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YouTube TV evaluate: Essentially the most full-featured stay TV streamer is now not the very best worth


Sarah Tew/CNET

Ever had a cable bill jump by 30% in a single month? That’s what subscribers of YouTube TV are feeling now after a price hike from $50 to $65 taking place July 31. While the service did get some extra channels in the form of Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon, they’re not worth another $15 a month for most subscribers. YouTube TV is still the easiest live TV streaming service to use and the one with the most channels and best features, but it’s no longer our top overall choice. That honor goes to Hulu Plus Live TV, which costs $55 a month, has an excellent slate of essential channels and includes Hulu’s vast on-demand library.

LikeMore channels than any competitor, including PBSSuperb cloud DVRExcellent on-screen interface and handy search bar

If you’re the kind of cord cutter who can stomach the $65 price, however, YouTube TV could still be 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. And that channel selection is top-notch, including numerous cable staples and coverage of all four local networks — ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC — in most markets nationwide. (Editors’ note: CBS and Showtime are owned by ViacomCBS, which also owns CNET.) It’s also the only multichannel streaming service with local PBS stations. In short, you might not even miss cable.

YouTube TV is more expensive than Hulu with Live TV, AT&T TV Now and Fubo TV, but better than all three if you can handle the price. For people used to the myriad channels and easy DVR of cable or satellite, it may be worth the extra expense. For cord cutters who want more savings, however, we recommend Hulu Plus Live TV for premium users and Sling TV Blue at $30 per month for 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, Chromecast, Amazon 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 ($50-plus a month) services such as AT&T TV Now, Hulu with Live TV and FuboTV? Let’s take a look.

Services compared

Premium services

YouTube TV

AT&T TV Now

Hulu Plus Live TV

FuboTV

Base price

$65 a month for 85+ channels

$55 a month for 45+ channels

$55 a month for 60+ channels

$60 a month for 90+ channels

Total number of popular (top 100) channels

75

45

59

68

ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC channels

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

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 (500 hours)

Step-up packages with more channels

No

Yes

No

Yes

Simultaneous streams per account

3

3

2 ($15 option for unlimited)

3

Fast-forward through or skip commercials with cloud DVR

Yes

Yes

No (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. 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 more 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.

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, Epix, HBO and HBO Max to your subscription. 

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. 

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 — 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.

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 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

At $50 YouTube TV was very attractive, but as the service has added more channels it 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 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 $65 per month, however, you’ll have to be coming from a relatively expensive cable bill to realize substantial savings with YouTube TV. In the meantime, give Hulu Plus Live TV a try.

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, 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 — it’s Hulu Plus Live TV that offers the most compelling package right now. It has an improved interface (finally) and a good mix of channels for $10 less a month. 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

Channel

Hulu with Live TV ($55)

AT&T TV Now ($55)

Fubo TV ($60)

YouTube TV ($65)

Total no of top channels:

59

45

68

75

ABC

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

CBS

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Fox

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

NBC

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

PBS

No

No

No

Yes

CW

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

MyNetworkTV

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

A&E

Yes

$

Yes

No

ACC Network

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

AMC

No

$

Yes

Yes

Animal Planet

Yes

$

Yes

Yes

BBC America

No

$

Yes

Yes

BBC World News

No

$

$

Yes

BET

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Big Ten Network

Yes

$

Yes

Yes

Bloomberg TV

No

$

No

No

Boomerang

Yes

Yes

No

No

Bravo

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Cartoon Network

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

CBS Sports Network

Yes

$

Yes

Yes

Cheddar

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Cinemax

$

$

No

$

CMT

No

$

Yes

Yes

CNBC

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

CNN

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Comedy Central

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Cooking Channel

$

$

$

No

Destination America

$

$

$

No

Discovery Channel

Yes

$

Yes

Yes

Disney Channel

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Disney Junior

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Disney XD

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

DIY

$

$

$

No

E!

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

EPIX

No

$

No

$

ESPN

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

ESPN 2

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

ESPNEWS

Yes

$

Yes

Yes

ESPNU

Yes

$

$

Yes

Food Network

Yes

$

Yes

Yes

Fox Business

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Fox News

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Fox Sports 1

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Fox Sports 2

Yes

$

Yes

Yes

Freeform

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

FX

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

FX Movies

Yes

Yes

$

Yes

FXX

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

FYI

$

$

Yes

No

Golf Channel

Yes

$

Yes

Yes

Hallmark

No

Yes

Yes

No

HBO

$

$

No

$

HGTV

Yes

$

Yes

Yes

History

Yes

$

Yes

No

HLN

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

IFC

No

$

Yes

Yes

Investigation Discovery

Yes

$

Yes

Yes

Lifetime

Yes

$

Yes

No

Lifetime Movie Network

$

$

Yes

No

MLB Network

No

$

No

Yes

Motor Trend

Yes

$

Yes

Yes

MSNBC

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

MTV

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

MTV2

No

$

$

No

National Geographic

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Nat Geo Wild

Yes

Yes

$

Yes

NBA TV

No

$

$

Yes

NBC Sports Network

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Newsy

No

No

$

Yes

NFL Network

No

No

Yes

No

NFL Red Zone

No

No

$

No

NHL Network

No

$

$

No

Nickelodeon

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Nick Jr.

No

Yes

Yes

No

Nicktoons

No

$

$

No

OWN

No

$

Yes

Yes

Oxygen

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Paramount Network

No

$

Yes

Yes

Science

$

$

$

No

SEC Network

Yes

$

$

Yes

Showtime

$

$

$

$

Smithsonian

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Starz

$

$

No

$

Sundance TV

No

$

Yes

Yes

Syfy

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Tastemade

No

$

Yes

Yes

TBS

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

TCM

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Telemundo

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Tennis Channel

No

$

$

Yes

TLC

Yes

$

Yes

Yes

TNT

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Travel Channel

Yes

$

Yes

Yes

TruTV

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

TV Land

No

$

Yes

Yes

USA Network

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

VH1

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Viceland

Yes

$

Yes

No

Weather Channel

No

$

Yes

No

WE tv

No

$

Yes

Yes

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