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Hulu vs. Netflix: Which streaming service is right for you?
It’s the battle of the streaming services.
It’s easy to cut the cord with your cable company. The hard part is deciding which streaming service is right for you., especially when it comes to Netflix vs Hulu.
Netflix and Hulu—which used to be known as Hulu Plus—are the two most popular streaming services available for a monthly subscription, rivaled only by HBO Go and Amazon Prime. Netflix is currently leading the world of online streaming with more than 125 million members around the world, but Hulu has cut into Netflix’s lead with special network agreements and highly acclaimed originals.
We’ve broken down a few important factors that really distinguish Netflix and Hulu in hopes that it will make your decision easier. And rest assured: Both services offer free trials in you need a little time judge things for yourself.
Hulu vs Netflix: Cost
The cost of Netflix depends on the quality of video you want and the number of screens you plan to use. The base fee to watch Netflix is $7.99 a month, but that only affords you one screen at a time and standard definition. For $9.99, you get an extra screen and the ability to download shows and movies on an additional phone or tablet. If you are the tech-savvy type and like to watch your movies across two-to-four different screens in high definition, the price shifts up to $13.99 a month. Most people, especially those sharing the account with roommates or family members, opt for either the $10.99 or $13.99 option.
Of course, you can always add some DVDs (remember those?) to the mix with Netflix. The upside to DVD rentals from Netflix is that you’ll be able to watch new releases sooner, and there are countless movies available on DVD that aren’t available to stream. The cost runs from an additional $4.99 to $11.99 per month, depending on how many discs you want to have out at a given time and how many discs you can rent per month.
In 2016, Hulu ditched its option for free streaming and shifted to an all-subscription-based model. The streaming service now offers two options for users: $7.99 per month for Hulu with Limited Commercials or $11.99 per month for Hulu with No Commercials. Both offer access to the same catalog of TV shows, movies, anime, thrillers, and Hulu originals, but depending on the popularity of the program you’re watching, you’ll have 30- to 90-second commercial breaks with Hulu’s basic plan.
There are a couple ways you can get a cheaper deal on Hulu, though. For $12.99 per month, you can get both Spotify Premium and Hulu with Limited Commercials, which will save you $5 per month. There are a couple of drawbacks: You can’t have any Hulu add-ons (more on those later) and it won’t work with Spotify Premium for Family members.
Even better, if you’re a Sprint customer, you can get Hulu with Limited Commercials for free. Check out our full Sprint-Hulu guide for more details. Here’s a complete breakdown (we’ll circle back to Hulu with Live TV shortly):
- Hulu with Limited Commercials: $7.99 per month
- Hulu with No Commercials: $11.99 per month
- Hulu with Live TV: $39.99 per month
- Hulu with Live TV + Hulu with No Commercials: $43.99 per month
Want to cut the cord but can’t stand the thought of missing some of your favorite shows? Hulu with Live TV might be the perfect solution for you. The monthly service comes with more than 50 channels, including CNN, ESPN, FX, TNT, and TBS, presented in an instantly familiar programming grid. Hulu with Live TV comes with 12 sports channels and a couple of different cable news options, along with local channels and 50 hours of cloud DVR, so you can quickly catch up on your must-see TV.
Hulu with Live TV starts at $39.99 a month, which includes access to Hulu with Limited Commercials, or you can pay $43.99 per month to upgrade to Hulu with No Commercials.
One other benefit to consider when weighing Hulu vs Netflix, Hulu offers the cheapest way to watch HBO online. There are a couple of other add-ons that you should know about too.
- HBO: $4.99 per month for the first 6 months, $14.99 after that
- Cinemax: $9.99 per month
- Showtime: $8.99 per month
Whether you subscribe to the Hulu or Netflix, both start at the same price point: $7.99 for limited commercials on Hulu or for one screen of standard-definition Netflix viewing. But between its partnerships with Spotify and Sprint, its ability to add live TV or specific premium channels like HBO and Showtime, Hulu helps you get more for your money.
Hulu vs Netflix: Original series
When it comes to original content, there’s no contest. Netflix has produced some of the most critically acclaimed TV shows of the past few years, most notably House of Cards, Stranger Things, and Orange is the New Black, not to mention its solid run of Marvel series: Daredevil, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. (Here’s our complete guide to the best Netflix original series.) That said, Hulu has its own set of originals like The Handmaid’s Tale and The Mindy Project, but it still has a lot of catching up to do.
Netflix vs Hulu: Movies
Netflix’s library shrunk has significantly over the last few years, according to AllFlicks, but if you’re just weighing Hulu or Netflix, it’s still signifcantly better. Along with its acclaimed Netflix original movies, the service truly offers something for everyone. Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, true crime, food shows, Westerns, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies you’ll need tissues, weird movies when you want to warp your brain, and standup specials that will have you laughing out loud.
Hulu’s catalog overlaps a lot with the movies on Amazon Prime. While it has a solid selection of funny movies, thrillers, and classic movies, it can’t quite compete with Netflix. If you’re curious, here’s our list of the best movies on Hulu.
