For the past couple of weeks I’ve been playing with the free month of YouTube TV. This is a streaming “cable alternative” for cord cutters, currently going for $35 a month. Live streaming TV services don’t interest me, as I find watching shows on Hulu+ the next day perfectly acceptable, but YouTube TV includes our regional sports network, Comcast Sports Net — theoretically this means I could watch Phillies games live. More on that later.
There are some things about YouTube TV which I find are well done.
YouTube TV allows users to search for a show and then set it to auto-record. Any time a new episode airs, then, it’s automatically added to the user’s library. As I expressed earlier, I’m fine waiting until the next day to watch shows on Hulu+, but this is a cloud DVR done right.
YouTube TV also has a number of on demand movies and shows available for streaming, often with little or no ads. This is actually allowing me to watch season 3 of Star Wars Rebels during my free month. There’s also a number of movies in the library I can’t find in other streaming services. The on demand library isn’t huge, but it’s growing and seems to be well-curated.
YouTube TV allows users to add accounts for other members of the household 1. Each of these users gets their own cloud DVR and can stream their own content. I’ve currently set up my son and I with accounts and it seems to work fairly well. I actually like this better than the way Netflix or Hulu handles profiles, as the accounts really are separate 2.
Users are able to to shutter their accounts at any time, without penalty. This is a wonderful break from cable companies and their insane contracts. As a bonus, any user who keeps their account past the free month will be given a free Chromecast, which is sent as soon as the first payment is billed to a credit card. As a Chromecast is $35, and I’ve been looking to upgrade my first generation model, I’ll probably keep it for at least one extra month.
Stuff I don’t like
YouTube TV is a new service, so there’s bound to be issues while they work out the kinks.
This isn’t entirely true. The interface for YouTube TV works very well on a desktop system, but I almost never watch shows or movies on my MacBook.
My iPad Pro is my entertainment device of choice, and the interface for YouTube TV on an iPad is horrible. It’s clearly a scaled up phone app, as the main UI cannot be rotated into portrait mode. Its frustrating to have to launch a show from portrait mode, and then be forced to to turn off rotation lock and rock the device to have content to fill the iPad screen. This really needs to be addressed.
Where’s The Grid?
A live streaming service is pretty much the definition of “appointment TV.” Unfortunately, a traditional “grid view” of current and upcoming content doesn’t seem to be part of YouTube TV’s setup. This makes setting up future appointments for watching a live show more difficult than it should be.
I mentioned streaming Phillies games in my introduction, and this is true. As long as the games are away, that is. When I attempted to watch a home game on my both iPad and MacBook I was given a blackout warning. YouTube cites differences in the rules which live sports streaming over ordinary programming as the cause. This is true, but it’s example of how sports broadcasts are killing innovation. If I was able to watch games live, I might consider keeping YouTube TV for a couple of months just to enjoy my local team, but I guess that’s not going to happen.
Infuriatingly, one of my Facebook friends seems to be exempt from these blackouts on his Android phone.
No “Remember where I left off”
I’m spoiled by all the streaming services I’ve used. But being able to stop watching a program to do something else, and then pick up from that spot later on, is how these services should work. YouTube TV doesn’t seem to have this feature, and it’s strange omission.
No Picture In Picture
YouTube’s iOS app is notorious for limiting the picture-in-picture feature to YouTube Red subscribers. Sadly, YouTube TV also lacks this feature. I have a feeling its omission stems from its “scaled up phone app” nature, however, so I’d be shocked if it didn’t show up in an update soon.
YouTube TV has a good line up of networks 3, and a growing on demand library. The price isn’t bad, but the interface needs some serious work on tablets and the continued presence of archaic blackouts make it a bit frustrating.
Still, YouTube TV is closer to the future of live TV than a traditional cable package. It’s worth checking out.
- As long as they live under the same roof. I’m assuming this includes college students. ↩
- I’ve still got shows show up in my recommendations which reflect the viewing habits of other family members. ↩
- Though the line up changes as users move from region to region. During a recent trip to New England, for example, both NBC and FOX were relegated to “on demand only.” This can take some getting used to. ↩