Hulu

How does Hulu really stack up to Netflix and Amazon Prime? Let’s break it down.

Hulu has quietly become one of the best alternatives to Netflix, whether your poison of choice is TV shows, movies, or documentaries. But there are plenty of things you need to know before cutting the cord. Here’s everything you need to know about how Hulu works, from the cost of various Hulu plans to the devices the service works with.


TL;DR:


What is Hulu?

Hulu was founded in 2007 as a joint venture by companies that included Disney, 21st Century Fox, Comcast, and Time Warner. Originally launched as a way for TV networks to stream TV content on your computer, the service has expanded and is now available on almost every streaming device. Your TV might already be able to stream Hulu. It’s everywhere.

Because of its close relationship to TV networks, Hulu offers more TV programming than any other streaming service, along with access to the film catalogs of many of its partner studios.

Hulu

How does Hulu work?

If you’ve ever used a streaming service, you’ll be able to quickly pick up Hulu, but learning its quirks might take you a few minutes. Hulu keeps its content separated, so you won’t see movies when you’re looking for TV shows and vice versa. Hulu remembers where you are in each episode, and it creates a list of favorites that appears at the top of your screen whenever you fire up the app.

Using Hulu is a joy. Even with ads, the service aims to give you an ideal experience, often allowing you to watch one long ad at the beginning of an episode instead of several short ones throughout. When you’re done watching something, the service recommendations another show or film based on your viewing habits. However, my personal favorite feature only appears when you close the app while in the middle of a movie or episode. The next time you open Hulu, the service immediately asks if you’d like to pick back up where you left off. If you have a partner who falls asleep during movies regularly, it’s a godsend.

Photo via Fox

The Mindy Project

When it comes to searching for content, Hulu works hard to help you discover things, even if you don’t know you want to watch them. The app suggests shows based on your tastes and has deep category options for searching that allow you to browse through content listings by everything from Genre to Release Company. Curious about everything ABC has available? You can look under their category to see shows from their network and shows it’s produced for syndication. It makes for great late-night browsing when you just can’t think of anything to stream.

You can also add on the Showtime catalog for an additional cost per month, which allows you to watch the premium cable service’s original programming and Showtime movies even if you’ve cut the cord.

Hulu has made big strides to keep up with Netflix when it comes to original programming. In addition to a wide range of incredible British shows you can only watch there, most notably Moonboy and The Wrong Mans, Hulu’s made great shows like Aaron Paul’s cultist thriller The Path and an adaptation of Stephen King’s 11/22/63 starring James Franco. My personal favorite show is Difficult People, a pitch-black comedy starring Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner as selfish monsters trying to get ahead in Hollywood. It’s worth a month of paying for Hulu just to watch that one show.

Hulu

Hulu devices

It’s easier than ever to use Hulu. You can stream via Roku, Google Chromecast, select smart TVs (here’s a full list), Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Kindle Fire, and pretty much any Apple, Windows 8, or Android device you can throw at it, not to mention Nexus Player. Of course, you can always just watch Hulu from your web browser. As for gaming consoles, Hulu supports Xbox One and Xbox 360, Wii and Wii U, and PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. In November 2017, Hulu also became Nintendo Switch’s first video streaming app. Hulu’s accessibility is definitely one of its strongest selling points.

Photo via Nintendo

Hulu plans

You may find yourself asking “is Hulu free?” When it started Hulu did indeed offer a free option that allowed you to stream a limited number of shows and episodes on your computer in exchange for watching ads. It was a pretty good system. Sadly, those days are long gone. Here’s a quick breakdown of how much Hulu costs. We’ll explain these different Hulu plans in detail below.

Hulu

Hulu with Limited Commercials

Hulu with Limited Commercials costs $7.99 and gives you access to Hulu’s library of movies, TV shows, originals, and documentaries. This includes a truly staggering amount of content, but it comes with one major downside: ads. For the most part, ads are only going to pop up when you’re watching TV content, so if you’re a movie buff, it’s going to hurt you less. Big hit shows tend to have the most ads, so if you’re a fan of Masterchef Junior, prepare yourself for a couple of commercial breaks.

Hulu with No Commercials

Hulu with No Commercials is $11.99 a month and is exactly what it sounds like. You can watch everything on Hulu, including major network shows, without a single ad messing with your experience. That’s a heavy price for many people, but if you’re a super fan of network TV, it may be a small cost to pay for the convenience of binge-watching How to Get Away With Murder like you do on Netflix.

