What Is YouTube TV? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

When you think streaming video, you think YouTube. And so perhaps it’s fairly natural to have expected YouTube TV — Google’s live TV streaming streaming. Designed for those who want to cut the cord and ditch their cable or satellite subscriptions (and known in the industry as a multichannel video programing distributor, or MVPD), YouTube TV competes in the same arena as other streaming television services like DirecTV Stream (formerly known as AT&T TV Now and DirecTV Now), Sling TV, FuboTV, and Hulu With Live TV.

And YouTube TV offers a unique mix of features that make it very appealing — so much that it’s easily in the top three live TV services in the United States in terms of the number of paid subscribers. That’s due to a number of factors. YouTube TV is easy to use. It’s got a selection of channels that’s competitive with all the others. And the YouTube TV price is competitive, too. You’re able to watch YouTube TV on pretty much any modern device. And the fact that parent company Alphabet (aka Google) has been marketing the heck out of it the past few years certainly hasn’t hurt, either.

There’s a lot going on with YouTube TV, and it’s pretty much only gotten better over time.

YouTube TV on Roku TV
Phil Nickinson/Digital Trends

What is YouTube TV?

In a nutshell, YouTube TV is a live TV streaming service that’s available in the United States. It’s a replacement for a cable or satellite service that’s streamed through the Internet, available on phones, tablets, TV, and web browsers, and it lets you watch TV pretty much as you always have, from anywhere you have an internet connection, at home or on the go.

YouTube TV was restricted to a relatively small number of locations in the United States when it launched in 2017. That changed in 2019 when a large expansion introduced support for all 210 markets. It has also greatly expanded its collection of channels over the years. YouTube TV now boasts more than 85 channels, including the four major national broadcasters — ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox. (Like all streaming services, what’s actually available where you live may vary a tad.)

Despite the name, YouTube TV is not a part of YouTube; Google operates them as separate entities. There are some areas where the two cross over, however, as is the case with YouTube Originals, which really just means you might end up seeing a few shows on both platforms. Nonetheless, YouTube TV is not YouTube, and you will need two apps on your streaming devices if you want to access both.

YouTube TV price and add-ons

The current YouTube TV price is $65 a month. (Plus tax, which takes things up closer to $72 a month.)

That’s not to say that’s all you’ll ever pay for YouTube TV, however. It has a number of optional add-ons that give you even more shows and movies and sports to watch — but of course you’ll pay extra.

Here are the optional add-ons available with YouTube TV:

  • 4K Plus ($20 a month after 1-month trial; $9.99 for the first year for early adopters): First made available in June 2021, 4K Plus allows you to watch some content on YouTube TV in 4K resolution. Mostly that means shows and series in on-demand form — things like What We Do In The Shadows, Struggle Meals, American Titans, Snowfall, and more. But where it really starts to shine is with live sports from networks like ESPN and NBC. 4K Plus also adds offline viewing of recorded shows, plus the ability to watch on as many devices as you want on your home network.
  • HBO Max ($15 a month): New HBO Max Originals and included networks, plus all the legacy HBO content you know and love.
  • NBA League Pass ($40 a month): Comes with a seven-day free trial.
  • Sports Plus ($11 a month): Includes NFL RedZone, BeIN Sports, Fox Soccer Plus, Stadium College Sports, VSiN, Outside TV+, PokerGO+, MAVTV, TVG, Stadium, GOLTV, Billiard TV, Sports Grid, and PlayersTV. Comes with a seven-day free trial.
  • Entertainment Plus ($30 a month): Includes HBO Max, Showtime and STARZ.
  • MLB.TV ($27 a season): Includes all out-of-market games.
  • Showtime ($11 a month): Premium movies and series. Comes with a 14-day free trial.
  • STARZ ($9 a month): Premium movies and series.
  • Hallmark Movies Now ($6 a month): All the movies and series you love from Hallmark. Comes with a seven-day free trial.
  • Cinemax ($10 a month): Premium movies and series. Comes with a seven-day free trial.
  • EPIX ($6 a month): Premium movies and series. Comes with a seven-day free trial.
  • STARZ+EPIX ($12 a month): Both add-ons, saving you $3 a month.
  • CuriosityStream ($3 a month): Science-type shows. Comes with a 14-day free trial.
YouTube TV channel listings

What can you watch YouTube TV on?

The short answer here is that if you’ve got a relatively modern phone, tablet, TV or computer, there’s a better than even chance that you’ll be able to use it to watch YouTube TV.

Mobile is easy — YouTube TV is available on Android (so long as it’s got access to Google’s apps), as well as on iPhones. That extends to tablets, too.

As more and more smart televisions employ their own operating systems and apps, YouTube TV has kept up with its availability. Native apps are available TVs from Samsung, LG, Vizio, Hisense, Sharp, and Sony. (And that includes anything that’s using Android TV as the operating system.)

Streaming media players are supported as well, and YouTube TV covers the gamut. It’s available on Roku and Amazon Fire TV, which takes care of the two most popular options in the world. YouTube TV also is available on Chromecast with Google TV, and other legacy Android TV devices like NVIDIA Shield. Apple TV also is supported.

