Why I chose YouTube TV over the other live TV streaming services

Why I chose YouTube TV over the other live TV streaming services

YouTube TV viewed on a TV, laptop and phone.

Image: Google

TV used to be so simple. And expensive. Each channel came through a single box, and each month the cable company added a bunch of mysterious surcharges to their bill, turning what started as a reasonable tariff into an eye-popping budget-buster. But we paid for it, because there really was no other option.

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Fortunately, the cable companies have finally lost their monopoly. But the alternative is a confusing menu of services that add up to… well, almost as much as one of those old cable bills, if you’re not careful.

Your smart TV or streaming device can handle independent streaming services such as Netflix and HBO max and Apple TV+but things get more complicated when you want to replace things that used to be delivered over the coaxial cable.

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When I moved to Atlanta last year, I was determined to replace my cable subscription with something simpler, cheaper, and better. I succeeded, but it took more work than I expected.

How I chose

These days, you have many options for your cable company, as long as you have a high-speed Internet connection. If you only want to watch movies and premium series, like Ted Lasso and Game of Thrones, you can build your own a la carte series. But things get more complicated when you want to add basic cable networks, local over-the-air channels and regional sports networks.

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If these options are on your wish list, you need an online service that can replace your previous cable company. Fortunately, there are plenty of services that promise to do just that, and ZDNET has already done the job of compiling the available choices.

I’m not an extreme sports fan, so my must-have list was pretty modest: A robust selection of basic channels that includes all the cable news networks; access to local channels of major broadcast networks, including PBS; the ability to stream on more than one device at a time; and a reasonable amount of DVR storage.

My research led to a list of the same six services, but my final choice was a bit of a surprise.

The coup cellar

I started with the two cheapest options. Philo promises 60 channels for just $25 a month, while Sling TV (ZDNET’s pick as “Best Live TV Streaming Service Overall”) has a slightly more complicated pricing structure, with packages ranging from $35 to $50 per month.

It only took me about two minutes to cross Philo off the list. That list of 60 channels does not include any of the big three cable news networks: CNN, MSNBC or Fox News. As much as I love BBC World News, it can’t really fill in for an audience of Americans like me. And Philo also doesn’t include any local channels or regional sports networks, which means no weekend sports. It also only offers stereo sound (all the other streaming services on this list include 5.1 surround sound.) I’ll pass.

Also: I will never install the two smart devices in my house

Sling TV, on the other hand, was appealing enough to warrant a one-month trial. I signed up $35 a month Sling Blue package, which is considered “good for entertainment and news.” (The first month’s price is half off, so I only paid $17.50.) Channel selection is solid, with top-tier basic cable channels like CNN and its peers; it also includes plenty of DVR space.

Alas, my Sling TV experiment didn’t even last a full month. That price is discounted for a reason: Sling doesn’t offer local TV channels in most cities. (In my hometown, Sling only offers the local Fox affiliate, but no NBC, CBS, ABC, or PBS.) There’s a workaround: Buy AirTV unit and an over-the-air antenna, and use the Sling TV interface to view and record these broadcast channels.

I might have been willing to go through that trouble, but one glitch in the Sling TV interface was enough to kick them off my shortlist. Like many people, I often record an hour-long program and then start watching about 20 minutes after the live broadcast begins. It allows me to skip the commercials and follow the live broadcast towards the end. Unfortunately, Sling TV’s interface has a bug that deleted the recording if you made the mistake of selecting the show from the live listing instead of from the DVR page. After missing two episodes of a favorite nightly show due to this error, I canceled my Sling TV trial.

So much for the cheap options.

The almost cable option

DirecTV Stream (formerly known as AT&T TV Now) is the closest thing to a cable network without actually requiring a coaxial cable. And despite the legacy, no satellite dish is needed either; this is pure over-the-top service.

Like cable companies, DirecTV Stream offers packages that start at a pricey $70 a month and go all the way to a cable-worthy $150 a month; you can get $20 off for the first two months and I also found a few deals on free premium channels for two or three months. The basic entertainment package will probably suit my needs and even includes the CSPAN and CSPAN2 networks, which are not on any other streaming service.

I might be tempted to try the free five-day trial, but there’s a big red flag attached to the offer: If you want to cancel, you can’t do it online. Instead, you will need to call and speak to a DirecTV representative. I was already reeling, but it was enough to wave me away. No thanks.

The premium plans

The remaining three services all have similar price tags and roughly similar channel lineups, with all offering local channels as part of the package.

My first stop was Hulu + Live TV, which offers an unusual package that requires bundling the live channels with the Hulu/Disney+/ESPN+ package. From December 2022, the total price will increase from $70 or $76 (the latter upgrading the subscription to ad-free Hulu) to $75 and $83, respectively. If you were already paying $14 or $20 for a Hulu or Hulu ad-free package, that makes the additional price for live TV $61 or $63. If you can do without the Hulu part of the package, the new price as of December is $69 a month, which is higher than the competition.

The Hulu interface mixes live TV with all the other Hulu content, making things more cluttered than the alternatives. From a usability perspective, I found it acceptable, but a bit confusing. Anyway, the price is wrong, so let’s move on.

The slogan for FuboTV is “watch live sports and TV without cable.” That’s a pretty accurate description, not surprising as this network started out as a service designed to deliver European soccer to a sports-hungry overseas audience (fútbol, ​​Fubo, get it?). The $70 per month package includes 135 channels, with a truly impressive collection of sports-related content. The user interface and DVR functions are smooth and clean.

The winner

Finally I settled down YouTube TV, which offers a simple yet sophisticated user experience and probably has the easiest, cleanest, and fastest option for commercial skipping of all the services I tried: Press the Fast Forward button to jump forward 15 seconds, with a freeze-frame thumbnail showing you exactly where you have landed. Need to skip ahead two minutes? Press that button eight times and you’re there. It also has the best image quality of any of its rival services, although that’s a purely subjective assessment on my part.

At $65 a month, YouTube TV is $5 cheaper than most of its premium competitors, and T-Mobile subscribers like me can get an extra $10 a month off the price tag. There is an option to pay an additional $20 each month for a limited amount of 4K programming, which also includes the ability to download DVR programs for offline viewing on mobile devices. After trying that option, I realized I wasn’t using it and turned it off.

YouTube TV costs less than the competition and includes access to my two local PBS stations, a feature that neither Hulu + Live TV nor FuboTV offers. That detail was enough to finally seal the deal for me.

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