As the competition between video streaming services intensifies, differentiation is ever-important. Hulu continues to offer both a strong on-demand streaming library and a robust live TV option. The service is an excellent option for watching popular TV shows and we like its broad platform support, even if Hulu’s original series are hit-or-miss. On the live TV front, Hulu’s channel coverage is top-notch and its DVR features compare well to the competition’s. Despite a few missteps, Hulu keeps its Editors’ Choice award because no other service can quite match its combination of streaming content.
What Can You Watch on Hulu?
Hulu’s on-demand library has always been about TV shows and that emphasis remains. The service offers hundreds of seasons and thousands of episodes from major networks. The rise of network-specific streaming services, like Paramount+ and NBC’s Peacock, has cut into this content library. However, Disney’s role in Hulu and its vast library of former 21st Century FOX content that doesn’t fit Disney+‘s more family-friendly profile will likely keep Hulu afloat.
Hulu offers many cable TV shows. For fans of animation, there’s Archer, Adventure Time, Bob’s Burgers, and Futurama. Drama shows include Bones, Killing Eve, The Orville, and The X-Files. Comedy fans can watch 30 Rock, Broad City, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Letterkenny, Malcolm in the Middle, Scrubs, and Seinfeld. Note that Parks and Recreation has left for NBC’s Peacock and Seinfeld is going to Netflix in 2021. The good news is that Hulu’s FX hub is live. FX shows such as A Teacher and The Old Man, Devs, and Mrs. America exclusively stream on Hulu. Full seasons of past FX shows, including Archer, Atlanta, Better Things, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Justified, and Snowfall live there, too. You can stay on top of what’s available with PCMag’s monthly guide to what’s arriving on Hulu.
Like Netflix and Amazon, Hulu also creates original content. While its offerings have typically been a mixed bag and many shows don’t get renewed, its track record is trending upward. Some of Hulu’s best original releases include Castle Rock, Harlots, Helstrom, High Fidelity, Little Fires Everywhere, Marvel’s Runaways, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Veronica Mars. Ramy and The Act both won Golden Globe awards. Hulu is also one of our picks for the best video streaming services for celebrating Black art.
Netflix’s originals are generally more successful than Hulu’s, including mega-budget productions like The Crown, animated hits like Bojack Horseman, genre pieces like Stranger Things, and adaptations such as The Witcher. Other streaming services also outclass Hulu. For example, Amazon has a growing list of top-notch originals, including Bosch, Fleabag, Patriot, Hunters, The Boys, The Expanse, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Undone. HBO Max offers a substantial catalog of quality past and current shows including Barry, Big Little Lies, Deadwood, Silicon Valley, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, The Wire, Westworld, and VEEP.
Hulu’s library of movies is decent with mainstream movies such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, High Fidelity, Parasite, Rocketman, Superbad, Terminator: Dark Fate, and Twilight at the time of publishing. Things are looking up in 2021, however, with Hulu snagging the same-day release premieres of Nomadland and The United States vs. Billie Holiday, both of which won Golden Globe awards. That said, movie fans will likely want to subscribe to one of the available channel add-ons.
Hulu does produce some original movies, such as Happiest Season, Palm Springs (which was nominated for a Golden Globe), and Run. Foreign films on the platform include Shoplifters and A Breath Away. Despite Hulu’s efforts, Netflix currently offers the best movie library of any of the video streaming services.
Documentaries on Hulu
Hulu’s documentary section features a lot of celebrity biopics; from The Beatles to B.B. King, there are documentaries about the life and times of many beloved musicians. Fashion documentaries on the service include The First Monday in May, Dior and I, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, and McQueen. Outdoors enthusiasts should check out Free Solo, the mountain-climbing documentary featuring fearless free solo climbers and sweeping shots of impossibly high cliffs.
The Morgan Freeman-narrated March of the Penguins is just one of the family-friendly titles on Hulu. You can also find curiosities such as Three Identical Strangers, a film about brothers separated at birth and raised under very different circumstances, and Fyre Fraud, which details the story behind the failed Fyre Festival in 2017. Our roundup of documentary streaming services should appeal to any fans of the genre.
Anime on Hulu
Hulu has hundreds of anime titles, such as My Hero Academia, Himouto! Umaru-chan, and One-Punch Man. Older classics, such as Cowboy Bebop, FLCL, Ghost in the Shell, Naruto Shippuden, Ranma 1/2, Rurouni Kenshin, Slayers, and Trigun are also present. Hulu only falls short of Crunchyroll in this category, with the latter hosting a much larger library of content. Crunchyroll, and by extension VRV, also has the upper hand on Hulu and Netflix in terms of simulcast shows.
