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YouTube TV vs. Hulu Plus Live TV: How to choose the best live TV streaming service for you

The scale tips in favor of YouTube TV, but Hulu may be the better for you. Here's how cord-cutters can decide between these premium live TV options.

We're all watching more TV, and with sports such as baseball and EPL soccer in full swing, it's a great time to consider a live TV streaming service. At CNET we've tested all six of the major live TV-streaming services and our two favorites for premium users -- cord-cutters who don't mind paying a bit more for a full package of channels and features -- are YouTube TV and Hulu Plus Live TV

A premium subscription lets you cut the cable TV cord while adding features like an advanced DVR with program guide and extensive on-demand content. Both services offer a large selection of live channels, such as CNN, ESPN and TNT, as well as local stations ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and more. You can access them via media streamers such as RokuAmazon Fire TV or Apple TV, your game console or your smart TV itself.

youtube-tv-cnet-2021-hulu-tv-screen
Sarah Tew/CNET

In general we like YouTube TV best, because of a better DVR and a handful of important channels that Hulu lacks, including your local PBS station. However, Hulu is catching up on YouTube TV for channel selection -- adding NFL Network and RedZone for the 2021 season for example -- plus it has a gigantic catalog of on-demand shows and movies. 

Here's how they stack up.

Sarah Tew/CNET

With an excellent channel selection, easy-to-use interface and best-in-class cloud DVR, YouTube TV is the best cable TV replacement. It offers a $20 4K upgrade, but the downside is there isn't much to watch at present. If you don't mind paying a bit more than the Sling TVs of the world, or want to watch live NBA games, YouTube TV offers the highest standard of live TV streaming.

Read our YouTube TV review.

 

Hulu/Screenshot by Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Hulu's greatest assets are the integration of a full complement of live TV channels with a massive catalog of on-demand content, and all for the one price. Hulu's channel count is solid, including some must-have channels. But you'll have to pay another $10 a month to get the ability to skip commercials on Hulu's cloud DVR, which makes it more expensive than YouTube TV.

Read our Hulu With Live TV review.

 

YouTube TV and Hulu Plus Live TV compared


YouTube TV Hulu Plus Live TV
Base price $65 per month $65 per month
Free trial Yes Yes
Number of popular channels (out of 100) 78 73
Local ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC channels Yes Yes
Local PBS channels Yes No
Simultaneous streams per account 3 ($20 for unlimited and 4K) 2 ($10 option for unlimited)
Family member/user profiles Yes Yes
Cloud DVR storage  Unlimited 50 hours ($10 option for 200 hours)
Fast-forward through or skip commercials with cloud DVR Yes No (Yes with $10 DVR option)

Read more: Best free TV streaming services: Roku Channel, Pluto TV, Tubi TV, Sling TV and more

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Channels: YouTube wins but Hulu is solid too

The biggest difference comes down to channels. Comparing the total channel counts from our big list of the top 100 channels on every service, YouTube TV comes out on top with 78 from that list, compared to 73 on Hulu. That total doesn't include every channel the services carry, just the ones in the top 100 as determined by editors at CNET, but it still provides a good indication.

The two share most major national channels including Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, ESPN, Fox News, NFL, TBS, USA Network and more, but there are a few differences. 

Here's a condensed version of that list showing the 18 of those 100 channels carried by one and not the other.

Major channel differences

Channel YouTube TV Hulu Plus Live TV
PBS Yes No
A&E No Yes
AMC Yes No
BBC America Yes No
BBC World News Yes No
Boomerang No Yes
History No Yes
IFC Yes No
Lifetime No Yes
MLB Network Yes No
NBA TV Yes No
OWN Yes No
Sundance TV Yes No
Tastemade Yes No
Viceland No No
WE tv Yes No

Both services offer all four of the major local channels -- ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC -- in most areas of the country, and both also carry local affiliates from The CW and MyTV. Only YouTube TV carries PBS local stations; you can't watch your local PBS affiliate live on Hulu.

