Android TV: DVR Is Both YouTube TV's Best & Worst Feature


If you are planning on switching to a virtual multichannel video programming distributor (vMVPD) for paid over-the-top content then one of the best options to consider at the moment is YouTube TV. While this option is not quite as widely available nationwide as some of the other options, that has been changing a lot over the last few months and now YouTube has made its live TV service available in most places. In either case, one of the features that makes YouTube TV such an attractive option compared to the others is its digital video recorder (DVR) capabilities.

In fact, when YouTube TV first launched this was one of the main features touted by YouTube. Which did not come as much of a surprise considering at that point DVR features on competing services were either not that good, not present at all, or came with a premium "add-on" price attached. YouTube TV on the other hand made it instantly available at launch, and included with the baseline $35 price Рalthough that baseline price did go up recently to $40. Irrespective, DVR on YouTube TV works great. It lets you record any show you want and not only watch it back later on your TV, but also on any other device that can access YouTube TV either in app-form or through the web. What's more, is you can record as much as you want, as unlike other vMVPDs, YouTube TV does not place an arbitrary cap on how much DVR you have to play with. It is, in effect, unlimited. Likewise, this is not a service that is limited to how many tuners you might have. Which means not only can you 'watch one channel and record another,' but you can watch one channel and record all the others, simultaneously. Simply put, this is how DVR should be.


That is, with the exception of one issue which for some is proving to be a really big deal-breaker. The issue stems from another newer digital video feature, video on demand (VOD). Most of the time VOD works hand-in-hand with DVR and allows users to watch content that they did not record for whatever reason when it first aired. For example, those unaware of that big show that launched last week, only to go into work the next day and hear everyone talking about it, will usually have the ability to refer to VOD and watch the missed pilot episodes after the fact, before then adding it to the DVR to record the rest of the season. Other main differences between DVR and VOD typically come down to the second being more limited — as not all shows/movies become available — and usually subject to ads. While DVR content also includes ads (as part of the natural recording) you can skip through them fairly easily taking that one hour episode down to only 42 minutes. Unless you are using YouTube TV. The reason being is YouTube TV has a deal in place that prioritizes VOD content over DVR content. So while a user is free to record as much content as they want, whether they can actually playback that DVR version will most likely depend on whether a VOD version is also available at the same time. If a VOD version is available, then YouTube TV will effectively disable the DVR version forcing the user to watch the VOD version, and by association watch the unskippable ads. Simply put, this is not how DVR should be.

There are some caveats in place and ones that have yet to be fully understood due to a lack of explanation from YouTube on how this all works. For example, not all channels, or all shows are subject to the limitation. For the most part it seems it is up to the network provider to choose whether they want to force users over to a VOD version or not. Although, it seems counter-intuitive for any network to not want its users to view ads and especially during prime content. Likewise, YouTube TV allows recordings to be stored for up to nine months which is usually longer than content remains available as part of a VOD service. However, the issue has been further compounded recently (and its attention-level elevated) due to an update that began rolling out back in April. This update allowed users to select which version of a show they wanted to watch (as shown in the image above). This not only includes multiple recordings of the same episode (as YouTube TV does record an episode every time it is on and irrespective of whether it has already been recorded or not), but also between DVR and VOD versions. Though, the problem still remains here with the VOD version having priority over the DVR version(s). Therefore, in most instances, the update does not actually allow the user to choose between the DVR and VOD versions – in spite of the suggestion that it does.


So, yes, DVR is both the best and worst reason to use YouTube TV at the moment as for the price it does offer a decent (but limited) selection of channels and does let you record as many shows as you want. That recording feature is certainly sullied by the use of this strange arrangement that forces users (in some instances) to endure ads through the reverting to VOD, however, in fairness to YouTube TV, this is its main limitation, and it is arguable other vMVPDs come with much greater limitations on their DVR features, such as a number of hours/episodes you can record at one time, or paying more for the pleasure. Though, again in fairness to those other services, at least their DVR features are actually true DVR features.

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John has been writing about and reviewing tech products since 2014 after making the transition from writing about and reviewing airlines. With a background in Psychology, John has a particular interest in the science and future of the industry. Besides adopting the Managing Editor role at AH John also covers much of the news surrounding audio and visual tech, including cord-cutting, the state of Pay-TV, and Android TV. Contact him at [email protected]

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