In just a few short years, live TV streaming services have gone from a curiosity for cord cutters to popular entertainment services. While other services like DirecTV Now and Sling TV spawned directly from traditional pay-TV companies, Hulu with Live TV started from the other end, spinning off from one of the first major streaming services (though it too is owned by entertainment conglomerates).
While YouTube TV was also a streaming-first company, Hulu has partnerships with major companies that, at least on paper, give it some advantages. Plus, while other services do have on-demand options, none offer anything like Hulu’s library of on-demand content, which comes with Hulu with Live TV. We’ve put together this detailed guide to exactly what you get from Hulu’s live TV service to see if it’s the right choice for you.
In late October, the service added news networks ABC News Live, CBSN, and Cheddar — just in time for the midterm elections.
What is Hulu with Live TV?
It might not have the catchiest name, but Hulu with Live TV deserves recognition for describing exactly what it is: It’s regular Hulu, with live TV streaming added in. This isn’t a separate product from the standard Hulu on-demand offering — it’s the same thing, just with added features. This makes it different from any other live TV streaming service.
While DirecTV Now and PlayStation Vue offer a cable-like experience online, Hulu with Live TV aims to strike a balance between traditional pay TV and what we’ve come to expect from on-demand streaming services. That might make it more appealing to those who have grown up with Netflix and Hulu, but that also means it could be more alienating to those who grew up when “channel surfing” was the norm.
Hulu is so ubiquitous it might be easier to just say which devices it doesn’t support. However, Hulu with Live TV is only available on a subset of those devices. The number is still large, but Hulu with Live TV has more limitations than Hulu; Windows 10, for example, offers a stand-alone Hulu app, but can’t support Hulu with Live TV.
Fortunately, Hulu with Live TV is available on most popular streaming devices, including Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Google’s Chromecast, along with the Xbox One, Xbox 360, and most recently, the Nintendo Switch. Unfortunately, since Sony has its own live TV service in PlayStation Vue, you won’t find Hulu with Live TV on the PlayStation 4.
Hulu with Live TV is also supported on the web using Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Microsoft Edge, alongside iOS and Android devices, including Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets. Finally, it is supported on select smart TVs, including recent models from LG and Samsung. During our testing for this article, we used Hulu with Live TV across a smattering of various devices including an Amazon Fire TV, a fourth-generation Apple TV, and both iOS and Android-powered phones.
Like most live TV streaming services, Hulu with Live TV comes with a cloud DVR. On the plus side, it features up to 50 hours of storage and no limit to how long you can store recordings — unlike many rival streaming services. On the downside, you’ll need to pay up if you want all the features.
One glaring issue with Hulu with Live TV’s cloud DVR is you can’t fast-forward through commercials on recordings without paying an extra $15 per month. Fortunately, this plan also raises your total cloud DVR storage to 200 hours.
Hulu with Live TV is similarly structured when it comes to how many screens you can watch at once. With the basic offering, you’re limited to just two screens. If you pay $15 per month for the Unlimited Screens offering, you get exactly what it says, allowing you to pass the service around.
If you opt to pay for both the Enhanced Cloud DVR and Unlimited Screens, you get a $10 discount, bringing the total price to $20 per month.
Channels and pricing
If you like to keep things simple when it comes to choices, Hulu with Live TV might be the perfect service for you. Right now, the service offers just one base package, with the only option being whether you want to pay a few bucks extra for (mostly) commercial-free viewing of its on-demand library. Beyond that, there are a few optional add-on channels, and the Enhanced Cloud DVR and Unlimited Screens options mentioned above.
The channels listed here are what the service offers at time of publication. These channels are set to expand in the near future, as a recent deal signed with Discovery adds networks like the Discovery Channel, TLC, Investigation Discovery, Motor Trend (the rebranded Velocity network), and Animal Planet. These channels are slated to arrive in December 2018 at no extra cost.
Which local channels you’ll get varies based on your location.
Base package: $40 per month ($44 for no commercials for on-demand viewing)
- ABC News Live
- Big Ten Network
- Cartoon Network
- CBS Sports Network
- CNN International
- The CW
- The Disney Channel
- Disney Junior
- Disney XD
- ESPN 2
- ESPN Goal Line
- Food Network
- Fox Business
- Fox News
- NBC Golf
- The History Channel
- Lifetime Movies
- National Geographic
- Nat Geo WILD
- Olympic Channel
- SEC Network
- Smithsonian Channel
- Travel Channel
- Universal Kids
- HBO, $15 per month
- Cinemax, $10 per month
- Showtime, $9 per month
- Starz, $9 per month
- Enhanced Cloud DVR, $15 per month: Increases cloud DVR storage to 200 hours, adds the ability to fast-forward through commercials on recorded shows and movies.
- Unlimited Screens, $15 per month: Increases available streams from two to unlimited.
- Enhanced Cloud DVR & Unlimited Screens Bundle, $20 per month
If you’ve used the on-demand version of Hulu within the last year or so, the interface for its live TV offering will look very familiar, for better or worse, depending on what you’re used to.
Hulu’s live TV experience is about as far away from the cable experience as it gets. There’s no traditional channel grid here like you’ll get with DirecTV Now or PlayStation Vue, or even the simplified guide Sling TV offers. The closest thing you get is a guide that shows you what’s currently on any given channel and what’s airing next. If you want to look further into the future, you’re out of luck.
In addition to the lineup showing you all channels, you can filter by categories like news or movies, making browsing through what’s currently airing fairly easy. The guide also features a Recent Channels section, which can double as a “favorites” lineup if you only find yourself watching the same few channels every time you use the service. This is different across the service’s various profiles, so you don’t need to worry about someone else’s recent channels interfering with yours. This applies to DVR recordings as well.
No matter which device we used to test Hulu with Live TV, the streaming experience was good. Picture quality is crisp and clear without the softness that was so prevalent in the early days of live TV streaming, and we never encountered any hitching or buffering. One thing to note is that if you’re using the service on different devices, like an Apple TV and an Amazon Fire TV device for example, you’ll notice some interface changes. On the Apple TV, you swipe up to get to the channel guide, while you press down on the Fire TV remote to access the guide. It wasn’t a major issue for us, but it is something to keep in mind.
If you’re on the fence about whether you should opt for Hulu with Live TV or another streaming service, start with this question: Do you already use Hulu? If the answer is yes, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy packaging all of that entertainment in one place. If you never use Hulu or you just aren’t interested in it, this may not be the service for you.
The closest competitor in terms of channels and pricing is likely Sling TV, though both services have their pros and cons. For $40, you can get Sling’s Orange and Blue bundle, which includes channels that Hulu doesn’t have, like Comedy Central and MTV. Conversely, if you’re a big news fan, Hulu has plenty of news channels in its base programming package that Sling TV doesn’t offer without add-on channels.
The good news is you don’t need to jump into paying for Hulu with Live TV on the outset. The service offers a seven-day free trial, which is more than enough time to make sure the service works with your internet connection and devices, and should help you make your decision. If you find it isn’t for you, check out our list of the best live TV streaming services for an overview of the alternatives.