What is YouTube TV? Everything You Need to Know Before Cutting the Cord

Access all of your favorite over-the-air channels and shows for $65 a month. But is it worth the cost?

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For many consumers, cable TV seems akin to land-line phones and dial-up internet: clunky, expensive and totally out of date. In fact, it’s estimated six U.S. residents will cut the cord every minute this year. And the trend isn’t expected to slow down any time soon; cable subscriptions have been steadily declining since 2012. As such, cord cutting is becoming big business. 

Platforms like Sling, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Hulu with live TV offer a variety of content, from original shows to movies and even sports. But if you happened to catch the Super Bowl this year, you should already know YouTube TV is becoming a big player in the live-TV arena. The platform was was a pre-game sponsor, and it’s now available almost everywhere in the U.S.

But, is YouTube TV worth the switch from traditional cable? Read our hands-on review to go beyond the free trial and find out.

What Is YouTube TV?

YouTube TV, which launched in 2017, allows you to watch more than 70 live television channels on your connected TV, computer, phone or tablet. It offers a mix of live television, on-demand content (both movies and television shows) and DVR features. If you are a YouTube Premium member, you can play YouTube videos on your television through YouTube TV as well. 

How Much is YouTube TV and What Does It Include?

After a free five-day trial, a YouTube TV subscription costs $64.99 per month. However, you can cancel at any time and there is no penalty since there is no contract. Your subscription includes a variety of channels, such as:

  • ABC
  • CBS
  • FOX
  • NBC
  • AMC
  • TBS
  • BBC America
  • BBC World News
  • Cheddar
  • Bravo
  • Cartoon Network
  • CNBC
  • SYFY
  • USA
  • CNN
  • Fox News
  • ESPN
  • NBC Sports
  • Telemundo
  • Golf Channel
  • USA
  • National Geographic
  • Food Network
  • FX
  • HGTV

Find a complete list of channels here or browse by show here.

You can also subscribe to premium channels (like Showtime, Starz or the Sundance Channel), for an extra fee that ranges from $3 to $40 per month. Add-on channel offerings vary by location, so if you’re looking for something specific be sure to check the YouTube TV site before signing up.

The standard subscription plan lets you share YouTube TV with up to five people per household. Roommates, friends or family members can get personalized logins to your account and manage their own recorded shows. This means you’ll never have to worry about your mom recording over your favorite Bachelorette episode (or running out of space on the DVR) again with YouTube TV. However, you cannot upgrade to include additional users, and only three accounts can stream simultaneously.

How Does the DVR Function Work?

YouTube TV offers unlimited cloud-connected DVR space. Record as many shows as you like at the same time and the system will keep all your recordings for up to nine months. 

Since similar services like Sling TV charge extra for DVR features and have a hard cap on how much you’re allowed to have recorded at once, YouTube TV’s DVR feature helps it stand out from the pack. If you plan on recording lots of shows and keeping them for more than a few weeks, YouTube TV is hands-down the best service for you.

 

Can I Get YouTube TV in My Area?

As of January 2019, YouTube TV is offered in more than 98% of the markets across the U.S. To find out if it’s available for you, all you need to do is plug in your zip code at tv.youtube.com.

Check YouTube TV Availability

Can I Try YouTube TV for Free?

Anyone with a Google account can enjoy a YouTube TV free trial just by signing up. Once you’ve filled in all your account info, you receive a five-day free trial that comes complete with all YouTube TVs base channels.

While you’re free to cancel your subscription at any time, be aware YouTube TV accounts default to auto-renewal, so if you’re not planning to commit make sure to cancel before the end of the five-day period — otherwise you’ll be signed on for another month at $64.99.

 

Try YouTube TV Free

Does YouTube TV Include Ads?

Unfortunately, YouTube TV does include ads just like regular cable television. However, there are certain times when you can skip through them, like if you pause live TV or if you’re watching a select show that you’ve DVR’ed (some DVR’ed shows still show unskippable ads). Additionally, YouTube Premium subscribers (this is separate from YouTube TV and costs $11.99 per month after a 1-month trial) won’t be served ads while watching regular YouTube videos.

What’s the Full YouTube TV Experience Like?

No matter how you watch YouTube TV — on a phone, computer, tablet or connected TV — the basic experience is pretty much the same. Scroll through the channels to see live previews of what is currently airing in your area along with recorded shows and other recommended programs. Once you select a piece of content it plays on your device or you can choose to send it to another device, like your connected TV. Overall, the platform’s search function is very easy to use and effective. (Note: it only searches YouTube TV, so regular YouTube videos won’t show up in the results.) 

While YouTube has attempted to optimize mobile viewing, smartphone viewers will likely have the least pleasant experience, as they’ll be dealing with small images and hard to read graphics. It’s far preferable to use your smartphone like a remote to control YouTube TV on your television.

As with most streaming services, you’ll need relatively fast internet service and a good connection to avoid buffering or stuttering problems. YouTube recommends a download speed of at least 3 Mbps for optimal viewing. If you’re watching YouTube TV on your mobile network, be mindful that connection may be an issue, and also that streaming video eats a ton of data.

Things to Consider Before Getting YouTube TV

As with all streaming services, there are always some limitations. While you can access YouTube TV from any Internet-connected device, you will need to be in the U.S. for it to work — it is not available overseas. Additionally, some content will differ based on your specific region.

It’s also worth noting the stated restrictions on family accounts. As mentioned earlier, you can only stream YouTube TV on three devices at the same time (per account). And while you can share your plan with five family members, everyone in your group will have to occasionally stream from your home location to maintain access — so your best friend who lives on the other side of the country will have to get their own account or visit you more frequently. (Of course, YouTube doesn’t go into detail about how often this streaming has to occur at the home location, so it’s up to you if you want to risk it.)

Another consideration is your streaming device. While YouTube TV is available on a number of devices, including the Roku, Chromecast, NVIDIA SHIELD TV and Apple TV, you can’t get it on Amazon Fire TV, PlayStation 4 or other Sony-made devices. 

Finally, you should know YouTube TV doesn’t offer partial refunds if you cancel before the end of your month is up. You only get your $65 back if the service was defective in some way. 

Is YouTube TV Worth It?

The short answer is yes, YouTube TV is worth it for anyone who absolutely cannot live without live television. If you are a sports fan or a news junkie it’s a great way to get your favorite content at an affordable price.

I have personally dipped in and out of YouTube TV subscriptions a few times. I’m a huge fan of the Olympics and enjoy watching the Super Bowl, and an easy way to watch both events without cable is to subscribe to YouTube TV. I also use it to watch current shows you can’t normally get without a cable login. However, after those events or shows are over I usually cancel my subscription, mostly because there are just so many ads to sit through. 

YouTube TV’s cloud DVR is also a nice perk. I can catch up on all the shows I miss if I’m out of the house or traveling, plus I’m able to take my shows with me when I’m on the road.

For $65 a month, YouTube TV offers a lot of features that make it worth the investment.

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Abigail Bassett

Abigail Bassett is an Emmy-winning journalist and video producer who covers personal finance, wellness, tech, travel, autos and food. Abigail spent more than 10 years as a senior producer at CNN. She’s currently a freelance writer and yoga teacher based in Los Angeles.

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