Live TV and Sports
Hulu + Live TV’s channel lineup should please most general audiences, with a deep lineup of content across the news, entertainment, and sports categories. News channels include ABC News, CBS News, CNBC, CNN, CNN International, FOX Business, FOX News, and MSNBC. Entertainment coverage is similarly varied with options such as Animal Planet, Cartoon Network, Discovery, Disney, Food Network, FX, HGTV, National Geographic, SYFY, TBS, Travel Channel, TLC, and TNT. You also get the movie channels, FXM and TCM. In addition to live feeds of these channels, you can watch on-demand content from each of these networks. For fans of channels from Discovery Inc. (such as Animal Planet, Food Network, and HGTV), discovery+ is a much cheaper, albeit on-demand, streaming service.
Hulu’s has added live Viacom channels, such as Comedy Central, MTV, and Nickelodeon, to its lineup, too. If you are specifically interested in those channels, the much-less-expensive Philo includes them in its lineup.
As for sports, Hulu’s lineup includes BTN, CBS Sports, ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPNEWS, Golf Channel, and Olympic Channel. That’s all in addition to local channels you get in your zip code, such as ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC cable affiliates. Recently, Hulu announced that it would add NFL Network and NFL RedZone to its channel lineup by August 1. It is unclear whether either of these additions will increase Hulu’s subscription costs, however. FuboTV, Sling TV, and YouTube TV all include the NFL Network channel in at least one of their plans and offer NFL RedZone as part of an add-on package.
While Hulu’s lineup features NBC-owned RSNs, it lacks most AT&T-owned RSNs (except for SportsNet NY) and every Sinclair-owned Bally Sports RSN (previously, these were FOX Sports RSNs). AT&T TV is the only live TV service we’ve reviewed that includes RSNs from AT&T, NBC, and Sinclair, though it is missing a few NBC Sports RSNs. Make sure to find out which RSN airs your local team’s games before committing to any sports streaming service.
Because regional restrictions and broadcast blackouts still apply for live TV streaming services (particularly for MLB, NBA, and NHL games), it’s important that whatever service you choose has both the relevant national and regional sports channels you need to watch those games. Even if a game is airing on a national channel elsewhere in the country, you may not have access to said game on that same channel if it involves a local team. For instance, a Yankees game that airs on ESPN for subscribers in Miami might air on YES for residents of New York.
We break down everything you need to know about streaming NFL, MLB, and NBA games in dedicated roundups. The right service for you depends on what sports you want to watch, where you live, and what teams you want to watch.
Many other live TV services also strive to appeal to general audiences, including AT&T TV, and YouTube TV. Other services are better suited for one genre of content than others. For example, fuboTV is an excellent sports streaming service, though it pretty much matches Hulu in the other categories as well. ESPN+ is another sports-centric service, but with a much narrower content scope.
How Much Does Hulu Cost?
Hulu’s ad-supported, on-demand streaming plan currently costs $5.99 per month. To avoid ads, you need to spring for the $11.99-per-month plan. You can bundle Hulu (ad-supported version), Disney+, and ESPN+ for $13.99 per month or get the ad-free version of Hulu in that same bundle for $19.99 per month. College students can get the ad-free version of Hulu for $1.99 per month.
The $64.99-per-month Hulu + Live TV plan bundles the service’s live TV component with ad-supported access to its on-demand library. If you want Hulu’s live channels and the ad-free on-demand package, that costs $70.99 per month.
The No Commercials price tier still displays ads for a few programs per streaming rights, but to Hulu’s credit, it is upfront about this limitation. At present, these shows are Grey’s Anatomy and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but this list of shows is subject to change. Ads in the basic plan are no worse than regular television, but they are jarring and obnoxious for on-demand content. When we watched an episode of Killing Eve, the stream was interrupted five times for commercial breaks, some of which included several back-to-back ads. If you’re getting rid of cable to avoid commercials, you’ll definitely want the No Commercials tier.
Maybe you decide that your current Hulu plan isn’t right for you or you don’t want to pay for Hulu at all. Check out our guide on how to modify or cancel your Hulu subscription.
Hulu also offers Cinemax ($9.99), HBO Max ($14.99), Showtime ($8.99), and Starz ($8.99), add-ons, which let you watch shows and movies from those networks along with their live feeds. Additional add-ons specifically for the Live TV plans include Enhanced Cloud DVR (200 total hours of storage plus the ability to fast forward through ads) and Unlimited Screens (no restrictions on simultaneous streams over your home network), which cost $9.99 per month each or $14.98 per month for both. You can also opt for the Entertainment ($7.99 per month) or the Español ($4.99 per month) Add-ons.
