Cord Cutting Guides, News, and Reviews
Last modified: February 13, 2019
By Stephen Lovely
We're big fans of skinny bundles here at Cordcutting.com, and there are plenty of good ones out there: DIRECTV NOW, PlayStation Vue, and Sling TV being some of the best. But the competition in this space just keeps growing, and one of the newer entries is a real heavyweight. YouTube TV is Google's entry into the skinny bundle space, and its incremental rollout has slowly but surely brought it to most of America's major TV markets. So, while it's still not available nationwide, it seems like it's high time for us to do a YouTube TV review – so here we are!
YouTube TV has the backing of a huge company, but it enters a space with a lot of competition from the aforementioned skinny bundle services. And being a newcomer isn't easy – we've seen a lot of new skinny bundles stumble out of the gate in categories like streaming quality. Google is clearly hoping that their incremental rollout will allow them to stay ahead of their bandwidth needs, and their use of their YouTube brand seems designed to draw in loyal YouTube users at the expense of the skinny bundle competition. Does it all come together? In our YouTube TV review, we'll find out.
You sign up for YouTube TV using a Google account. That's also the login Google uses for regular old YouTube, of course (among other things, like Gmail), and it was clear that Google was using what it already knew about me to determine what content it offered. Google knew which of the two New York baseball teams I'd be most interested in watching, and it knew that I'd want to see a playoff hockey game featuring my favorite team – an out-of-market team that is a holdover from before my family moved when I was a kid. YouTube TV's familiarity with my fairly unique combination of sports fandoms was impressive and a little unnerving. It even knew not to expect me to watch much basketball.
I already knew, of course, that Google knows this stuff about you, but to see it used in a brand-new service that I had just signed up for was… interesting. Whether you think YouTube TV's intimate and unearned knowledge of your passions and viewing habits is creepy or convenient will go a long way toward determining whether or not you enjoy YouTube TV's content discovery features.
Those content discovery features are laid out pretty neatly. In the YouTube TV app, you can select one of three tabs: Library, Home, and Live. The app defaults to Home. Your “Library” is populated by your use of YouTube TV's cloud DVR feature. I gravitated to the Live TV tab, because I put a big premium on how skinny bundles handle channel surfing.
I was very pleased with YouTube TV's take on live TV. First of all, you can hop right to a broadcast from the home page – YouTube TV's content discovery features will have some options picked out for you. On the live TV tab, you can pick a channel from a menu that serves as a simplified TV guide menu.
Once you're watching live content, you can select a new channel from a menu while your current one keeps playing. The menus obscure your video (on Roku, for instance, the screen darkens as a menu of white channel logos appears; on iOS, you have to switch to portrait mode and scroll down, pushing the video out of view). But the sound keeps going, and you can make decisions quickly, thanks in no small part to YouTube TV's helpful “Recently Watched” menu, which can be accessed fast and used as a more powerful version of your cable remote's “Return” or “Last Channel” button.
Sometimes it pays to be late to the party. While we've routinely complained about skinny bundle newcomers' streaming quality, we've also seen a steady increase in channel selection since the early days of the business space. Norms are being established, and while pioneers like Sling TV are still dealing with the consequences of inconsistent content deals (witness the simultaneous streaming differences between Sling Orange and Sling Blue), we've seen more and more fresh faces that show up with a great channel selection, lots of local content, and simple content organization from the get-go.
YouTube TV mostly lives up to our high expectations for channel selection. Disney, Fox, and NBC properties coexist happily in YouTube TV's base bundle, and the selection of local and regional sports networks is pretty great. However, YouTube TV does lack Viacom channels like Comedy Central and MTV. That's something that it has in common with competitors like fuboTV, Hulu with Live TV, and PlayStation Vue: Viacom has not been signing deals with skinny bundles as readily as most other families of networks seem to have done.
YouTube TV's selection of premium channels is pretty paltry. Showtime is on board, but there's no sign of HBO or the rest of the gang. Fox Soccer Plus, Shudder, and something called Sundance Now are your only options besides Showtime.
