YouTube TV Review: Channels, Features, Price, and More

YouTube TV Review: Channels, Features, Price, and More

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.

YouTube TV Review

User Experience

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.

YouTube TV Review - YouTube TV on iOS

The YouTube TV app on iOS

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.

YouTube TV Review - YouTube TV channels as seen on the iOS app

The YouTube TV channel guide in the iOS app. YouTube TV channels are grouped roughly by category, with local channels and major networks at the top.

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.

Content

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 Review - YouTube TV channels list

YouTube TV channels cover just about everything you’d want – except Viacom programming.

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.

Review of YouTube Red

Streaming Quality

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.

Platforms

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.

Price

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.

Verdict

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.

Please like us on Facebook to keep up to date on what's new in the world of cord cutting:

About the Author

Stephen Lovely
Stephen Lovely
Stephen Lovely is a freelance writer and a longtime cord cutter with a passion for technology and entertainment. You can find his work on Cordcutting.com and his tweets at @stephenlovely.

3 Comments on "YouTube TV Review: Channels, Features, Price, and More"

  1. As a long time DirecTV customer, when I cut the cord, DirecTV Now seemed like the logical choice. I was an early customer and got the special introductory pricing which represented a significant savings compared to the regular price of the Go Big package. I gave it a good long try, waiting through the promises for a DVR and the outages that seemed never to be resolved. I even signed up for the beta and tried to contribute to the improved experience. The thing that kept holding me was that introductory price that I just didn’t want to let go of. But alas, I could wait no longer. Eventually I simply did not see why I should continue to wait for DirecTV to release a stable and feature rich product with the other options available. So a few months back, I switched to YouTube TV.

    I live in the Atlanta market and the channel selection is great. All the locals, tons of sports (including the Big 10 Channel – go Blue!) and I would say 80% of the standard cable channels I want. The only content that I feel I’m missing is the Discovery bundle of channels. But in the end, that was not a deal breaker.

    The other main reason I switched was the user experience. The Apple TV app for YouTube TV is really nice and, in my opinion, the most user friendly layout and navigation of live and recorded content. While I believe that many of the challenges faced by the design teams of these services for Apple TV lie more in the Apple TV remote itself, I think YouTube TV has the best overall feel for how to make that sub-par remote work in a reasonable way.

    While I have not tried PS Vue, of all the other major players in OTT content, I cast my vote (so far) for YouTube TV.

  2. We’ve had YouTube TV for about a year. Generally pretty happy with it except for one small issue (no local PBS channel is included, but we’re PBS members so can we stream their shows from the PBS website) and one big issue with the “Library” as they call their DVR service. It’s essentially unlimited storage, which is great, but the user interface to it leaves a lot to be desired. You can’t schedule just one episode of a series to be recorded, you have to record ALL episodes, even if some of them are repeats. And you can’t delete an episode after you’ve watched it. In the case of a series like Jeopardy which airs 5 episodes per week times 52 weeks per year, you end up with 260 episodes in your “Library” to wade through when you want to find the next one that you haven’t watched. Similarly, recording your local baseball team’s games gives you 162 games to wade through. I don’t know why they just don’t make it work like a DVR – give you more scheduling options and let you delete a show after you’ve watched it.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*