Hulu: Plans, cost, and how to make the most of your subscription

How does Hulu really stack up to Netflix and Amazon Prime? Let's break it down.

Jun 1, 2020, 1:53 pm*

Streaming

John-Michael Bond 

John-Michael Bond

  • Hulu is a streaming service that provides a giant digital library of movies and shows. It’s also evolved into a destination for its growing roster of original programming.
  • Hulu is $5.99 for the limited ads option or $11.99 if you want a Hulu experience without ads. It’s also available as a bundle for $12.99 to $18.99 that includes Disney Plus and ESPN Plus. Hulu also has an accompanying streaming service, Hulu with Live TV, which raises the price to $54.99 or $60.99 but gives subscribers access to live news, entertainment, and sports channels.
  • While Hulu is best known for its movie and show library, it’s increasingly becoming known for its original series like The Great, Little Fires Everywhere, and Normal People.
  • Hulu is available on a wide range of platforms, including Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, several gaming systems, and a number of smart TVs.
  • New Hulu subscribers get their first month free.

Hulu was founded in 2007 to provide a bridge for cord-cutters who had left cable TV behind but still missed their favorite broadcast shows. Since those humble early days, Hulu has evolved significantly to be one of the most beloved brands in streaming.

No matter what kind of streaming experience you’re looking for, Hulu has something for you. From cheap ad-supported streaming plans with thousands of movies and TV shows, to a full-featured streaming-TV service called Hulu with Live TV that puts traditional cable to shame, you may be surprised by everything Hulu brings to the table.

Frankly, it can be a little overwhelming for new users who are weighing their options. By introducing the Hulu with Live TV brand, Hulu’s created potential confusion for some consumers about the difference between the two services.

Getting Hulu at the $5.99 or $11.99 price point doesn’t get you local channels or live programming. That only comes with Hulu with Live TV, starting at a still-competitive-with-its-rivals $54.99. But you’ll find that even a $5.99 investment in Hulu, which you can deploy regardless of what cable or streaming package you use for live TV, brings a massive library of shows and movies directly to you, ranging from classic titles to just-released hits.

Here’s everything you need to know about Hulu, from how much it costs to how to watch your favorite shows without ads.

 


 

How much is Hulu? Plans and cost

With Hulu, you have two options: An option for about $6 a month that has limited ads playing, or an ad-free option that’s just an additional $6 a month.

Hulu with ads$5.99
Hulu with no ads$11.99


 

 

What’s on Hulu?

Hulu with Limited Commercials

Hulu with Limited Commercials costs $5.99 and gives you access to Hulu’s library of movies, TV shows, originals, and documentaries. This includes a truly staggering amount of content, 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 prepare yourself for a couple of commercial breaks if you’re watching something popular.

Hulu with No Commercials

Hulu with 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 binge-watching one of your favorite shows like you do on Netflix.

Hulu with Disney+ and ESPN+

There’s one more option you might consider if you’re considering a Hulu plan, and that’s bundling it with Disney+ and ESPN+. Disney+, of course, gives you access to the immense Disney library of movies and shows (which includes Pixar and Star Wars titles), while ESPN+ is a pipeline to a staggering amount of live sports. $12.99 a month gets you the whole package, while $18.99 a month delivers Hulu without ads as part of the trio.

Best Shows and Movies on Hulu

 


 

What is Hulu with Live TV?

Hulu with Live TV is Hulu’s answer to streaming services like Sling, Fubo, AT&T TV Now, Vidgo, and YouTube TV. It features 60+ channels of live TV, including local channels depending on your market, and it comes with both Hulu options (with ads and no ads) available. In many markets Hulu with Live TV If you just need Hulu for its show and movie library, you can do a subscription on its own. But if you’re also shopping for a cable alternative or you’re not married to your current streaming service, know that Hulu with Live TV is an option.


 

 

Hulu add-ons

Though Hulu’s got plenty of movies and shows to keep you entertained, you can add to your choices with four entertainment options priced in line with what these entities would charge you if you went direct to them.

While these add-ons also help round out a Hulu with Live TV package, they’re good to go as add-ons if you’re only a Hulu subscriber.

HBO$14.99
Cinemax$9.99
Showtime$10.99
Starz$8.99

 


 

Hulu originals

If you’re weighing a Hulu subscription, you’ll want to consider the service’s original programming. While still lagging behind Netflix and Amazon Prime, Hulu has produced several must-watch shows. Here are the Hulu shows we’d start with.

1) The Handmaid’s Tale

Hulu upped their game in a serious way with this year’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which adapts Margaret Atwood’s acclaimed 1985 dystopian novel. Set in a future where the United States has given way to a totalitarian Christian theocracy called Gilead, The Handmaid’s Tale follows Offred (Elisabeth Moss), a woman forced to help breed the children of the privileged after a global outbreak of infertility. Presenting a future that seems uncomfortably prescient in 2017, the series has been nominated for 11 Emmys. Our review called it “dark and devastating,” so gear up. —David Wharton

hulu originals : the handmaids tale Screengrab via Hulu/YouTube

2) Harlots

Samantha Morton stars in Harlots as Margaret Wells, a former prostitute-turned-madam of her own brothel in 18th century London. As she struggles to better her station in life, she meets resistance from societal pressures, religious zealots, and her biggest rival—who happens to be her own former madam. With Morton playing against type, Harlots is, as Nico Lang wrote in our review, “a breath of fresh air and a bawdy delight.” —D.W.

hulu originals : harlots Screengrab via Hulu/YouTube

3) The Path

Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul returned to series television with this twisty thriller about a life inside a fictional cult known as Meyerism. Paul plays Eddie Lane, a Meyerist who’s now questioning his faith. That puts him at odds with both his wife (Michelle Monaghan) and the charismatic leader of the group, Calvin Roberts (Hugh Dancy).