Neither service offers many regional sports networks after both YouTube TV and Hulu dropped them in 2020. Beyond RSNs, however YouTube TV has a big advantage in national sports networks, with both MLB Network and NBA TV available as part of its base package. You can also pay another $11 to get the "Sports Plus" add-on that also includes Fox College Sports, GolTV, NFL RedZone, and Fox Soccer Plus. Hulu users can sign up for a $10 package which includes NFL RedZone, Outdoor Channel, Sportsman Channel, MAVTV Motorsports Network, TVG and TVG2.

Premium channels like HBO, Starz and Showtime are also available for extra fees, and Hulu has two optional channel packages. One is an add-on for $8 per month with 11 channels including CNBC World, the Cooking Channel and Science, and the other is a Spanish-language package with seven channels for $5. YouTube TV doesn't have any additional channel packages, although you can add individual channels like Shudder and CuriosityStream for additional fees.

Read more: Best OTA DVR for cord-cutters: Amazon Fire TV Recast, TiVo, AirTV and Tablo

Usability: YouTube TV has simpler menus, better DVR

05-sling-versus-youtube

The YouTube TV interface on Roku.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The menus and interfaces on both are quite different from one another and from regular cable, and we like YouTube TV's menus better overall. 

YouTube TV: In general the YouTube TV interface is easier to use, and not just to people used to using regular YouTube. If you're using the desktop or app versions, Google's streamer offers a streamlined structure -- even if it's not as pretty as Hulu. 

Hulu Plus Live TV: Hulu rolled out a new user interface last year that brought it in line with its competitors. The look is brighter, and easier to both use and drill down into the kind of content you want to watch. If it was all a matter of which interface is more fun, then Hulu would take it.

The difference in number of simultaneous streams is worth noting, especially for families and other households who watch a lot of TV. YouTube TV lets you stream to three different devices -- say, the living room TV, a bedroom TV and a tablet -- at the same time, while Hulu lets you stream to two. Pay Hulu a hefty $10 extra per month and it will upgrade your number of streams to unlimited. 

YouTube TV's biggest usability advantage is its excellent cloud DVR. It offers unlimited storage and works great, much like the hardware DVR inside your cable box. Hulu includes a 50-hour cloud DVR in the base $55 price too, but it has a big disadvantage: it lacks the ability to fast-forward through commercials on recorded content. To gain that ability you'll need to shell out for another $10 to upgrade the DVR, which also ups storage capacity to 200 hours. DVR advantage: YouTube TV.

Read more: Best TV antenna for cord-cutters in 2021, starting at only $10

On-demand and originals: Hulu with the runaway win

YouTube TV includes on-demand TV shows and movies from participating networks and shows, much like your cable service, and also offers YouTube Originals commercial-free. But it pales in comparison to Hulu. As we mentioned above, a Hulu Plus Live TV subscription unlocks all of the on-demand TV shows and movies available on the standard Hulu service, including thousands of episodes of network TV shows, as well as originals like A Handmaid's Tale, Catch-22, Letterkenny and the movie Palm Springs. The latest iteration of Disney-owned Hulu's push into originals is with FX on Hulu, and it offers exclusive shows like Reservation Dogs and Devs.

Hulu Plus Live TV subscribers can upgrade their accounts for another $6 to remove ads from many of the on-demand shows, although some will still show ads.

Read more: 30 of the best TV shows to watch on Hulu

Which service is best for you?

Both services represent the peak of what live TV streaming has to offer, and both are better overall than the other two major premium options, FuboTV and DirecTV Stream (formerly AT&T TV). Your choice between the two comes down to channel selection, usability and content, and in our book YouTube TV bests Hulu Plus Live TV in most of those areas. Hulu enables you to integrate a wide channel selection with its exemplary on-demand library which may be worth it for some. In the end though it's all about having access to your favorite channels, so choose the service which gives you the channels you want.