Netflix’s base plan now costs more than Hulu, at $8.99 per month. Netflix doesn’t run traditional ads on any of its content, but you need to pay more (at least $13.99 per month for the Standard plan) if you want to stream HD content and stream on more devices simultaneously. Paramount+’s ad-free tier is $9.99 per month, while HBO Max comes in at a much pricier $14.99 per month. Amazon Prime Video is at $8.99 per month. Shudder, a horror-focused streaming service, matches the price of Hulu’s ad-supported plan, but doesn’t show ads. Apple TV+ is cheaper than all of them at $4.99 per month.
As for cable-replacement services, Hulu + Live TV costs the same as YouTube TV ($64.99 per month). Philo ($20 per month) and Sling TV’s Orange & Blue plans ($35 per month each or $50 together) are significantly cheaper. FuboTV starts at a slightly more affordable $59.99 per month, while AT&T TV‘s entry-level tier is $69.99 per month, respectively. None of these services offer on-demand content libraries as complete as Hulu’s.
You don’t necessarily need to pay to get video streaming entertainment. Our roundup of the best free video streaming services offers both on-demand services and those with preprogrammed channels.
Apart from streaming Hulu on the web, you can download apps for mobile platforms (Android and iOS), media streaming devices (Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV, and Roku), smart TVs, and game consoles (PlayStation, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch). Hulu’s live TV tier is available on the PlayStation 4, but PlayStation 3 users are still out of luck when it comes to live TV.
Hulu’s Web Interface
When you log in to Hulu for the first time, the service walks you through some personalization options in which you choose, channels, genres, and shows that appeal to you. Hulu uses this information to populate the My Stuff section of the web interface, a feature we discuss a bit later.
Hulu’s web interface for live and on-demand content looks much more modern now than in years past, with big, flashy sliders and easily discoverable content. Hulu is planning to make interface text more legible in a forthcoming update. The homepage highlights noteworthy shows with horizontally scrolling lists below for categories such as Live Now, My Channels, Sports, News, and Hulu Originals.
At the top of the page, you get categories for Live TV and My Stuff. Search and Account options live in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. The search feature is not as robust as the one offered by YouTube TV, which allows you to combine terms (such as “Science Fiction” and “1982”). In the account section, you can manage billing details and your subscription add-ons. You can also add user profiles for individual users, a feature we appreciate. While you can restrict certain profiles to kid-friendly content only, that’s not as flexible as other platforms’ capabilities, which let you set restrictions by content ratings.
Browsing for content is pretty straightforward. From the Browse menu, you can select from one of several top-level categories, such as Networks, TV Shows, Movies, Hulu Originals, and Sports or dive deeper into one of the dozens of available genres, such as Adventure, Comedy, Cooking & Food, Documentaries, International, and Science Fiction. Each one of those latter categories returns results from both Hulu’s on-demand and live streaming library. Detail pages for content display available episodes, upcoming broadcast schedules, recommended shows, and a brief description.
If you want to specifically browse live TV streams, click the Live TV button in the top menu. You can filter the channel list by Recent Channels, News, Sports, Kids, and Movies. The web interface supports a windowed picture-in-picture mode, so you can keep your eye on the current stream while browsing for new content.
You can store and track shows and channels in the My Stuff section. To add anything to this section, simply hit the + icon next to any programming and choose any available recording options: new episodes only, new and reruns; and do not record. You can also follow specific sports teams too. So, for example, you could add the Miami Dolphins to My Stuff to record and keep track of all upcoming games.
We tested Hulu’s performance on the web over an Ethernet connection (200Mbps download). The streaming performance was mostly solid, with a few random stutters. Hulu only requires speeds of 3Mbps per second for on-demand shows and 8Mbps for live streams, so most connections should be sufficient.
Features and Streaming Experience
Hulu now lets premium subscribers download select TV shows and movies for offline viewing, including its original programming. Eligible users can download up to 25 videos across five devices. Downloads expire after 30 days and you get two days to finish watching a video after you begin playback. Netflix, Prime Video, Paramount+, HBO Max, and Showtime all offer offline download capabilities, too.
Hulu + Live TV’s DVR functionality compares well to other services. With Hulu, you can record up to 50 hours of content and keep those recordings for as long as you subscribe. Users can pay an extra $9.99 per month to increase that limit to 200 hours and for the ability to skip ads in recordings. For comparison, YouTube TV offers unlimited DVR storage and keeps titles for nine months. FuboTV allows you to record 30 hours’ worth of content by default, while Sling TV users get 50 hours’ worth of storage. AT&T TV limits subscribers to 20 hours’ worth of storage and keeps recordings for up to 90 days.
