Cord Cutting Guides, News, and Reviews
Read our breakdown of all things streaming services. We'll show you which streaming services you can use to replace cable and cut the cord.
Hulu is one of the oldest names in the young business of video streaming. The company started as a joint venture between several big-name media companies, and its on-demand streaming service was the first significant competitor to Netflix. Years later, Hulu introduced something new: A live TV streaming service with a cable-like selection of live TV channels. Designed to compete with the likes of Sling TV and fuboTV, Hulu + Live TV has been among the strongest skinny bundle contenders since it debuted in 2017. As Hulu + Live TV has grown and changed, we’ve kept our review up-to-date with fresh testing and our evolving impressions. Here’s what I found when I re-tested the service for this 2021 edition of our review.
Hulu + Live TV includes two different types of streaming content: Live TV channels and on-demand videos.
The big deal here is the option to stream live TV online, which is not included in Hulu’s cheaper subscription package. The “+ Live TV” part of Hulu + Live TV is a selection of more than 65 live TV channels. The Hulu + Live TV channel lineup is packed with channels that you might recognize from cable and satellite bundles. Entertainment networks like Cartoon Network, FX, and TBS are included. So are cable news channels like CNN and Fox News, as well as sports networks like ESPN and FS1. Hulu + Live TV also carries regional sports networks, which are available in the markets they serve — although the selection has thinned considerably now that Hulu + Live TV has dropped Sinclair’s Fox Sports RSNs following a recent carriage dispute.
Hulu + Live TV let me watch much of this same content in an on-demand form. Like other live TV streaming services, Hulu + Live TV seems to take programs from recent TV broadcasts and make them available on an on-demand basis — albeit still in their edited-for-TV versions.
Unlike most other live TV streaming services, though, Hulu + Live TV also has a dedicated library of on-demand content that is not culled from TV broadcasts. That’s because Hulu + Live TV includes everything that you’d get from regular old “Hulu,” the simpler (and much cheaper) on-demand subscription option. As the name suggests, you’re really getting Hulu (the on-demand service) plus live TV.
That extra content really puts Hulu + Live TV over the top. As I’ll talk about in more detail in a moment, Hulu + Live TV would already have been a top live TV streaming contender with just the “live TV” part of the equation alone. The fact that it also includes all of Hulu’s great on-demand content — including Hulu original series like The Handmaid’s Tale and 11.22.63 and Hulu original films like Palm Springs — gives Hulu + Live TV a big advantage over the competition. Hulu’s on-demand service competes with HBO Max and Netflix; in the live TV market, where on-demand content is an afterthought and original series are rare, Hulu’s on-demand library feels like a superstar dropping in on a pickup game.
Of course, you can get that entire on-demand library with Hulu’s regular, non-live TV subscription. But Hulu + Live TV’s core offering — the live TV — is on point, too. The aforementioned channel list is very robust and includes all the big networks from just about all of the big media companies, including Viacom-CBS and other giants that are sometimes reluctant to sign carriage deals with live TV streaming services. Though the channel count falls a little short of the high bar set by YouTube TV’s channel list, it beats DIRECTV Stream’s base plan (of course, that's not DIRECTV Stream's only plan — for a full accounting of how the two services match up, be sure to check out our comparison piece on Hulu + Live TV vs. DIRECTV Stream). Hulu + Live TV also measures up well against Sling TV and fuboTV.
Hulu’s app isn’t quite intuitive, but it’s not too tough to get the hang of. I found each individual menu pretty straightforward, though I had a few issues with how Hulu choose to organize and connect them within the app. Hulu’s approach reminded me a bit of Netflix’s and Amazon Prime Video’s: As with those services, I could easily surf its menus and find something to watch, but I couldn’t always predict which options and genres I’d find on the ever-shifting content discovery menus.
Unlike some competitors, though, Hulu + Live TV offers simple ways to access menus of TV shows and movies sorted by genre. I didn’t have to wait for Hulu + Live TV to decide to suggest a menu of horror movies; I could navigate to the movies tab myself and drill down to a menu of just horror movies. I appreciate the control this gave me. I’m not a huge fan of the algorithmic approach that most streaming services rely on.
When watching live TV on the Hulu + Live TV Roku and Fire TV apps, I found the channel-changing process a bit more cumbersome than with some competitors. You certainly won’t have any trouble finding something and tuning in, but aimless channel surfing won’t feel quite as natural as it does with some competitors.
On the web app, Hulu + Live TV had an interesting “pop up” system for keeping my live feed going as I browsed channels. This made channel surfing easier, and I liked that Hulu + Live TV let me move the live TV window around freely, rather than restricting it to the sides or corners. I found it very easy to move the stream out of the way to uncover a button or a menu option.
