the two cross over, however, as is the case with YouTube Originals. Nonetheless, you will need two different apps on your streaming devices if you want to access both.

Initially, YouTube TV was only available on a limited number of devices, but today you’ll find it on most 4K TVs from brands like Sony, Samsung LG, Vizio, Hisense, and TCL, and all of the major streaming device platforms.

At the end of 2019, Google reported that YouTube TV had over 2 million paying subscribers. That’s fewer than Sling, but more than double the number at AT&T TV Now.

Supported devices

YouTube TV

While the list of supported devices isn’t quite extensive as, say, that of Sling TV, chances are you have a device nearby that can run YouTube TV. It’s available on Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV, Roku OS, and Xbox One. It also works with smart televisions from market leaders LG and Samsung that were manufactured in 2016 and onward, all Vizio SmartCast TVs, all models of the Xbox One, and Android and iOS.

As of February 1, 2020, it’s the only live TV streaming service on the PS4 and 4 Pro.

Want to see if your device is on the list? Head over to Google’s website.

Features

Unlimited cloud DVR

Out of all the features baked into YouTube TV, one stands out from the crowd: Cloud DVR. While this is a tool that most live TV streaming services offer these days, Google offers a more natural experience, letting you record as much content as you want, which can be stored for up to nine months, putting an end to the storage limits that most competitors impose. It’s also worth noting that most competing services charge extra for additional storage, so if you’re a record-a-holic, YouTube TV is the obvious choice.

The DVR feature was recently updated to allow pause, rewind, and fast forward through all recorded shows, regardless of network, though commercial skipping may still not be available on all recordings.

Multiple users

Like most streaming services, YouTube TV also offers its customers the option to watch on multiple screens at once. To be specific, you’ll have the option to create up to six sub-accounts for family members, of which three can watch at the same time. There is no option to upgrade to a higher plan, either — so that’s a firm cap at three streams at the same time, but that should be more than enough for most families.

Unlike services such as Hulu, which group multiple user profiles within one master account, YouTube TV uses Google accounts. A benefit to this arrangement is that each Google account associated with your YouTube TV subscription gets its own YouTube TV experience. Because they log in with their own Google credentials, there’s no need to share a single password with everyone in your family.

On-demand

Most of the channels included with a YouTube TV subscription let you watch their shows after they initially air, on-demand. It can be a handy way to catch up on any older episodes or seasons that aired before you started to record them using the DVR function.

Voice control

YouTube TV has a cool feature if you own a Google Home speaker, like the Google Nest Mini, and use a Chromecast device to watch YouTube TV: You can use just your voice to control functions like selecting a TV channel to watch live, starting specific shows, recording a show, or using playback functions such as pause, resume, and rewind. Here’s how to set it up.

Picture-in-picture for mobile

If you’re an Android user, you can watch a minimized version of YouTube TV on your mobile phone or tablet while you do other tasks. This won’t work on an iPhone until iOS 14, but if you have an iPad that supports multitasking, you can accomplish the same thing.

Jump

This feature lets you jump to various segments within select news programs on YouTube TV. Similar to key plays view for sports, on some programs, you’ll be able to jump to specific news clips within the complete recording. This feature is available on TV apps now and will come to mobile devices soon.

Dark mode

Desktop and mobile YouTube TV experiences can choose a darker theme to help with eye strain.

Mark as watched

Select Mark as Watched on desktop and mobile devices for any TV show you’ve already seen.

No offline viewing

This is one of the only serious drawbacks to YouTube TV. Unlike services such as Hulu + Live TV, which support offline viewing, you cannot download any content from YouTube TV to your mobile device for viewing without a network connection. For frequent travelers or those who want to watch without incurring mobile data charges, the absence of offline viewing could be a deal-breaker.

Channels and pricing

In terms of content selection, YouTube TV is home to most of the same channels as AT&T TV Now and Sling TV. The biggest difference is YouTube TV’s all-in-one pricing. Unlike other services, if YouTube TV doesn’t have a channel you want (unless it’s one of the few premium add-ons), you’re out of luck.

That said, these limitations are growing smaller: HBO and Cinemax are now premium add-on options, as is HBO Max — additions that make YouTube TV a lot more attractive to folks who were reluctant to leave AT&T TV Now, Amazon Prime Channels, and Hulu.

If YouTube TV’s 85-plus channels offer you what you want, it’s a great value. It has a bigger selection of channels than AT&T TV Now’s similarly-priced $65 base package, way more channels than Sling’s $45 Orange and Blue package, and even more than the $55 Hulu + Live TV service.

Unfortunately, YouTube TV has had some trouble negotiating its contracts with Sinclair Networks and the many Fox Regional Sports and YES Networks it controls. As of June 2020, it no longer carries YES, and it only has 19 of the 21 Fox Regional Sports networks — Fox Sports West and Fox Prime Ticket from Los Angeles are no longer on deck.

Strangely, this new arrangement has had unwanted effects on some YouTube TV customers: Some are finding that they can no longer watch the regional Fox Sports networks they were getting before. In some cases, subscribers have lost all regional sports coverage, according to a report from earlier this year.

Below, you’ll find a list of the channels available on the service as of February 2020. The most recent additions are PBS and PBS Kids. More than 100 of PBS’ 330 local affiliates have joined YouTube TV (with more expected to join throughout 2020), making the platform the first and only livestreaming service to add the public broadcaster’s channels. PBS’ entire roster of shows is also available on-demand.

In May 2020, YouTube announced a multi-year deal to bring 14 new Viacom-owned channels to the service. Right now, you can watch BET, CMT, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Network, TV Land, and VH1. Before the end of the year, the final set will be added: BET Her, MTV2, Nick Jr., NickToons, TeenNick, and MTV Classic.

