How does Hulu work? Pricing, plans, channels, and how to get it

Simon Cohen

Hulu hasn’t always been a big fish in the ever-expansive streaming oceans, but by now, it’s almost ubiquitous with the industry. If you’re a newcomer, you likely have lots of questions: What can you actually watch on a streaming site like Hulu? How much does it cost? How does Hulu’s live TV service (or services like it) differ from the standard cable package? How does it all work?

Well, question king, we’ll cover everything for you in this complete guide to Hulu and Hulu + Live TV. Content, features, technical requirements, cost, and more — there’s a lot to go over. Settle in and get acquainted, and then grab the snuggie and popcorn, because you won’t be able to resist a good binge session if you end up subscribing.

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hulu plus screenshot

What is Hulu?

Hulu is an on-demand video service that allows users to stream popular TV shows in the U.S. and Japan, with international expansion planned for 2021. It is co-owned by The Walt Disney Company and Comcast.  Hulu focuses primarily on streaming newer TV shows from many popular network broadcasters, plus original content, blockbuster and independent films, and documentaries.

The platform differs from other well-known streaming sites such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in that it allows users earlier access to popular series from multiple traditional networks. You typically only have to wait a week — and in some cases, just a day — to watch episodes of popular broadcast TV series after they’ve aired. Unlike cable, there are also no hidden fees, equipment rentals, or installation appointments associated with having a Hulu subscription. You can watch Hulu at home or on the go via many of your favorite streaming devices.

In October 2019, Hulu added the ability to watch content offline, something that users of other streaming services have been able to do for years. Viewers can download up to 25 titles across five different devices and will have up to 30 days to watch their downloaded content. The feature is limited to Hulu’s ad-free plans (more on these plans below).

As mentioned, Hulu also has a growing lineup of exclusive original content such as the award-winning drama series The Handmaid’s Tale, hip-hop docuseries Wu Tang: An American Saga, and more.

So what is Hulu + Live TV?

Hulu’s latest undertaking is Hulu + Live TV. The $55-per-month streaming service (following a $10 price bump in November 2019) allows subscribers to watch live and on-demand TV programming from more than 60 channels, including local news and sports, along with everything you’ll get from Hulu’s on-demand tier mentioned above. Most recent additions include Discovery Channel, TLC, Investigation Discovery, Motor Trend (formerly Velocity), and Animal Planet.

Hulu + Live TV can be compared to other services like Sling TV or YouTube TV which allow access to live programming without the need for a cable or satellite subscription. Like those other services, Hulu + Live TV is not without its kinks. The streaming quality for live programs is often not as good as cable and may suffer with slower internet speeds or during high-traffic periods, though this is something that can be said for plenty of live TV streaming services.

To watch on a computer, head to the Hulu + Live TV website at new.hulu.com. From here, you’ll see your options for on-demand content, as you would with a traditional Hulu subscription, but you’ll also see a “Live TV” button at the top of the screen.

There’s a bit of a schism in the Hulu universe right now as the company migrates from its “classic” experience to its new “full” experience. If you’re only using Hulu on devices where the full experience is supported, you shouldn’t run into problems, but if you’re using some devices where only the older Hulu is supported, you might find that you run into trouble, since the old-style “Watchlist” and the new “My Stuff” don’t integrate as well as you might hope. As Hulu continues to roll out updates to its new experience, we expect this area to continue to improve.

Those updates happen quite frequently as Hulu tries out changes to its user interface. Recently the company made its menu options easier to read by eliminating a transparency effect that reduced the legibility of the text. It also added like and dislike buttons, a valuable feedback system for Hulu to help shape your recommendations with more preciseness.

Courtesy of Hulu

Which devices can I use?

As listed on Hulu’s website, Hulu and Hulu + Live TV are available on a wide range of popular streaming devices, including both Android and iOS devices, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Fire tablets, Google’s Chromecast devices, Android TV, Mac and PC browsers, select LG and Samsung smart TVs, the Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, and the Nintendo Switch.

Some older platforms and devices, like the PlayStation 3, are still missing out on the full-fledged Hulu experience, and that’s unlikely to change as consumers are pushed to upgrade. Others stuck on Hulu’s Classic app (which does not allow for select features, including the live TV option) include select Vizio TVs, Wii U, TiVo, and some Blu-ray players from Sony, Samsung, and LG.

