YouTube TV: What You Need to Know

All about YouTube's television streaming service for cord cutters

Hand holding phone in train station with YouTube TV on the screen

David Malan / Getty Images

YouTube TV is an online streaming service that allows subscribers to watch live television on computers, phones, and other compatible devices. It requires a high-speed internet connection, and it's basically a convenient replacement for cable television for people who are looking to cut the cord.

The biggest difference between YouTube TV and cable television is that YouTube TV is much less complicated in terms of subscription plans. The single YouTube TV subscription option comes with a selection of major network and basic cable channels, and then you can pay extra for additional channels on an a la carte basis.

YouTube TV is available in most major metropolitan areas in the United States, but the availability of broadcast network television channels like Fox and ABC is limited based on geographical location. This means that you actually get to watch your local channels on YouTube TV, but they will become unavailable if you travel outside the area.

While YouTube TV is a direct replacement for cable and satellite television it also has several competitors that also offer live television streaming. Sling TV, Vue from PlayStation and DirecTV Now all offer similar services, although they differ on many of the specifics. CBS All Access is another competitor, but it only provides live television from CBS.

For anyone who isn't looking to watch live television, streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video all offer on-demand streaming of television shows that have aired previously, in addition to movies and original content.

How to Sign Up for YouTube TV

Animation of how to sign up for youtube tv

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

Signing up for YouTube TV is a very easy process, and there's even a free trial, so you can kick the proverbial tires before committing to a monthly charge.

Before you sign up, it's important to note that there is one problem you may encounter if you already have a Google or YouTube account. If your YouTube account is connected to Google+, you may have what they call a brand account, which can't sign up for YouTube TV.

While people with these accounts can still sign up for YouTube TV, there is an additional step involved.

If you have a brand new account, you will have to sign out and sign back in. The system will then allow you to proceed.

To sign up for YouTube TV:

  1. Navigate to tv.youtube.com.
  2. Click TRY IT FREE.
  3. If prompted to select a Google account, choose the one you want to use for YouTube TV (this will not happen if you only have one account).
  4. Click LET'S GO.
  5. Click NEXT.
  6. Select any add-on networks you would like to subscribe to and click NEXT.
  7. Enter your credit card and billing information and click BUY.

YouTube TV determines your location based on your IP address during this step. If it thinks you live in an area where the service isn't available, click I DON'T LIVE HERE. This will allow you to check service where you live, but you won't be able to sign up until you're at home.

If you don't cancel within the trial period, your credit card will be charged.

YouTube TV Plans and Availability

Youtube tv unavailability screen

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

Unlike cable television and many other live television streaming services, YouTube TV is very simple and easy to understand. There is only one subscription package, and it includes 40+ channels, so there aren't any complicated options to stress out over.

When you sign up, you get a list of all the channels that are included in the subscription. If you don't see a channel, that means it either isn't available in your area, or it just isn't included in the basic package.

How Many Shows Can You Watch at Once With YouTube TV?

Streaming services like YouTube TV limit the number of shows, or streams, that you can watch at the same time. Some services limit you to one show unless you pay for a more expensive subscription package.

YouTube TV specifically limits the number of devices that you can stream to at once. However, since there is only one subscription option, you can stream to multiple devices without paying extra.

What Internet Speed is Required to Watch YouTube TV?

YouTube TV requires a high-speed internet connection, but the specifics are a little more complicated. For instance, a slower speed will result in lower picture quality, and you may experience buffering where the stream stops for a while intermittently.

According to YouTube, you need:

  • 3+ Mbps for standard definition video.
  • 7+ Mbps to stream a single high definition show if no other devices are using the network.
  • 13+ Mbps to stream shows in high definition if other devices are using the same network.

If you aren't sure how fast your connection is, check out our guide to testing your internet speed.

YouTube TV Add-Ons and Special Features

YouTube TV Add-ons and Special Features

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

Like most other live television streaming services, YouTube TV offers a number of add-ons. The situation is a little less complicated with YouTube TV though, as the add-ons come in the form of single channels instead of larger packages.

This allows you to select the specific channels you want, like Fox Sports Soccer for live soccer, or Shudder for horror movies, without paying for channels you might not watch.

The other difference between YouTube TV and other streaming services is that YouTube actually produces its own original content. These shows are normally available via YouTube Premium, which is a different subscription service that allows you to remove ads from normal YouTube videos.

While all YouTube Premium original shows and movies are available on-demand from YouTube TV, signing up for YouTube TV is still separate from signing up for YouTube Premium.

YouTube TV subscribers still see ads on normal YouTube videos, YouTube Music videos, YouTube Gaming videos, and don't get access to Google Play Music All Access, which are all perks received by YouTube Premium subscribers.

Watching Live Television on YouTube TV

Animation of watching live television on youtube tv

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

The whole point of YouTube TV is that it allows you to watch live television without a cable subscription or an antenna, and it lets you do so on your computer, TV, phone, or other compatible devices.

If you have a compatible smart TV, you can watch YouTube TV directly on your television, and you can also cast to your TV from a mobile device if you have the right equipment.

With that in mind, watching live television on YouTube TV is extremely easy:

  1. From the YouTube TV home screen, click LIVE.
  2. Mouse over or click the channel you want to watch. This will provide more information about the show that is currently on the air and the show that will come on next.
  3. Click the show you want to watch.

Since YouTube TV allows you to watch live television, you can expect to watch the same exact commercials you would see if you watched the same channel on broadcast or cable television.

However, you can pause live television on YouTube TV, and there's also a digital video recorder (DVR) feature. This is great for watching live sports, like streaming NFL games, since it allows you to pause and re-watch the action.

Does YouTube TV Offer On-Demand or DVR?

Animation of YouTube TV On-Demand and DVR

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

In addition to live television, YouTube TV also lets you watch an assortment of on-demand TV shows and DVR functionality to record shows that you're interested in.

On-Demand and DVR functionality is available for YouTube Originals, like Mind Field from Vsauce, in addition to shows from your favorite networks and cable channels.

If you want to watch an on-demand episode or set up YouTube TV to record your favorite shows, that process is also very easy.

  1. Locate a show on the YouTube TV home screen, or search for a show by clicking on the magnifying glass.
  2. Click Go to (program name) for more information.
  3. Click on the episode you want to watch, or click the + button on to add the show to your library.

Click Add (program name) to add it to your library and record future episodes.

Can You Rent Movies From YouTube TV?

Movies to rent on youtube tv

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

While you can't rent movies directly from YouTube TV, YouTube already had a movie rental service in place before YouTube TV was launched. So if you have a YouTube TV subscription, you can use the same login information, and stored credit card billing data, to rent movies from YouTube.

To rent a movie from YouTube:

  1. From the YouTube home page, scroll down until you see YouTube Movies on the left side of the page.
  2. Click YouTube Movies.
  3. Locate the movie you want to rent, and click on it.
  4. On the right side of the preview video, click the From $X.xx button.
  5. Choose the video quality you prefer.

You also have the option to buy the movie at this time.