YouTube TV, the company’s long-awaited live TV streaming service, launches today in five US cities. It has most of the cable TV channels you know and love, including ABC, Fox, CBS, NBC, CW, Disney, SyFy, ESPN, and 40 more, and packages them in a YouTube-style app for your viewing pleasure.
At launch, it’s only available in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, thanks to regional broadcasting restrictions. More cities are expected further down the line, so if you’re outside the launch regions, you’ll have to satisfy your anxiety with the pre-release impressions sweeping the web.
A selection of tech media have had the chance to try the service for a few days before launch, and the overall impressions are good. YouTube TV’s content offering isn’t drastically different to what you can get from Sling or AT&T’s DirecTV Now, so YouTube is hoping that the simple pricing and its slick apps can be the difference.
The YouTube TV app is simple, with just three tabs for you to choose from: Library, Home, and Live. Live is exactly what it sounds like, a collection of all the available channels for you to surf through. Just like the regular YouTube app, you can watch one channel in a picture-in-picture box at the bottom of the screen while browsing for other channels.
For watching on a TV, Google is drawing on the well-established Chromecast system. You can cast any channel from the app to your Chromecast device or Cast-enabled TV. That means you’ll always need a mobile device running the app to start your viewing, but it also means there’s very little hardware needed to start watching YouTube TV at home. Chromecasts are dirt cheap (at least compared to renting a cable box) and unobtrustive, and most good new TVs have Cast features built in.
YouTube’s biggest draw is the so-called “unlimited DVR” feature, which lets you record as much of a show or channel as you want. One tap lets you save recordings to a cloud DVR, which you then access through the Library portion of the app. No other streaming service has managed to pull this off seamlessly, so if YouTube’s tech is as robust as the early reviews claim, this could be the real game-changer.
The service still has some of the annoyances of traditional cable TV, like religious geo-locking. You have to enter your home address while signing up for the service, and you’re then geo-locked to that location, with blackouts for sports per usual.