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 live-streaming 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 live streaming service that includes PBS stations and content, and its selection of over 70 traditional cable and broadcast channels grows on a regular basis. For many, the big attraction is its simplicity of pricing: With the exception of some premium channels, the all-in price is $50 per month.

That may seem a little steep, but Google has done an awful lot to set its live TV streaming service apart from the competition and draw customers in, with the most notable being its unlimited, cloud-based DVR.

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 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 PlayStation 4 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 recordaholic, YouTube TV is the obvious choice.

One rather frustrating issue with the DVR that it substituted your recorded content with the on-demand version. Usually, that wouldn’t be an issue, except you couldn’t skip commercials on the on-demand recordings. Fortunately, that’s now (almost) an issue of the past.

We lightly use the word almost because out of oodles of networks listed on YouTube TV, there are a handful that have refrained from agreeing to let users skip the advertisements. So, if you sign up, there’s a chance you’ll run into the issues, but it’s nowhere near as prevalent as it used to be.

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 channels to watch live, start specific shows, record a show, or 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, but if you have an iPad that supports multitasking, you can accomplish the same thing.

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: In February 2020, Google announced that Warner properties including HBO and Cinemax will be added as premium add-on options later this year and that HBO Max will be available on the platform when it launches in May, a move that will go a long way to winning viewers from services like AT&T TV Now, Amazon Prime Channels, and Hulu.

If YouTube TV’s 70-plus channels offer you what you want, it’s a great value. It’s a bigger selection of channels than AT&T TV Now’s $65 base package, way more channels than Sling’s $45 Orange and Blue package, and almost as many as the $55 Hulu + Live TV service.

Unfortunately, YouTube TV has become the most recent live streaming service to drop Fox Regional Sports and YES Networks from its channel roster after a failed contract negotiation with Sinclair Networks. These channels will be removed as of February 29, 2020. The contract dispute is expected to affect coverage of at least 40 teams across baseball, the NBA, and the NHL.

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 multiyear deal to bring 14 new Viacom-owned channels to the service. It will be a staggered release starting with Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, and MTV. Arriving this summer will be BET, CMT, 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
  • ACCN
  • AMC
  • Animal Planet
  • BBC America
  • BBC World News
  • Big News
  • Big Ten Network
  • Bravo
  • Cartoon Network
  • CBS
  • CBS Sports Network
  • Cheddar Business
  • Cheddar News
  • Chiller
  • CNBC
  • CNN
  • Comcast RSN (regional)
  • Comet
  • Cozi
  • Decades
  • Discovery
  • Disney Channel
  • Disney Junior
  • Disney XD
  • E!
  • ESPN
  • ESPN2
  • ESPNews
  • ESPNU
  • Fox
  • Fox Business
  • Fox News
  • Freeform
  • FS1
  • FS2
  • FX
  • FXM
  • FXX
  • Golf Channel
  • HLN
  • IFC
  • LA Football Club
  • MLB Network
  • MotorTrend
  • MSNBC
  • MyNetworkTV
  • Nat Geo
  • Nat Geo Wild
  • NBATV
  • NBC
  • NBCSN
  • NECN
  • NESN
  • Newsy
  • Olympic Channel
  • Orlando City Soccer Club
  • OWN
  • Oxygen
  • PBS (select markets)
  • PBS Kids
  • Pop
  • Seattle Sounders FC
  • SEC Network
  • Smithsonian Channel
  • SNY
  • SundanceTV
  • SyFy
  • Tastemade
  • TBS
  • TCM
  • Telemundo
  • Tennis Channel
  • TLC
  • Travel Channel
  • The CW
  • TruTV
  • TYT
  • Universal HD
  • Universal Kids
  • Universo
  • USA
  • WE TV
  • YouTube Originals

Add-ons

  • AMC Premiere — $5 per month
  • CuriosityStream — $3 per month
  • Fox Soccer Plus — $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

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. Sure, 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 would look degraded, with the quality gradually increasing over the course of a few seconds. But 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 $50 per month for over 70 live TV channels, YouTube TV is an excellent value. Its access to YouTube Originals and status as the only livestreaming service to include PBS channels, it makes a very compelling case to be your cord-cutting tool of choice. An unlimited DVR is simply the icing on the cake. With an HBO option on the way, there’s very little you can’t watch on the platform.

Ironically, YouTube TV is simultaneously one of the most mobile-friendly options — with a viewing experience that is remarkably consistent across platforms — and the least mobile-friendly because of its lack of offline viewing.

But for most cord-cutters, YouTube TV’s appeal will be determined by its channel selection. If it has what you want, (you’ll need to comb through the full list of supported channels available in your area to know), it’s the perfect one-stop-shop. But if 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 AT&T TV Now, Sling TV, Hulu + Live TV, or FuboTV.

Obviously, the best way to see if it’s right for you is to put it through its paces. You don’t have to hand over $50 to do that, though — Google offers all prospective customers a one-week free trial. To take advantage of it you’re going to want to register on a desktop using a web browser. For some strange reason, signing up on an iPad or iPhone — and in some cases, even an Android device — skips the trial offer.

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