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How does Hulu work? Pricing, plans, channels, and how to get it

Are you considering a Hulu subscription? Hulu is one of the most popular streaming services around, and there are good reasons for that.

With an extensive library of TV shows, movies, and plenty of original content, there’s no shortage of perks. Navigating the streaming service can be tricky for beginners, however, so if you have questions about pricing, signing up for a subscription, or using the site and app, you’ve come to the right place.

We’ll cover everything for you in this complete guide to Hulu and Hulu + Live TV: Content, features, technical requirements, cost, and more — there’s a lot to go over. Settle in, get acquainted, and grab the Snuggie and popcorn, because you won’t be able to resist a good binge session if you end up subscribing.

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Hulu screenshot with programming logos.

What is Hulu?

Hulu is an on-demand video service available in the U.S. and Japan that allows users to stream popular TV shows. Early in 2021, the service expanded internationally through its parent company, The Walt Disney Company, which launched an offshoot service, Star, through its Disney+ platform, to customers in Canada, Western Europe, Australia, the U.K., and parts of Asia Pacific. Hulu focuses primarily on streaming newer TV shows from many popular network broadcasters, original content, blockbuster and independent films, and documentaries.

The platform differs from other well-known streaming sites such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in that it gives people early 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 no hidden fees, equipment rentals, or installation appointments associated with a Hulu subscription. You can watch Hulu at home or on the go via many of your favorite streaming devices.

In 2019, Hulu added the ability to watch content offline, something that users of other streaming services have been able to do for years. (Here’s how to download Netflix shows, for example.) Viewers can download up to 25 titles across five different devices and have up to 30 days to watch their downloaded content in their streaming library. The feature is limited to Hulu’s ad-free plans (more on these plans below).

As mentioned, Hulu also has a growing lineup of exclusive original content such as the award-winning drama series The Handmaid’s Tale, hip-hop docuseries Wu-Tang: An American Saga, and more.

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What is Hulu + Live TV?

Hulu + Live TV basic is Hulu’s $65-per-month streaming service, which allows subscribers to watch live and on-demand TV programming from more than 75 live TV channels, including local news and live sports, along with everything you’ll get from Hulu’s on-demand tier mentioned above. Members of the channel lineup include Disney Channel, ESPN, CBS, NBC, Fox, Discovery Channel, TLC, Motor Trend (formerly Velocity), and Animal Planet. As of January 2021, Hulu’s deal with ViacomCBS means that fourteen live channels have been added, including MTV, Comedy Central, VH1, NickToons, and more. Additionally, there’s the no-ad premium Hulu + Live TV for $71 a month, which is the same but with, you guessed it, no ads. If it’s just live TV you’re after, and you don’t want access to Hulu’s streaming library, then there’s even a Live TV Only option for $64 per month.

Hulu + Live TV is comparable to other services like Sling TV or YouTube TV that allow access to live programming without a cable or satellite subscription. Like those other services, Hulu + Live TV is not without its kinks. The streaming quality for live programs often is not as good as cable and may suffer from slower internet speeds or during high-traffic periods, though this can be true for almost any live TV streaming service.

To watch on a computer, head to the Hulu + Live TV website at new.hulu.com. From here, you’ll see your options for on-demand content, as you would with a regular Hulu subscriber, but you’ll also see a Live TV button at the top of the screen.

Hulu + Live TV navigation.

There’s been a bit of a schism in the Hulu universe as the company migrated from its “classic” experience to its new “full” experience. If you’re only using Hulu on devices where the full experience is supported, you shouldn’t run into problems. If you’re using some devices where only the older Hulu app is supported, you might run into trouble: The old-style Watchlist and the new My Stuff don’t integrate very well. As Hulu continues to roll out updates to its full experience, we expect this area to continue to improve.

Those updates happen quite frequently as Hulu tries out changes to its user interface. Recently, the company made its menu options more comfortable to read by eliminating a transparency effect that reduced the text’s legibility. It also added like and dislike buttons, a valuable feedback system for Hulu to help shape your recommendations with more preciseness.

TV gif with Hulu navigation screen.

Which devices can I use?

As listed on Hulu’s website, Hulu and Hulu + 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, Android TV, Google TV, Mac, and PC browsers, select LG and Samsung smart TV platforms, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, and more. For gamers, Hulu + Live TV is now available on Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5.

