U.S. Markets close in 1 hr 48 mins

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

Kris Wouk
best streaming TV service

In the golden age of streamable content — with more options for viewing than ever before — information often gets muddled. What can you actually watch on a streaming site like Hulu? What does it cost? How does Hulu’s new live TV service (or services like it) differ from the standard cable package?

That’s a lot of questions to answer, but don’t worry: We’ve got you covered. This is your complete guide to Hulu and Hulu with Live TV.

In September 2018, Variety reported that Hulu and Discovery signed a deal to bring Discovery Channel, TLC, Investigation Discovery, Motor Trend (formerly Velocity) and Animal Planet to Hulu with Live TV in December 2018. These channels join HGTV, Food Network, and The Travel Channel, which were brought to the service by Scripps, which is now owned by Discovery. In the meantime, shows like Deadliest Catch, MythBusters, Say Yes to the Dress, Naked and Afraid, Property Brothers, Gold Rush, Street Outlaws, and Chopped are available via Hulu on-demand.

This leaves AMC and Viacom-owned networks as the major omissions from the service.

Free 30-day trial

hulu plus screenshot

First off, 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, Comcast, and to a lesser degree, Time Warner. Hulu focuses primarily on streaming newer TV shows and its own original content over movies or documentaries, and offers several paid subscription tiers (more on this later) to customize your viewing experience.

The platform differs from other well-known streaming sites such as Netflix and Amazon Video in that it allows users earlier access to popular series. You typically only have to wait a week – and in some cases, just a day – to watch episodes of popular broadcast TV shows after they air. Unlike cable, there are also no extra 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 has a growing lineup of original content such as Marvel’s Runaways, the award-winning drama series The Handmaid’s Tale, and I Love You, America with Sarah Silverman, all of which are only available to Hulu subscribers.

So what is Hulu with Live TV?

Hulu’s latest undertaking is Hulu with Live TV. The streaming service, launched in May 2017, allows subscribers to watch live and on-demand TV programming from over 50 popular networks, including local news and sports. Hulu with Live TV can be compared to others 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 it could be, and suffers pretty badly under slow internet speeds or during high-traffic periods, but this is something that can be said for plenty of live TV streaming services. At launch, the user interface was far from easy to use, though a series of updates have made that much less of an issue.

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.

how does hulu work with live tv interface july 2018

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 new 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 to continue to improve.

How much does Hulu actually cost?

Although Hulu used to offer a free (albeit limited) version of its library of content, that is unfortunately 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 its free content to Yahoo View. The website will make available the five 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 $8 per month and an ad-free tier for $12 per month (which we think is well worth the money), with a few contractually obligated exceptions like Grey’s Anatomy and Once Upon a Time. Hulu with Live TV is $40 per month for limited ads or $44 per month for ad-free viewing.

abc tgit shonda rhimes thursday lineup renewed greys anatomy scandal murder

Add-ons

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 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.

Depending on what you want from your Hulu experience, your patience for ads, and how many people will be using your account, a regular Hulu subscription could cost $8 to $46 (including the additional channels) or $40-$108 for a maxed-out Hulu with Live TV account.

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. And 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, you also must remember 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.

While the Standard Definition streaming is available on all supported devices, HD or 4K Ultra HD streaming depends on the capabilities of your device. Currently, there are only two devices, the PlayStation 4 Pro and the Xbox One S, that support streaming in 4K Ultra HD. It’s also worth noting that Hulu’s 4K options are limited, even if your device supports it. Check out our list of 4K Ultra HD shows.

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
  • 4K Ultra HD: 13Mbps

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. Hulu On-Demand is available on nearly any device you can think of, including phones, gaming consoles, Blu-ray players, smart TVs, etc.

Hulu with Live TV is a bit more limited, but there are still a fair amount of devices supported. Aside from PC and Mac computers, a number of streaming players, including many Roku models, the fourth-generation Apple TV and Apple TV 4K, Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, and Chromecast are supported, as are select Samsung smart TVs and Roku-powered smart TV models. Android and iOS-powered mobile devices are also supported, as well as the Xbox One and Xbox 360 game consoles.

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. Hulu is a great way to stay caught up on your favorite TV shows even if you don’t have cable.