YouTube TV is by far the best live TV streaming service to replace cable. With 85+ channels (plus add-ons), the lineup is comprehensive and is far more affordable and convenient. Google’s service learns what you love and puts it front and centre, the cloud DVR is reliable, and the recent addition of 4K content is welcome – albeit far too expensive. However, if you ditch broadcast TV for YouTube TV, you’ll never go back.
- The best service to replace cable
- Cloud DVR works brilliantly
- Intelligent featured content based on viewing habits
- Catch up via “key plays” is great for sports
- Excellent user interface
- No commitment, month-to-month
- Limited 4K content that’s an expensive add-on
- No HDR or Dolby Atmos sound
- Some devices still waiting for 5.1 audio
- Not available outside UK
- Live TV streamingA legitimate replacement for cable or satellite with access to all the major US channels and networks
- Cloud DVRAll of your saved programming is available in the cloud, accessible from all compatible devices, and doesn’t require physical storage
- 4K sportsA growing, but limited library of 4K sports are available from NBC, Fox, ESPN and MLB. No HDR, though
It’s YouTube, but not as we know it. Google’s streaming service is designed to completely replace your existing satellite or cable television subscription, while liberating you from watching content only on the TV set.
Live programming is streamed, rather than broadcast, while your (unlimited) DVR recordings are stored in the cloud. Powerful smart TV, mobile apps and a web presence mean your TV subscription and local channels go where you go. All the major entertainment, sports, news and movie networks are present, with the option of add-ons for premium networks and packages.
Since this is Google, YouTube TV does a fantastic job of learning about shows you regularly watch, placing new episodes – live and on demand – front and centre. Premium subscriptions introduce some 4K programming, including live sports, while there’s access to offline downloads, too.
The US-only streaming service has plenty of rivals, such as Hulu with Live TV, fuboTV, Sling TV and DirecTV Now. It isn’t the cheapest service out there, but it is far cheaper than cable. Let’s take a deeper look at whether YouTube TV is the streaming liberation that traditional linear TV viewers have been waiting for.
- US only
- 4K Plus is an extra $20
- No commitment
YouTube TV is available only in the United States. It’s unlikely we’ll see it expand to the UK and beyond, as a result of how television subscriptions are bundled elsewhere.
It costs $64.99 (plus tax) a month, with the 4K Plus add-on – which includes access to 4K content, more concurrent streams and offline downloads on mobile – an additional $19.99. You can add up to six Google accounts per subscription, meaning your family can have their own profiles too.
Billing is simplified: the month-to-month subscription model means no commitment, unlike legacy providers that lock you in for a year or two while charging all manner of annoying fees and taxes.
- Wide array of smart TV apps
- Also available online
YouTube TV is available on major smart TV operating systems, media players, games consoles and mobile devices. One neat quirk for those deep in Google’s ecosystem is YouTube TV’s presence on the Nest Hubs. So, if you’re doing a little cooking and want to watch an episode of Beat Bobby Flay while you chop your veg, you’re all set. YouTube TV is also available on major web browsers for Mac and PC.
Smart TV providers include the likes of Android TV (naturally), Hisense, LG, Samsung, Sharp Sony and Vizio models. Streaming players include Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast with Google TV and Roku players. Where game consoles are concerned, all the major devices are included from Xbox One (S and X), Xbox Series S/X, PS4, PS4 Pro, PS5.
On mobile there’s Android and iOS, and only smart displays such as the Google Nest Hub/Max are covered.
- Powerful Home tab
- “Key plays” catch-up is great for live sports
- TV guide only shows now/next
This is an area where YouTube TV really excels. The interface is divided into three sections: Library, Home and Live.
In Home, featured content is called “Top Picks for You”, with live and on-demand content based on your viewing habits. If you always watch the news in the morning, you may see CNN in the prime spot. Or, if you spend your Saturday morning’s with NBC Universal’s Premier League coverage, that will be only a couple of clicks away. If you’re an avid Jeopardy viewer but don’t watch live, the next episode will be here. If the content is live, you’ll see a mini player within the thumbnail.
