YouTube TV, the $35-per-month live TV service aimed at , . At the time I lauded its potential, but complained about the experience on an actual TV: namely, the need to stream using a Chromecast and a phone as the remote control.
Competitors in the fast-moving TV streaming space launched with TV apps for Roku, Apple TV and others, but YouTube said it would initially with just a phone app. It promised actual big-screen apps for devices other than Chromecast by the end of the year.
Soon YouTube TV will deliver on that promise on numerous TV-connected gadgets, namely streamers and game consoles, as well as actual Smart TVs. That means you can browse and watch the service’s shows, movies and videos using actual physical buttons on a remote or game controller, without having to touch your phone or PC.
Here’s the official list of devices that will get the app:
Timing for the launch varies. YouTube says the first three on the list will arrive “in the next few days,” while the others will all come by the end of 2017. That leaves Amazon Fire TV and as the only major TV device platforms without a YouTube TV app.
Unlike the free YouTube you know so well, populated by cat videos, how-tos and myriad independent channels and shows, YouTube TV is a direct competitor to cable TV — and you’ll have to pay for it. In return you get live local TV channels like ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC as well as cable stalwarts like AMC, ESPN, the Disney Channel, Fox News and Bravo. (Disclosure: CBS is the parent company of CNET and Showtime.)
The service competes for those oh-so-elusive cord cutter dollars against, , and . They’re all nationwide, unlike YouTube TV, but YouTube has been its national reach since launch. It’s now available in the top 50 metropolitan areas, covering 68 percent of the US population.
And now that it has an actual app, just like those others, YouTube TV could continue to grow in popularity.
A TV app made for big screens (what a concept!)
I spent an hour or so with YouTube’s representatives demoing the app on Nvidia Shield and came away impressed. It’s largely similar to the phone app but with a few key differences, many of them to take advantage of the larger screen real estate on a TV. Here are some of my takeaways.
- The design is darker overall than the phone app, to account for dimmer living room lighting, and I like it.
- Live video remains playing full-screen in the background while you browse menus. IMO it makes more sense than the small inset window on your cable box.
- There’s an actual grid-style program guide, just like a cable box and similar to the one on DirecTV Now but with a few thumbnails. You can easily schedule future recordings there, but you can’t set up favorite channels (yet).
- The all-new Live Guide, sort of a program guide “lite,” lets you quickly blow through a text list of shows live now on all available channels.
- Multiple categories in the Library section make it easier to browse the list of stuff you’ve added to the unlimited cloud DVR, and there’s one that surfaces new-to-air episodes.
- Many of the lists were ordered first by what an algorithm thinks you want to watch, but you can also sort alphabetically or otherwise.
- Sports sections offer extra data like scores and standings for teams you’ve selected. Show pages and channel pages also deliver extra information.
- Transport controls (like play, pause, fast-forward, etc.) were easy to grasp and much more intuitive than scrubbing the screen on a phone. Thumbnails accompanied fast-forwards during VOD shows, but not recorded ones.
- Responses throughout were quick on the burly Shield. I asked about other devices and YouTube’s reps said they can tweak the app to improve performance if necessary, minimizing animations for example.
- They also said specifically that the Roku app would have the same design as everything else, not the generic template design for some Roku apps (cough, , cough).
- Cool extra alert: You can login quickly by typing an access code into a field that appears automatically on the YouTube TV phone app, instead of fumbling with a keyboard on the TV.
I’ll test the new app thoroughly once it appears on more devices, and compare it to the other live TV streaming apps, but from what I’ve seen so far it’s among the best.
And lest you Chromecast devotees feel left behind, take heart. YouTube TV recently enabled far-field voice searches if you have a Google Home speaker and a Chromecast, allowing you to say stuff like “OK Google, record the World Series” into thin air. You can’t do that with any other devices, at least not yet.