Photo via Hulu

‘Difficult People’

In May 2017, Hulu began offering a live TV streaming service that combines their traditional on-demand programming with real-time streams of major channels. Hulu with Live TV provides the same options as a standard basic cable package, with a solid mix of entertainment, news, and sports programming. The service works on iOS, Android, Xbox, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, with support for Roku and Samsung smart TVs coming in the near future.

Binge watch your favorite Food Network, FX, Bravo, Nat Geo, TBS, and Syfy shows, catch up on what’s going on in sports with ESPN, or watch the evening news on Fox or MSNBC. With 50-plus channels, you’ll always have something to watch. Hulu TV even includes a collection of family-friendly options like Cartoon Network, Disney, and Sprout. (Just remember that Cartoon Network becomes Adult Swim at night.)

For sports-loving cord-cutters, Hulu Live is a boon, offering streams of NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and NCAA. Games are subject to regional availability and blackouts, but that’s to be expected. Sadly, due to rights issues, no NFL games can be streamed via Hulu Live on a smartphone.

Beyond Hulu Live’s cable offerings the service offers a range of local channels, though availability will vary around the country. You can see which channels are available in your area by looking at Hulu’s Live TV page.

Photo by Hulu

Using Hulu Live TV costs $39.99 a month for the basic package, which comes with the aforementioned 50-plus channels, 50 hours of Cloud DVR storage, and access to Hulu’s on-demand streaming service with limited commercials.

Hulu with Live TV + Hulu with No Commercials

The basic package of Hulu with Live TV does come with access to Hulu’s full library, but you’ll see limited commercials when watching TV shows and original programming. If you want to watch Hulu’s catalog without commercials, you can pay $4 per month to upgrade. That brings the total cost to $43.99 per month.

Hulu

Hulu add-ons

Enhanced Cloud DVR: $14.99 per month

This feature offers up 200 hours of storage and the ability to skip commercials in your recordings. 

Unlimited Screens: $14.99 per month

Watch Hulu anywhere in your home and on three additional mobile devices. You can combine Unlimited Screens and Enhanced Cloud DVR for $20 per month.

HBO: $4.99 per month

Hulu is the cheapest way to catch HBO hits like Westworld and Game of Thrones. You’ll enjoy one week from, then add HBO for $4.99 per month for the first six months. After that, the price jumps to $14.99 per month, which is the same cost as HBO Now. This deal works with all three Hulu plans and lets you watch HBO in real time and on-demand.

Showtime$8.99 per month

One thing to note: Cloud DVR and recording of live TV does not currently work with any of Hulu’s premium add-ons.

Cinemax: $9.99 per month

Hulu

Hulu deals

On April 10, Hulu announced a new bundled deal that offers Spotify Premium and Hulu with Limited Commercials for just $12.99 per month. That’s $5 cheaper than signing up for both services individually. There are a couple of snags in the deal. It won’t work with Hulu add-ons or if you already get Hulu through another third-party vendor. Likewise, the deal isn’t available to Spotify Premium for Family plan members, but otherwise, you’ll just need to go to this link to merge your accounts.

Spotify

If you’re a Sprint customer with an Unlimited Freedom plan, you’re likely eligible for a free Hulu with Limited Commercials plan. That’s right: Free. It takes a little bit of effort. You’ll need to log into your Sprint account and enable Hulu under “services you can add” in your account settings. You’ll be able to watch all of your favorite shows after that. There’s just one catch: With this free Sprint perk, you won’t be able to access any of Hulu’s premium add-ons, Hulu with Live TV, or Hulu’s No Commercials plan. Hulu also notes on its Help page that you may be logged out of the service if you don’t use your Hulu account for an extended period of time, but it will reactivate once you log back in.

To quickly recap: Hulu costs $7.99 a month or $11.99 a month for Hulu with No Commercials, an annual cost of $95.88 and $143.88, respectively. The downside is you only get those new episodes for a few weeks before they expire in most cases, meaning you’re not getting the same binge-watching abilities you get from Netflix. However, Hulu also has an incredible back catalog of classic TV shows, including exclusives like Seinfeld and The Golden Girls. So, even if you can’t check out the whole new season of your favorite show, there’s plenty to watch.

Photo via IMDb

Seinfeld

By contrast, Netflix offers three options for streaming: One screen at a time in standard definition for $7.99, two screens at a time in HD for $9.99, or four screens at a time in Ultra HD for 11.99. In addition, users can download videos to their phones and tablets for offline viewing. That adds annually up to $95.88, $119.88, or $143.88, respectively, depending on your package and taxes. However, for that cost, you get one of the biggest streaming libraries of classic content around.

