Is 4K on YouTube TV worth it?

YouTube TV app on Google TV
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When it comes to live streaming video — what you get with the likes of Hulu With Live TV, YouTube TV or Sling TV — 4K resolution largely has been a white whale. We know it exists. Some of us have even seen it. And we swear we'll see it again.

That time, it seems, has arrived, thanks to the optional 4K add-on available with YouTube TV.

The "4K Plus" option is not inexpensive. Technically it runs $19.99 a month on top of YouTube TV's $64.99 monthly fee, though it's currently discounted to $9.99 a month for the first year. That's a 15 percent increase in the total monthly cost at the discounted rate, and a 30 percent increase at the full rate.

And that beg the question: Is 4K on YouTube TV worth it?

What you can currently watch in 4K on YouTube TV

The obvious answer to our obvious question is "it depends." If there's something worth watching that's in 4K — and "worth watching" really just means "something you like" — then it might well be worth the extra expenditure.

At launch, though, the list of 4K content was pretty sparse, and it was comprised completely of on-demand programming, with none of the titles particularly notable. The FX series Pose was the biggest name among the dozen or so entries. But even then, it's more of a critical favorite than a super-popular show.

That said, there's no denying that a show of that nature absolutely lends itself to the 4K treatment, thanks to the makeup and the fashion. If you want people to see the details, then you want the highest resolution and the highest bitrate (that last part is separate but as important) that you can get.

Otherwise, though, the list of shows available in 4K thus far is fairly unimpressive. It's a lot of stuff that you might watch if it's on, but not necessarily destination television.

MORE: YouTube TV vs. Hulu With Live TV

Live TV is the holy grail of 4K on YouTube TV

Streaming video in 4K isn't a new phenomenon. It's just a matter of pushing data, and it's something that the likes of Netflix and Amazon, Hulu, Disney and even HBO Max have been doing for some time now.

Live TV, however, is another matter. It's one thing to serve up data — and to be clear, 4K video necessitates a lot of data — that's been previously recorded, processed and propagated among any number of content distribution networks. It's another thing altogether to do so with video for an event that just happened a minute or so ago. (And preferably with even less lag time between real life and the live stream.)

And you have to take the setting into account, too. A live news broadcast from a studio is easier to produce and easier to stream than a live report from the field. Same goes for the even bigger live event — sports.

At the end of the day, sports are what will sell the 4K add-on for YouTube TV. Or for any other MPVD (that's industry shorthand for a live TV streaming service) that offers increased resolution for an increased price. You have to make it worth it, and sports likely is the only thing that'll fit that bill.

And to be clear, we've been here already. FuboTV has been serving up the occasional sporting event in 4K resolution for a couple years now — including this year's Major League Baseball All-Star Game, the same as YouTube TV is doing. But FuboTV doesn't have the extra on-demand content in 4K, nor does it charge extra for the increased resolution. (YouTube TV also throws in the ability to watch on as many devices as you want on your home network when you subscribe to 4K Plus, so there's that, too.)

So is 4K Plus worth it on YouTube TV, or not?

That's the question. Is 4K worth the extra money you'll be paying to YouTube TV? So far, it's pretty tough to justify. That is unless you just have to watch a bunch of B-level shows on demand in 4K, and will settle for the occasional sporting event. 

That and the ability to watch on as many devices as you want with the 4K Plus package, frankly, is not enough to justify an extra $10 a month — never mind an extra $20 after the first year. Not yet, anyway.

The Tokyo Olympics are coming to YouTube TV in 4K resolution, with the Opening Ceremony, tennis, skateboarding,  women's volleyball, gymnastics, triathlon, diving, and basketball on the agenda so far.

That's the key. As more 4K content — live sports as well as other high-profile primetime shows — are available in 4K resolution, the add-on will make more sense. And it's good to remember that you get 30 days for free, so you can sign up now and give it a whirl, and hope more 4K content is coming.

And it almost certainly will be.

Phil Nickinson

Phil spent his 20s in the newsroom of the Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, his 30s on the road for and Mobile Nations and is the Dad part of Modern Dad.