YouTube TV: What You Need To Know

Learn about YouTube's television streaming service for cord cutters

YouTube TV
YouTube TV lets you watch live and on-demand TV on your computer, smart TV, or even on your phone. David Malan / Photographer's Choice / Getty

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

how to sign up for youtube tv
Signing up for YouTube TV is easy if you have a Google or YouTube account, but watch out for a couple pitfalls. Screenshot

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.

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).

    Note: If you have a brand account, you will have to sign out and sign back in. The system will then allow you to proceed.
  4. Click LET'S GO.

    Note: 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.
  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.

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

YouTube TV Plans and Availability

youtube tv plans and availability
YouTube TV doesn't have a lot of complicated plans, but it is important to make sure that it will work where you live. Screenshot

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 a 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.

Note: 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
In addition to live television, YouTube TV includes ala carte add-ons. Screenshot

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 Red, which is a different subscription services that allows you to remove ads from normal YouTube videos.

While all YouTube Red shows are available on-demand from YouTube TV, signing up for YouTube TV is still separate from signing up for YouTube Red.

YouTube TV subscribers still see adds on normal YouTube videos and don't get access to Google Play Music All Access, which is a perk received by YouTube Red subscribers.

Watching Live Television on YouTube TV

watching live television on youtube tv
The main draw of YouTube TV is that it lets you watch live television on your computer or mobile device. Screenshot

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 device.

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?

YouTube TV On-Demand and DVR
YouTube TV does have both on-demand and DVR, but there are some limits. Screenshot

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 Red shows, 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.

    Note: Click Add (program name) to add it to your library and record future episodes.
  3. Click on the episode you want to watch, or click the + button on to add the show to your library.

Can You Rent Movies From YouTube TV?

rent movies on youtube tv
While YouTube TV doesn't have movie rentals, you can rent movies using the same account via YouTube Movies. Screenshot

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.

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