Still, it’s mostly classic or old content. Outside of its great original series, movies, documentaries, and docuseries, Netflix has struggled to keep a steady supply of new movies in its catalog in the past few years. You will still find great movies that were just in theaters, but there’s less to choose from than the glory days a few years ago. Still, Netflix is the industry leader for a reason. Its app is easy to use, feature-rich, and its original catalog has won legions of dedicated fans. If you don’t care about keeping up with current TV shows, Netflix is still pretty much all you need. The increased number of screens that can watch at one time means that as the cost rises, you can split the package with others to offset the price.

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Hulu vs Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime is another alternative, and at $99 a year in upfront costs, it may seem like the worst deal. However, along with a great streaming service, that $99 also gets you free two-day shipping on all your Amazon purchases. Amazon Prime has greatly improved its app in the last few years for streaming, and it offers one of the largest film libraries of any service. From The Hunger Games to Mission Impossible, there’s plenty of recent multiplex hits to watch. You’ll even find obscure gems like the lost Sasquatch horror film Night of the Demon. The downside is those films are sometimes hard to find due to a frustrating lack of sorting and quality control. If you’re willing to dig there are classic treasures to be found, but not everyone has that sort of time. You can also add on services like HBO and Starz. When it comes to TV shows, Amazon has a few strengths, including all of FX’s drama programming and its original series. But there isn’t a great deal of modern catalog. However, again going back to the deep cuts, it’s the only place to legally stream the original Unsolved Mysteries.

That said, Hulu’s deep movie archive, which includes Disney films, is on par with what you can find on Amazon’s Prime streaming service. If you have both services, you will notice a lot of overlap in the movies streaming on each service.

Daily Dot


RECAP:

If you’re weighing a Hulu subscription, you’ll want to consider the service’s original programming. While still lagging behind Netflix and Amazon Prime, Hulu has produced several must-watch shows. Here are the Hulu shows we’d start with.

Hulu upped their game in a serious way with this year’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which adapts Margaret Atwood’s acclaimed 1985 dystopian novel. Set in a future where the United States has given way to a totalitarian Christian theocracy called Gilead, The Handmaid’s Tale follows Offred (Elisabeth Moss), a woman forced to help breed the children of the privileged after a global outbreak of infertility. Presenting a future that seems uncomfortably prescient in 2017, the series has been nominated for 11 Emmys. Our review called it “dark and devastating,” so gear up. —David Wharton

Screengrab via Hulu/YouTube

Samantha Morton stars in Harlots as Margaret Wells, a former prostitute-turned-madam of her own brothel in 18th century London. As she struggles to better her station in life, she meets resistance from societal pressures, religious zealots, and her biggest rival—who happens to be her own former madam. With Morton playing against type, Harlots is, as Nico Lang wrote in our review, “a breath of fresh air and a bawdy delight.” —D.W.

Screengrab via Hulu/YouTube

Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul returned to series television with this twisty thriller about a life inside a fictional cult known as Meyerism. Paul plays Eddie Lane, a Meyerist who’s now questioning his faith. That puts him at odds with both his wife (Michelle Monaghan) and the charismatic leader of the group, Calvin Roberts (Hugh Dancy).

When we last left the Meyerist Movement, followers of “the Light,” climbers of “the Ladder” (the show manages to use a lot of other metaphors which aren’t “the path”), they were being split down the middle. A power struggle between prodigal son Lane and Roberts was brewing. Season 3 of The Path continues to put this power struggle at the forefront, but not without taking some unexpected turns along the way. It’s the sharpest season to date. —Chris Osterndorf

Hulu/YouTube


Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.

John-Michael Bond is a tech reporter and culture writer for Daily Dot. A longtime cord-cutter and early adapter, he's an expert on streaming services (Hulu with Live TV), devices (Roku, Amazon Fire), and anime. A former staff writer for TUAW, he's knowledgeable on all things Apple and Android. You can also find him talking about religion each week on the Who’s Your God podcast and performing standup comedy in Los Angeles.

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Hulu has quietly become one of the best alternatives to Netflix, whether your poison of choice is TV shows, movies, or documentaries. But there are plenty of things you need to know before cutting the cord. Here’s everything you need to know about how Hulu works, from the cost of various Hulu plans to the devices the service works with.