Hulu may not offer every show in HD, but many of its shows are simply not available anywhere in a high-quality format. Many of Hulu’s recent original shows are available to stream in 4K, however, albeit only on Apple TV (5th gen or later) and the Chromecast Ultra. Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, and Netflix have fairly robust libraries of new shows and movies in 4K. Select on-demand titles on Hulu support Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 surround sound, but Apple TV+ offers the most consistent support for high-end audio and video standards.
In terms of live TV streams, Hulu and YouTube are among the few that support 1080p/60fps streams for select channels on select platforms. Some of Paramount+’s local CBS station streams reach that same standard, too. FuboTV is currently the only service that offers 4K live streams, though YouTube TV has announced plans to offer live streams at that resolution in the future.
Hulu’s base plan supports two simultaneous streams, which is about average for on-demand services. BritBox, however, supports five concurrent streams. As mentioned, you can pay for the Unlimited Screens add-on to get rid of that limit for devices on your Home Wi-Fi network, though this is only available for Hulu + Live TV subscribers. Hulu allows you to create up to six profiles per account.
Make sure to check our article on streaming tips for Hulu so you can be sure to take advantage of all its features. For instance, Hulu’s Watch Party tool is now available to all subscribers. This co-watching feature synchronizes playback of shows and movies from Hulu’s on-demand library and enables you to chat with up to eight friends (18 years or older) directly from the playback screen.
Accessibility and Parental Control
Hulu includes standard closed captioning options, but relatively few titles support audio descriptions, an accessibility feature that provides audible narrations of on-screen actions that would not be discernible through dialog alone. For any show or live broadcast, you can change the color, size, and style of the subtitle text. Acorn TV offers similar customization options directly on the playback screen.
If you want to prevent your children from watching anything inappropriate, Hulu allows you to designate a profile as a Kids Profile. Doing so restricts that profile to a kid-friendly hub of content. Netflix and Prime Video offer more substantial parental control options that enable you to lock content by rating.
Hulu’s Mobile Apps
Hulu offers apps for both Android and iOS. We previously tested the Android app on a phone running Android 10. Hulu’s iOS variants are practically identical to their Android counterparts. The app looks very elegant with large media elements and transparent navigation elements and icons. We didn’t notice any lag when moving between menus and launching content.
The new app uses a text-based menu system, with five persistent icons across the bottom: Home, My Stuff, Live, Browse, and Account. Within each content section, you can scroll horizontally between broader categories and vertically to see all of the associated content. Movies and TV shows pop out into full-screen overviews, which look really slick. The individual pages also have side-scrolling options for viewing episode lists (for TV shows) as well as recommendations for other content.
We tested Hulu’s mobile app by streaming from our test device that was connected to PCMag’s Wi-Fi network (50Mbps download). Streaming performance is strong, and content started playing at full quality after a few seconds. We were able to watch a live stream of ESPN’s SportsCenter without any problems.
The My Stuff section of the app works as it does on the desktop and you can manage items in your DVR storage here as well. The account section is somewhat bare though. The only app-related preferences are for customizing subtitles/captions and toggling Hulu’s Autoplay feature. Although you can manage your plan settings from this section, the Help section just redirects to the web version.
Hulu and VPN
You should strive to use a VPN on every one of your devices and for every internet-based activity. Note, however, that some video streaming services, including Hulu, will attempt to block you from streaming content if you are connected to a VPN or proxy. Section 15.1 of Hulu’s terms of service, for example, states “We are a company based in the United States and offer our Services to users in the United States. Hulu’s goal is to bring you as much Content as is legally available. That said, we are limited by the rights that our content programmers grant to us.” With a VPN, Hulu likely cannot pinpoint your real location.
We tried streaming Hulu content after connecting our test devices to US-based Mullvad VPN servers with no luck. Even if your VPN and video streaming service work without issues for now, they may not in the future. You are better off choosing a VPN for its security and performance.
If you’re getting only one streaming service, Hulu is an excellent choice for its combination of on-demand content and live TV, even if its original shows are not as consistent in quality as competitors’. On the technical side, Hulu’s offline downloads are restricted to higher-tier plans and it lacks substantial 4K content, though it does support 1080p live channels on some platforms. The strength of its respective on-demand and live TV offerings outweigh those flaws, even despite the latest price hike to its live TV plan.
Netflix offers a better selection of on-demand shows and YouTube TV features better live TV coverage, but Hulu’s combination of both content types makes it an Editors’ Choice pick alongside those services.
The Bottom Line
Hulu is a dependable option for streaming new and classic shows as well as live TV on nearly every platform. It’s a top choice among video streaming services.