As is the case with any streaming service, the local channels available to you depend on the deals YouTube TV has secured for your area.

Broadcast and cable networks

  • ABC
  • ABC News Live
  • ACC Network
  • ACC Network Extra
  • AMC
  • Animal Planet
  • BBC America
  • BBC World News
  • BET
  • Big Ten Network
  • Bravo
  • Cartoon Network
  • CBS
  • CBS Sports Network
  • Cheddar
  • Cheddar Big News
  • Chiller
  • CMT
  • CNBC
  • CNBC World
  • CNN
  • Comedy Central
  • Comet TV
  • Cozi TV
  • Discovery
  • Disney Channel
  • Disney Junior
  • Disney XD
  • E!
  • ESPN
  • ESPN2
  • ESPN3
  • ESPNEWS
  • ESPNU
  • Food Network
  • Fox
  • Fox Business Network
  • Fox News
  • Fox Sports 1
  • Fox Sports 2
  • Fox Sports Arizona
  • Fox Sports Carolinas
  • Fox Sports Detroit
  • Fox Sports Florida
  • Fox Sports Indiana
  • Fox Sports Kansas City
  • Fox Sports Midwest
  • Fox Sports New Orleans
  • Fox Sports North
  • Fox Sports Ohio
  • Fox Sports Oklahoma
  • Fox Sports San Diego
  • Fox Sports South
  • Fox Sports Southeast
  • Fox Sports Southwest
  • Fox Sports Sun
  • Fox Sports Tennessee
  • Fox Sports Wisconsin
  • Freeform
  • FX
  • FXM
  • FXX
  • Golf Channel
  • HGTV
  • HLN
  • IFC
  • Investigation Discovery
  • LA FC Sports Network
  • MLB Network
  • MotorTrend Network
  • MSNBC
  • MTV
  • MyNetworkTV
  • Nat Geo Wild
  • National Geographic
  • NBA TV
  • NBC
  • NBC Sports Bay Area
  • NBC Sports Boston
  • NBC Sports California
  • NBC Sports Chicago
  • NBC Sports Network
  • NBC Sports Northwest
  • NBC Sports Philadelphia
  • NBC Sports Philadelphia+
  • NBC Sports Washington
  • NESN
  • Newsy
  • Nickelodeon
  • Olympic Channel
  • Orlando City SC Sports Network
  • OWN
  • Oxygen
  • Paramount Network
  • PBS
  • PBS Kids
  • POP
  • Seattle Sounders Sports Network
  • SEC Network
  • Smithsonian Channel
  • SportsNet NY
  • SundanceTV
  • Syfy
  • Tastemade
  • TBS
  • TCM
  • Telemundo
  • Tennis Channel
  • The CW
  • TLC
  • TNT
  • Travel Channel
  • truTV
  • TV Land
  • Universal HD
  • Universal Kids
  • Universo
  • USA Network
  • VH1
  • WE tv

Add-ons

  • Acorn — $6 per month
  • AMC Premiere — $5 per month
  • Cinemax — $10 per month
  • CuriosityStream — $3 per month
  • Epix — $6 per month
  • Fox Soccer Plus — $15 per month
  • HBO — $15 per month
  • HBO Max — $15 per month
  • NBA League Pass — $40 per month
  • Showtime — $7 per month
  • Shudder — $5 per month
  • Starz — $9 per month
  • Sundance Now — $7 per month
  • Urban Movie Channel — $5 per month

Viewing experience

When it comes to the viewing experience, YouTube TV is fluid, with the interface remaining consistent across console, desktop, mobile device, and television platforms. Note that there are some minor changes here and there to account for software limitations.

During our testing, video was clear and crisp, though we did occasionally notice a Netflix-esque ramp-up in resolution, where a channel would start streaming and look degraded, with the quality gradually increasing over the course of a few seconds. That’s to be expected from every streaming service — it all depends on your internet connection at that precise moment in time, as explained here.

Our take

At $65 per month for over 85 live TV channels, YouTube TV is a good value for those seeking a total cable substitute. YouTube TV makes a very compelling case to be your cord-cutting tool of choice. Its access to YouTube Originals and its status as the only live streaming service to include PBS channels are highlights. Unlimited DVR storage is simply the icing on the cake. The fact that Google is behind the service is another reason we recommend giving this option a try. You can trust that Google will continue making updates if any problems crop up, and new features have already rolled out since the service’s debut. Besides, most mobile users are already familiar with YouTube as a standalone video app, so the learning curve is nonexistent.

In an ironic twist, YouTube TV manages to be one of the most mobile-friendly options and one of the least mobile-friendly options because it lacks offline viewing capabilities. The viewing experience is remarkably consistent across all platforms, but the fact that you always need Wi-Fi or 4G is disappointing.

YouTube is attractive to cord-cutters because of its channel selection, assuming it has what you’re looking for. You’ll need to comb through the full list of supported channels available in your area to know. But if it does, YouTube TV can be a perfect one-stop-shop. In the unlikely event that your favorite network is missing from the list and isn’t available as an add-on, you’re going to want to turn your attention toward FuboTV, Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV, or AT&T TV Now.

We recommend giving YouTube TV a test run to decide if it’s the right fit for your needs, and you won’t have to hand over a month’s subscription cost to do it. Google provides a one-week free trial for anyone who wants to have a go. Just register on your desktop computer via a web browser. If you attempt to sign up on Apple or even an Android device, you may miss out on the trial option because of a mobile glitch. We’re not sure if it’s intentional on Google’s part, but web browsers are a reliable way to start your free trial.

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