Hulu is enormously popular for its on-demand catalog of currently-airing TV shows and movies. But how does its live TV service compare? Our Hulu with Live TV review digs into the new internet TV option to see how well it serves cord-cutters.
Keep reading to find out what you get out of Hulu with Live TV, what the experience is like and more.
- 1 What is Hulu with Live TV?
- 2 Plans and Add-ons
- 3 Free Trial, Features and Channels
- 4 Overall Review
- 5 Final Thoughts
Hulu launched its live TV streaming service in the spring of 2017. Less than a year later, Hulu with Live TV amassed more than 450,000 subscribers. That’s nothing next to the 17,000,000 subscribers on Hulu’s on-demand service. Still, the numbers place Hulu with Live TV fourth on the list of American TV streaming services behind Sling TV, DirectTV Now and PlayStation Vue.
Technically, Hulu with Live TV isn’t a finished product. Hulu opened the service as a public “beta” test. That means its features will evolve over time. It also helps explain a last-minute glitch during the Super Bowl. The Hulu app stopped working just as the Patriots tried to make an end-of-game drive to hold off the Eagles with less than sixty seconds on the clock. (Spoiler: the Eagles won.)
Despite that one issue, Hulu with Live TV is a stable, well-rounded internet streaming service.
As with all the other streaming TV services, Hulu with Live TV is intended for people living in the US only. Hulu asks you to share your location during the setup process. This sets the Home location that Hulu uses to deliver your local stations.
Hulu also geo-fences your account so you can’t share it. No televisions, game consoles or streaming devices will work with your account at someone else’s home.
One of the reasons for Hulu with Live TV’s popularity is how easy it is to get. Hulu made the decision to fold its streaming TV service into many of the same apps people already use for their on-demand viewing.
If you already have the Hulu app on your device, odds are you have everything you need to watch live TV. Otherwise, here are the devices that support live TV viewing with Hulu:
- Living room devices: Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Roku.
- Smart TVs and Blu-ray players: Certain TV models from Samsung
- Mobile devices and tablets: Amazon Fire Tablets, Android, and iOS
- Game consoles: Nintendo Switch, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
- Desktop browsers: Chrome, Edge, Firefox and Safari.
In early February, Hulu’s developers rolled out a new feature for some of these devices — 60 frames-per-second video streams. This creates a smoother experience during fast-paced sports broadcasts and action movies.
The platforms that support the new 60 fps feature right now include Apple iOS and tvOS, the Xbox One, Amazon’s Fire TV, Samsung’s Tizen-based televisions and the Nintendo Switch.
Plans and Add-ons
Hulu with Live TV’s primary subscription costs $40 per month. Besides giving you access to more than fifty live TV channels, you get the Hulu on-demand library. The core features include fifty hours of recording space on the cloud DVR and simultaneous streaming to two devices.
Hulu’s Enhanced Cloud DVR will cost you an extra $15 per month. You get two hundred hours of recording time and the ability to fast forward through commercials.
The Unlimited Screens upgrade also costs $15 per month and lets you stream to as many devices as your home network can handle. Away from home, the Unlimited Screens upgrade lets you stream to three devices at once.
Hulu bundles both upgrades together for $20 per month.
Hulu with Live TV won’t let you customize your channel lineup the way Sling TV does. You can’t expand the number of channels like you can with DirecTV Now. The only options you have are to subscribe to HBO, Cinemax or Showtime at monthly rates of $15, $10 or $9 respectively.
Free Trial, Features and Channels
Hulu with Live TV comes with a free, seven-day trial for new subscribers. You also get a thirty-day free trial of add-ons like the Unlimited Screens upgrade.
Like every other streaming TV service except Philo, the sign-up process requires your email address and credit card information. Hulu also asks you to specifically request temporary recordings to enable pausing live TV and other standard features.
Once you’re done with the setup, you land on the Hulu app’s home screen. If you’ve been using the Hulu app for on-demand viewing, you’ll notice a change in the layout to accommodate the live TV functions. I describe the web app in the following sections. The exact layout will vary from device to device, but the “new Hulu experience” is pretty consistent.
The live TV player autoplays the last channel you watched. The on-screen controls are straightforward. You can pause live TV as well as skip back and forth in ten-second jumps.
The gear icon lets you lower the video quality when bandwidth-challenged, toggle closed captions, and toggle the live TV autoplay.
The Guide button opens a sidebar for navigating channels. By default, the sidebar displays every network alphabetically. Other options let you filter channels by Sports, News, Movies and Kids.
As an example of the difference between apps, Hulu’s iPad app has a “Fliptray” button rather than a Guide button. It presents a ribbon of live streams by network and a ribbon of upcoming streams for the network you’re watching.
You can minimize Hulu’s video player while you navigate through the Hulu interface (this worked for me in the browser, Apple TV and iPad).
With an on-demand subscription, My Stuff is the list of your favorite TV shows. With a live TV subscription, My Stuff also includes your recorded content.
Hulu’s recording functions are a work in progress. You won’t find every feature in every app. The Apple TV app, for example, got an update at the end of January that lets users add TV series to My Stuff without recording every episode.
Hulu records every new episode of your My Stuff TV shows by default. Depending on the network and the TV series, you might be able to record a single episode or might have to record every new episode.
The way Hulu handles some sports also gets messy. Let’s say you’re a fan of Penn State hockey and you want to record the Penn State – Michigan State match. You can’t record that one event. You have to add the College Hockey “show” to My Stuff. Hulu will record every college hockey match.
Licensing issues will also affect what you can record. If the show is in progress, then Hulu’s cloud DVR might save the entire show from the beginning or it will save everything from the moment you added the show to My Stuff or it won’t record at all.
