Are you looking into a streaming service? I’ve been a cable or satellite subscriber for all of my adult life. I spent some time using YouTube TV as my live TV and DVR provider and learned quite a few things.
TL;DR YouTube TV is one of the best cable replacement services, but there are some quirks you should be aware of!
Editor’s Note: After using YouTube TV for some time I also wrote up some thoughts on how it can be improved. I also wrote up a review and my thoughts after using YouTube TV for a year.
YouTube TV Overview
YouTube TV is Google’s foray into the cable replacement streaming services.
$40/month $50/month gets you a good set of channels, including popular cable channels like ESPN, AMC, Fox News, CNN, SYFY, and TNT. For additional monthly fees, you can get premium channels such as Showtime and Starz. Local stations are available in many areas. For a full list of channels available in your area, scroll down to the bottom of their welcome page. In addition to live TV, YouTube TV also offers an unlimited DVR where you can record all the shows you want. Recordings last 9 months before deletion.
You have to have a good, reliable Internet connection for YouTube TV to work. You also need to have a supported device. It works on:
- Roku (Pick the right model for you)
- Android TV
- 2016 and newer Samsung and LG Smart TVs
- iOS and Android phones and tablets
- Google Smart Displays
Notably, it does not work on FireTV Sticks. Google and Amazon still don’t get along. Update – it now works on FireTV devices!
With one subscription you can set up 6 different accounts (each can have their own set of shows they record, custom channel lineup, and recommendations), but you can “only” have 3 simultaneous streams. 3 is more than most services currently allow.
Key YouTube TV Observations
You can find a lot of YouTube TV reviews on the web, and I read a lot of them in my research before piloting it. I’m going to try and focus my observations on things I feel weren’t prominently mentioned in most reviews.
- When you sign up, you have instant access to on-demand versions of most shows.
- On-demand content often has commercials that can’t be fast-forwarded. This is important in relation to the DVR functionality which I’ll get to later.
- Picture quality is good. I don’t have the newest televisions, but they are all HD sets (1080p) and I didn’t notice much of a difference between the quality of the shows on YouTube TV and DirecTV. I’ve found the quality to be much better than SlingTV.
- Audio is a bit disappointing. It isn’t that the quality isn’t good, it is that almost all the content appears to be stereo, not in Dolby Digital or Dolby Digital Plus. My receiver does a good job using Dolby Pro Logic II to matrix stereo signals to 5.1 sound, but it’s not as good as Dolby Digital Plus. I found some information in Reddit that indicates more 5.1 sound is coming early in 2019, but it isn’t here yet.
- The Android app seems to lack playback speed control. So does the Roku app. You can adjust playback speed on the web interface. Hopefully, this feature will port to other platforms.
DVR scheduling of recordings and accessing recordings is quite different than traditional cable/satellite systems and can take some adjustment:
- There are no rules you can apply to schedule recordings. You can’t specify only “new” recordings, or only one recording, or only record when on a specific channel. You add a show to your library and then it will make every instance of the recording available in your library. Shows in syndication can lead to tons of shows in your library. Luckily, it is pretty easy to find “new” episodes in your library.
- Also, you can’t specify an overage time for recordings, in case something is delayed or a sporting event goes long. However, YouTube TV automatically adds a 1-minute extension to all recordings but live sports. Live sports automatically get a 30-minute buffer.
- You can’t delete individual recordings from your library. I’m used to deleting recordings after they’ve been watched to preserve space and keep my list of recordings clean. But there is no storage space limit for YouTube TV’s DVR, so I guess they figure “why would you delete anything?” Still, this can lead to a cluttered list of recordings.
- Some recordings you make will be replaced by the on-demand version. Which ones seem to depend on the station, and maybe the show. The only problem with this is that these versions have unskippable commercials.
- Live TV is different than traditional cable as well. When you first go to YouTube TV it suggests a combination of live TV and recordings that you might want to watch and shows you a preview of each. It also shows you recordings you’ve partially watched in case you want to pick up where you left off. In my experience so far, it does a good job guessing right, so I pretty much never need to go to the guide. I’d probably search for a show before I’d go to the guide. It also allows you to easily filter by show categories (sports, news, drama, etc.).
- If you do use the tradition guide you have the option to customize it by putting the channels in the order you want, and hiding channels you don’t want to see. You can easily switch back and forth between your custom guide and the default one.
Put simply, YouTube TV isn’t cable, and it is best to have an open mind and not look to having the cable navigation and recording experience. It’s more like other streaming services you use, like Netflix and YouTube, where search and recommendations are kings, and going through a guide or looking at a recording list are antiquated. Not too mention, wherever you have a connected device, you have access to live shows and recordings. The future looks bright!
For more information about YouTube TV, remember to check out my article on improvements YouTube TV needs. Also, as of January 2020 I’ve updated my thoughts on YouTubeTV here.
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