All in all, YouTube TV's selection is pretty typical of skinny bundles. In my region (New York City), I got 64 channels, including live local feeds of all four major networks and most (but not all) of the major regional sports networks (SNY and YES, but not MSG).
YouTube TV also includes access to YouTube Red's original content, but it doesn't take the ads out of regular old YouTube – to do that, you still need to sign up for YouTube Red directly. As of this writing, there isn't much reason to get excited about YouTube Red's original content, but this relationship could get interesting if YouTube Red ever starts competing more seriously with premium original content creators like HBO, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. But, again, the inclusion is pretty trivial right now.
In an area where most skinny bundles struggle out of the gate, YouTube TV really blew me away. YouTube TV loaded content quickly, snapped into HD pretty much instantly, and proceeded to stream smoothly and without interruption for a long, long time. I was particularly pleased with how it played on my Roku Ultra with a wired connection.
YouTube TV has the best streaming quality I've seen out of a relatively new skinny bundle. In fact, it has the best streaming quality I've seen out of a skinny bundle, period. I got performance that was essentially flawless on this front.
There's a caveat to note here, of course: YouTube TV has been rolled out carefully market by market. That's not cheating, or anything, of course, but it's also fair to mention that YouTube TV is not tackling the challenge of a full national rollout in the way that its competitors did in their early days. It's also fair to say that we don't yet know how YouTube TV will fare when it does finally roll out nationally and deals with a monster streaming moment like the Super Bowl.
But, for now, those of us that can get YouTube TV can get some really great streaming quality. I watched popular live content like sports playoff games and never lost my smooth-streaming HD. Maybe, when it comes to streaming, discretion rally is the better part of valor. YouTube TV is very clearly up to the task that it has created for itself with this rollout strategy.
YouTube TV does not piggyback on the existing YouTube app. To watch it, you'll need a separate YouTube TV app. YouTube TV is available on computers (via a web app) and mobile devices (iOS and Android).
As for streaming boxes, YouTube TV has apps for Roku, Chromecast (cast from the mobile or web app), Apple TV, and Android TV. Notably absent is Amazon's Fire TV platform, which I suppose shouldn't be surprising given the two companies' tendency to get in spats. That leaves platform support as a relative weak point for YouTube TV.
I tested YouTube TV primarily on Roku and iOS.
So how much does YouTube TV cost? The YouTube TV price clocks in at a very standard $40 per month. That's the same price we see from fuboTV, Hulu with Live TV, and PlayStation Vue (“Access” bundle). It's also the price you get when you order both of Sling TV's base packages (Sling Orange and Sling Blue – normal prices $20 and $25, respectively). It's a tough pricier than DIRECTV NOW's cheapest offering (“Live a Little,” $35 per month).
In other words, this is a very typical price point. You can pay less if you sacrifice content (see Philo's super-cheap bundles, which lack sports and local content; or Sling TV's individual base packages, which make you choose between Disney and Fox properties), but if you want a bundle that's roughly this amount of skinny, then you're going to pay something right around this price. So put YouTube TV's price down as “fair,” if unexciting.
YouTube TV has quietly been doing its thing for about a year now, yet it still hasn't gotten a nationwide rollout. Is it really “new,” then? Is it fair to compare it to Hulu, which we dinged for a few things in our review even though it was still in beta?
I propose a practical answer: who cares? What is fair to faceless streaming services vying for your money is not the point of our YouTube TV review, or any of our reviews, for that matter. The point here is to ask whether or not this service is good, and the short answer is yes: it's great.
YouTube TV's streaming quality is great. Its content is decent, and reasonably comparable to that of its more established competition. The lack of Viacom channels is a bummer, but that's not unusual among skinny bundles right now.
Other than the lack of Comedy Central and the rest of the Viacom gang, I see only two potential issues standing between a cord cutter and YouTube TV bliss: regional availability and platform support. If your region doesn't yet have YouTube TV, you'll have to wait. If you have a Fire TV device, same deal.
But if you are in a region that YouTube TV serves and use a streaming platform that it works on, you'll find YouTube TV to be among the very best skinny bundles to get. I strongly recommend it.