How much does Hulu actually cost?

Although Hulu used to offer a free (albeit limited) version of its library of content, that is no longer the case. The platform moved to an entirely subscription-based model in 2016, eliminating the free, ad-supported service. However, in a recent partnership with Yahoo, Hulu moved some of its free content to Yahoo View. The website will make available the most recent episodes of select series, and new episodes will be added eight days after they air.

The traditional Hulu streaming service is now divided into a subscription, ad-supported tier for $6 per month (following a price drop of $2 per month) and an ad-free tier for $12 per month (which we think is well worth the money). Hulu + Live TV is $55 per month, up from a sweet debut price of $45, which includes the ad-supported streaming option, 50 hours of cloud DVR, and the ability to watch on two screens concurrently. Add another $6 if you’d rather do without the constant nagging to buy something.

Add-ons

There’s more than enough to get lost with on Hulu, but you can add even more through premium channels available as add-ons. If your motivation for cutting the cord rests in financials, be warned: Things can get pretty pricey going this route. Hulu subscribers have the option of adding monthly subscriptions like HBO ($15), Cinemax ($10), or Showtime ($9) on top of their existing Hulu subscription.

As for Hulu + Live TV, while the service comes with 50 hours of online cloud storage, users can purchase 200 hours of online DVR storage space for $15 per month. The service comes with a limit of two screens that can be used to watch the service at one time, but this can be upgraded to unlimited screens at home or three on the go for another $15. Fortunately, if you want both of these upgrades, Hulu takes $10 off the price, letting you bundle both for $20 per month on top of your subscription.

For those without cable, any of these subscriptions could be a worthwhile addition. They offer access to countless hours of content, including unique series that can’t be found elsewhere. While subscriptions can be a bit pricey, putting up with ads and fewer available screens can make both services pretty affordable. But don’t forget to factor in the cost of your internet connection.

What about Disney+?

In case you haven’t heard, Disney+ is finally here. As the controlling shareholder in Hulu, we expected Disney to leverage the TV streaming service to promote its new own service. We got some intermingling in that regard — you can bundle Disney+ with ESPN+ and Hulu for a $6 discount on the streaming cocktail — but you can’t currently add Disney+ to Hulu as you would HBO or Showtime.

To be clear, that potential marriage isn’t completely off the table, especially with Hulu’s gradual maturation under Disney stewardship. In fact, the streaming service recently said goodbye to its CEO as Disney looks to tighten its control over the properties. This doesn’t guarantee anything will happen in that regard, but you may want to keep tabs as time progresses.

For now, Disney+ is completely self-contained within its own specific app, and you’ll even have different bills to manage if you’re taking advantage of the Disney Bundle as an existing Hulu customer. Disney hasn’t revealed any plans for that to change in the foreseeable future, so for now, you can treat Disney+ as an entirely separate beast.

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Interested in visiting the digital Magic Kingdom? Here’s how to get Disney+, and don’t forget to check out the Disney Bundle if you’re a subscriber to all three!

The need for speed?

Hulu and Hulu + Live TV can be streamed at a variety of different quality levels, which will adjust automatically depending on your internet speed. For smooth, interruption-free playback, Hulu recommends a minimum download speed of 6 Mbps for Hulu in HD and 8 Mbps for Hulu + Live TV. If you are planning on streaming to multiple devices, more bandwidth will be required for a quality experience. Hulu also recently added limited 4K content back to its lineup, and you’ll need a well-oiled network to handle that.

The internet connection speed requirements for Hulu are as follows:

  • Standard Definition: 1.5Mbps
  • 720p HD: 3Mbps
  • 1080p HD: 6Mbps
  • Hulu + Live TV: 8Mbps
  • Ultra HD 4K: 16Mbps

How do you get it?

Signing up for Hulu is easy whether you’re on a smartphone or computer. Simply visit hulu.com/welcome and follow the on-screen instructions. You can also link your Hulu account with your Apple or Android account to make payments simpler. If you’re using a mobile or TV app, Hulu usually has simple sign up and activation methods built-in.

Unlike traditional TV, Hulu does not require any contracts or long-term commitments. You can try the service’s seven-day free trial and cancel afterward with no fees (although you do have to put in your credit card information when you sign up). If you decide to cancel your subscription, you can do so easily online or via customer service. If you ever decide to pick it back up again, your account information will still be accessible.