You can get your minimalist, cord-cutting groove on with Sparklight’s no-frills plans, but you’ll pay for the privilege. You’re probably better off with a simple HD antenna, a live TV streaming service, or a traditional cable TV company.
YouTube TV is a refreshing option for cable or satellite TV cord cutters. It feels just like a traditional TV service, but without the hidden fees or equipment rental. Shows and games are easy to find and record, simultaneous streams are a breeze, and the interface felt familiar and intuitive on every device we tested.
Sparklight sounds like a company for cord-cutters—people who don’t want a traditional cable TV service at traditional cable TV prices. But when it comes down to it, you probably won’t save with Sparklight. If you want the same level of entertainment as a traditional cable company, you’ll pay more for it. If you want a minimal, no-frills plan, you’d be better off with a live TV streaming service like Sling or fuboTV.
Sparklight has just two plan levels. Economy Cable is barebones, giving you just 20 channels, while Standard Cable gives you 100—around what most competitors’ low-tier plans deliver. Unfortunately, you’ll pay mid-tier prices for low-tier service with Sparklight. While Sparklight has a decent (albeit short) channel lineup, many of the top-tier sports channels, like NFL Network and NFL Red Zone, are add-ons—at an additional cost.
YouTube TV is an excellent choice for streaming live TV, and it comes with everything you expect: easy channel surfing via the Live option, video on-demand (VOD) and DVR in the Library, and access to live sports, events, and shows from the Home tab. Its English-language monthly subscription offers more than 85 channels. If you want content in Spanish only, your monthly price is less than half of the English-language price.
It all costs about what you’d pay for a mid-range subscription package from a cable or satellite TV provider (but without the hidden fees), and the price is about average among the premium live TV services we tested. The only extra charge on your bill is local sales tax, but you’re going to find that with virtually every TV provider out there.
If you want add-ons like NFL Sunday Ticket, sports in 4K, or entertainment channels such as HBO, add-on pricing applies. But buying and canceling add-ons was pretty seamless in our tests, and many of the upgrades (like YouTube TV itself) come with free trials.
Starting in October of 2022, YouTube made it possible to get most of its add-ons without paying the full monthly price, either through YouTube TV or the separate Premium Channels feature on regular YouTube. The prices were a bit higher or the same as purchasing the services separately, but it's nice to watch them with a familiar app and just one bill.
We were a little bummed to discover that you still have to watch ads with a lot of the content, and you don’t get to skip ads on regular YouTube or YouTube Music, since YouTube Premium is a separate service.
Sparklight doesn’t have its own TV box or DVR gear (but you have to rent its modem if you don’t already have Sparklight internet service). Instead, it pairs its TV Everywhere streaming app with the features of your devices, like a phone or tablet, smart TV, or Amazon Firestick. So you use the remote that comes with that device. In short, Sparklight doesn’t provide much of an experience, but you can choose your own adventure depending on the devices you use.
Unfortunately, Sparklight doesn’t come with DVR service either—unless you add TV Plus to your Economy or Standard plan for around $12 per month. If you do cough up the extra cash for this service (which is typically free with other providers), you’ll get a decent 200 hours of cloud storage and the TiVo app.
YouTube TV offers a well-rounded channel selection, ranging from sports and entertainment to news and network TV. YouTube TV also carries your local networks, unlike competitor Philo, and even offers PBS, unlike Hulu + Live TV. The sports add-on comes with NFL RedZone, live poker and billiards, OutsideTV+, and FOX Soccer. You can watch and DVR games in 4K if you get the unlimited add-on for about $20 a month.
Starting in the 2023 season, Youtube TV will also offer NFL Sunday Ticket as an add-on, and it may be offered as a standalone service. (1) Pricing has yet to be announced.
We think YouTube TV is a good option if you want a classic live TV experience with a solid on-demand library, but we have a couple minor complaints. You’ll miss out on some regional major league games, even with the sports add-on. You’ll also miss out on MLB Network, unless YouTube TV and the MLB sign a new deal in time for the 2023 season, which begins at the end of March. (2)
YouTube TV a solid option for cord-cutters, but it’s not perfect. Some popular entertainment channels are absent, including Lifetime, INSP, VICE, A&E, and GAC (Great American Country). There’s also not much original programming to be found, but you can catch a couple nice options by jumping over to YouTube Premium (confoundingly, a separate subscription on a separate app).
Sparklight relies on a cable-fiber hybrid infrastructure that makes it more reliable than satellite TV providers. Its TV service uses Wi-Fi internet, however, which can sometimes slow your binging due to interference from other devices, competing networks, and well, walls. That said, Sparklight promises great Wi-Fi (and a money-back guarantee). You’ll need your own smart TV or a device like an Apple TV or Amazon Firestick. And if you don’t have Sparklight internet, you’ll have to rent a special Sparklight TV modem ($10.50/month).
