Hulu Review & Rating | PCMag.com
As the competition between video streaming services intensifies, Hulu continues to offer a strong library of shows and movies, as well as a robust live TV option. That said, Hulu’s original series are hit-or-miss and while offline downloads were recently added, they’re currently only available for premium subscribers. In addition, the price of Hulu’s live TV service has increased. Hulu (barely) keeps its Editors’ Choice distinction in part for its unique combination of on-demand and live content.
What Can You Watch on Hulu?
Hulu’s on-demand library has always been about TV shows and that emphasis remains. The service offers hundreds of seasons and thousands of episodes from major networks. However, the rise of network-specific streaming services, like CBS All Access and NBC’s upcoming video streaming service, called Peacock, might cut into this vast content library. That said, Disney’s purchase of Hulu may infuse new life into its catalogs, if Disney doesn’t decide to just port everything over to Disney+. In any case, you can stay on top of what’s available with PCMag’s monthly guide to what’s arriving on Hulu.
Hulu offers many current broadcast and cable TV shows. For fans of animation, there’s Archer, Adventure Time, Bob’s Burgers, Futurama, and Rick and Morty. Comedy fans can watch 30 Rock, Broad City, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Canadian hit Letterkenny, Malcolm in the Middle, Parks and Recreation, Scrubs, Seinfeld, and The Good Place. Note that while they are still currently available to stream, Seinfeld and Parks and Recreation are both leaving Hulu for NBC’s upcoming service. in 2020. Other NBC shows might face the same fate, which accounts for a pretty big chunk of Hulu’s content. Fans of drama have Bones, The Good Wife, Killing Eve, Orville, Stumptown, The Rookie, and The X-Files.
Like Netflix and Amazon, Hulu also creates original content, but its offerings have typically been a mixed bag. Some original releases, such as Castle Rock, Harlots, Marvel’s Runaways, and The Handmaid’s Tale found success, but many of its shows fail to get renewed. New shows Dollface and Reprisal may help this trend, however. Hulu also more Marvel series in the works, including Hellstrom, which is notable since Netflix has lost most of its Marvel content. Disney, which owns Marvel, surely has a hand in this.
Despite that setback, Netflix’s originals are generally more successful than Hulu’s, including mega-budgets productions like The Crown, animated hits like Bojack Horseman, and genre pieces like Stranger Things. Other streaming services also outclass Hulu. For example, Amazon also has a growing list of top-notch originals, including Bosch, Fleabag, Patriot, The Boys, The Marvelous Ms. Maisel, and Undone. HBO Now, despite the fact that Game of Thrones is wrapped up, offers a substantial catalog of quality past and current shows including Barry, Big Little Lies, Deadwood, Silicon Valley, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, The Wire, Westworld, and VEEP.
Hulu’s library of movies is respectable with movies such as Aquaman, A Quiet Place, Annihilation, Crazy Rich Asians, Den Of Thieves, Food Inc., I Kill Giants, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Pacific Rim: Uprising, and Tomb Raider at the time of publishing. Kid-friendly animated movies such as Chicken Run, Frozen, Horton Hears A Who, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, and Surf’s Up also make an appearance. Hulu even produces some documentaries, such as Batman and Bill, Becoming Bond, and Fyre Fraud, though its other movies seem to mostly be of the R-Rated horror variety. Foreign films on the platform include Shoplifters and A Breath Away. Despite Hulu’s efforts, Netflix currently offers the best movie library of any of the video streaming services.
Hulu has hundreds of anime titles, such as My Hero Academia, Himouto! Umaru-chan, and One-Punch Man. Older classics, such as Cowboy Bebop, FLCL, Ghost in the Shell, Naruto Shippuden, Ranma 1/2, Rurouni Kenshin, Slayers, and Trigun are also present. Hulu only falls short of Crunchyroll in this category, with the latter hosting a much larger library of content. Crunchyroll also has the upper hand on Hulu and Netflix in terms of simulcast shows.
Hulu may not offer every show in HD, but this is mostly due to the fact that many of its shows are simply not available anywhere in a high-quality format. Hulu recently announced that many of its original shows are now available to stream in 4K, albeit only on Apple TV (5th gen or later) and the Chromecast Ultra. Amazon Video and Netflix have fairly robust libraries of new shows and movies in this resolution on more platforms.
Live TV and Sports
Hulu with Live TV’s channel lineup should please most general audiences, with a deep lineup of content across the news, entertainment, and sports categories. News channels include ABC News, CBS News, CNBC, CNN, CNN International, Fox Business, and MSNBC. Entertainment coverage is similarly varied with options such as Animal Planet, Cartoon Network, Discovery, Disney, Food Network, FX, HGTV, National Geographic, SYFY, TBS, Travel Channel, TLC, and TNT. You also get the movie channels, FXM and TCM. Notably, Hulu is missing live Viacom channels, such as Comedy Central, MTV, and Nickelodeon.
