We recently cut the cord with our cable provider (AT&T U-verse) and signed up with YouTube TV (YTTV) – one of Google’s streaming TV options. YouTube TV costs about half of what U-Verse does in our area. That’s its biggest advantage. So what are the pros and cons?
Without question, the biggest advantage is cost. If you already have wi-fi, there is only the subscription cost, which may be half of the cable or satellite subscription cost. It has all the major broadcast network channels – Fox, ABC, CBS, ABC, PBS – and all the major cable ones, too – ESPN, CNN, Hallmark etc. The lineup of channels can change, so check what’s currently being offered if you have a favorite cable channel.
The main screen shows three options: Home, Library, and Live in the center top. You will start with the Home option highlighted and you move to your choices with your remote. In the far upper right is an hourglass to search. The search function works well. I found I rarely need it. Library consists of your recorded shows. Select the Library button on the screen and then down the left side is a menu display. You can choose New in Your Library, scheduled, most watched, “shows”, and sports among the top options. The screen shots to the right of each option show you the shows available there. Once you select one, say New In your Library you move to the right, look at all recordings ordered from most recent on the left and choose one. It will show you screen shots of all the recordings (up to thirty days worth, I think) of that program. Recordings you’ve already watched are labeled as such. All are labeled with recorded time (e.g. “6 hours ago”). I find this a bit different, but no more cumbersome than choosing on U-verse. If the show is still being recorded, you are given the option of starting from the beginning or joining live. If you’ve paused a show or turned off the TV and come back to it, when you select it again, the icon on the selection screen will have a red line at the bottom to show how far in you’ve already watched, and it will start in the same place you left off.
It has a nice feature for sports coverage. For NFL and college football games it gives you the option of watching key plays either as a quick highlights reel after the game is over, or as we sometimes use it, to catch up to live action. For example, we usually record a game and only start watching it a half hour or hour after it has begun. That’s usually so we can fast forward through the time outs, ads, etc. If a game gets too one-sided or dull for any reason, or if we just don’t have time to watch an entire game, we can select the watch key plays to catch up to live time and then watch the end of the game in live time. I don’t know if it has this feature for other sports. Another really nice sports feature is that you can just name a team you follow and it will record all broadcasts, regardless of channel. You no longer have to look up the schedules and channels. This is true for all pro sports, I think, and for Division I college football at least. I don’t know if this feature is available for non-sports, like following a favorite actor or singer.
For the Live option, the menu set up is similar, with a list of channels on the left and on each line a display of screen shots as to what’s playing now and in the next few time slots. It’s pretty straightforward, although a bit more cumbersome to choose than on cable where you just press channel up/down or enter the channel number on the remote.
The picture quality is generally excellent. There are occasional pixellated strips that go across the screen fleetingly. This used to happen with cable and with both our current and previous TV, so I suspect the problem is with the network feed or our wi-fi provider (U-verse), not YouTube TV.
Probably the biggest negative is that you may need a new TV. Our old Samsung smart TV was one generation too early and couldn’t run it. We bought a new Samsung television just to be able to make the switch. We figure we’ll earn the cost back through savings in less than a year and have a bigger, newer television to boot. Be sure to check with YTTV’s website for the model you want to use. Another irritation is that there is a lot more buffering of the signal than on cable. I don’t think it’s a router speed problem because U-verse used the same router, although I suppose AT&T may give preferential bandwidth to their own service over Google’s. More likely, the problem is on Google’s end. I find the picture freezes while buffering sometimes, too, and won’t unfreeze unless I press rewind or fast forward. This can be irritating and interrupts the flow of a program. It seems to happen more with recorded live shows, especially ones where we’re catching up to live time.
The most noticeable shortcoming for me is the way it fast forwards or reverses. Unlike cable where you can see a more or less continuous stream of speeded up video as you scroll forward or back, with YTTV you get only still screen shots every fifteen seconds of recording. At times you only get a black screen, so you can’t tell whether you’ve reached the point you are seeking. On the plus side, though, the timing is precise per click so that I’ve learned how many clicks it takes to get to the right point for most ad breaks and between football plays. It’s often faster than cable scrolling for some shows, but overall it’s easier scrolling on cable.
Accessing closed captioning is slower and clunkier than with cable. On my old cable remote a single button would turn closed captions on or off. With YTTV you have to push buttons at least four times, assuming you remember the correct sequence. The exact sequence depends on the app, i.e. YTTV, Netflix, Prime, or your television manufacturer or sometimes whether the show is dubbed or pre-captioned by the producer. It’s slower starting up YTTV, at least on the model of TV I have. Samsung does not ship with the YTTV app installed, at least my model didn’t have it. I had to go to the app store (it’s an Android based system) and download the free app. Samsung installed it along with a whole row of other pre-loaded apps, e.g. Netflix, Prime, Hulu, etc. along the bottom of the home screen. The only problem is that it’s not visible unless you scroll all the way to the right. Samsung does not allow you to delete any of those other apps, even though you don’t use or want them, nor can you shift positions of the icons around. So every time I turn on the TV I have to wait several seconds for the boot up process, then scroll all the way to the right, past a dozen or so icons, until I get to YouTube TV at the far right end, then select it. This is not exactly Google’s fault, although I’d bet that if they paid Samsung what Netflix and Hulu do, they could get a better spot on the home screen and have it pre-installed.
Another feature some people might or might not like is that YTTV features alternate services to the one you prefer. For example, we normally watch NBC Nightly News through our local NBC station. We have that on regular record and YTTV does record it just fine. But when you go to recorded shows and select that choice, it displays first NBC News Now, which is a streaming service, not the regular over-the-air broadcast signal. That is a prepackaged set of stories recorded in an earlier edition of the news using only the national feed. I can still choose the local station one icon off to the right, but it seems to me that should be the first choice. The advantage of the local one is that it’s more current by an hour or three since I’m on the west coast and the News Now service is mostly taken from the east coast version of the news. Also, if there is a breaking local story important enough, the local station version will have broken into the national feed only on the local station feed, not the pre-recorded News Now. Similarly the PBS station feed on YTTV is from a station hundreds of miles away instead of the local one. However, I think the News Now or similar news streaming services have fewer ads, although I can’t guarantee that and you may or may not be able to fast forward through them. Some ad breaks even on Amazon Prime shows are now non-skippable, but it may happen on YTTV network shows.
In short, navigation in general is more cumbersome than with cable and you are dependent on being able to retrieve streaming content quickly from the cloud instead of your local DVR. None of these drawbacks has made me regret the choice to switch, but there is a learning curve.