Initial Reactions to YouTube TV: The Best Replacement for Cable TV
But First, Some Back StoryI’ve been a Sling subscriber on and off since 2016. I joined for the price mostly, as the no-contract, and no-haggling $30 price was hard to beat compared to Time Warner Cable. At the time, Sling was just about the only game in town offering an alternative to traditional cable and satellite. Sure, you don’t get locals, but an antenna works just fine, and even has better audio/video quality than cable, so I could deal with that to receive cable channels.
I like to think of Sling as a no-frills service. It works well enough, but there are some quirks to get used to coming from traditional cable. The biggest one for sure is its DVR. At the time, the only way to get DVR was to pay an extra $5 a month for 50 hours of storage that never deletes unless it needs to for space. Now DVR is included with less space for free, and you pay if you want more space. Fine, however not all channels include rewinding and pausing live TV. Even worse, when you’ve rewound a live program and a commercial happens, you’re stuck in that commercial without the ability to fast forward; A major inconvenience coming from a traditional DVR. Luckily with DVR playback, you can fast forward through commercials, but that doesn’t inspire confidence to those not used to the service.
I like having the Viacom channels in my lineup, so that limits my search for alternative cable services. I have used AT&T TV Now, Philo, and Spectrum’s streaming service, and have a few issues with them. Spectrum’s service lacks the DVR feature, at least it did when I was using it, so that’s out, not to mention their deceptive pricing which increases after a year. Philo is nice because it allows for starting over any show, meaning you can pause and rewind at any point and record as much as you want, and while the price is nice, the lineup is too thin for my liking. AT&T TV Now offers no pausing of live TV, so I passed on that (not to mention AT&T sucks). Which leaves out Hulu with Live and YouTube TV because they didn’t have the Viacom channels.
And Now, Let’s Talk About YouTube TVSince the introduction of YouTube TV, Viacom’s channels were from the service, at least that was until a few days ago when Viacom announced they had reached a deal with Google to add them “in the summer,” whenever that is, but that’s good enough for me. After reading this, I immediately started a free trial because I have heard nothing but great things about the service, and I could easily see why.
First let’s talk about the local channels. Sling in my area offers zero local channels, which is pain. It either means I need to buy an AirTV box to get locals to integrate into the Sling guide with an antenna, or I need to keep locals separate in another TV input or service. Using another service or input simply means that local channels and cable channels exist in two different universes, and that is not convenient or easy to explain to anyone trying to watch TV. So when I bought the AirTV, I was disappointed to find that the audio/video quality of the stream is not on par with the Sling cable channels. It’s horribly compressed, especially considering how good it can look compared to just plugging in the antenna into the TV. Also, the tuner is extremely sensitive: things that came in through the TV’s tuner wouldn’t come in on the AirTV, or would have issues coming in that were otherwise strong, and even with both my Roku and AirTV connected through Ethernet, lag was a near 100% chance of occurring. Simply put, having locals just there on the YouTube TV guide without me needing to troubleshoot anything was a breath of fresh air. No fiddling with the rabbit ears, no frustration with lag, it just works, and it works well.
The second breath of fresh air came with the DVR. As I said above, Sling’s DVR forces you to think about how to use it. You can’t pause live TV and fast forward through commercials, if the channel you’re on even allows for pausing live TV, which most don’t (except for seemingly only the Viacom channels coincidentally). You also can’t pause and rewind live TV with the AirTV, a device you have to pay $99 for, excluding the price of an external hard drive, something the rest of competition allows for. This is not an issue with YouTube TV. Just pause the show, any show, and it behaves like a traditional DVR. A DVR with unlimited storage where the only limit being recordings expire after 9 months, which doesn’t concern me. There are so many things that just work, I sometimes forget that I can just use the service and not think about it.
Other nice features of YouTube TV that may not be unique, but are upgrades coming from Sling are customizable profiles where each user gets their own DVR, recommendations, and can remove channels from their guide and even adjust the order of the channels. Plus, Sling feels outdated compared to YouTube TV. Sling has essentially kept the same UI since I started using it in 2016. Sure, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but certainly a fresh coat of paint wouldn’t hurt, and YouTube TV feels very fresh.
There are a few things I would change. One being the addition of a “jump to live” button. I’m used to just pressing the OK button to see information about what I’m watching, but this pauses the show. This makes sense with a platform like Android TV where there is no pause button, but there is pause button on a Roku remote, so this behavior is jarring, and causes a disruption in what I’m watching. I’m sure on shows and movies, most people don’t care about fast-forwarding to live to not miss anything, but with sports or something else where you want to skip ahead quickly, it would be nice for that to be a button. I’d also like to see the current time in the guide and in the info panel while watching content.