In the spring of 2017, Google introduced YouTube TV. The name confuses a lot of people, who associate YouTube with user-uploaded (often amateurish) videos, but despite the name, YouTube TV is a completely different thing. Think of it as a cable TV alternative. It’s a subscription service that gives you all (or most) of your local TV channels, plus a lot of popular cable networks — all over the internet. No satellite or cable TV equipment required.
In the beginning, it was rolled out on a market-by-market basis, as local TV channels were signed-up. It came to us in San Diego in September of 2017.
YouTube TV Is A Cord Cutter’s Dream
Like everyone else, we were getting really tired of paying more and more all the time for cable TV to the point where I’d decided to look into options for “cutting the cord” in the summer of 2017, so the timing of YouTube TV’s arrival couldn’t have been better.
I was quick to sign-up for their free trial.
Among the selling points, YouTube TV provides all of the significant local TV channels, plus a range of cable networks. Another great feature is the “cloud DVR,” which essentially acts like a traditional DVR on steroids. It allows you to record any number of programs simultaneously and comes with unlimited storage. Together, the package sounded too-good-to-be-true for $35/mo. (the price has since increased to $40/mo, but we were grandfathered in at the original rate).
YouTube TV’s Channel Selection
The channels available vary by where you live (based on licensing agreements with the providers) but generally include all of the major broadcast & cable networks. You can check to see which channels YouTbe TV offers in your market on this page. Just scroll down, and enter your zip code.
My Personal Feelings About YouTube TV’s Channel Selection
If you’re a sports junkie, you’re going to love this. The channel lineup has more sports-related channels than I ever knew existed.
However, as someone who’s not a 24/7 sports addict (I only care about my Chargers, for the most part), much of that’s wasted on me.
My wife and I miss Food Network, and all of the other Discovery Channels (like HGTV, Travel Channel, Animal Planet, and the Science Channel). For some reason, Google opted to not negotiate a licensing deal with Discovery, focusing on sports, instead.
It would really be nice if we could choose the current “Sports bundle,” or a “Non-Sports bundle” that included Discovery’s channels instead.
Also missing is PBS, but I understand they’re a hold-out with a lot of the new streaming TV services.
YouTube TV’s “Cloud DVR”
In the beginning, that DVR functionality was fairly questionable (and frankly, confusing). The way it worked, originally, was that the list of recorded shows initially showed the DVR recording, but as soon as the source network released a video-on-demand (VOD) version, that replaced the recorded version. The problem with that was that you can’t skip commercials in the on-demand versions.
In other words, it acted like a “real” DVR for a period of hours, to days (depending on the network), at which point the ability to skip commercials vanished, and you were stuck with something that usually didn’t seem like it was worth paying for.
WIthin the past few weeks though, Google’s been working towards a “true DVR-like” experience, where the recordings remain available for nine months, and won’t be randomly replaced by on-demand versions.
As of this writing, CBS seems to be among the few hold-outs.
Another thing I really like about their Cloud DVR is that there are no limits on how many shows or episodes you can record. With our old cable TV DVR, we could only record two shows at once, so this is a lot less restrictive.
Other than that, it’s reliable but has a few “quirks.”
For instance, when skipping ahead, the only option is 15-second increments. Most traditional DVRs use 30-second increments for a reason.
Another odd design flaw is that when you go into a recorded show, the default view is “recently recorded,” which is useless if you’re catching up on old episodes. Sure, you can switch to the appropriate tab, but that’s an extra step. It would be nice if they’d remember your last view & stick with it until you change views again.
And this one has to be (without a doubt in my mind) a bug that they never seem to fix.
When you enter the list of recorded episodes for any given show, sometimes those episodes are listed in chronological order, and other times, it’s reverse-chronological order, with no apparent rhyme or reason:
In other words, when you’re binge-watching a series, sometimes you start at the bottom, and with other series, you start at the top?
YouTube TV’s Multiple Accounts Per Household Needs Improvement
When I first signed-up, this sounded like a pretty nifty feature, but we’re finding it to be a lot less useful than expected.
I’m the primary account owner for YouTube TV and added my wife as a family member. We each get our own DVR, which on the surface, sounds great.
The overwhelming majority of shows we record, we watch together and thought it would be nice to grab whichever device is close-by and use that to run the show. However, for some reason, they didn’t create a “shared” DVR view. If we watch an episode of a show using my device one night and happen to grab hers the next, there’s no indication that we’d watched anything the night before.
Worse, she has to also add that show to her recording list, as you’d expect from two different physical DVRs, but since this is a virtual DVR in the cloud, you think they would have created shared shows in the library?
It would be ideal if we could create a “shared” DVR list.
Personally, we watch using our Chromecasts, which are actually ideal, since we use our phones (or tablets) instead of a remote.
But Chromecast isn’t the only way to watch, of course, if you love squinting, you can watch on your phone or tablet, but there are a ton of other options. You can check out their full list of supported devices here.
YouTube TV Works Great With Google Assistant
As you’d expect, the integration between Google services is pretty impressive (check-out my original post about our Google Home). While I still like using the app to find the show I’d like to watch, I’ve gotten lazy, telling my Google Home, “Hey, Google, pause the TV.”
My Conclusion About Google TV
Even if I were paying the full (current) price of $40/mo, I’d say it’s a solid deal. The reliability of the streaming has been second-to-none, the “unlimited” cloud DVR lets me record anything without worrying about space, there’s no wiring (or dish) required, and no physical DVR to take-up space.
In fact, it really plays-into my whole “digital minimalism” fascination.
And, since there’s no contract (you can cancel & re-subscribe any time), it’s really risk-free, and saves us a ton of money compared to cable.