Below that is Resume Watching from your saved viewing point and regularly rotating content rows. In June 2022, there was “Stream With Pride”, alongside dedicated rows for news, sports (including upcoming fixtures available as part of your subscription) and available movies. More sections on comedies, game shows, talk shows, documentaries, dramas and sit within the Home section with shortcuts for diving deeper.
Library offers access to recent recordings from shows, movies and sports events that you’ve added to this section. For me, it’s one of the lesser used areas, since most of the things I watch are neatly placed within Home. However, it’s great to see a movie within the listings and add it to Library; that way, the next time it airs on TV, it will be recorded for you. Any content you’ve purchased through Play Movies and TV sits here, too.
The Live section is your TV guide, but it’s quite limited. It only shows what’s currently on and what’s coming; but the YouTube TV website allows you to sort it by your most-watched, or channel A-Z. If you’re looking for specific shows, there’s a powerful search function that tells you when the content is aired or whether it’s available on demand or in your DVR.
Depending on the device you’re using, you’ll also get a mini player displaying your current show while you browse the rest of the interface. There are dark modes and light modes as well.
Adding a programme/movie/sports team in your library is really helpful, too, as you can choose between starting it at the beginning or joining live. This way, you can start a show a bit later and then just leap through the commercials. If you’re joining some sports games late, there’s an option to catch up on “key plays”, such as goals or touchdowns.
Live sports often benefit from an influx of live stats on a rich playback screen that enables you to select video quality (Auto is the best available), audio options, lots of custom closed caption settings, access to a carousel of live networks and even the YouTube stats for nerds that shows the current resolution, frame rate and bit-rate among others.
- Some 4K content, but costly
- No Dolby Atmos and 5.1 not universal
- Cloud DVR
- Offline downloads (only with 4K Plus)
One of YouTube TV’s best features is the unlimited Cloud DVR, meaning the shows you record will be available to you for nine months to stream on whichever device you’re viewing on. There’s no central location and no physical hard drive to manage. The feature is available to all content that airs on YouTube TV. Any show, movie, sports team or event added to your library will automatically be recorded and, helpfully, sports games record for an extra half an hour.
If you have YouTube TV 4K Plus (see below), you can download items from your DVR to watch offline.
YouTube TV does provide some 4K content, but only for subscribers to the 4K Plus add-on ($19.95 a month). This also offers offline downloads of shows saved to your DVR and more concurrent streams. That brings the monthly fee up to $85 a month, however, undermining that “cheaper than cable” edict.
Here are the supported devices currently listed by YouTube TV:
- 4K Android TV models such as Sony Bravia and others
- Samsung, LG and Hisense 4K Smart TVs (2016 or later)
- Chromecast with Google TV
- 4K Roku Streaming devices
- Apple TV 4K (2021)
- PS4 Pro
- Amazon Fire 4K Stick (1st Gen – 2018)
- Nvidia Shield
The vast majority of the 4K content is live sports. The NBC Universal networks offer events such as the Olympics, the US Open Golf and Premier League games (shot in 4K by BT and Sky in the UK). There’s one 4K baseball Game of the Week through a deal with MLB, and occasional basketball games on NBA TV.
ESPN, Fox Sports, and NBA TV have live 4K games, too, although none are listed at the time of writing. Some limited series from FX, National Geographic and Disney are available as well. YouTube TV is completely reliant on the host broadcaster shooting these events in 4K to offer them; sadly, traditional linear US networks continue to be sluggish in adopting the standard.
Helpfully, from an interface perspective at least, you can seek out 4K content with easy to access filter buttons on the Home tab. When you’re watching you’ll see “4K” indicated in blue during playback.
While there may be some limited 4K content, there’s no HDR and no option for Dolby Atmos audio. Dolby 5.1 surround sound is available on compatible devices, including Samsung, LG and Vizio devices with Cobalt 20 or above, Chromecast, Android TV, Google TV and Roku. YouTube is testing more devices.
- 85-channel strong line-up
- Lacks regional sports networks
- Access to on-demand offerings
So, with YouTube TV you won’t get the hundreds upon hundreds of channels offered by the cable and satellite providers; but the question is, do you really need them? I feel like the 85-channel YouTube TV line-up offers almost everything I need, while most other stuff is available via add-ons such as HBO, Showtime, NFL Red Zone, MLB.tv and so on. Anything you add nestles nicely within your library and TV guide, making it a handy one-stop shop for your viewing.
