Hulu has undergone some significant changes over its decade of existence – almost all of which have been for the better.
Early on, there was a distinction between Hulu, the website, and Hulu Plus, the streaming service. While the Hulu website offered some free ad-supported content, it was Hulu Plus that offered plenty more content as a premium service. The resolution? Now it's all just Hulu, and it's strictly for paying members.
Likewise, in the past, Hulu was primarily known in the past for television content, most notably for offering TV shows the day after they air on their home networks. That was fine then, but now the service has made a bold Netflix-like push into original content and packs in a lot more notable films as well.
If original content and reduced subscription plans weren't enough, Hulu exists not only as an on-demand streaming service, but as an optional over-the-top live TV service, providing a Sling TV and YouTube TV competitive with its 50+ included channels, too.
Given all of that change and evolution, what exactly is Hulu like as a service in 2018? And given all of the other streaming apps and services available these days, is Hulu really worth your monthly cash? Here's what we think.
How much does Hulu cost?
The standard Hulu plan costs $7.99 per month, which is the same as Netflix's base streaming plan. However, Netflix's lowest-level plan doesn't include HD video support, while Hulu offers plenty of HD content as well as some Ultra HD 4K programming via its Hulu Originals.
However, that $7.99 per month comes with a big, obvious caveat: commercials.
If you're used to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, the sight of ad breaks every so often during a TV show will be jarring, to say the least. These breaks occur during the same times they would on broadcast TV, and typically last between 90 and 120 seconds each. For films, you'll thankfully see a pre-roll of commercials instead of interruptions – but you can't escape the cloying grasp of commercials.
Can't stomach the idea of commercials on your streams? Luckily, Hulu does offer a second ad-free option — but it'll cost you. You can get a nearly commercial-free plan for $11.99 per month instead, ensuring that commercials are absent from the vast majority of programming.
Unfortunately, even if you opt for the pricier service, a handful of shows (including Grey's Anatomy, New Girl, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) still have before-and-after commercials on the pricier plan due to rights issues.
If you fancy the idea of live TV, you can bump up to that plan for $39.99 per month, or $43.99 per month if you want the (mostly) "no commercials" option for on-demand content. You can also add an enhanced DVR service for $14.99 per month or unlimited in-house screens (plus three on-the-go screens) for $14.99/month, or $20 for both add-on perks.
This review only covers the base Hulu experience, but live TV is an option that might appeal to cord-cutters who still crave live programming.
Additionally, you can add content from premium channels to any Hulu plan. HBO is available for $14.99/month, while Showtime is $8.99/month and Cinemax is $9.99/month. If Hulu is one thing, it's versatile.
How can I access Hulu?
If you're reading this article, then there's a very good chance that you have a way to watch Hulu.
The service is accessible on a wide number of devices and platforms, including via the web, as through apps on iOS, Android, and Amazon phones/tablets. It's available via Roku boxes like the Roku Streaming Stick and Roku Ultra, Apple TV, Chromecast, TiVo boxes, and smart TVs from makers like Samsung, Sony, and Vizio.
Even game consoles are in on the fun, from current platforms like PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch to the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii U and Wii. It's not quite as ubiquitous as Netflix, but again, you shouldn't have a problem finding access via your computer, smartphone, tablet, or set-top box.
Unfortunately, both the base plan and commercial-free version only let you stream to one device at a time, and there's no way to add to that tally. The much pricier Hulu + Live TV service bumps that number to two simultaneous streams, and then you can pay more to add further devices into the mix. Given that, the base Hulu plan might not be the best fit for a family or sharing with roommates.
What are Hulu's key features?
Hulu's main draw is undoubtedly its TV offerings, as the service has partnered with the big four broadcast networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox. Those channels' top shows are available to stream the day after they premiere, and Hulu also keeps deep back catalogs of many shows. For example, it has almost 400 episodes of Saturday Night Live on tap as of this writing.