Some older platforms and devices, however, like the PlayStation 3, are still missing out on the full-fledged Hulu experience, and that’s unlikely to change as consumers get pressured to upgrade. Others stuck on the classic Hulu app (which does not allow for individual features, including the live TV option) include select Vizio TVs, Wii U, TiVo, and some Blu-ray players from Sony, Samsung, and LG.

How much does Hulu 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 free, ad-supported service.

The traditional Hulu streaming service provides a subscription, ad-supported tier for $7 per month, and an ad-free version for $13 per month (which we think is well worth the money). Hulu + Live TV is $65 per month. This includes the ad-supported streaming option, 50 hours of cloud DVR storage, and the ability to watch on two screens concurrently. Add another $6 for the premium ad-free tier if you’d prefer to go without continual nagging to buy something.

Hulu is a Disney property, and Disney offers a special deal in which you can bundle all of its streaming services — Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+ — and pay just $14 per month. That’s $6 less than you would pay if you got them all individually. (More on that below!)

Add-ons

HBO Max logo on a TV screen.
Taylor Frint/Digital Trends

There’s more than enough to get lost with on Hulu, but you can add even more through premium channels available as add-ons. If your motivation for cutting the cord rests in financials, be warned: Things can get pretty pricey going this route. Hulu subscribers have the option of adding monthly subscriptions like HBO Max ($15), Cinemax ($10), Starz ($9), or Showtime ($11) on top of their existing Hulu subscription.

As for Hulu + Live TV, while the service comes with 50 hours of online cloud storage, users can purchase 200 hours of online DVR storage space for $10 per month with the Enhanced Cloud DVR Add-on. A standard Hulu account comes with a limit of two screens to watch the service simultaneously, but this can be upgraded to unlimited screens at home or three on the go for another $15. Fortunately, if you want both, Hulu takes $10 off the price, letting you bundle both for $15 per month on top of your subscription instead of $25.

For those without cable, any of these subscriptions could be a worthwhile addition. They offer access to countless hours of content, including unique series found nowhere else. 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.

What about Disney+?

It’s hard to have missed the news that Disney+ is finally here. As the controlling shareholder in Hulu, we expected Disney to leverage the TV streaming service to promote its new product. We got some intermingling in that regard — you can bundle Disney+ with ESPN+ and Hulu for a $5 discount on the streaming cocktail — but you can’t currently add Disney+ to Hulu as you would HBO Max or Showtime.

To be clear, a potential marriage between the two isn’t entirely off the table, especially with Hulu’s gradual maturation under Disney stewardship. For now, Disney+ is entirely self-contained within its specific app, and you’ll even have different bills to manage if you’re taking advantage of the Disney bundle as an existing Hulu customer. Disney hasn’t revealed any plans for that to change in the foreseeable future, so for now, you can treat Disney+ as an entirely separate beast.

Are you interested in visiting the digital Magic Kingdom? Here’s how to get Disney+, and don’t forget to check out the Disney bundle if you’re a subscriber to all three.

The need for speed?

You can stream Hulu and Hulu + Live TV at a few different quality levels that adjust automatically according to the speed of your internet. Hulu advises that you have at least a download speed of 6Mbps for Hulu in HD and 8Mbps for Hulu + Live TV. You’ll need extra bandwidth if you want to stream to more than one device successfully, or if you want to take advantage of Hulu’s limited 4K content.

Here are the internet connection speeds necessary for Hulu:

  • Standard Definition: 1.5Mbps
  • 720p HD: 3Mbps
  • 1080p HD: 6Mbps
  • Hulu + Live TV: 8Mbps
  • Ultra HD 4K: 16Mbps

How do you get it?

It’s easy to register for Hulu on either a smartphone or a computer. Navigate to hulu.com/welcome and go through the prompts on the screen. For easy payments, connect your Hulu account to your Apple or Android account. Hulu also has an easy sign-up process for mobile and TV apps.

You don’t need to sign any contracts or long-term commitments, such as you would with traditional TV, to use Hulu. You can even take advantage of Hulu’s seven-day free trial and then cancel the service without any payment at all — though you still need to enter your credit card information when you register. If you should ever need to cancel your subscription, it’s an easy process online or with customer service, and Hulu will save your account information if you ever decide to sign up again.

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