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Hulu with Live TV review: Frustrating menus, limited DVR spoil the deal

Basic Hulu is beloved for its low price and massive stable of on-demand shows, but the live TV version falls short of other premium cord cutter competitors.

Sarah Tew/CNET

With its recent price drop to $6, basic Hulu is one of the best deals in streaming. It offers gobs of current and past TV shows and movies for the price of a salted caramel mocha. Sadly, upgrading your subscription to Hulu with Live TV renders it a poor bargain. At $45 per month, or $55 if you want a DVR that actually lets you fast-forward through commercials, Hulu's live TV option pales in comparison to other premium live TV streaming services, especially YouTube TV.

In its favor, Hulu with Live TV does offer a healthy mix of channels and a (limited) DVR at the cheapest tier, and the deep on-demand catalog of Hulu is a great addition. But the problems of Hulu's user interface, which may be forgivable in a service that costs $6 per month, are tough to overlook on a premium product. 

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Now playing: Watch this: Live TV streaming services for cord cutters: How to choose...

What do you get?

Hulu has offered the Live TV service for over two years now, and its price has remained relatively stable -- only increasing $5 a month. Other services have had bigger increases, including YouTube TV and DirecTV Now, both now up to $50.

Hulu with Live TV expands on the existing on-demand service with over 60 live channels and throws in both a DVR and "guide." Live TV is available on all the major platforms including browsers, iOS, Android, Apple TV, Fire TV and Roku

Premium live TV streaming services compared

Premium services YouTube TV DirecTV Now Hulu with Live TV FuboTV PlayStation Vue
Base price $50/month for 70+ channels $50/month for 45+ channels $45/month for 60+ channels $55/month for 100+ channels $45/month for 55+ channels
Total number of top 100 channels 64 45 58 62 47
ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC channels Yes Yes, in many markets Yes, in many markets Yes (no ABC) Yes, in many markets
Record shows for later (cloud DVR) Yes (keep for 9 months) Yes (20GB, keep for 30 days) Yes (need $10/mo. Enhanced DVR to skip commercials) Yes (30GB, 500GB for $10 a month) Yes (keep for 28 days)
Step-up packages with more channels No $70/month No
$50/month, $60/month or $80/month
Simultaneous streams per account 3 2 ($5 option for 3) 2 ($15 option for unlimited) 2 ($6 option for 3) 5

Apart from the unusual interface, which I'll cover shortly, the service's biggest gotcha is the $10-a-month charge for the Enhanced DVR. The standard, non-enhanced DVR on Hulu Live lacks the ability to fast-forward and rewind through commercials on recorded content. To get that functionality, you need to spring for the Enhanced DVR.

Many users see commercial skipping as a must-have for any DVR. Adding it brings the monthly price of Hulu with Live TV up to $60, which is more expensive than the basic tier of any other live TV service. And all of the other premium services include cloud DVRs that let you skip commercials as part of their standard functions.

Read more: Hulu vs. DirecTV Now vs. Sling TV vs. YouTube TV and more: Live TV channels compared

Hulu's channel count is solid, better than PlayStation Vue but worse than YouTube TV and Fubo TV (meanwhile DirecTV Now has HBO). Check the channel lineup at the end of the article, or the big comparison above, to see if the Hulu with Live TV's mix is right for you. Important missing channels include AMC, BBC America, MTV and Comedy Central.

A short time ago, Hulu and Spotify cooperated on a super-sweet $10 bundle and while the deal has now expired it still has a number of subscribers who are grandfathered in. In case you're wondering, you can't upgrade this package to Hulu with Live TV (I know, I tried). To upgrade, you'll need to create a new account and/or lose the bundle.

What's it like to use?


Go directly to the Kardashians. Do not pass go. Do not pay $45.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Of all of the live TV services I've used, Hulu's interface has the most radical design, but I liked it the least. As soon as you open Hulu with Live TV, the home page shows you just four-and-a-half shows at a time -- a tiny number compared to all of the choices on Hulu -- and other tabs are similarly limited, with too much wasted space. If you've used Hulu before, then you'll notice that Live TV adds two new tabs to the existing Home, Browse, Search and Profile -- these are My Stuff (DVR) and Live TV. 

I also dislike the two rows of different tabs at the top, which makes it more confusing to navigate. The first sub-tab on the home page is called Hulu Picks. Unlike Netflix's suggestions, it seems to simply push whatever the hell Hulu feels like showing. On my account, it was the same five shows regardless of the profile chosen  -- the Kardashians and the Good Fight -- and these only disappeared if the particular profile had been created as a kid's one. 