Premium networks like HBO as well as local TV stations won’t let you record their content.
Hulu with Live TV does not have a traditional programming guide. The Browse section, however, has many different ways to find something to watch.
You can select Live to get a quick look at everything that’s on right now. Hulu arranges this section in a grid of thumbnails alphabetically by network. Click on a thumbnail and you go to that show in progress.
Selecting Network lets you drill down to specific channels which displays a schedule of upcoming broadcasts, a list of on-demand titles and more.
Browse also arranges TV series by more than a dozen genres including Science & Technology, Action and News.
If you want to see TV shows or movies starring a specific actor or created by a particular director, then the search function does a reasonable job. But not always…
Hulu’s marketing claims more than fifty live TV channels. I got sixty live TV channels including my local ABC, Fox and NBC stations. Hulu can’t live stream my local CBS station, but I can watch recent episodes of the network’s current TV shows. And I mean recent. The first two episodes of The Amazing Race have already disappeared.
Hulu organizes its channels into four categories:
- Entertainment: A&E, ABC, Adult Swim (East and West), CBS, Bravo, E!, Food Network, Fox, Freeform, FX, FXM, FXX, fyi, HGTV, History, Lifetime, Lifetime Movie Network, Nat Geo Wild, National Geographic, NBC, Oxygen, Pop, Smithsonian Channel, Syfy, TBS (East and West), TCM (East and West), Telemundo, TNT (East and West), Travel Channel, Tru, Universal HD, USA, Viceland
- Sports: Big Ten Network, CBS Sports Network, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNews, ESPNU, Fox Regional Sports Network(s), FS1, FS2, Golf, NBCSN, Olympic Channel, SEC Network
- Kids: Boomerang, Disney, Disney Jr, Disney XD
- News: CNBC, CNN, CNN International, Fox Business, Fox News, HLN, MSNBC
Hulu also provides on-demand access to another two dozen channels like BBC America and Science Channel.
Your channel mileage may vary. The nature of streaming TV licensing deals means your city may get more or fewer channels.
In general, Hulu with Live TV delivered smooth, high-resolution video streams. I experienced buffering and resolution issues during prime time, although this ended within a few minutes of starting a stream. Once it settled in, the picture quality on Apple TV and iPad was excellent.
Most of the networks Hulu carries distribute their video feeds in 1080i Full HD resolution. ABC, ESPN and Fox are the exceptions. They limit their streams to 720p high definition. Hulu with Live TV does not offer 4K resolution or high dynamic range content, although owners of Xbox One and PlayStation 4 game consoles can stream 4K video on-demand.
As I mentioned earlier, Hulu has rolled out 60 frames-per-second video across many of its channels. While this is the standard frame rate for broadcast and cable TV, streaming services often use 30 frames-per-second to save on bandwidth. Hulu’s upgrade will make fast-paced action in sports and entertainment programs look much better. At this point, fifteen networks offer high frame rate video:
- Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, CNBC, CNN, CNN International, HLN, MSNBC, NBC (including local affiliates), NBC Sports Network, Olympic Channel, Showtime, TBS, TCM, TNT and TruTV.
Streams from about half of Hulu’s Fox affiliates also have high frame rate feeds.
For just $40 per month, Hulu with Live TV’s channel lineup, quality video streams and widespread device support make the streaming TV service a great choice for replacing your cable subscription – especially when you factor in the Hulu on-demand library.
As a “beta” project, however, Hulu with Live TV has some rough patches that it needs to fix. For example, Hulu hasn’t fully implemented its features across all of its apps.
Channel quality: 9
Hulu with Live TV does not offer the broad range of channels of its biggest competitors. It does, however, offer a solid selection of the most popular networks on television. Hulu’s local TV coverage isn’t perfect, but still takes second place to YouTube.
The channel selection could improve if Hulu cuts deals with Discovery Communications (Discovery Channel, Science Channel) and AMC Networks (AMC, BBC America).
Although not live TV, Hulu does get some credit for its huge library of on-demand content.
Streaming quality: 8
My Apple TV uses an Ethernet connection, so the diminished video quality and buffering I ran into was not due to Wi-Fi. It’s hard to tell whether those few issues were Hulu’s fault or on Comcast’s network.
Hulu’s decision to switch to 60 frames-per-second video will make a visible improvement to the quality of its video streams.
The default limit of two simultaneous streams may disappoint families.
Device support: 8
Hulu with Live TV is a beta service, which means they are filling the holes in their service as they go along. The “new Hulu experience” isn’t available in every app.
In addition, the apps get updated with new features at different times. The Android app, for example, hasn’t gotten the new DVR features pushed out to the Apple TV and iOS devices.
At $40 per month for fifty to sixty channels, Hulu with Live TV competes effectively with its competitors. Having to pay an extra $20 per month to upgrade the cloud DVR and multiple device support, however, keeps it from being a slam dunk.
More than seventeen million people in America have a Hulu on-demand subscription. Odds are, the apps they use will support Hulu with Live TV. That gives Hulu a strong basis for growth over the long term.
But that may not stop business executives from spoiling a good thing. I mentioned at the beginning that Disney/ABC, Fox, Comcast/NBC and Time Warner own Hulu. Disney and Comcast are about to get into a bidding war to take over Fox. The winner will own 60% of Hulu. It’s entirely possible that the loser will walk away to create its own service.
Hulu with Live TV is a great service today, but that may not be true two years from now. Don’t let CEO slugfests deter you from considering Hulu’s streaming TV service now. If Hulu offers what you need today, then go for it. You can always cut the cord again if Hulu changes.