The Hulu versus Disney+ battle is an odd one because the two services aren’t really competitors. Thanks to Disney’s $71 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox, both Hulu and Disney+ are owned by the same company. They’re not rivals but partners, which together will help Disney take on the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, and more.
That’s not to say the services are two halves of the same whole, though. Hulu and Disney+ occupy very different niches in the streaming economy. Ideally, you’d subscribe to both, but if you’re looking to make some tough choices with your streaming budget, here’s a breakdown of how the two compare.
At their cores, Hulu and Disney+ are both on-demand streaming services with big libraries full of movies and television shows. That’s more or less where the similarities end. While Disney+ is focused on bringing the biggest brands in the entertainment industry into your living room, Hulu’s major hook is its variety and an extensive collection of current television programs. For now, anyway. Eventually, Hulu will look very different under Disney’s brand, but that will take time.
Like Netflix, Hulu currently aggregates content from various studios, making them available to stream in one place. By contrast, Disney+ is the streaming home for Disney’s big studios: Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, National Geographic, and Disney itself. If you want to stream The Empire Strikes Back, Avengers: Endgame, Toy Story, or The Little Mermaid, Disney+ is your only option. If you’re looking for a more eclectic collection of things to watch, Hulu is your best bet.
The same holds true when it comes to original content. For the most part, Disney+’s big originals will be based on its major franchises. The Mandalorian, Disney+’s flagship show at launch, is a live-action series set in the Star Wars Universe.
Down the line, you can expect more Star Wars series, such as an Obi-Wan Kenobi series starring Ewan McGregor, as well as upcoming superhero shows like WandaVision and Loki, which are Marvel Cinematic Universe spin-offs and will tie into future Marvel movies.
While most of Disney’s originals are still in the works, Hulu already hosts a solid collection of original series that hew closer to prestige TV trends. The Handmaid’s Tale is a politically charged thriller based on a classic novel. Castle Rock is an ambitious mash-up of Stephen King’s various creations. Shrill is a feminist comedy inspired by writer Lindy West, while Ramy is an auto-biographical dramedy focused on the experiences of an American Muslim.
Hulu has much more new stuff too. One of Hulu’s biggest selling points right now is its broadcast television library, which is filled with shows currently airing. While Disney+ gets new seasons of Disney Channel cartoons and live-action series sometime after they air on television, Hulu contains programs from almost all of the major networks and several cable channels.
What’s more, unlike Netflix, you don’t have to wait for seasons to end before new episodes appear on Hulu. Most of the time, Hulu gets new installments of a show a few days (or less) after they air on television. As the streaming wars rage and studios increasingly pull their licensed content to air on their own streaming services, this may change. But for now, Hulu is a great way to stay in the loop.
In addition, since Disney+ carries Disney branding, any mature content Disney owns or produces will be sent to Hulu rather than Disney+. For example, don’t expect Deadpool to appear on Disney+.
Finally, Hulu also offers an add-on service, Hulu + Live TV, that will let you stream a number of live network and cable channels as they air over the Hulu app. This costs a lot more and isn’t targeting the same audience as Disney+ or regular Hulu, but it’s still worth knowing about.
Disney+’s pricing structure is easy. It costs $7 a month, or $70 if you pay for a whole year upfront. That’s it. While those prices may change over time (and, occasionally, you can find deals to get it cheaper or even free), right now that’s all there is to it.
With Hulu, you have two options. The basic Hulu service is only $6, but there’s a catch. Remember how we said Hulu gets new TV episodes a day after they air? Well, you can watch them, but you’ll have to deal with ads at every commercial break. For $12, Hulu will remove the ads, although a short advertisement may still play at the beginning of a very few selected programs.
If you also want Hulu + Live TV, you’ll pay $55 for access to the regular Hulu library, or $61 for the ad-free “Premium” tier (note that the $61 subscription only removes ads from Hulu’s regular on-demand content — you’ll still see ads when watching live television).
You can also get add-ons for Hulu, including HBO for $15, Cinemax for $10, Showtime for $11, and STARZ for $9.
If you want both Hulu and Disney+, another option is buying
in a $13 bundle that packages Disney+, the ad-supported Hulu plan, and ESPN+, Disney’s third streaming service. Separately, you’d pay $18 total for all three. Note that there’s currently no Disney+ and Hulu bundle that includes Hulu’s ad-free option.
Hulu offers a 30-day free trial to new subscribers, while the
only is for seven days.
Both Disney+ and Hulu should run on all modern streaming devices. Both services run on Android and iOS devices, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Fire tablets, Google Chromecast devices, Android TV, Mac and PC browsers, LG and Samsung Smart TVs, the Xbox One, and the PlayStation 4. Some older models, however, may not support Disney+
In addition, while the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3, and the Nintendo Switch all support Hulu, they don’t currently support Disney+. Disney hopes to put Disney+ on the Switch at some point, but given that the other two consoles are almost two generations old, they probably won’t ever see it.
User experience, audio, and video
Disney+’s user interface leaves something to be desired. On logging in, both services greet you with curated lists of things to watch but finding new, lesser-known material can be cumbersome. On Disney+, you can filter content by franchise, which helps, but if you’re looking for more obscure properties prepare to do a little bit of browsing. Disney+ launched without some key features, with no way to even keep your place in movies and shows you’re watching. It’s since improved, but its search functionality is currently still pretty terrible.
As for audio and video quality, Hulu lags behind Disney+ badly, along with many other streaming companies. Hulu finally supports 4K Ultra HD, but it’s limited to select Hulu original programming. Everything else tops out at regular 1080p. Even worse, most Hulu content is stuck with stereo sound, even on programming that has 5.1 audio on other services. Occasionally, you’ll find a TV show or movie on Hulu that’s in 5.1, but the options are few and far between.
Disney+, on the other hand, offers 4K Ultra HD with HDR on a bunch of content – including some older movies, like the original Star Wars trilogy. Its HDR support includes Dolby Vision on newer productions, and it also offers Dolby Atmos audio on selected programming. Unlike Netflix, you won’t pay extra for the higher quality sound or visuals either.
Finally, Hulu gives users two simultaneous streams (although Hulu + Live TV subscribers can upgrade to an unlimited screen option), while Disney+ supports four.
Ultimately, your watching habits and preferences are going to decide this one. If your movie consumption consists mostly of Star Wars and Marvel blockbusters, if you’re a die-hard Disney fan, if you’re nostalgic for old ’90s cartoons and Disney Channel original series, or if video and sound quality are extremely important to you, Disney+ should be your number one choice.
On the other hand, if engaging in “peak TV” is how you spend your time, Hulu is the way to go. It’s a great service for keeping tabs on what’s airing on network and cable channels, it has some of the most buzzed-about original series on the market, and the HBO and Hulu + Live TV add-ons are nice options to have.
As we said before, the best option is to subscribe to both. That $13 Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ bundle is a great deal, even if you will have to sit through some advertisements.