Game consoles get love from YouTube, with the service available on Xbox One through the newer Xbox Series X and Series S lines. You also can watch YouTube TV natively on PlayStation 4, PS4 Pro, and on the newer PS5.

You also can watch YouTube TV in a web browser — so long as it’s not Safari. (YouTube TV works just fine in Chrome, of course, as well as in Firefox.)

And if you’re all about the connected home, it’s also easy to watch YouTube TV on the Google Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max.

YouTube TV and Roku

There’s been a bit of a flap between Roku and YouTube TV, which is sort of like David taking on Goliath. While it’s a bit of he said/she said, the gist is that both sides say the other is being unreasonable about things that don’t really have to do anything with your being able to watch the shows you want to watch on Roku. And the result is that Roku kicked the YouTube TV app off of its platform. (Or YouTube TV pulled it, depending on who you ask.)

All is not lost, however. YouTube TV rigged up a bit of a workaround that we’re honestly surprised Roku let stand. You can still watch YouTube TV on Roku devices — you’ll just have to do it through the YouTube app.

Otherwise, it still works exactly the same way.

YouTube TV features

The ability to watch the same TV channels you’ve always watched is the main feature of a streaming service like YouTube TV. But it’s hardly the only one. You’re also able to watch shows and movies on your own time. You’re able to have customized recommendations, which is a lot more fun than channel surfing. And that’s table stakes — YouTube TV is able to harness the power of Google Assistant and do some other crazy stuff.

Here’s a look at some of the best YouTube TV features you’ll definitely want to take advantage of.

Unlimited recordings

Out of all the features baked into YouTube TV, “Cloud DVR” stands out. And not just because it exists — pretty much every service has the capability to “record” a show or movie and allow you to play it back whenever you want. But most of the other services charge and extra fee for their Cloud DVR service, or at least for additional storage.

Google, on the other hand, gives unlimited recordings, all for free. So long as you keep your subscription, you keep your recordings for up to 9 months. That goes for shows, movies, and live sports and other events. And YouTube TV is smart about it. Most recordings extend 1 minute past their scheduled end time. Sporting events, by default, record an extra 30 minutes — and YouTube TV can even detect if things are going to run longer and extend things from there.

It’s also a true recording, meaning that ads are recorded as they were presented live — and that means you can fast forward right past them, if you want.

Multiple users and multiple devices

YouTube TV also is one of the most flexible options you’ll find. By default, you’re able to watch YouTube TV on up to three devices at the same time.

If you subscribe to the 4K Plus add-on, you’ll also get the benefit of unlimited streams while you’re using your home network.

YouTube TV also allows for up to six user profiles on a single account. That’s important because it affects show and movie recommendations. So you don’t have to see your kids’ recs, and they don’t have to see yours. YouTube TV is tied to your Google account, and the profiles will be available for up to five other family members as designated in your Google account.

On-demand

Many of the channels included with a YouTube TV subscription let you watch their shows after they initially air, on-demand. It can be a handy way to catch up on older episodes or seasons that aired before you started to record them using the DVR function. The difference between this and DVR is that you won’t be able to skip the commercials.

Voice control

YouTube TV has a cool feature if you own a Google Home speaker, like the Google Nest Mini, and use a Chromecast device to watch YouTube TV: You can use just your voice to control functions like selecting a TV channel to watch live, starting specific shows, recording a show, or using playback functions such as pause, resume, and rewind. Here’s how to set it up.

Picture-in-picture for mobile

One of the greatest things about mobile video apps is the ability to watch via picture-in-picture. If you’re using an Android or iOS device, you can continue to watch YouTube TV in a minimized window while working on something else in the foreground. It really is a game-changer.

Jump

This feature lets you jump to various segments within select news programs on YouTube TV. Similar to key plays view for sports, on some programs, you’ll be able to jump to specific news clips within the complete recording. This feature is available on TV apps now and will come to mobile devices soon.

Dark mode

Desktop and mobile YouTube TV experiences can choose a darker theme to help with eye strain.

Mark as watched

Select Mark as Watched on desktop and mobile devices for any TV show you’ve already seen.

YouTube TV on a Google Pixel phone.
YouTube TV is available on phones, tablets, in web browsers — and of course on a television. Phil Nickinson/Digital Trends

Viewing experience and 4K streaming

One of the coolest things about YouTube TV is that it’s one of the easiest streaming services to use. And it should be, given that it’s from the folks who also run the largest streaming video service on the face of the planet. (That’d be YouTube.)

You’ve got control over all sorts of things — including the streaming resolution. While 99% of the time you’re going to want to leave things on Auto, you also can downshift the streaming resolution if you want. That also makes it easy to see what’s streaming in 720p, or 1080p. A lot of the time it’s going to be the former, especially if it’s live sports at 60 frames per second. But we’re seeing more and more 1080p video, which is good.