On Roku and Fire TV, Hulu + Live TV isn’t as good about keeping the live TV feed going. Changing the channel means backing out of your program and navigating the menus in silence. This isn’t the end of the world, though — it’s a perfectly functional approach, and it never kept me from enjoying Hulu + Live TV.
Live and let live TV
Hulu + Live TV’s branding can be a little confusing. The live TV multichannel service — the “+ Live TV” part — is very different from the on-demand “Hulu” service that we’ve known for years. Should these services really have the same branding?
When I was using the Hulu + Live TV app, I felt like the company’s designers were trying to answer the question I just asked. “Yes,” they were saying, “these should be the same service: Just look how nicely it all fits together!”
The on-demand and live TV portions of Hulu + Live TV are thoroughly integrated throughout the app. While there are some menus that focus on just one type of content or the other, the default views tend to mix and match. In Hulu’s apps, I often found myself on screens that showed me both live and on-demand options.
Sometimes, this combination works well. For example, maybe you’re a fan of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. That show is included in Hulu’s on-demand library, so you can watch it with regular old Hulu. If you have Hulu + Live TV, the show has a similar-looking home page, but you’ll also see options that help you catch the show on live TV or record new episodes to your cloud DVR. This worked really well: Everything related to the show, including past episodes and future airings, was in one spot.
The marriage of live and on-demand content in Hulu’s apps didn’t always work this well, though. I sometimes felt that Hulu + Live TV was too willing to elevate content from its live TV side at the expense of its own Hulu on-demand library.
When I was in the mood to watch a movie or show on demand, I generally wanted to head straight into Hulu’s own on-demand catalog — not the edited-for-TV stuff that they’d pulled in from the live TV side. When TV-related menus like “movies on now” popped up in my hunt for on-demand content, I wanted to shoo them away.
Sometimes, I’d unknowingly select a film or movie that was from the “live TV side” of the service. Looking for a TV episode to watch on my lunch break, I might find The Simpsons — only to realize that the show’s page existed because of the “+ Live TV” side, and didn’t include any old episodes (classic Simpsons episodes are on Disney+, not Hulu). Similarly, I might be looking for the right film for a home movie night and see the edited-for-TV versions of films from the TV side of Hulu + Live TV.
Another frustrating crossover is the fact that you can “DVR” on-demand content. Even Hulu originals, which by definition do not air on live TV, can be “recorded” with the DVR feature, and this action was entirely separate from the “My List” feature, which is the watchlist/favorites system.
I wish there had been more focus on the Hulu on-demand library as something separate from the TV-side on-demand content. When I wanted to watch Hulu’s own on-demand library, I felt the surfacing of the TV-side content got in the way; and when I wanted to watch TV, I virtually always headed straight for the TV guide menu or one of the other menus that were focused entirely on live TV alone.
Like a few of my other favorite live TV streaming services (including the particularly sports-centric fuboTV) Hulu + Live TV seems to recognize the role that sports play in keeping cord cutters in the live TV market. I’m a sports fan myself, and I kept my cable cord for longer than I should have just to watch my beloved New York Mets. So I was thrilled to see that Hulu + Live TV not only carried lots of sports channels (including SNY, the home of my dear Metropolitans) but also boasted a ton of great quality-of-life features for sports fans.
Like Sling TV and fuboTV, Hulu + Live TV uses a dedicated tab on its main menu to cater to sports fans. That tab surfaces live events and recommendations, which made it easy to find something to watch even when the live-sports pickings were slim.
The recommendations work well, and one reason for that is that Hulu + Live TV takes note of each user’s favorite sports teams. I really, really liked this feature. I’m a bit of an omnivorous sports fan, so I have a lot of teams and sports to keep track of. That’s not ideal for a disorganized guy like me, so I really appreciated Hulu + Live TV’s help in tracking down the games I might otherwise have missed. Some sports are easy — I know when the Mets play, ESPN will tell me when the NBA games are on, and I can usually be counted upon to know which day of the week is NFL Sunday — but that still leaves a lot of gaps in my sports scheduling knowledge. This Hulu + Live TV feature really helped me catch less predictable and lower-profile events, like college hockey games, that I might otherwise have missed.
My experience with Hulu + Live TV was packed with plenty of features and conveniences. On top of the really impressive sports-centric feature set, Hulu + Live TV included a cloud DVR feature, which let me record up to 50 hours of content. That’s not a ton by the standards of the industry, but it was plenty for me — I watch a lot of sports, which don’t really lend themselves to DVR-ing anyway. If you need more than those 50 hours, you can pay for the enhanced DVR, which boasts 200 hours’ worth of space. The weak point of the Hulu cloud DVR feature was its ads: The basic DVR doesn’t let you fast-forward through ads in your recordings. For that fairly basic bit of DVR functionality, you’ll have to pay for the aforementioned upgrade package.
