YouTube TV: The best premium live-TV streaming service – CNET


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Sarah Tew/CNET

If you’re the kind of cord cutter who wants a carefree transition from cable TV, and don’t mind paying $50 a month, YouTube TV is the live TV streaming service for you. It’s easy to use, slick and fast on a variety of TV and mobile devices. Its cloud DVR is the best in the business, with unlimited storage and pretty much all the capabilities of a hardware DVR such as TiVo. Plus its channel selection is top-notch, including numerous cable stables and coverage of all four local networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) in most markets nationwide. (Note that CBS is the parent company of CNET and Showtime.) It’s also the only multichannel streaming service with local PBS stations. In short, you might not even miss cable.

Like

  • YouTube TV offers an extensive channel lineup for the price
  • Superb cloud DVR
  • Excellent on-screen interface and handy search bar
  • One easy-to-grasp channel package

Don’t Like

  • Missing some key channels such as MTV, Comedy Channel and Nickelodeon
  • Higher price than Sling TV and similar competitors

At $50, YouTube TV competes against premium services Hulu with Live TVAT&T TV Now and Fubo TV and it’s better than all three. (It’s only available in the US, but the price converts to about £40 or AU$80) At this price it may not save you much money over cable TV, however, especially if you have a good TV-plus-internet bundle from your current provider. For cord cutters who want more savings in their live TV package, we recommend Sling TV Blue instead at $30 monthly, awarding that service our Editors’ Choice Award as the best budget option.

YouTube TV costs a lot more than Sling TV, but for people used to the myriad channels and easy DVR of cable or satellite, it’s worth it. That’s why we’ve awarded YouTube TV our Editors’ Choice Award among premium live TV services.

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What do you get?

YouTube TV is completely separate from YouTube, the free video service with more than 2 billion users a month. YouTube TV offers an experience similar to cable TV, with live channels and on-demand content available on a variety of devices. It works with Apple TV, Roku, Android TV, ChromecastAmazon Fire TV along with numerous smart TVsphones, tablets and web browsers. 

The service operates in much the same way as competitors — there’s a program guide, a DVR and dozens of channels. But what really separates YouTube TV from other premium ($50-plus a month) services such as AT&T TV Now, Hulu with Live TV and FuboTV?

Services compared

Premium servicesYouTube TVAT&T TV NowHulu with Live TVFuboTV
Base price$50 a month for 70+ channels$65 a month for 45+ channels$55 a month for 60+ channels$55 a month for 90+ channels
Total number of popular (top 100) channels67435964
ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC channelsYesYesYesOnly CBS, Fox and NBC (no ABC)
Record shows for later (cloud DVR)Yes (keep for 9 months)Yes (500 hours, keep for 30 days)Yes (50 hours, 200 hours for $10 a month)Yes (30 hours, 500 hours for $10 a month
Step-up packages with more channelsNoYesNoYes
Simultaneous streams per account332 ($15 option for unlimited)2 ($6 option for 3)
Fast-forward through or skip commercials with cloud DVRYesYesNo (Yes with $15 option)Yes

YouTube TV’s channel selection is excellent, with more from our list of 100 top channels than any other competitor. I’ve said this before, but more channels doesn’t necessarily mean more of what you want: Some services such as FuboTV lean heavily on sports while others are more wide-ranging. It’s best to check the list at the end of this article to make sure you’re getting the channels you want.

Case in point: If you’re a big fan of the New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks or another MLB, NBA or NHL team, YouTube TV might not be for you. That’s because the networks that carry those teams’ games, so-called RSNs like YES Network, Marquee Sports and Fox Sports West, could be dropped from YouTube TV. If one of those networks is a must-have for you, you might have to go with an option like Hulu.

Like Hulu, YouTube TV doesn’t offer any add-on channel packages, although it does have a handful of single-channel add-ons like Showtime and Epix. In the coming months, you’ll also be able to add HBO (and HBO Max in June) to your subscription. Until then you can always stream HBO from somewhere else, such as the HBO Now app, the Apple TV app or Amazon Prime Video Channels.

What’s it like to use?

YouTube TV’s user interface is fairly simple. There are three top-level tabs broken into Library, Home and Live. Library is where your DVR content lives. Home is where both featured and live thumbnails appear. The Live tab is a familiar-looking program grid which shows currently playing and upcoming shows. You can search for content from the top of any page, which makes it relatively easy to jump straight to the content you want. You can also perform searches with a compatible voice remote or Google Assistant. 

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The service’s tie-in to YouTube proper is welcome — with YouTube originals included — though it could be more tightly integrated, especially on TV devices. For example, a content page appears when you press the Go To button on a show, and a Related on YouTube item appears at the bottom. It would be helpful to have thumbnails of related interviews and trailers appear more prominently on this page without having to delve into menus.

The DVR works well and includes the ability to rewind and fast-forward freely through recordings, even ones that aren’t yet completed. The Roku interface offers a 15-second skip by default while the Apple TV’s control system is even better. You can use the touch pad to scroll through videos — and it’s glorious! It’s so much fun and thumbnails make it relatively easy to home in on the part you want.

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The early version of YouTube TV’s cloud DVR had an issue, however. When a show appeared in a network’s on-demand library, it would automatically replace the version in your cloud DVR. That means you’d lose the ability to fast-forward through commercials. YouTube TV says it got rid of that restriction in October 2018, but some CNET readers have complained that it still occurs at times.

Additionally, YouTube TV’s DVR is not truly unlimited. The shows expire after nine months, but this is still a lot longer than the 30 days you get with most rivals.

