Cutting the Cord: Youtube TV Review

My wife and I moved from the San Francisco to Los Angeles which meant we had to say goodbye to Comcast Xfinity. In an effort to save some money ($50-$70 a month), we decided to give cable tv alternatives a test run. This is a review of the first internet TV providers that we tested, youtube tv.


We decided to try Youtube TV first because they know internet video better than any other company in the world. Moreover, I love google’s emphasis on simple and straight forward user interfaces. I thought this combination along with dedication to using one’s phone as the remote would lead to a fantastic service.


Channel Lineup

Youtube TV Lineup — 39 channels (with access to local sports) At press time most of coming soon networks are available.

The channel lineup is good; lots of sports (ESPN, Fox Sports, NBCSN, BTN), lots of news (MSNBC, FoxNews, BBC), good movie channels (FX, AMC), and great reality tv (Bravo). The channel lineup is one of the best available in the category.

Devices

The device lineup is complicated compared to traditional cable which, allows you to plug in a box, connect it to your tv, and click the power button. Youtube TV allows you to use many different devices to get your content to play on your television but you’ll need a smartphone, tablet, or computer to cast content and a smart tv with built in casting, chromecast, or apple tv (via air play). I tested with chromecast and an android. For more details on supported devices please refer to google’s support page.

The hardware options are nice but the delivery is not the best. While I enjoyed the mobile app, the connection between my device and chromecast is spotty and unreliable. Sometimes my phone loses it’s connection to the chromecast and the show continues to play. This requires you to unplug the chromecast if the chromecast icon doesn’t reappear in the upper right corner of the video frame on your casting device. I have been using it 1 week and I have already had to do this 3 times. Additionally, there are times that pressing pause doesn’t work and you just get a spinner in the pause/play button spot. Brass tacks; the hardware is not as reliable as cable.

Family Sharing

One of the best features of youtube tv is that you can share it with family and friends (up to 6 people). This is cool and I sent a few invites to my family.

Live TV

Browsing live programming and channel surfing is a very pleasant experience. The user interface is well organized for easy browsing. As you scroll through options, the top channel shown plays which allows you to peek in on the show and avoid navigating to programming that is currently on commercial break.

I like watching Skip and Shannon but don’t care about football, the peek feature helps me avoid segments I’m not interested in and commercials.

Recording content

Unfortunately, watching recorded content is not as easy and straightforward as watching live content. Beginning with recording content, this part of the process is relatively simple however, I did find it difficult to find event programmed in the future. One of the things that I like about traditional cable is that I can use the guide to look at content that is playing on a channel during the coming week and record your choices. This does not exist in the youtube offering. As a result, you have to add entire shows which given the unlimited DVR shouldn’t be a problem. Nonetheless the experience is somewhat challenging and makes content seem limited.

Fake DVR

Traditional cable allows you to record and fast forward through the ads. Youtube’s model is really unclear. I have watched “recorded shows” with no commercials (they’ve been removed), commercials, and with youtube style ads at commercial stops during the show (see picture below). When you play the shows there is no indication as to which category they will fall under. This is a huge let down. I don’t care about unlimited DVR if it isn’t actually DVR.


I’m not going to complain about commercials being removed from the programming. When that happened and the experience was the same as watching content on Netflix, I was a very happy customer.


Watching content with ads and the ability to “fast forward” is an awful experience. Youtube doesn’t provide you with the traditional 1x, 2x, 3x, fast forward option but rather a +15 seconds button. This makes for an awful commercial skipping experience. It requires 12 clicks for 3 minutes of commercials and these clicks can be a little bit laggy (perfect opportunity for chromecast to act up). Fast forwarding isn’t perfect but it allows you to handle commercial breaks with relative ease.


Watching content with youtube style ads is truly a second tier experience.

Im being force to watch youtube style ads during a show that I recorded :(

Finally, if you want to play a recording show there is no way to start it from the beginning. Instead you must start the show live and rewind (albeit by dragging the slider to the start of the program).

Verdict

Youtube TV is a good product for live tv on your computer and watching the occasional show via chromecast. To me, at $35 a month (after a free month trial) it is not worth it because I like to watch TV on my sofa not at my desk. Moreover, when I retire to my sofa for the evening to watch my favorite shows the last thing I want to do is deal with technical issues or have to hope that everything will work smoothly. At times it’s so cryptic and weird that it feels like my experiencing streaming The Office on my computer (via megaupload) and connecting it to my tv. However, rarely did I have connectivity issues when I was doing that. My point is that it just doesn’t feel like a good enough product to compete with traditional cable and all of the promises (good UI, unlimited dvr, family sharing, etc..) fell short. Give it a try for free and you can see for yourself but my guess is that you will agree with me if you are seeking a cable tv replacement.