Hulu's guide is the least-usable of any other streaming service out there. It again displays just four-and-a-half rows on each page and there's no 14-day guide to browse upcoming shows. The Roku/Fire TV interface only shows you the next show on the selected channel. You need to scroll down ad infinitum to see what's playing next. Meanwhile, Apple TV does lets you flick through and see more for the rest of the day -- but the current show still takes up most of the available space. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Likewise recording to the DVR is a pain -- you can only do it from the guide and not while watching a show. You need to enter the guide and either long-press the middle button (Apple/Roku) or press the hamburger button and click record. Every other DVR-available service lets you record straight from the timeline, or at least while the show is still playing.

Should you get it?

If you're a Hulu fan, like the mix of channels and don't need a DVR with commercial skipping, then Live TV could be what you're looking for. That is, if the interface doesn't drive you bonkers. 

If you are looking for a premium live TV service, YouTube TV is worth the extra $5 per month over Hulu. Its channel offering is better, its DVR is more robust, and its interface is much easier to use.

Premium channels compared

Channel Hulu with Live TV ($45) PS Vue ($45) YouTube TV ($50) DirecTV Now ($50)
Total channels: 58 47 63 45
ABC Yes Yes Yes Yes
CBS Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fox Yes Yes Yes Yes
NBC Yes Yes Yes Yes
PBS No No No No
CW Yes No Yes Yes
MyNetworkTV Yes Yes Yes Yes

A&E Yes No No No
AMC No Yes Yes No
Animal Planet Yes Yes Yes No
BBC America No Yes Yes No
BBC World News No $ Yes No
BET No No No Yes
Big Ten Network Yes $ Yes $
Bloomberg TV No No No No
Boomerang Yes $ No Yes
Bravo Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cartoon Network Yes Yes Yes Yes
CBS Sports Network Yes $ Yes $
Cheddar Yes Yes Yes No
Cinemax $ $ No $
CMT No No No $
CNBC Yes Yes Yes Yes
CNN Yes Yes Yes Yes
Comedy Central No No No Yes
Cooking Channel No $ No No
C-SPAN No No No No
Destination America No Yes No No
Discovery Channel Yes Yes Yes No
Disney Channel Yes Yes Yes Yes
Disney Junior Yes Yes Yes Yes
Disney XD Yes Yes Yes Yes
DIY No $ No No
E! Yes Yes Yes Yes
EPIX No $ $ No
ESPN Yes Yes Yes Yes
ESPN 2 Yes Yes Yes Yes
ESPNews Yes $ Yes $
ESPNU Yes $ Yes $
Food Network Yes Yes Yes No
Fox Business Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fox News Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fox Sports 1 Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fox Sports 2 Yes Yes Yes $
Freeform Yes Yes Yes Yes
FX Yes Yes Yes Yes
FX Movie Channel Yes $ Yes Yes
FXX Yes Yes Yes Yes
Golf Channel Yes $ Yes $
Hallmark No $ No Yes
HBO $ $ No Yes
HGTV Yes Yes Yes No
History Yes No No No
HLN Yes Yes Yes Yes
IFC No $ Yes No
Investigation Discovery Yes Yes Yes No
Lifetime Yes No No No
Lifetime Movie Network No No No No
Motor Trend Yes $ Yes No
MLB Network No $ Yes No
MSNBC Yes Yes Yes Yes
MTV No No No Yes
MTV2 No No No No
National Geographic Yes Yes Yes Yes
Nat Geo Wild Yes $ Yes Yes
NBA TV No $ Yes No
NBC Sports Network Yes Yes Yes Yes
Newsy No No Yes No
NFL Network No $ No No
NFL Red Zone No $ No No
NHL Network No No No No
Nick Jr. No No No Yes
Nickelodeon No No No Yes
Nicktoons No No No No
OWN No Yes No No
Oxygen Yes Yes Yes Yes
Paramount Network No No No $
Science No Yes No No
SEC Network Yes $ Yes $
Showtime $ $ $ $
Smithsonian Yes No Yes No
Starz No No $ $
Sundance TV No $ Yes No
Syfy Yes Yes Yes Yes
Tastemade No $ Yes No
TBS Yes Yes Yes Yes
Telemundo Yes Yes Yes Yes
Tennis Channel No $ Yes No
TLC Yes Yes Yes No
TNT Yes Yes Yes Yes
Travel Channel Yes Yes Yes No
TruTV Yes Yes Yes Yes
Turner Classic Movies Yes $ Yes Yes
TV Land No No No $
Univision No No No No
USA Network Yes Yes Yes Yes
VH1 No No No Yes
Viceland Yes No No No
WE tv No Yes Yes No
Weather Channel No No No No