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How does Hulu work? Here’s everything you need to know

Ryan Waniata

In this golden age of streaming — with more options for viewing than ever before — information often gets muddled. What can you actually watch on a streaming site like Hulu? How much does it cost? How does Hulu’s new live TV service (or services like it) differ from the standard cable package? We’ve got all the answers for you in this complete guide to Hulu and Hulu with Live TV.

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What is Hulu?

Hulu is an on-demand video service that allows users to stream popular TV shows in the U.S. and Japan (sorry, Europe). It is co-owned by The Walt Disney Company, 21st Century Fox (which has also been acquired by Disney), Comcast, and to a lesser degree, Time Warner (now owned by AT&T). Hulu focuses primarily on streaming newer TV shows and its own original content over movies or documentaries, and offers monthly subscription tiers (more on this below) to customize your viewing experience.

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.

As mentioned, Hulu also has a growing lineup of exclusive original content such as Marvel’s Runaways and the award-winning drama series The Handmaid’s Tale.

So what is Hulu with Live TV?

Hulu’s latest undertaking is Hulu with Live TV. The $45-per-month streaming service (following a price increase in January 2019) allows subscribers to watch live and on-demand TV programming from over 50 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 with Live TV can be compared to other services like Sling TVDirecTV Now, or Playstation Vue, all of which allow access to live programming without the need for a cable or satellite subscription. Like those other services, Hulu with 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 with 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.

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Integration between the “classic” Hulu format and the new Hulu isn’t quite perfect. If you’re only using Hulu on devices where the full experience is supported, you shouldn’t run into many 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.

Which devices can I use?

As listed on Hulu’s website, Hulu and Hulu with 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, Mac and PC browsers, select LG and Samsung smart TVs, the Xbox One, Xbox 360, and the Nintendo Switch.

PlayStation 3 and PS4 support regular Hulu but, likely due to its rivalry with Sony’s own live TV streaming service, PlayStation Vue, Hulu with Live TV is not supported. In addition, Hulu’s Classic app (which does not allow for select features including the live TV option) is available on select Vizio and Sony TVs, Android TV, Wii U, TiVo, and select 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 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 with Live TV is $45 per month for limited ads or $51 per month for ad-free viewing.

One interesting point of note: Although Hulu lowered its ad-based subscription tier in January 2019 by $2, it made up some of that lost cash by not only raising the price of its live TV option, but also charging $6 more for ad-free Hulu when you add it to the $45/month live TV option. Previously, you could get Hulu with Live TV for $40 per month with basic Hulu on-demand, or $44 per month with ad-free Hulu on-demand. Overall, that equates to a $7 price jump each month for the loaded Hulu package.

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Add-ons

Things can get a lot pricier, too. 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 with 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.

The need for speed?

Hulu and Hulu with 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 with Live TV. If you are planning on streaming to multiple devices, more bandwidth will be required for a quality experience. Currently, 4K streaming is not supported, and Hulu has not made any indication as to when (or if) it will allow for 4K streaming.

The internet connection speed requirements for Hulu are as follows:

  • Standard Definition: 1.5Mbps
  • 720p HD: 3Mbps
  • 1080p HD: 6Mbps
  • Hulu with Live TV: 8Mbps

How do you get it?

Signing up for Hulu is easy — it can be done in just a few minutes from your 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.

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.