One thing I do miss is the absence of the regional sports networks, which means I don’t have access to Miami Heat and Miami Marlins baseball games now. That’s because the provider isn’t making deals with the live TV streaming services anymore, because it’s wagered that taking a chunk of the cable subscriptions is better. Disappointing, but not 100% Google’s fault either.
As well as live content from all of these channels, most provide decent access to their on-demand offerings, too, enabling you to watch the movies in rotation on TNT, for example, or previous seasons of The Bachelorette on ABC. Here’s the crux of what you get with the basic package, you can search for local variances here.
Where entertainment is concerned, stables such as your local broadcast affiliate networks from ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC are available, but also AMC, Adult Swim, Animal Planet, BBC America, Bravo, CMT, Comedy Central, Discover, E!, FX (FXM and FXX), Food Network, Hallmark, HGTV, IFC, MTV (2 and Classic), Nat Geo Wild, National Geographic, Oxygen, Paramount Network PBS, Pop, Smithsonian, SyFy, TBS, TCM, TNT, truTV, Univision, USA and VH1.
For sports there’s CBS Sports, ESPN (2, U, News, SEC), FS1(2), Golf Channel, MLB Network (and Game of the Week), NBA TV, NFL Network and the Olympics Channel.
News covers ABC News, BBC World News, CNBC, SNN, Fox News and Business, MSNBC, NBC News Now, Newsnation, The Weather Channel. And for kids there’s Disney (Junior and XD), Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon (Nick Jr., Nick Toons), PBS Kids and Universal Kids.
- No HDR support
- Good 4K picture quality
The 4K performance, on what content there is, was extremely detailed on my LG C1 OLED TV (2021) – which is what you’d expect, of course. When watching the US Open golf, the individual blades of grass in the rough seemed crisp and clear, while it feels like you’re seeing individual specs of dust fly from the divots.
However, the absence of HDR is apparent. The first couple of days at the US Open were quite dull and overcast, and this was reflected accurately within the live stream. The footage lacked a bit of vitality when the sun wasn’t out. However, there will be those people who prefer this natural reproduction of the conditions.
To benefit from 4K video you’ll need an internet connection of at least 25Mbps, which my broadband manages quite comfortably.
The app has been my go-to live TV streaming service on an Apple TV 4K (2021) for quite some time now. Thus far, I haven’t experienced a crash and the only annoyance has so far been on those occasions when you think a show is DVR, but its actually On-Demand, meaning you can’t skip the ads! The live thumbnail view on the Home page can also be a little annoying if you’re looking to join a sports game that’s already live.
The iPad app and website have also served me well, especially with the mini player that enables viewing to continue while you browse other aspects of the app.
Should you buy it?
If you’re looking to ditch cable and satellite for something new YouTube TV is cheaper; you can watch on multiple devices, at your convenience, plus you can save shows in the cloud for later, and receive intelligent content suggestions based on your viewing habits. With the main news, entertainment and live sports providers on board, you’ll benefit from most of the content you’d get from your legacy provider.
If your internet connection isn’t fast and reliable In these circumstances, you may not want to stream your main TV content. Access to 4K is limited (which isn’t really YouTube’s fault) and expensive; in this regard, other streaming services do a better job. Inherently, live streamed TV is also slightly behind broadcast, so beware if you’re following along with the game on Twitter.
YouTube TV is the best live TV streaming service there is. Every time I get grumpy with a price hike or a channel temporarily going away, I try the others; but always come crawling back to Google’s offering. The range of content covers most bases, I love the flexibility of watching online on multiple devices, and the app’s interface is brilliant and reliable. Once you cut the cable, there will be no going back – but we wish the limited 4K content wasn’t so expensive.
How we test
We test every video streaming service we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Tested on a 2021 4K Ultra HD TV
Tested with mobile apps and Smart TV systems
You might like…
No, YouTube 4K is only available in the United States.
New customers can try YouTube TV for free. Trial lengths vary, but will cover at least seven days.