YouTube TV is adding 4K support and offline playback, but it’s going to cost you. Google detailed YouTube TV’s “4K Plus” subscription add-on, which costs an extra $20 on top of the standard $65-per-month plan, for a total of $85 per month. 4K Plus might sound like it will simply provide a resolution bump, but subscribing to the higher tier will also unlock a new offline playback feature and unlimited simultaneous streaming over home Wi-Fi. The latter feature is otherwise limited to three streams per account. The one no-extra-cost feature of today’s announcement is 5.1 audio support, which is rolling out to all YouTube TV members.
YouTube TV is Google’s US-only pay-per-month service meant to replace a cable TV subscription. For the base price of $65 a month, you get access to a bundle of major cable TV channels, like ESPN, CNN, MTV, Cartoon Network, Discovery, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, TBS, TNT, USA, NFL Network, and more. The major US TV networks—CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox—are all included. In addition to paying extra for 4K, you can also tack on other premium add-ons like cable TV movie channels such as HBO, Stars, Showtime, and Cinemax. Sports packages, including NFL Red Zone, are available as well. Just like cable, YouTube TV is quite expensive and keeps getting more expensive. Google just raised the price to $65 last year.
Even if you pay the extra $20, it sounds like 4K content will be hard to come by. Google says that “4K playback is available on select live and on-demand content from these networks: Discovery, ESPN, FOX Sports, FX, Nat Geo, NBC Sports, and Tastemade.” The lack of 4K content isn’t YouTube TV’s fault, though. While Internet streaming services like Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video, and YouTube have all been on the 4K content train for some time, cable TV networks are still primarily producing content in 720p or 1080p. YouTube TV is essentially cable, and there’s just not that much 4K content available.
Those AV1 disputes actually do matter
Google’s support page says that 4K playback will require an Internet connection that’s at least 15Mbps. Most 4K-capable smart devices seem compatible, but Google calls out the 4K Apple TV and PlayStation 4 Pro as having iffy 4K support, saying these two devices are only compatible with “select content” and that “some programs may have lower resolution.” It sounds like this is an AV1 video codec problem. AV1 is the next big video codec that devices will need to support, and it offers better image quality at lower bitrates, with no royalty fees. Google is a big booster of the codec, a stance that has led to disputes over support on Roku devices. The Apple TV and the PS4 Pro both don’t support AV1, so it sounds like this support note is just indicating that those devices won’t be able to play exclusive AV1 4K content.
Offline playback might be the most interesting of YouTube TV’s two new features. The offline feature will let you download DVR recordings if you’re forking over $85 a month for YouTube TV with the 4K Plus package. The one big downside is that offline playback requires the YouTube TV app, so that means it works on phones and Chromebooks but not on anything that would typically use a browser, like Windows, Mac, or Linux.
To try to get users hooked on the $20 extra add-on, YouTube is offering an introductory price of $10 per month extra for the package for the first year. After 12 months, the price will jump up.