As for sports, Hulu features BTN, CBS Sports, ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPNEWS, ESPN U, NBC Golf, and the Olympic Channel. That’s all in addition to local channels you get in your zip code, such as ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC cable affiliates. The number of channels you get depends on your location. Football fans should consult our roundup of the best NFL streaming services to see how Hulu compares to other options.
Many other live TV services also strive to appeal to general audiences, including AT&T TV Now, and YouTube TV. Other services are better suited for one genre of content than others. fuboTV, for example, is an excellent sports streaming service, though it pretty much matches Hulu in the other categories as well. ESPN+ is another sports-centric service, but with a much narrower content scope. Philo, on the other hand, is an entertainment-only streaming option.
Pricing and Platforms
Hulu’s basic, ad-supported, on-demand streaming plan currently costs $5.99 per month. To avoid ads, you need to spring for the $11.99-per-month plan. You can combine Hulu’s ad-supported on-demand streaming with its Live TV option for $54.99. Previously, this plan cost $44.99, so this is a significant jump.
The No Commercials price tier still displays ads for a few programs per streaming rights, but to Hulu’s credit, it is upfront about this limitation. At present, these shows are Grey’s Anatomy, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and How To Get Away With Murder, but this list of shows is subject to change. Ads in the basic plan are no worse than regular television, but they are jarring and obnoxious for on-demand content. When I watched an episode of Killing Eve, the stream was interrupted five times for commercial breaks, some of which included several back-to-back ads. If you’re getting rid of cable to avoid commercials, you’ll definitely want the No Commercials tier.
Hulu also offers HBO ($14.99), Showtime ($8.99), and Cinemax ($9.99) add-ons, which let you watch shows and movies from those networks along with their live feeds. Additional add-ons specifically for the Live TV plans include Enhanced Cloud DVR (200 total hours of storage plus the ability to fast forward through ads) and Unlimited Screens (no restrictions on simultaneous streams over your home network), which cost $9.99 per month each or $14.98 per month for both. You can also opt for the Entertainment Add-On for $7.99 per month, which includes extra channels such as the Cooking Channel, Discovery Family, DIY, and Science.
After a recent price hike, Netflix’s base plan now costs much more than Hulu, at $8.99 per month. Netflix doesn’t run traditional ads on any of its content, but you need to pay more if you want to stream HD content and on more devices simultaneously. Plans for CBS All Access start at $5.99 per month, while HBO Now comes in at a much pricier $14.99 per month. Amazon Prime Video starts at $8.99 per month. Shudder, a horror-focused streaming service, matches the price of Hulu’s ad-supported plan, but is an ad-free experience.
As for cable-replacement services, Hulu’s price hike means that it is no longer among the cheapest options. Sling TV’s combined Blue & Orange plan undercuts it at a price of $40 a month. YouTube TV costs $49.99 per month. Hulu matches FuboTV’s $54.95-per-month cost, but AT&T TV Now is a much pricier $65 per month. However, none of these services offer on-demand content libraries as complete as Hulu’s.
Hulu offers apps on a variety of streaming devices, such as the Apple TV, Rokus, Chromecasts, and Fire TV Sticks; Smart TVs; and game consoles, including PlayStation, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch. However, note that live programming is currently not available on the PlayStation 3 or 4. You can also enjoy Hulu on your Android or iOS device or via the web.
When you log in to Hulu for the first time, the service walks you through some personalization options in which you choose, channels, genres, and shows that appeal to you. Hulu uses this information to populate the My Stuff section of the web interface, a feature I discuss a bit later.
Hulu’s web interface for live and on-demand content looks much more modern now than in years past, with big, flashy sliders and easily discoverable content. Hulu is planning to make interface text more legible in a forthcoming update. The homepage highlights noteworthy shows with horizontally scrolling lists below for categories such as Live Now, My Channels, Sports, News, and Hulu Originals. At the top of the page, you get categories for Live TV and My Stuff. Search and Account options live in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. The search feature is not as robust as the one offered by YouTube TV, which allows you to concatenate terms (such as “Science Fiction” and “1982”). In the account section, you can manage billing details and your subscription add-ons. You can also add user profiles for individual users, a feature I appreciate. While you can restrict certain profiles to kid-friendly content only, that’s not as flexible as other platforms’ capabilities, which let you set restrictions by content ratings.
Browsing for content is pretty straightforward. From the Browse menu, you can select from one of several top-level categories, such as Networks, TV Shows, Movies, Hulu Originals, and Sports or dive deeper into one of the dozens of available genres, such as Adventure, Comedy, Cooking & Food, Documentaries, International, and Science Fiction. Each one of those latter categories returns results from both Hulu’s on-demand and live streaming library. Detail pages for content display available episodes, upcoming broadcast schedules, recommended shows, and a brief description.
If you want to specifically browse live TV streams, click the Live TV button in the top menu. You can filter the channel list by Recent Channels, News, Sports, Kids, and Movies. The web interface supports a windowed picture-in-picture mode, so you can keep your eye on the current stream while browsing for new content.