Hulu + Live TV also allowed me to create multiple user profiles within my account. This is a pretty basic feature, but it really enhanced other Hulu + Live TV features, like the ability to set favorite sports teams — my girlfriend and I didn’t have to agree on our favorites, because we could have separate accounts.
Though you can have plenty of accounts, Hulu + Live TV will only let you stream on two screens at once unless you pay for a special add-on that removes the cap.
Including all of the on-demand content, Hulu + Live TV’s streaming quality runs the gamut from 720p all the way up to 4K Ultra HD. As you might expect, though, the live TV portion of Hulu + Live TV’s offerings is the part that is delivered in the lower resolution: 720p and an industry-standard 60 frames per second is the baseline, though some broadcasts can reach 1080p on devices that support it (namely Apple TV, Fire TV, Chromecast, and Samsung Smart TV, plus modern video game consoles). The 720p standard is typical among live TV streaming services, and the support for 1080p — though limited — puts Hulu + Live TV in the top live TV streaming quality tier alongside YouTube TV.
The on-demand content, naturally, can vary all the way up to 4K Ultra HD. For more on that, check out our review of Hulu’s on-demand subscription service.
In my trials, Hulu + Live TV streamed extremely well. The loading times were quick, the picture quality was consistently high, and the streams — both live TV and on-demand — were smooth and reliable. I tested Hulu + Live TV’s streaming quality on several devices using wired, Wi-Fi, and mobile data connections, and had no problems whatsoever with any combination.
Hulu + Live TV has apps for every major streaming platform, including Roku, Fire TV, Android TV, and Apple TV. It worked well for me on iOS and Android mobile devices, and it’s also at home in a browser running on a desktop or laptop computer. You’ll need an up-to-date version of Hulu’s app to run the live TV features, but that’s almost definitely not going to be a problem: Hulu has its latest app working on virtually every platform. Hulu’s latest app works on the Nintendo Switch (an impressive thing, since the Switch tends to have fewer streaming apps than the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One — both of which, by the way, Hulu also supports).
I tested Hulu + Live TV on Firefox, Chrome, iOS, Android, Roku, Fire TV, and Chromecast. I found the apps to be very consistent, and I think you’ll have a good experience no matter which platform you prefer.
Not so long ago, Hulu was far and away the best deal in live TV streaming. Then, unfortunately, it became the latest victim of the live TV streaming price creep.
So how do things stand now? In my view, Hulu + Live TV is still doing pretty well. The latest price hike means that Hulu + Live TV isn’t quite head and shoulders above the rest of the live TV gang, but the current Hulu + Live TV pricing — $64.99 for more than 65 channels — is very much still in the race for top value in live TV streaming. There are cheaper deals (like Sling TV’s entry-level bundles), but most include fewer channels. And while there are competitors who offer a few more channels at the same price point (like YouTube TV), the marginal value of those relatively obscure channels doesn’t appeal to me as much as Hulu + Live TV’s inclusion of Hulu’s entire on-demand library, including all of the Hulu original series and movies.
Hulu + Live TV has only one base bundle, so there isn’t a ton that you can do to customize your channel selection. There are a few premium add-ons, like HBO Max, all of which are priced as you’d expect. Beyond these premium channels, Hulu + Live TV’s add-ons are generally designed to enhance the user experience, not the channel count. You can pay to ditch ads (on the on-demand content, obviously — the live TV will still have commercial breaks). You can also pay more to expand your DVR storage space and gain the ability to skip ads in recorded content. You can even pay to remove the limit on simultaneous streaming. The last of these might be a great deal for large households splitting the bill, but that’s the only area where Hulu + Live TV’s add-on prices jump out at me. For the most part, Hulu + Live TV’s add-ons seem pretty fairly priced: They’re not rip-offs, but not eye-popping deals, either.
Still, the core bundle is the main point here, and I think Hulu + Live TV is very competitively priced.
Hulu + Live TV is in the upper tier of live TV streaming services.
It’s not perfect, of course: I sometimes felt that Hulu + Live TV tried too hard to integrate its live TV offerings with its on-demand library, which made it harder to find great titles in the Hulu on-demand library and didn’t do much to enhance the TV side of things. And, like its competitors, Hulu + Live TV has seen some price hikes that have chipped away at its once obvious advantage over legacy pay-TV options like cable.
At the end of the day, though, this is a fantastic service. Its collection of channels is comprehensive, but not bloated; its streaming quality is superb; it’s competitively priced; and it includes, at no extra charge, access to one of the best on-demand streaming services on the market.