What is YouTube TV? Here’s everything you should know about the TV service

YouTube TV is Google’s live TV streaming service. Available nationwide as of March 27, 2019, it is a competitor to services like Sling TV, Hulu Plus Live TV, and DirecTV Now. Unlike those services, it doesn’t come from a company with a history in TV, and that is apparent as soon as you use the service.

What does YouTube TV have to offer, and how does it differ from other live TV streaming services? That’s exactly what we’re here to explain. Let’s get started.

What is YouTube TV?

YouTube TV launched in 2017, initially only available in limited areas. After a large expansion in January 2019, Google claims the service now covers all 210 U.S. markets. Many of the features you’ll find in other streaming services are here, but the service has a somewhat limited channel lineup compared to some competitors. This does have a benefit of sorts, though, as it makes understanding what is available via the service fairly easy.

Unlike Hulu with Live TV, which blends a live TV streaming service into your standard Hulu experience, YouTube TV is a stand-alone product. You can’t just head to the YouTube website and start watching, and you’re going to need to install separate YouTube and YouTube TV apps for mobile and streaming devices.

Supported devices

Compared to some other streaming services such as Sling TV, which seems to be available on nearly everything, YouTube TV is somewhat limited in terms of device support.

You’ll find it on Android TV devices and Chromecast, of course, as well as the fourth-generation Apple TV and Apple TV 4K. All Roku TVs and the vast majority of Roku streaming media players, including the new Roku Premiere Plus, are supported as well. Smart TVs from Samsung and LG from 2016 and onward are supported, as well as all Vizio SmartCast TVs and all models of the Xbox One. You can also watch online via the YouTube TV website using Chrome or Firefox.

Chromecast 3rd Gen
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Now let’s look at what common devices that don’t support YouTube TV. Thanks to the ongoing feud between Google and Amazon, you won’t be able to watch YouTube TV on Amazon’s Fire TV devices like the Fire TV Cube or the Fire TV Stick 4K. Because Sony offers its own live TV with PlayStation Vue, you also won’t be able to use YouTube TV (or any non-Sony live TV service) on PlayStation 4 consoles. Neither of these situations is likely to change in the near future.

Features

One of YouTube TV’s coolest features is its cloud DVR. Any live TV streaming service worth its salt has one these days, but YouTube’s is far less restrictive than the DVRs used by some other services. While other services either limit the number of hours of content you can store or automatically delete recordings after a month, YouTube TV lets you keep recordings for up to nine months.

One early problem with YouTube TV’s DVR is that it tended to prefer on-demand versions of shows instead of those you recorded. That wouldn’t be a big deal, except that you can’t skip commercials on those on-demand versions. Fortunately, in October 2018, the service announced that it was opening up full DVR control on many of the networks available on the service. There are still a few where you’ll run into this issue, but it’s nowhere near the issue it used to be.

YouTube TV lets you have up to six family members able to share the service and up to three can watch at a time. Unlike many other services, YouTube doesn’t offer any upgrades, so this is the maximum number that can watch at a time, but three individual streams should be more than enough for most families.

Channels and pricing

what is youtube tv

For the most part, YouTube TV has a comparable offering to the other streaming services. Where it differs greatly is in its pricing, due to its simplicity. YouTube TV costs $50 per month. You can pay more for a few optional extra channels, but you won’t find different packages as you will with Sling TV, DirecTV Now, or PlayStation Vue.

Below you’ll find a list of the channels available on the service as of March 2019. As is the case with any streaming service, the local channels available to you depend on the deals YouTube TV has secured in your area. Various regional sports networks are also available based on your location. For more information, see the YouTube TV support page.

Broadcast & cable networks

  • ABC
  • AMC
  • Animal Planet
  • BBC America
  • BBC World News
  • Big News
  • Big Ten Network
  • Bravo
  • BTN
  • Cartoon Network
  • CBS
  • CBS Sports Network
  • Cheddar
  • Chiller
  • CNBC
  • CNN
  • Comcast RSN (regional)
  • Comet
  • Decades
  • Discovery
  • Disney Channel
  • Disney Junior
  • Disney XD
  • E!
  • ESPN
  • ESPN2
  • ESPNews
  • ESPNU
  • Fox
  • Fox Business
  • Fox News
  • Fox RSN (regional)
  • 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
  • Oxygen
  • 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
  • YES Network
  • YouTube Red 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 watching other streaming services on a phone, it’s possible but far from recommended for many of them unless it’s your only option. YouTube TV throws this concept out the window. The experience is so good on a phone that it almost seems to be designed with mobile display in mind, as opposed to the afterthought it is on most competitors.

As you scroll through live channels, you’ll see a live preview of what is currently airing on that channel, making it very easy to find something to watch. This happens when you’re browsing the YouTube TV website as well, though it doesn’t appear to be quite as snappy. While browsing through the channels on an Apple TV, it was simple enough to see what was on, but here the previews were still images rather than the seemingly live video that appeared on the web and mobile versions.

best youtube channels tv

No matter which device you’re using, opening the app takes you to the “Home” screen, which shows you recommendations of both on-demand video and what is currently airing. Head to the “Library” section for a look at your DVR recordings and on-demand video you’ve saved for later. If you’re just looking to browse through what’s on, head to the “Live” section, where you’ll see a guide-style interface showing you what is currently live.

Video during our testing was clear and crisp, though sometimes there was a Netflix-style ramp-up in resolution, where a channel would start streaming and wouldn’t look great, but would gradually increase in quality. We didn’t encounter any buffering or freezing in our testing, nor did we encounter any other audio or visual issues.

Our take

Right off the bat, it’s clear that YouTube TV is absolutely a great choice for YouTube fans, thanks to its inclusion of YouTube Originals. This isn’t going to be a big deal for a lot of people, but if you’re a fan of a creator who is doing content for YouTube Originals, it could be. Thanks to its stellar mobile experience, this is also a great service for anyone who does most of their viewing on the go.

For everyone else, it all comes down to channel count. There’s plenty here, but you’ll also find channels present on other services that are missing here. Whether or not this plays a factor will depend on individual preferences.

If you’re looking for a similar service that leans slightly more toward traditional TV but doesn’t have an interface rooted in cable or satellite like DirecTV Now or PlayStation Vue, you might want to take a look at Hulu with Live TV. The base price is the same, and you’ll get access to Hulu’s impressive library of on-demand content too.

YouTube TV has a free seven-day trial to let you get a feel for it, but be careful if you’re an iOS user. Signing up on an iPhone or iPad will actually skip the trial period, so you’ll want to log in initially on another device.

If you’ve tried YouTube TV and it isn’t for you, take a look at our list of the best live TV streaming services to get side-by-side comparisons of all the best services.

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