Hulu Review: Steady Stream of New and Classic TV for a Low Price
It's a low-priced haven if you love network TV shows and anything on FX.
Alison DeNisco RayomeManaging Editor
Managing Editor Alison DeNisco Rayome joined CNET in 2019, and is a member of the Home team. She is a co-lead of the CNET Tips and We Do the Math series, and manages the Home Tips series, testing out new hacks for cooking, cleaning and tinkering with all of the gadgets and appliances in your house. Alison was previously an editor at TechRepublic.
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National Silver Azbee Award for Impact/Investigative Journalism; National Gold Azbee Award for Online Single Topic Coverage by a Team; National Bronze Azbee Award for Web Feature Series
Kourtnee covers TV streaming services and home entertainment news and reviews at CNET. She previously worked as an entertainment reporter at Showbiz Cheat Sheet where she wrote about film, television, music, celebrities, and streaming platforms.
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Though Kourtnee hasn't won any journalism awards yet, she's been a Netflix streaming subscriber since 2012 and knows the magic of its hidden codes.
Update, Oct. 10, 2022:Hulu is raising prices for its standalone subscription and the Disney Bundle. Starting on Dec 8, the Disney Bundle will have four price tiers, starting at $10 for a plan that includes the ad-supported versions of Disney Plus and Hulu but excludes ESPN Plus. See Disney's press release for additional bundle details. The remainder of this review reflects the new $8 price for Hulu standalone subscriptions, which goes into effect on Oct. 10.
It's a great complement and counterpoint to Netflix, with a huge variety of familiar shows from networks like ABC, Fox and FX that you can watch soon after they air, as well as a growing catalog of its own critically acclaimed original series. Whether it's a scripted series, reality show, or animated release, viewers of any age can find something to stream on the service. If you don't mind paying to avoid ads or you don't mind watching a few ads to access a range of TV shows and movies, Hulu is a no-brainer.
Netflix has loads more original shows and no commercials, but right now, Hulu has a slight edge over the streaming service giant:
The low $8-per-month cost of its basic plan, which is a tremendous value if you don't mind watching commercials.
The ability to keep up to date with shows that are currently airing on TV, as opposed to waiting months for the full season to appear.
The option to add Disney Plus for another $3, the Disney Bundle (which also includes ESPN Plus) for an additional $6 or the Hulu Plus Live TV package for $70 if you want to fully cut the cord. Note that starting on Dec 8, the Disney Bundle will have four price tiers, starting at $10 for a plan that includes the ad-supported versions of Disney Plus and Hulu but excludes ESPN Plus. See Disney's press release for additional bundle details.
Streaming services compared
Basic $8 with ads, ad-free Premium for $15 Live TV for $70
Starts at $10
$10 for basic with ads, $15 for ad-free
Handmaid's Tale, Prey, The Bachelor, Bob's Burgers
Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon, Euphoria, DC Comics series
4K HDR available
Yes (on Premium plan)
Number of streams:
2 (Unlimited with Live TV $9.99 add-on)
1 (2 for Standard, 4 on Premium)
Hulu has loads of TV and movies
Hulu's library of Hulu Originals isn't as extensive as those for Netflix or Amazon's Prime Video. However, it does have critically acclaimed shows like The Handmaid's Tale, Only Murders in the Building and Reservation Dogs. It also has original movies such as Prey, Hellraiser and The Bob' Burgers Movie. The service produced some high-profile documentaries, including Flee, Enemies of State and Summer of Soul. Hulu also picked up shows from other networks, including Grown-ish, Schitt's Creek and This is Us.
Hulu's real strength is the thousands of TV shows, many of which come to the service the day after they air on live TV on networks like ABC, Fox and Comedy Central. While Hulu has most newer episodes of a given show, it doesn't always have full past seasons -- for example, ABC's Grey's Anatomy only has its current season available to watch and none of the past ones. However, some shows do have all seasons and episodes available. And others, like the BBC's Killing Eve, do drop in full seasons after the whole season has aired.
Hulu has a wide collection of movies as well. Sometimes it gets new releases that other streaming platforms don't, such as Spencer.
Is paying for ad-free Hulu worth it?
The answer largely depends on, well, how much you hate ads.
Hulu offers two main on-demand subscription plans: the basic Hulu for $8 and Hulu (No Ads) for $15. The two offer the same catalog of shows and movies -- with the latter, you're just paying nearly twice as much to not see any commercials. We tried watching a few shows on both to get a sense of the difference.
With basic, ad-supported Hulu, the frequency of ads varied quite a bit. In one 22-minute episode of Bob's Burgers, in fact, we saw one 25-second ad before the show started and three 90-second commercial breaks in the middle. But while watching an hourlong episode of Saturday Night Live, there was one 15-second ad at the start, followed by eight more ad breaks throughout -- six lasted 90 seconds, one for 60 seconds and one for 45 seconds. This was obviously more disruptive, but similar to watching the show on regular live TV.
There is a range of ad runtime during Hulu Originals: Before an episode of The Handmaid's Tale, we saw one 30-second ad. In an episode of Pam & Tommy, there was one 35-second ad at the beginning, a 2-minute ad break, a 1-minute break, and a 30-second commercial break toward the end.