You can store and track shows and channels in the My Stuff section. To add anything to this section, simply hit the + icon next to any programming and choose any available recording options: new episodes only, new and reruns; and do not record. You can also follow specific sports teams too. So, for example, you could add the Miami Dolphins to My Stuff to record and keep track of all upcoming games.
I tested Hulu on the web while connected to an Ethernet connection (200Mbps download). The streaming performance was mostly solid, with a few random stutters. I watched a 2019 NBA Finals matchup without issues. Hulu only requires speeds of 3Mbps per second for on-demand shows and 8Mbps for live streams, so most connections should be sufficient.
Features and Accessibility
Hulu now lets premium subscribers download select TV shows and movies for offline viewing, including its original programming. Although the feature launched on iOS, it is now also rolling out to Android users. Eligible users can download up to 25 videos across five devices. Downloads expire after 30 days and you get two days to finish watching a video after you begin playback. Netflix, Prime Video, CBS All Access, HBO Now, and Showtime all offer offline download capabilities with fewer restrictions.
Hulu with Live TV’s DVR functionality compares well to other services. With Hulu, you can record up to 50 hours of content and keep those recordings for as long as you subscribe. Users can pay an extra $9.99 per month to increase that limit to 200 hours. For comparison, YouTube TV offers unlimited DVR storage and keeps titles for nine months. fuboTV only allows you to record 30 hours’ worth of content, while AT&T TV Now can only store 20 hours of shows for up to 30 days. Sling TV is the worst of the bunch; users must pay an additional $5 per month for DVR capabilities (50 hours of DVR storage).
The service’s base plan supports two simultaneous streams, which is about average for on-demand services. As mentioned you can pay for the Unlimited Screens add-on to get rid of that limit for devices on your Home Wi-Fi network, though this is only available for Hulu with Live TV subscribers.
Hulu includes standard closed captioning options, but you won’t find anything similar to Amazon Prime Video’s or Netflix’s Audio Description features, which describes on-screen actions aloud. For any show or live broadcast, you can color, size, and style of the subtitle text.
Other improvements scheduled to launch on Hulu include like and dislike buttons; personalized home screens; and improved search tools. All of these changes would help differentiate the Hulu experience from that of other video streaming services.
Hulu offers apps for both Android (5 and later) and iOS (11 and later). I tested the Android app on a Google Pixel 3 running Android 9. Hulu’s iOS variants are practically identical to its Android counterpart. The app looks very elegant with large media elements and transparent navigation elements and icons. I didn’t notice any lag when moving between menus and launching content.
The new app uses a text-based menu system, with five persistent icons across the bottom: Home, My Stuff, Live, Browse, and Account. Within each content section, you can scroll horizontally between broader categories and vertically to see all of the associated content. Movies and TV shows pop out into full-screen overviews, which look really slick. The individual pages also have side-scrolling options for viewing episodes lists (for TV shows) as well as recommendations for other content.
I tested Hulu’s streaming performance of the mobile app while connected to PCMag’s Wi-Fi network (50Mbps download). Streaming performance is strong and content started playing at full-quality after a few seconds. I was able to watch a live stream of ESPN’s SportsCenter without any problems.
The My Stuff section of the app works as it does on the desktop and you can manage items in your DVR storage here as well. The account section is somewhat bare though. The only app-related preferences are for customizing subtitles/captions and toggling Hulu’s Autoplay feature. Although you can manage your plan settings from this section, the Help section just redirects to the web version.
Hulu and VPN
You should strive to use a virtual private network (VPN) on every one of your devices and for every internet-based activity. Note, however, that some video streaming services, including Hulu, will attempt to block you from streaming content if you are connected to a VPN or proxy. Section 15.1 of Hulu’s terms of service, for example, states “We are a company based in the United States and offer our Services to users in the United States. Hulu’s goal is to bring you as much Content as is legally available. That said, we are limited by the rights that our content programmers grant to us.” With a VPN, Hulu likely cannot pinpoint your real location.
I tried streaming with Hulu while connected to a US-based Mullvad VPN server, with no luck. More importantly, however, Hulu will not work unless you give it location permissions, something I usually block. I found that I couldn’t play live or on-demand content while connected to a VPN server on mobile either.
It may take some effort to find a service that works with your favorite streaming platforms, if any do, but a VPN could help you access region-locked content in some cases. You are better off choosing a VPN for its security and performance.
If you’re getting only one streaming service, Hulu is an excellent choice for its combination of on-demand content and live TV, even if its original shows are mostly lackluster. On the technical side, Hulu’s offline downloads are restricted to higher-tier plans and it still lacks substantial 4K content. Netflix offers a better selection of on-demand shows and YouTube TV features better live TV coverage, but Hulu’s combination of both content types makes it an Editors’ Choice pick alongside those services, despite its rising costs.