- The 105 best movies on Netflix
- The 15 best movies based on true stories on Netflix
- Netflix release dates: Everything to look forward to in 2018
- 14 mind-blowing nature and science documentaries on Netflix
Hulu vs Netflix: TV shows
Finally, an area where Hulu is the undisputed champion. Hulu hosts TV series from networks like ABC, and FX, allowing you to catch up on shows in real time, as opposed to waiting till after a season has concluded (and often times much longer) for them to hit Netflix. There are also TV shows that are exclusive to Hulu, including Rick and Morty, Nashville, This Is Us, and others.
Netflix vs Hulu: 4K content
Technically, you can watch Hulu in 4K, but you have to have either a PlayStation 4 Pro or Xbox One S, and even then there are only a handful of Hulu originals that you can watch in 4K. By contrast, Netflix has hundreds of movies and shows available to stream in 4K. In fact, here’s a complete list of 4K Netflix movies, TV shows, documentaries, and comedy specials. If you’re looking to make the most of your 4K TV, your choice is obvious.
Hulu vs Netflix: Navigation
No one wants to spend time getting lost in a poorly designed website. Netflix’s interface is fairly simple. The streaming service makes it easy for users to search, browse, and read up on any show before watching it. Users can add series, movies, and episodes to My List, which is used as a reminder to catch up on your favorite series or to watch that one controversial documentary everyone is buzzing about. Netflix offers suggestions based on what you’ve watched and organizes it by a specific TV series, movie, or genre. Its algorithm only gets stronger in its ability to predict your taste by your viewing frequency and if you rate a show after watching.
Hulu’s organization is straightforward, as it lists the different categories of movies and TV series as you scroll through the home page.
Similar to Netflix’s My List, Hulu users just click the plus sign to add a show to their Watchlist. Hulu takes it a step further by showing users when a new episode of their listed series is available. Users can view their Watchlist, and it will notify them if a show is about to expire soon, which Netflix fails to do.
While it’s hard to quantify, Netflix’s algorithm—especially if you make the effort to rate what you watch—is better at recommending other titles you might enjoy, but Hulu does a better job of notifying users what’s available and what’s leaving soon.
- How does Hulu work—and how much does it cost?
- What to watch on Hulu right now
- What’s new on Hulu
- 10 sad movies on Hulu guaranteed to make you cry
- The best documentaries on Hulu
Hulu vs Netflix: Streaming quality
Netflix lets users pick how they want to watch their shows by offering different levels of quality streaming like basic, standard, HD, and Ultra HD. The streaming service is available for watching across a wide variety of supported devices and can stream up to 1080p with surround sound audio on a handful of them.
Here’s a breakdown of Netflix’s streaming quality:
- Low: Basic video quality uses up to 0.3 GB of data per hour
- Medium: Standard video quality uses up to 0.7 GB of data per hour
- High: Best video quality uses up to 3 GB of data per hour for HD and 7 GB of data per hour for Ultra HD
- Automatic: Quality determined by your connection
- Unlimited: The highest quality possible for your device and the show or movie you’re watching, peaks at the same rate as High.
Be careful when choosing to stream in Ultra HD, though; it uses a surprising amount of data.
Hulu’s quality is not as easily available as Netflix’s. In order to stream, users will need a display that can play HD or 4K Ultra HD resolution and a steady broadband connection (Hulu is not hotspot friendly). The quality of Hulu’s streaming ultimately depends on your device, and users can stream 4K Ultra HD on a Playstation 4 Pro or XBox One S.
Here is a breakdown of Hulu’s streaming quality:
- Standard Definition: 1.5 Mbps
- 720p HD: 3 Mbps
- 1080p HD: 6 Mbps
- 4K Ultra HD: 13 Mbps
That Netflix allows you to choose the quality you watch with is a huge perk, one that could really impact your pocketbook if you need to be mindful of how much data you’re using.
- What’s new on Netflix
- The 25 worst movies on Netflix
- The best superhero movies on Netflix
- The 10 best drama movies on Netflix
Hulu vs Netflix: Ads
Netflix is ad-free, but Hulu’s cheapest subscription option has commercials, which can be a deal-breaker for some. Both subscriptions options for Hulu give users the same content, but commercials still seem to find their way before a few shows under the option claiming to have zero commercials. There are just no ads interrupting your shows or movies.
So, which is better: Hulu or Netflix?
In the end, it really depends on what you’re using these services for. If you’re looking for a deep catalog of TV shows, movies, and comedy specials, or you’re tired of being left out of conversations about Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards, you obviously want Netflix. It’s a great deal, especially considering how much you get in return. But if you’re mostly interested in watching the latest TV shows as they come out, without needing to Tivo them, then you’ll want to get Hulu, or if you’re looking for a streaming service that allows you to still watch live TV, Hulu is your best bet. Chances are you could subscribe to both and still spend less than what you would otherwise for cable.
Still not sure what to watch on Hulu? Here are the best movies on Hulu, what’s new, the best shows on Hulu, the sexiest movies you can stream on the service, Hulu documentaries, anime, and the must-see Hulu originals. Here are the best thrillers to get your heart racing, classic movies when you want a blast from the past, sad movies when you need a good cry, and funny movies on Hulu when you need a good laugh.
Kristen Hubby is a tech and lifestyle reporter. Her writing focuses on sex, pop culture, streaming entertainment, and social media, with an emphasis on major platforms like Snapchat, YouTube, and Spotify. Her work has also appeared in Austin Monthly and the Austin American-Statesman, where she covered local news and the dining scene in Austin, Texas.