If you use Hulu frequently -- or if you've really gotten used to Netflix's no-ads model and can't stand watching commercials -- the extra $7 per month is probably worth it to watch shows uninterrupted. And, the total cost of $15 is slightly less than Netflix's Standard plan, which is now $15.50 per month.
Another big advantage of the no-ads plan? It's the only way to download shows to watch offline. Unlike Netflix, you can't download shows to watch later unless you have the upgraded plan.
But if you're just checking out a show or movie here or there on your TV -- especially a shorter comedy -- you can probably spend the extra few minutes watching the ad to save the money.
Here's the full breakdown of Hulu's pricing:
Hulu basic costs $8 per month ($80 annually) with ads for the platform's library of on-demand videos. Until Dec. 8, you can also add the Disney Bundle to this plan and receive access to Disney Plus and ESPN Plus for an additional $6 a month, or just get Disney Plus (without ESPN Plus) for $3.
Hulu (No Ads) runs $15 a month and provides access to the service's library without ads. Add the Disney Bundle to this option and pay a total of $20 per month.
Hulu with Live TV includes the on-demand library and live streaming of 75-plus channels, and the ad-supported version costs $70 per month. Disney Plus and ESPN Plus are included in your subscription at no extra charge.
Hulu (No Ads) with Live TV is $76 monthly and includes the Hulu streaming library, live TV channels, and Disney Plus and ESPN Plus. Note that some content that's not part of Hulu's designated streaming library may still run ads.
Lots of menu options, harder to navigate than Netflix
Hulu's menus on the TV apps give you a lot of ways to find what you want but can be confusing to get around in. Open the app, open your profile (if you've made one) and you'll see a personalized home page with several categories across the top: Home, TV, Movies, News, My Stuff and Hubs. Keep scrolling down and you'll see more categories that differ depending on what the service thinks you'll like, like Bingeable TV, Hulu Picks, '90s Nostalgia, Teen Shows, Comic Book Heroes and Villains, and Newly Added TV and Newly Added Movies. Bear in mind that on Hulu's home page, the Keep Watching section does not greet you at the top, but it's placed a few rows down.
Save things you want to watch to your My Stuff folder, which you can access at the top of the screen. Browse by categories like Network, TV shows, Movies, Hulu Originals, FX on Hulu, Kids and other genres, or just search for the show you're looking for. The search function isn't as tight as Netflix's, so if you search for a specific actor or title, prepare to see results that are not a 100% match to your search term. To find a channel that's in your personal lineup, navigate to My Stuff -- where you can also add more networks to your rotation.
The Hulu app is similar across Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire TV Stick, both in content and layout. It's spread out a bit more on iPhone and Android phone screens for easier navigation, but is generally the same.
When you select a show or movie to watch, you have the option to fast-forward or rewind (except through ads). You can click the settings gear and choose to add subtitles, change your audio settings or video quality, and toggle Autoplay on or off. The content you choose will also show up in your My Stuff section at the top of your homepage for easier access.
But a word on Autoplay. Sometimes you may be watching a TV show or movie and before it ends, Hulu cuts it off and begins playing the next video. Whether it's a show episode or another film, autoplay can kick in and interrupt the last few minutes of the viewing experience. For this reason, it's worth using one of our Hulu tips and tricks to disable the feature.
Yay: Profiles and hubs. Boo: Not much 4K (and only a little HDR)
You can add up to six user profiles to your Hulu account to get personalized recommendations and watch lists for different family members or others on a single account. Give shows and movies a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to improve the service's recommendation engine. Hulu also tells you what movies and shows are coming in the next month, and which are expiring, right on its site -- something Netflix does not do.
While Hulu's search algorithms and layout can sometimes be frustrating, its Hubs tab is an added bonus for those of us who like things organized. Here, it's easy to navigate to channels like Bravo, FX or Cartoon Network, click on the sports section or head straight to streaming collections such as Black Stories, Anime and Hulu Originals. There's also a hub for titles that have Audio Description enabled, which is a feature that provides access for the visually impaired through audio narration.
Video quality on Hulu goes up to 4K and varies based on what you're watching and what device you use. Quality also differs based on your available bandwidth. If you want to avoid having Hulu eat up all of your data, you can take steps laid out on its website to adjust your data usage settings.
Hulu's library of 4K Ultra HD content is growing and includes most Hulu Originals, but still falls far short of the 4K libraries of Netflix, Prime Video and Disney Plus. Hulu users can now stream select Hulu Originals in HDR -- including HDR10, HDR10 Plus and Dolby Vision on select devices. This is helpful, as we've found that HDR actually delivers a more noticeable picture quality improvement, especially on a good TV, than 4K resolution.
Should you get Hulu?
Depending on the plan you choose, Hulu costs between $8 and $15 per month for the streaming service, making it a competitive choice if you're looking to keep up with new shows and find a solid collection of old and new movies. If you're curious about trying the streaming service out, you can start a 30-day free trial.
Watch this: How to cut the cord: 7 questions you need to answer