Will YouTube TV actually save you money?

That $50 monthly price makes it that much tougher to save money compared with cable. If you pay around $50 for just your internet service, that’s a total of $100 a month. Many cable TV providers will give you a TV-and-internet bundle for around the same money.

Prices vary a lot, of course, and with cable you probably have to pay rental equipment fees, taxes and other extras. And cable providers usually reserve the best bundle pricing for people who sign a contract. The same goes for new “streaming” offerings such as AT&T TV and Comcast’s Infinity Flex.

Like Hulu with Live TV, Sling TV and others, YouTube TV is contract-free so you can cancel at any time. Streaming services also have other advantages over cable. They’re easier to watch on phones and tablets, for example. At $50 per month, however, you’ll have to be coming from a relatively expensive cable bill to realize substantial savings with YouTube TV.

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Should you get it?

If price is no object, YouTube TV is my favorite live streaming service, but the value proposition will be tough for a lot of people. If you don’t want to be beholden to a traditional cable company — and can get a good broadband-only internet package on the cheap — YouTube TV is attractive. For serious cord cutters on a budget, however, Sling TV is a better bet, especially when paired with an antenna or even AirTV 2.

Channel lineups compared

ChannelYouTube TV ($50)Hulu with Live TV ($55)Fubo TV ($55)AT&T TV Now ($65)
Total channels:67596443
ABCYesYesNoYes
CBSYesYesYesYes
FoxYesYesYesYes
NBCYesYesYesYes
PBSYesNoNoNo
CWYesYesYesYes
MyNetworkTVYesYesYesYes
ChannelYouTube TV ($50)Hulu with Live TV ($55)Fubo TV ($55)AT&T TV Now ($65)
A&ENoYesYes$
ACC NetworkYesYesNoNo
AMCYesNoYes$
Animal PlanetYesYesNo$
BBC AmericaYesNoYes$
BBC World NewsYesNo$$
BETNoNoYes$
Big Ten NetworkYesYesYes$
Bloomberg TVNoNoNo$
BoomerangNoYes$$
BravoYesYesYes$
ChannelYouTube TV ($50)Hulu with Live TV ($55)Fubo TV ($55)AT&T TV Now ($65)
Cartoon NetworkYesYesYesYes
CBS Sports NetworkYesYesYes$
CheddarYesYesYesYes
CinemaxNo$No$
CMTNoNoYes$
CNBCYesYesYesYes
CNNYesYesYesYes
Comedy CentralNoNoYesYes
Cooking ChannelNo$$$
Destination AmericaNo$$$
Discovery ChannelYesYesYes$
Disney ChannelYesYesNoYes
Disney JuniorYesYesNoYes
Disney XDYesYesNoYes
DIYNo$$$
E!YesYesYesYes
EPIX$NoNoNo
ESPNYesYesNoYes
ESPN 2YesYesNoYes
ESPNEWSYesYesNo$
ESPNUYesYesNo$
ChannelYouTube TV ($50)Hulu with Live TV ($55)Fubo TV ($55)AT&T TV Now ($65)
Food NetworkYesYesYes$
Fox BusinessYesYesYesYes
Fox NewsYesYesYesYes
Fox Sports 1YesYesYesYes
Fox Sports 2YesYesYes$
FreeformYesYesNoYes
FXYesYesNoYes
FX MoviesYesYesNoYes
FXXYesYesNoYes
FYINo$Yes$
Golf ChannelYesYesYes$
HallmarkNoNoYesYes
HBONo$NoYes
HGTVYesYesYes$
HistoryNoYesYes$
HLNYesYesYesYes
IFCYesNoYes$
Investigation DiscoveryYesYesYes$
LifetimeNoYesYes$
Lifetime Movie NetworkNo$Yes$
ChannelYouTube TV ($50)Hulu with Live TV ($55)Fubo TV ($55)AT&T TV Now ($65)
MLB NetworkYesNoNo$
Motor TrendYesYesYes$
MSNBCYesYesYesYes
MTVNoNoYesYes
MTV2NoNo$$
National GeographicYesYesYesYes
Nat Geo WildYesYesYesYes
NBA TVYesNoYes$
NBC Sports NetworkYesYesYesYes
NewsyYesNo$No
NFL NetworkNoNoYesNo
NFL Red ZoneNoNo$No
NHL NetworkNoNoNo$
NickelodeonNoNoYesYes
Nick Jr.NoNoYesYes
NicktoonsNoNo$$
OWNYesNoYes$
OxygenYesYesYesYes
Paramount NetworkNoNoYes$
ChannelYouTube TV ($50)Hulu with Live TV ($55)Fubo TV ($55)AT&T TV Now ($65)
ScienceNo$$$
SEC NetworkYesYesNo$
Showtime$$$$
SmithsonianYesYesYesNo
Starz$$No$
Sundance TVYesNoYes$
SyfyYesYesYesYes
TastemadeYesNoNoNo
TBSYesYesYesYes
TCMYesYesYesYes
TelemundoYesYesYesYes
Tennis ChannelYesNo$$
TLCYesYesYes$
TNTYesYesYesYes
Travel ChannelYesYesYes$
TruTVYesYesYesYes
TV LandNoNoYes$
UnivisionNoNoYes$
USA NetworkYesYesYesYes
VH1NoNoYesYes
VicelandNoYesYes$
WE tvYesNoYes$
ChannelYouTube TV ($50)Hulu with Live TV ($55)Fubo TV ($55)AT&T TV Now ($65)

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