Have you considered cutting the cable cord? Replacing the cable box and all the channels that came with the "bundle," many of which you don’t really watch anyway, with various Internet streaming services? It sounds like a great idea, one that will reduce the monthly cable bill. But it turns out that by the time you put it all together—the movies, local programming, sports, etc. you may reach the cost of the original cable service. Or just get so bewildered by it all that you’re ready to tie the cord back together again.
YouTube TV may offer a quick, economical solution. For a flat rate of $65 a month, YouTube TV offers 85 broadcast and program networks. There's no contract, you pay by the month, and a 7- or 14- day free trial lets you check out the networks and programming offered and the accessibility features on your device.
Getting started was relatively simple from tv.youtube.com using an existing Google username and password. After logging in, a prompt appeared for the 14-day free trial and a link to select additional add-ons to the basic $65 package. Add-ons ranged from $3/month for Curiosity Stream to $14.99/month for HBO Max with over 11 other premium services in between.
Once you’re registered, YouTube TV is available wherever you have access to high-speed internet, so you can dump the cable box and the associated bill, and just keep the high-speed internet. YouTube TV is available through a web browser, or an app on the computer, smartphone, or tablet. You can also download an app for your Apple TV or another Smart TVs that has internet access. Regardless of which device you’re using, the user interface has many of the same elements, so it’s easy to pick up another device and find what you’re looking for.
Finding Your Programs
Regardless of device, the three main sections are: Home, Library, and Live. The Home page features new shows, movies, and add-ons. The Library page includes shows that you’ve added, purchased, or recorded for viewing at a later time. The Live page is a schedule of what is currently playing on each network and a schedule of what’s coming up next. It appears in a grid pattern with each network appearing as a row going across the columns showing the time and name of the various programs.
From the Live page, a program can be viewed by selecting it from the grid and viewing it as a live stream or adding it to the Library as a recorded selection that can be accessed later from the Library.
For this review, I accessed YouTube TV from the web using the Chrome browser, on an Android phone using the YouTube TV app downloaded from the Google Play Store, and on an Apple TV using an app downloaded from the app store. All of the apps were free. When opening YouTube TV from both the web and the Apple TV, a preview immediately began playing, which made it difficult to hear the screen readers—Narrator on Windows, and VoiceOver on the Apple TV. As I became more familiar with the layout, this became less of an issue, but I never discovered a way to turn off the preview volume. It was a relief to find no preview playing when the app opened on the Android phone, which made it easier to navigate with TalkBack.
The overall layout on the wider screen devices—the PC and the Apple TV—offered a much better view of the upcoming schedule visually and with a screen reader. Once a network, like PBS, was selected, tabbing or swiping to the right moved across the programming for the next several hours. On the Android app, the listing appeared to be a single column of only what was currently being broadcast, and swiping to the right just took you down the list to the next network.
The list of networks in the Live mode can be customized in each of the interfaces, and each device seems to offer different levels of customization. For example, the Apple TV allowed shows to be sorted A-Z, or by category—drama, news, etc. On the Android, rarely used networks can be removed, and you can reposition networks in an Edit mode, by dragging them within the list. This feature, however, did not work with TalkBack.
These differences in features were also found in other areas. For example, a terrific feature on the Apple TV app and the web interface is the ability to customize the closed captioning. The font size can be increased, color and transparency can be altered, etc. On the Android app, it appears that closed captioning may be turned off or on but it is set to a default font size, in white letters.
Some stations support audio description, and this appears to be more a function of the station than YouTube TV. For an updated list of audio described programming, check out the Guide to Accessing YouTube TV’s Audio Description, an appendix to the Audio Description Project. If audio description is available on a station or program on one device, it also seems to be available on YouTube TV across platforms. This too varies slightly across devices. With a program streaming, opening the menu for the program offers options like closed captioning, and an audio menu. By default, the audio is on Primary. Switching to Secondary turns on audio description for those services and programs that support it. On the Apple TV app and the web interface, turning on the Secondary audio for one station did not change it across all stations; each one had to be turned on individually. On the Android app, however, turning Secondary audio on for one station seems to switch it on for all of them. On the Android app, Secondary audio, once turned on, will remain on if the app is closed and reopened. According to the Guide to Accessing YouTube TV’s Audio Description, if a program has audio description, this is also recorded when the program is recorded in the Library and is available during playback. It would be really helpful if one of the sorting options in the Live mode included the ability to sort together all the programming that offered audio description, however this is not currently one of the categories.
Simple DVR Recording
One of the great options on YouTube TV is a simple-to-use DVR feature that enables programs to be recorded and saved in the Library. Just pick the individual broadcast or select the series. These recordings are then stored in the Library where they can be watched, resaved, or deleted after watching. Recordings do not take up space on the user’s device. They are saved in the YouTube TV cloud so as long as you have access to the internet and a current user account, you can access the recordings in the Library. One of the best features here is that there is no limit to storage, and most programs can be saved for up to 9 months assuming the subscription is maintained during that time.
Voice Commands with YouTube TV
As a Google product, YouTube TV can work with the Google Assistant to make it respond to voice commands such as, “Hey Google, play the latest episode of 'Grey's Anatomy' on YouTube TV,” or “Play MSNBC on YouTube TV.” This feature was not set up during this review, so I was unable to test it. For complete instructions, check out Play YouTube TV using your speaker or display & Chromecast from Google Support.
Is it Right for You?
Overall, YouTube TV’s features appeared to be mostly accessible over the three devices I tested. Closed captioning had great features on both the web and AppleTV app. Audio description was supported and easy to find in the settings when it was available on the programming. For the infrequent TV or movie watcher, the 85 channels and the $65-a-month subscription rate may not be the best option. If you just live on Hulu and Netflix programming, it will be cheaper to just subscribe to those individually. For TV and movie watchers looking for more channel surfing, YouTube TV may be a great, simple, cost-saving alternative, and it works on virtually any device you might have. It’s also hard to beat a 14-day free trial to check it out!
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
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