YouTube TV review: The best premium live TV streaming service

Maria J. Danford

Sarah Tew/CNET You’ve probably heard the saying, “change is the only constant.” It refers to life itself, but it could apply to live TV streaming services too. Prices at the high-end have been vacillating so much in the past 12 months, for example, that it has caused CNET’s Editor’s Choice […]

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Sarah Tew/CNET

You’ve probably heard the saying, “change is the only constant.” It refers to life itself, but it could apply to live TV streaming services too. Prices at the high-end have been vacillating so much in the past 12 months, for example, that it has caused CNET’s Editor’s Choice to change twice. For a brief period in 2020 the cheaper Hulu Plus Live TV snatched the title from YouTube TV. Inevitably though, Hulu raised its price to match YouTube TV’s ($65) making Google’s service our favorite higher-end TV service for cord cutters once again. The reason why it’s so good? YouTube TV has the most channels, the best features, and even offers the option of 4K streaming, just in time for the Olympics!

Like

  • More channels than any competitor, and includes PBS
  • Superb cloud DVR
  • Excellent on-screen interface and handy search bar

Don’t Like

  • Expensive
  • 4K content adds $20 to the price
  • Roku users need to access via YouTube proper

YouTube TV recently added extra channels such as Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon meaning it now offers 79 of the top 100 channels, handily beating Hulu, AT&T TV and Fubo TV. Its channel selection includes numerous cable staples and all four local networks — ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC — in most markets nationwide. YouTube TV is also the only multichannel streaming service with local PBS stations. In short, you might not even miss cable.

Beyond channels, YouTube TV is easy to use, slick and speedy 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 and even more. 

The big snag is the price. Especially if you pony up the extra $20 for 4K. For people used to the myriad channels and easy DVR of cable or satellite, YouTube TV’s base package is worth the extra expense over an entry-level streaming service. For cord cutters who want more savings, however, Sling TV Blue at $35 a month is still pretty great and especially suited to people on tighter budgets.

What do you get?

YouTube TV is different 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 TVs, phones, 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 ($60-plus a month) services such as AT&T TV, Hulu Plus Live TV and FuboTV? Let’s take a look.

Premium services compared

Premium services YouTube TV AT&T TV Hulu Plus Live TV FuboTV
Base price $65/month $70/month $65/month $65/month
Total number of top 100 channels 79 60 71 65
ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC channels Yes Yes Yes Yes
Record shows for later (cloud DVR) Yes (keep for 9 months) Yes (20 hours, unlimited hours for $10/mo.) Yes (50 hours, 200 hours plus commercial skip for $10/mo.) Yes (250 hours)
Step-up packages with more channels No ($20 for 4K only)  Yes Yes Yes
Simultaneous streams per account 3 20  2 ($10 option for unlimited) 3

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

Previously, YouTube TV didn’t offer any add-on channel packages, instead relying on a handful of single-channel add-ons like Showtime, Epix, HBO and HBO Max. The service now includes the $20 4K Plus upgrade which offers a number of benefits including 4K sports like the Olympics and MLB plus on-demand content. It also ups the number of simultaneous streams to unlimited, which is good for football teams or something. I haven’t had a chance to test 4K Plus yet so it’s hard to say if it’s worth the money or not, but I’m hesitant about it. Especially since FuboTV includes 4K for no extra change.

Another couple of other changes came with the 4K Plus update including 5.1 surround to all subscribers — most competitors only include stereo sound.  The other is that DVR recordings can now be searched for specific sports which will be helpful for events like the gigantic grab bag of the Summer Olympics.

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 displays 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 programming you want. You can also perform searches with a compatible voice remote or Google Assistant. While this is easier if you have an Android TV streamer you can also perform searches on your Google Home and play it on a Roku.

Be aware that Roku and Google are currently in negotiations, and new Roku users will need to access YouTube TV from the YouTube app, which is a little clunky. People who have the YouTube TV app preloaded or using other platforms like Fire TV are unaffected. 

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You can connect to YouTube to watch related clips.


Ty Pendlebury/CNET

The service’s tie-in to YouTube proper is welcome — with YouTube originals included in the TV app — 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 the appearance of thumbnails make it relatively easy to get to the part you want.

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The DVR enables you to fast-forward and rewind, while Apple TV enables you to scrub through the timeline.


Sarah Tew/CNET

In the past, 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 will expire after nine months, but this is still a lot longer than the 30 days you get with most rivals.

YouTube TV won’t save you as much money

When it only cost $50 YouTube TV was very attractive, but as the service has added more channels it has also added further costs. When you add that $65 monthly fee to the $50 you’re already paying for internet, it means you’re paying over $110 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 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 $65 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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The service comes with a comprehensive program guide.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Should you get YouTube TV?

If price is no object, YouTube TV is my favorite live streaming service, with a whole swathe of entertainment options and one of the best DVR and search combos on the market. It offers more channels than anyone else and the inclusion of 5.1 surround is great for sports and movie fans alikeIf you don’t want to be beholden to a traditional cable company it’s a great alternative. 

