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Find out which Hulu option is right for you with our handy guide

So, you want to watch award-winning original series like The Handmaid’s Tale, some of your favorite television shows and movies, and/or live sports? Hulu can do it all — if you’ve signed up for the right plan, that is.

Hulu has multiple options that you’ll want to consider when you’re signing up, each of which can make a big difference in what you can watch, and how you can watch it. Thankfully, nothing is too complicated. This guide will help you decide which Hulu options are right for you. Give it a look, make your choice, and start watching.

Basic Hulu

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When most people talk about Hulu, they’re referring to the basic, ad-based Hulu service. For $6 a month, you get access to a rotating selection of on-demand movies, Hulu original series like The Handmaid’s Tale, PEN15, and Shrill, and a bunch of popular network and cable television shows. In many ways, it’s a lot like Netflix, but there are a few major differences.

First of all, while Hulu’s original series are getting better and better (and, now that Disney controls Hulu, expect to see many more of them soon), it’s the traditional TV programming that makes Hulu special. While Netflix gets seasons of a show after the full season ends (and even then, often after a lengthy delay), TV episodes often show up on Hulu within 24 hours of airing. It’s a lot like the on-demand programming that comes with a regular cable subscription, so if you miss an episode of your favorite series, you can log into Hulu and catch it the next day.

Be careful, though. Like cable networks’ on-demand programs, Hulu’s TV offerings don’t always stick around. Hulu only offers the most recent episodes of some shows, with older installments disappearing as new ones arrive. 

Finally, Basic Hulu comes with ads. Lots and lots of ads — or rather, a ton of instances of the same few ads being shown over and over again, especially if you’re pushing your way through a full season of a show. Even with the $6 monthly fee, television shows on Hulu play commercials during their normal ad break, and depending on how you watch it, it can put a damper on the experience. Still, if you don’t mind waiting a day or two to watch your shows, and ads aren’t a big deal to you, standard Hulu is all the Hulu you need.

Ad-free Hulu

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If you’re not a big fan of ads, there’s a way to remove almost all of them and stream like a dream through all of Hulu’s content — but it’ll cost you. 

You can remove ads from Hulu’s on-demand programming for double the cost, meaning you’ll pay $12 a month for regular Hulu without ads, or $51 a month for ad-free Hulu, alongside Hulu’s live TV service, Hulu Plus Live TV (which we’ll get to below). Note that this option only removes ads from Hulu’s on-demand service. Hulu’s live TV streaming service will still have regular commercial breaks.

In addition, there are some on-demand shows that Hulu’s ad-free programming doesn’t cover, although Hulu tries to make those cases as painless as possible. Instead of showing ads during the episode, Hulu will play brief 15-second commercials before and after the episode starts. Once the show begins, you won’t be uninterrupted until it’s over.

Hulu Plus Live TV

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If you want to watch television while it airs, Hulu Plus Live TV (formerly Hulu with Live TV) is what you’re looking for. It costs $45 per month and adds a live TV streaming service that offers all four major networks (and the CW), plenty of sports and news outlets, popular cable channels like USA and TNT, and much more.

Hulu Plus Live TV comes with a cloud-based DVR, but you can’t fast-forward through commercials by default. That privilege (which also includes extra DVR storage space) will set you back an extra $15 a month. If you want to watch Hulu Plus Live TV on more than two screens at a time, you’ll need to fork over another $15. You can also expect to pay regular subscription fees for premium networks like HBO ($15), Showtime ($11), and Cinemax ($10), but this will grant you easy access to any of the content available on those premium networks on demand, all in one place.

You can think of Hulu Plus Live TV is an add-on, not a separate product, meaning your Hulu plus Live TV subscription includes all of Hulu’s on-demand programming along with live TV programming for an extra $39. Again, if you want Hulu Plus Live TV as well as Hulu’s on-demand programming without ads, you’ll pay an extra $6 on top of that $45 for a total of $51. 

Premium add-ons

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As with Hulu Plus Live TV, you can add premium channels to your regular Hulu subscription, including HBO ($15), Showtime ($11), and Cinemax ($10). This may not save you money (although Hulu will occasionally offer deals) but it will allow you to access premium network content from Hulu’s simple and near-ubiquitous apps.

Get Hulu for free

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In some cases, your decision might’ve already been made for you. There are a couple of services out there that offer a basic Hulu membership free-of-charge. If you subscribe to one of those already, you might as well take advantage.

If you subscribe to Spotify Premium, for example, you may be able to get basic, ad-based Hulu for free. That’s a pretty great deal, especially if you’re a student, in which case Spotify only costs $5 a month. Similarly, a Sprint Unlimited mobile plan also includes basic Hulu.

If you subscribe to a bunch of different services — and, in the modern age, chances are that you do — it’s worth taking the time to see if any of them include a Hulu subscription. After all, you can’t beat free.

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Chris Gates
Christopher Gates lives in Los Angeles, CA and writes about movies, TV, video games, and other pop culture curiosities. In…
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