Getting started with Sparklight is a bit pricey. Professional installation is a steep $90. You can opt for self-setup, but that’ll cost you $30 (free with most providers). But professional installation might be the better choice. If you end up wanting a refund later, a technician will have to come out and attempt a professional installation or troubleshooting anyway. If the problem isn’t Sparklight’s fault (or your home isn’t wired properly), you’ll be out $90 for the visit and you won’t get your refund.
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YouTube TV doesn’t come with an option for a dedicated remote, but you can buy a Chromecast with Google TV for about a third of the price of the DIRECTV STREAM box if you want a voice remote. One subscription comes with six seats, so you and up to five members of your family can have their own private Google profile. With the basic subscription, you can watch up to three simultaneous streams at once. If you spring for the 4K Plus add-on, you get unlimited streams at home and three away from home. If you have a device compatible with Dolby 5.1 surround sound, it will work nicely with YouTube TV.
YouTube TV comes with unlimited cloud DVR, and your recordings are saved for nine months. You can pause, rewind, and fast forward on most (but not all) DVR recordings, and it’s pretty simple to add them to your library. Curiously, adding any episode means you’ll record every future episode of that program, even reruns. It’s not a huge deal, but it does mean your library can feel bloated in a hurry. January 2023 updates to the interface make navigating the library a little easier, and we look forward to more promised improvements.
If we had a magic wand and could improve any feature of YouTube TV, it would be parental controls. If you’re an adult sharing the subscription with other adults, it’s nice that profiles are 100% private—that means other accounts can’t see your DVR, your watch history, or your search history. But if you’re a parent, it’s a little problematic. There is a setting that prevents particular devices from viewing anything beyond TV-G or PG, but it doesn’t apply to accounts, and it’s not password-protected. Using the Family Link controls may give you more options, but most of those seem to be for regular YouTube and YouTube Kids, not YouTube TV.
Not surprisingly, Sparklight’s no-frills plans don’t include any premium channels. You can add them, of course, but they’re on the expensive side. Most packages are $19/month each, but you get a discount if you buy more than one. Your options include HBO (11 channels), Cinemax (9 channels), and STARZ (9 channels). A SHOWTIME/TMC combo (5 channels) is $10.99/month, which isn’t too bad. (1)
If you’re any kind of sports fan at all, you won’t be satisfied with the Economy Cable plan. Just skip it. A Standard Cable plan gives you two ESPNs, Fox Sports, the Golf Channel, and the Tennis Channel, to name a few. However, anything NFL is an add-on. And you’ll have to enjoy your crackerjacks with another provider, because MLB isn’t an option with Sparklight, even if you’re willing to pay for it separately.
YouTube TV is owned by search giant Google, and it shows. Finding specific programs, channels, and even recommendations from a browser was a delight. In fact, logging in on a browser is the best way to rearrange your Live guide for channel surfing, and it’s the best way to manage your account. The desktop app and mobile app felt familiar and easy to use, but we were annoyed that we couldn’t turn the volume up very high.
The experience on the Samsung smart TV we tested wasn’t quite as seamless. To get to YouTube TV, you have to open the regular Youtube app and find the YouTube TV button at the bottom left. Once we were in, there was a nice option to verify the account on a smartphone rather than typing your secure password with the remote. We didn’t love the pause and rewind functionality on the smart TV, and we once had to turn everything off and restart because the screen went black.
We also tested YouTube TV on an Apple TV, and it worked pretty well. It wasn’t hidden within the regular YouTube app, which was nice, and controls worked better. The app experience was even better when we tested on the Chromecast with Google TV. The remote was small but easy to use, and the voice functionality was fantastic. Unfortunately, the button labeled YouTube on the remote goes to the regular YouTube app, not YouTube TV.
We were less satisfied with the ads—you’ll see a lot of them on YouTube TV, and they’re quite noticeable if you’re switching from on-demand streaming apps like Netflix, HBO Max, or Amazon's Prime Video. You can fast forward through ads on your DVR content, and some shows don’t have any ads on the DVR version.
When you watch live, you get the same ads the channels show over the air. A few times, we even saw ad visuals on the screen hyper-imposed on top of what we were trying to watch. On-demand content we tested had no issues with rewind and fast forward through ads, but the repetitive targeted ads got annoying in a hurry.
You will need broadband internet to enjoy YouTube TV, but streaming a show or game in 4K requires only about 20 Mbps of bandwidth at any given time, so you don’t need to worry about paying for the fastest possible internet speeds.