YouTube TV also is one of the only first live streaming services in the United States to offer some live content in 4K resolution. (The other is FuboTV.) On the live end of things, you’ll find events from ESPN, Fox Sports, and NBC Sports. There’s also a little bit of on-demand fare available in 4K resolution, too. You’ll find 4K streams from Discovery, FX, Nat Geo, and Tastemade.

All in all, YouTube TV’s video is pretty comparable to other live services. You might get a lower resolution for a few seconds before the buffer fills out and hits max capacity. And it all depends on the strength of your home network, and speed of your ISP, in addition to however YouTube TV and its content providers are offering the show or movie or sport in the first place. There are a lot of moving parts here. It’s also important to note that 4K streaming isn’t available on every single piece of hardware. But to date, you’ll be able to get it on Chromecast with Google TV, 4K-capable Roku devices, the 2021 model of Apple TV 4K (the 2017 model will see improved resolution, but not the full 4K), Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, NVIDIA Shield, and 4K Android TV smart TVs.

YouTube TV channels

Generally speaking, YouTube TV has as competitive a slate of channels — both linear and nonlinear (that is, something other than what you might find on traditional cable TV) — as any of the other comparable offerings. That mostly means Hulu With Live TV, which is the only other streaming service with approximately as many subscribers as YouTube TV.

The devil, as always, is in the details. If YouTube TV has the channel you want, great! If it doesn’t, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. And that’s OK — it’s how competition works.

YouTube TV took a bit of a hit when it lost Sinclair-owned regional sports channels in October 2020. The thing is, so did most of the other streaming services.

Below, you’ll find a list of the channels available on the service as of September 2020. Here are all the YouTube TV channels as of September 2021. (There may be some differences depending on where you live.)

  • ABC
  • ABC News Live
  • ACC Network
  • AMC
  • Animal Planet
  • BBC America
  • BBC World News
  • BET
  • BET Her
  • BTN
  • Bravo
  • CBS
  • CBS Sports Network
  • CMT
  • CNBC
  • CNBC World
  • CNN
  • Cartoon Network
  • Cheddar News
  • Comedy Central
  • Comet TV
  • Court TV
  • Dabl
  • Discovery Channel
  • Disney Channel
  • Disney Junior
  • Disney XD
  • E!
  • ESPN
  • ESPN2
  • ESPNU
  • ESPNews
  • FS1
  • FS2
  • FX
  • FXM
  • FXX
  • Food Network
  • Fox
  • Fox Business
  • Fox News
  • Freeform
  • Galavision
  • Golf Channel
  • HGTV
  • HLN
  • ID
  • IFC
  • Local Now
  • MLB Network
  • MSNBC
  • MTV
  • MTV Classic
  • MTV2
  • MotorTrend
  • NBA TV
  • NBC
  • NBC News Now
  • NBCLX
  • NBCSN
  • NFL Network
  • Nat Geo
  • Nat Geo Wild
  • NewsNation
  • Nick Jr.
  • Nickelodeon
  • Nicktoons
  • OWN
  • Olympic Channel
  • Oxygen
  • PBS
  • PBS Kids
  • Paramount Network
  • Pop
  • QVC
  • SEC Network
  • SYFY
  • Smithsonian Channel
  • Start TV
  • Sundance TV
  • TBS
  • TLC
  • TNT
  • TV Land
  • TYT Network
  • Tastemade
  • TeenNick
  • Telemundo
  • Travel Channel
  • Turner Classic Movies
  • USA
  • UniMas
  • Universal Kids
  • Universo
  • Univision
  • VH1
  • WE tv
  • truTV

Our take

At $65 per month for over 85 live TV channels, YouTube TV is a good value for those seeking a total cable substitute. YouTube TV makes a very compelling case to be your cord-cutting tool of choice. Its access to YouTube Originals and its status as the only live streaming service to include PBS channels are highlights. Unlimited DVR storage is simply the icing on the cake. The fact that Google is behind the service is another reason we recommend giving this option a try. You can trust that Google will continue making updates if any problems crop up, and new features have already rolled out since the service’s debut. Besides, most mobile users are already familiar with YouTube as a standalone video app, so the learning curve is nonexistent.

In some ways, YouTube TV is one of the most mobile-friendly options since the viewing experience is so consistent across platforms and devices. But on the other hand, it requires Wi-Fi or 4G to work, meaning it lacks the offline capabilities of other options.

Cord cutters love YouTube because of the robust channel selection. You’ll need to comb through the full list of supported channels available in your area to know if it has what you’re looking for. If it does, YouTube TV might be all you need. If by chance, your favorite network is missing from the list and isn’t available as an add-on, you might want to turn your attention toward FuboTV, Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV, or AT&T TV Now.

A YouTube TV test run will help you decide if it’s the right fit for your needs. And thanks to Google’s one-week free trial, you can try it completely risk-free without having to hand over a month’s subscription cost to do it. Just make sure to register on your desktop computer via a web browser. If you attempt to sign up on Apple or even an Android device, you may miss out on the trial option because of a mobile glitch. We’re not sure if it’s intentional on Google’s part, but web browsers are a reliable way to start your free trial.

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