Channel comparison

Below you'll find a chart that's a smaller version of this massive channel comparison. It contains the top 100 channels from each service. Some notes:

  • Yes = The channel is available on the cheapest pricing tier. That price is listed next to the service's name.
  • No = The channel isn't available at all on that service. 
  • $ = The channel is available for an extra fee.
  • Not every channel a service carries is listed, just the "top 100" as determined by CNET's editors. Minor channels like AXS TV, CNBC World, Discovery Life, GSN, POP and Universal Kids didn't make the cut.
  • Regional sports networks -- channels devoted to showing regular-season games of particular pro baseball, basketball and hockey teams -- are not listed. To find out if your local RSN is available you can search YouTube TV by ZIP code here and search Hulu Plus Live TV by ZIP code here.

Read more: Best live TV streaming service for cord-cutters: YouTube TV, Sling TV, Hulu and more compared

Top 100 Channels

Channel Hulu with Live TV ($65) YouTube TV ($65)
Total channels: 73 78
ABC Yes Yes
CBS Yes Yes
Fox Yes Yes
NBC Yes Yes
PBS No Yes
CW Yes Yes
MyNetworkTV Yes Yes
Channel Hulu with Live TV ($65) YouTube TV ($65)
A&E Yes No
ACC Network Yes Yes
Accuweather No No
AMC No Yes
Animal Planet Yes Yes
BBC America No Yes
BBC World News No Yes
BET Yes Yes
Big Ten Network Yes Yes
Bloomberg TV Yes No
Boomerang Yes No
Bravo Yes Yes
Channel Hulu with Live TV ($65) YouTube TV ($65)
Cartoon Network Yes Yes
CBS Sports Network Yes Yes
Cheddar Yes Yes
Cinemax $ $
CMT Yes Yes
CNBC Yes Yes
CNN Yes Yes
Comedy Central Yes Yes
Cooking Channel $ No
Destination America $ No
Discovery Channel Yes Yes
Disney Channel Yes Yes
Disney Junior Yes Yes
Disney XD Yes Yes
DIY $ No
E! Yes Yes
EPIX No $
ESPN Yes Yes
ESPN 2 Yes Yes
ESPNEWS Yes Yes
ESPNU Yes Yes
Channel Hulu with Live TV ($65) YouTube TV ($65)
Food Network Yes Yes
Fox Business Yes Yes
Fox News Yes Yes
Fox Sports 1 Yes Yes
Fox Sports 2 Yes Yes
Freeform Yes Yes
FX Yes Yes
FX Movies Yes Yes
FXX Yes Yes
FYI Yes No
Golf Channel Yes Yes
Hallmark No No
HBO/HBO Max $ $
HGTV Yes Yes
History Yes No
HLN Yes Yes
IFC No Yes
Investigation Discovery Yes Yes
Lifetime Yes No
Lifetime Movie Network Yes No
Channel Hulu with Live TV ($65) YouTube TV ($65)
MLB Network No Yes
Motor Trend Yes Yes
MSNBC Yes Yes
MTV Yes Yes
MTV2 $ Yes
National Geographic Yes Yes
Nat Geo Wild Yes Yes
NBA TV No Yes
NBC Sports Network Yes Yes
NFL Network Yes Yes
NFL Red Zone $ $
NHL Network No No
Nickelodeon Yes Yes
Nick Jr. Yes Yes
Nicktoons $ Yes
Olympic Channel Yes Yes
OWN No Yes
Oxygen Yes Yes
Paramount Network Yes Yes
Channel Hulu with Live TV ($65) YouTube TV ($65)
Science $ No
SEC Network Yes Yes
Showtime $ $
Smithsonian Yes Yes
Starz $ $
Sundance TV No Yes
Syfy Yes Yes
Tastemade No Yes
TBS Yes Yes
TCM Yes Yes
Telemundo Yes Yes
Tennis Channel No No
TLC Yes Yes
TNT Yes Yes
Travel Channel Yes Yes
TruTV Yes Yes
TV Land Yes Yes
USA Network Yes Yes
VH1 Yes Yes
Vice Yes No
WE tv No Yes