How does Hulu really stack up to Netflix and Amazon Prime? Let’s break it down.
We live in a world flush with streaming options. Just a few short years ago, Netflix was the only game in town, but now competitors are fighting for your binge-watching dollars, and each major service has its own pros and cons.
Hulu has quietly become one of the best alternatives to Netflix, whether your poison of choice is TV shows, movies, or documentaries. But there are plenty of things you need to know before cutting the cord and subscribing to Hulu. We’ll start with the basics.
What is Hulu?
Founded in 2007, Hulu formed as a joint venture by companies including Disney, 21st Century Fox, Comcast, and Time Warner. Originally launched as a way for TV networks to stream TV content on your computer, the service has expanded and is now available on almost every streaming device. Your TV might already be able to stream Hulu. It’s everywhere.
Because of its close relationship to TV networks, Hulu offers more TV programming than any other streaming service, along with access to the film catalogs of many of its partner studios.
How does Hulu work?
If you’ve ever used a streaming service, you’ll be able to quickly pick up Hulu, but learning its quirks might take you a few minutes. Hulu keeps its content separated, so you won’t see movies when you’re looking for TV shows and vice versa. Hulu remembers where you are in each episode, and it creates a list of favorites that appears at the top of your screen whenever you fire up the app.
Using Hulu is a joy. Even with ads, the service aims to give you an ideal experience, often allowing you to watch one long ad at the beginning of an episode instead of several short ones throughout. When you’re done watching something, the service recommendations another show or film based on your viewing habits. However, my personal favorite feature only appears when you close the app while in the middle of a movie or episode. The next time you open Hulu, the service immediately asks if you’d like to pick back up where you left off. If you have a partner who falls asleep during movies regularly, it’s a godsend.
When it comes to searching for content, Hulu works hard to help you discover things, even if you don’t know you want to watch them. The app suggests shows based on your tastes and has deep category options for searching that allow you to browse through content listings by everything from Genre to Release Company. Curious about everything ABC has available? You can look under their category to see shows from their network and shows it’s produced for syndication. It makes for great late-night browsing when you just can’t think of anything to stream.
You can also add on the Showtime catalog for an additional cost per month, which allows you to watch the premium cable service’s original programming and movie options even if you’ve cut the chord.
Hulu has made big strides to keep up with Netflix when it comes to original programming. In addition to a wide range of incredible British shows you can only watch there, most notably Moonboy and The Wrong Mans, Hulu’s made great shows like Aaron Paul’s cultist thriller The Path and an adaptation of Stephen King’s 11/22/63 starring James Franco. My personal favorite show is Difficult People, a pitch-black comedy starring Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner as selfish monsters trying to get ahead in Hollywood. It’s worth a month of paying for Hulu just to watch that one show.
How much does Hulu Plus cost?
You may find yourself asking “is Hulu free?” When it started Hulu did indeed offer a free option that allowed you to stream a limited number of shows and episodes on your computer in exchange for watching ads. It was a pretty good system. Sadly, those days are long gone. Instead, the company now offers just two levels of Hulu subscription: Plus and Plus No Commercials.
Hulu Plus costs $7.99 and gives you access to Hulu’s library of movies, TV shows, originals, and documentaries. This includes a truly staggering amount of content that we’ll get to soon enough, but it comes with one major downside: ads. For the most part, ads are only going to pop up when you’re watching TV content, so if you’re a movie buff, it’s going to hurt you less. Big hit shows tend to have the most ads, so if you’re a fan of Masterchef Junior, prepare yourself for a lot of commercials.
Hulu Plus No Commercials is $11.99 a month and is exactly what it sounds like. You can watch everything on Hulu, including major network shows, without a single ad messing with your experience. That’s a heavy price for many people, but if you’re a super fan of network TV, it may be a small cost to pay for the convenience of bingewatching How to Get Away With Murder like you do on Netflix.
Netflix vs Hulu
Hulu costs $7.99 a month or $11.99 a month for Hulu Plus, an annual cost of $95.88 and $143.88, respectively. For that cost, you get access to first-run episodes of hit shows like Scandal, New Girl, Masterchef Junior, and The Simpsons. The downside, of course, is you only get those new episodes for a few weeks before they expire in most cases, meaning you’re not getting the same binge-watching abilities you get from Netflix. However, Hulu also has an incredible back catalog of classic TV shows, including exclusives like Seinfeld and The Golden Girls, so even if you can’t check out the whole new season of your favorite show, there’s plenty to watch.
By contrast, Netflix offers three options for streaming: One screen at a time in standard definition for $7.99, two screens at a time in HD for $9.99, or four screens at a time in Ultra HD for 11.99. In addition, users can download videos to their phones and tablets for offline viewing. That adds annually up to $95.88, $119.88, or $143.88, respectively, depending on your package and taxes. However, for that cost, you get one of the biggest streaming libraries of classic content around.
Still, it’s mostly classic or old content. Outside of their great original content, Netflix has struggled to keep a steady supply of new movies in their catalog in the past few years. You will still find great movies that were just in theaters, but there’s less to choose from than the glory days a few years ago. Still, Netflix is the industry leader for a reason. Its app is easy to use, feature rich, and its original catalog has won legions of dedicated fans. If you don’t care about keeping up with current TV shows, Netflix is still pretty much all you need, and the increased number of screens that can watch at one time means that as the cost rises, you can split the package with others to offset the price.
Hulu vs Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime is another alternative, and at $99 a year in upfront costs, it may seem like the worst deal. However, along with a great streaming service, that $99 also gets you free two-day shipping on all your Amazon purchases. Amazon Prime has greatly improved its app in the last few years for streaming, and it offers one of the largest film libraries of any service. From The Hunger Games to Mission Impossible, there’s plenty of recent multiplex hits to watch. You’ll even find obscure gems like the lost Sasquatch horror film Night of the Demon. The downside is those films are sometimes hard to find due to a frustrating lack of sorting and quality control. If you’re willing to dig there are classic treasures to be found, but not everyone has that sort of time. You can also add on services like HBO and Starz. When it comes to TV shows, Amazon has a few strengths, including all of FX’s drama programming and its original series, but there isn’t a great deal of modern catalog. However, again going back to the deep cuts, it’s the only place to legally stream the original Unsolved Mysteries.
That said, Hulu’s deep movie archive, which includes Disney films, is on par with what you can find on Amazon’s Prime streaming service. In fact, if you have both services you will notice a lot of overlap in which new movies are streaming on each service.
Does Hulu have The Walking Dead?
Let’s get to what you’re really wondering. Can you catch the latest Walking Dead episode or not?
The short answer: No. You can watch the first two seasons of Fear the Walking Dead, but that’s it. Here’s the thing: If you want to watch all of your favorite shows no one streaming service is going to work. The days where everything was one place are over, and if we’re honest they never really existed. Netflix was just crazy good for a few years.
Does Hulu have Game of Thrones?
Hulu won’t help you there either. Hulu is a great service but, like any service, it has its limitations due to contracts and licensing rights. But while Hulu might not replace HBO Go, no matter what you’ll get your $7.99-a-month’s worth. There’s a wealth of content out there. There’s always something to watch.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
Pure, uncut internet. Straight to your inbox.