That said, $65 a month could be tough for some people, but without a contract to worry about you are free to jump ship to a better deal at any time. If you’re a hardcore cord cutter and determined to save money, Sling TV Blue offers a compelling alternative especially when paired with an antenna or an AirTV 2

Below you’ll find a comparison of the top 100 channels offered by a few of YouTube TV’s competitors. For more information and comparisons with additional services, check out the full article.

Top 100 channels compared

Channel Sling Blue ($35) Fubo TV ($65) Hulu with Live TV ($65) YouTube TV ($65) AT&T TV ($70)
Total channels: 38 65 71 79 60
ABC No Yes Yes Yes Yes
CBS No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fox Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
NBC Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
PBS No No No Yes No
CW No Yes Yes Yes Yes
MyNetworkTV No No Yes Yes Yes
Channel Sling Blue ($35) Fubo TV ($65) YouTube TV ($65) Hulu with Live TV ($65) AT&T TV ($70)
A&E Yes Yes Yes No Yes
ACC Network No $ Yes Yes $
AMC Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Animal Planet No Yes Yes Yes Yes
BBC America Yes Yes No Yes Yes
BBC World News $ $ No Yes $
BET Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Big Ten Network $ Yes Yes Yes $
Bloomberg TV Yes No Yes No Yes
Boomerang $ No Yes No Yes
Bravo Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Channel Sling Blue ($35) Fubo TV ($65) YouTube TV ($65) Hulu with Live TV ($65) AT&T TV ($70)
Cartoon Network Yes No Yes Yes Yes
CBS Sports Network No Yes Yes Yes $
Cheddar Yes Yes Yes Yes $
Cinemax No No $ $ $
CMT $ Yes No Yes Yes
CNBC $ Yes Yes Yes Yes
CNN Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Comedy Central Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cooking Channel $ $ $ No $
Destination America $ $ $ No $
Discovery Channel Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Disney Channel No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Disney Junior No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Disney XD No Yes Yes Yes Yes
DIY $ $ $ No $
E! Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
EPIX $ $ No $ $
ESPN No Yes Yes Yes Yes
ESPN 2 No Yes Yes Yes Yes
ESPNEWS No $ Yes Yes $
ESPNU No $ Yes Yes $
Channel Sling Blue ($35) Fubo TV ($65) YouTube TV ($65) Hulu with Live TV ($65) AT&T TV ($70)
Food Network Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fox Business $ Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fox News Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fox Sports 1 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fox Sports 2 $ Yes Yes Yes $
Freeform No Yes Yes Yes Yes
FX Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
FX Movies $ $ Yes Yes $
FXX $ Yes Yes Yes Yes
FYI $ Yes Yes No $
Golf Channel $ Yes Yes Yes $
Hallmark $ Yes No No Yes
HBO/HBO Max No No $ $ $
HGTV Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
History Yes Yes Yes No Yes
HLN Yes No Yes Yes Yes
IFC Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Investigation Discovery Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Lifetime Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Lifetime Movie Network $ Yes Yes No $
Channel Sling Blue ($35) Fubo TV ($65) YouTube TV ($65) Hulu with Live TV ($65) AT&T TV ($70)
MLB Network $ $ No Yes $
Motor Trend No Yes Yes Yes Yes
MSNBC Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
MTV $ Yes Yes Yes Yes
MTV2 $ $ No Yes Yes
National Geographic Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Nat Geo Wild $ $ Yes Yes $
NBA TV $ $ No Yes $
NBC Sports Network Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Newsy Yes $ No Yes No
NFL Network Yes Yes No Yes No
NFL Red Zone $ $ No $ No
NHL Network $ $ No No $
Nickelodeon No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Nick Jr. Yes Yes Yes Yes $
Nicktoons $ $ No Yes $
Olympic Channel $ Yes Yes Yes $
OWN No Yes No Yes $
Oxygen $ Yes Yes Yes $
Paramount Network $ Yes Yes Yes Yes
Channel Sling Blue ($35) Fubo TV ($65) YouTube TV ($65) Hulu with Live TV ($65) AT&T TV ($70)
Science $ $ $ No $
SEC Network No $ Yes Yes $
Showtime $ $ $ $ $
Smithsonian No Yes Yes Yes $
Starz $ $ $ $ $
Sundance TV $ Yes No Yes Yes
Syfy Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Tastemade $ Yes No Yes $
TBS Yes No Yes Yes Yes
TCM $ No Yes Yes Yes
Telemundo No Yes Yes Yes $
Tennis Channel $ $ No No $
TLC Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
TNT Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Travel Channel Yes Yes Yes Yes $
TruTV Yes No Yes Yes Yes
TV Land $ Yes Yes Yes Yes
USA Network Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
VH1 $ Yes Yes Yes Yes
Vice Yes Yes Yes No Yes
WE tv $ Yes No Yes Yes
Channel Sling Blue ($35) Fubo TV ($65) YouTube TV ($65) Hulu with Live TV ($65) AT&T TV ($70)
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