Some cable networks are in the mix as well, such as FX, Bravo, Lifetime, TNT, and Comedy Central, but they don't typically give you the latest season or episodes. As of this writing, for example, FX has the first full seasons of both Legion and Atlanta, but nothing from the current second season of each. Bravo lacks the recently-ended season of Top Chef, and while AMC is shown, Hulu doesn't have The Walking Dead.
Like Netflix, Hulu has been making more and more of a push towards original content, and it's starting to pay off. Hulu is the home of the critically acclaimed dystopian series The Handmaid's Tale, while comedies like Difficult People and Casual have drawn praise along with Marvel's The Runaways. The selection isn't nearly as broad or expanding as rapidly as Netflix's, but there's some really strong stuff here.
Hulu also offers a strong selection of kids' programming, including Cartoon Network favorites like Adventure Time and Steven Universe, as well as shows like Gravity Falls, Curious George, Sesame Street, and The Wiggles. It also has a surprisingly vast array of anime on demand, including more than 1,000 episodes of Naruto series along with hits like Bleach, One Piece, Sailor Moon, and My Hero Academia.
Although best known as a TV service, Hulu has gradually beefed up its movie offerings. Netflix arguably still has the upper hand, but browsing the Hulu listings, you'll find everything from Arrival, Creed, and The Magnificent Seven to Star Trek Beyond and Colossal. You probably wouldn't get Hulu solely for its film library, but it's a nice little bonus.
You won't be able to watch any of this content from a plane or anywhere else without a net connection: Hulu still hasn't offered downloading for offline viewing as of this writing, despite announcing plans at the start of 2017. Netflix and Amazon both let you do that for select content.
There's a lot of competition in the streaming space, and a lot of ways to watch TV shows from broadcast channels – if not over the air, then perhaps via their apps.
And over-the-top TV plans might be more compelling than Hulu's base offering, since they bring live channels alongside on-demand content. Of course, Hulu has their own live TV service.
But what about the base Hulu plan for $7.99 a month? It still has some big perks on offer.
Hulu has plenty of on-demand offerings from top TV networks, including next-day streaming for broadcast network shows. The back-catalog selection is plenty binge-worthy, while the kids and anime sections are also pretty packed. Hulu even has some decent films in the mix.
And the Hulu Originals are gaining stream, with The Handmaids Tale currently leading the charge. Shows like Difficult People, The Mindy Project (picked up from Fox), and Marvel's The Runaways are standouts, and given this strong start, we'll probably see a lot more from Hulu in the coming years.
The base plan of $7.99/month is pretty appealing, although it comes with caveats, plus you can access Hulu from just about any modern device you can think of. The quality for current content is pretty sharp, with HD and some Ultra HD offerings, although older stuff may not be as crisp.
Paying for a streaming service and seeing commercials still doesn't sit right, even at Hulu's reasonable monthly cost. Having to pay $4 more a month to mostly get rid of commercials might also rub some subscribers the wrong way, but you'll have to decide whether axing ads is worth the extra $50-or-so per year. Ultimately, it's your time and money, though.
As mentioned, the content selection can be inconsistent. With some series, you'll get past seasons but not the currently-airing one, while some networks don't have their biggest shows in the mix. It's not a wholly comprehensive service, even if it does have loads of content.
The continued lack of offline viewing support is also disappointing, as is the limit to just one stream on the base subscription plan.
Hulu doesn't feel quite as essential and all-encompassing as Netflix, and it's no longer the only or most obvious way to watch streaming TV shows. That said, Hulu has a lot of excellent content on offer, you can watch it pretty much anywhere, and the monthly fee is plenty reasonable.
The commercials are still annoying and the aforementioned limitations might chafe, but Hulu is pretty ideal as a secondary service for cord-cutters to supplement Netflix or Amazon Prime Video with loads and loads of current and classic TV shows.
- If you're on the hunt for a streaming service, check out our Netflix review and Amazon Prime Video reviews as well