When we last left the Meyerist Movement, followers of “the Light,” climbers of “the Ladder” (the show manages to use a lot of other metaphors which aren’t “the path”), they were being split down the middle. A power struggle between prodigal son Lane and Roberts was brewing. Season 3 of The Path continues to put this power struggle at the forefront, but not without taking some unexpected turns along the way. It’s the sharpest season to date. —Chris Osterndorf

what is hulu - the path Hulu/YouTube

 


 

Hulu streaming devices

RokuApple TVChromecast
Amazon Fire TVSmart TVsiOS
AndroidXbox OneXbox 360
Playstation 3Playstation 4Nintendo Switch

It’s easier than ever to use Hulu. You can stream via Roku, Google Chromecast, select smart TVs, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Kindle Fire, and pretty much any Apple, Windows, or Android device you can throw at it, not to mention Nexus Player. Of course, you can always just watch Hulu from your web browser. As for gaming consoles, Hulu supports Xbox One and Xbox 360, Wii and Wii U, and PlayStation 3 and PlayStation and Nintendo Switches. Hulu’s accessibility is definitely one of its strongest selling points.

 


 

Hulu DVR and multiple screens

Hulu allows a user to access two screens from one account. So, the kids can watch a movie on one screen, while their parents can watch something else on the other. If you do try to log in from an additional device, though, you may get an error message that will let you know that you’ve hit your two-screen max.

If you opt for Hulu with Live TV, though, it changes things.

Hulu with Live TV a offers a $9.99 a month “unlimited screens” add-on that lets an unlimited number of people stream over a wi-fi connection or up to three people to stream at once on mobile.

An Enhanced Cloud DVR option is available on Hulu with Live TV for an extra $9.99 a month, giving you 200 hours of Cloud DVR recording and the ability to fast-forward through commercials on your recordings.

You can combine those two features—Enhanced Cloud DVR and Unlimited Screens—for just $20 a month.

 


 

Hulu vs. The Competition

Hulu vs. Netflix

To quickly recap: Hulu costs $5.99 a month or $11.99 a month for Hulu with No Commercials, an annual cost of $71.88 and $143.88, respectively. The downside 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 $8.99, two screens at a time in HD for $12.99, or four screens at a time in Ultra HD for 15.99. In addition, users can download videos to their phones and tablets for offline viewing. That adds annually up to $107.88, $155.88, or $191.88, 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 its great original series, movies, documentaries, and docuseries, Netflix has struggled to keep a steady supply of new movies in its 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. 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 $119 a year in upfront costs, it may seem like the worst deal. However, along with a great streaming service, that $119 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. If you have both services, you will notice a lot of overlap in the movies streaming on each service.

 


 

How to sign up for Hulu

  1. Go to Hulu’s website.
  2. Select the “Start Your Free Trial” banner. 
  3. Now it’s time to select your plan. Hulu offers new subscribers a free trial, but the length of your free period depends on what service you’re trying. The standard Hulu streaming service offers users one full free month to try out the service before being charged. Select the plan that’s right for you, depending on your budget and your tolerance for ads. 
  4. Enter your email, billing address, and select a password. We highly suggest making a unique password for your Hulu account, especially if you plan on having multiple users. Different members of your household can have their own unique Hulu profiles. This allows parents to set content restrictions for their kids, and also lets each person have an individualized viewing list. However, this also creates a security issue when users log in on their own devices. You don’t want a child (or worse, a roommate) having your bank password, so make sure your Hulu logins aren’t also used for something important. It’s just smarter that way. 
  5. Choose your designed payment method. You will not be charged by Hulu until the end of your trial period. 
  6. Start watching your favorite shows.
Hulu with ads$5.99
Hulu with no ads$11.99


Streaming Device Guides

Amazon FireApple TVAndroid
ChromecastiOSPlaystation
RokuSmart TVsXBox

Premium Streaming Service Guides

Acorn TVAmazon PrimeApple TV+
BritBoxCuriosity StreamCrunchyRoll
DC UniverseDisney PlusHulu
HBOMaxNetflixShudder
ShowtimeStarzRooster Teeth

Live TV Service Guides

AT&T TV NOW CBS All AccessFubo TV
Hulu with Live TVPhiloPluto TV
Sling TVVidgoYouTube TV

Entertainment Channel Guides

A&EAMCAnimal Planet
BBC AmericaBETBravo
Cartoon NetworkComedy CentralDiscovery Channel
Disney ChannelDisney XDE!
Food NetworkFreeformFX
FXXHallmark ChannelHGTV
History ChannelIFCLifetime
MTVNat GeoNickelodeon
Nick JrParamount NetworkScience Channel
SundanceSYFYTBS
TLCTravel ChannelTruTV
TNTTV LandUSA
VH1WillowThe Weather Channel

Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.

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*First Published: Mar 29, 2017, 4:00 am