There are few streaming services as well-known and as popular as Hulu. One of Netflix’s oldest competitors, Hulu is an affordable streaming service that boasts a great selection of on-demand movies and TV shows — including an impressive slate of originals that holds its own against the legendary lineups on Netflix and Max. But Hulu is in a crowded market (or two of them, actually — for more on Hulu’s entry into the live TV streaming market, read our review of Hulu Plus Live TV). Can it hold its own against Netflix and Max — or, for that matter, its sister service Disney Plus? I revisited Hulu this year to find out, and I was impressed by what I found.
Hulu Pros and Cons
- Extremely affordable
- Great original content
- Recent episodes of some shows available
- Can be bundled with Disney Plus and ESPN Plus
- Basic plan includes ads
- Smaller library than pricier competitors
What You Can Watch on Hulu
Hulu offers two main subscription options: “Hulu” and “Hulu + Live TV.” The first one, which we’ll be talking about in this review, is an on-demand streaming service. Paying your subscription fees each month gives you access to a catalog of movies and TV shows, and you can stream any of those titles as much as you want and whenever you’d like to. (The second option, “Hulu + Live TV,” includes a cable-like selection of live TV channels. It competes with cable, as well as with other live TV streaming services like DIRECTV. It’s so different from the basic Hulu plan that it merits its own review, which is why I’m only going to be talking about plain-old “Hulu” in this review.)
Industry insiders who look at Hulu’s on-demand service would call it “SVOD,” which stands for “subscription video on demand.” The rest of us would just say that Hulu looks a lot like Netflix: It charges you a few bucks a month for unlimited streaming of a limited catalog.
There’s one major difference between Hulu’s approach and Netflix’s, though: Hulu has ads. On the basic subscription plan, your on-demand streaming will be periodically interrupted by short commercial breaks. These ads aren’t skippable. In my testing, I found the length of Hulu’s ad breaks to be pretty reasonable. Personally, I don’t mind breaks so much — they give me time to refill my glass of water or grab a snack. If you can’t stand them, though, you can always pay a little extra to subscribe to Hulu’s ad-free plan and do away with them entirely.
Like Netflix, Hulu has original content. Much of it is excellent. Hulu has won critical praise for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a grim but excellent series based on Margaret Atwood’s novel. Hulu has made hits out of “Little Fires Everywhere” and “The Dropout,” among others.
Hulu also makes original films. If you’re looking for a place to start with those, I’d recommend the hilarious “Palm Springs” (2020). (I’m no culture critic, but you don’t have to take my word for it.)
Hulu’s licensed library is impressive, too, though it’s not quite as large as the ones you might find with some competitors (Netflix, for example, has more shows and movies — though it’s also more expensive than Hulu, which is something we’ll talk more about in a later section).
Hulu’s streaming rights deals aren’t always exclusives, so don’t be surprised if you see licensed titles in Hulu’s library that are also available on Amazon Prime Video — or even on a free service like Crackle. But some content deals are exclusives, and Hulu’s library is generally very impressive. It feels like something in-between the massive quantity of Netflix and the highly curated little library of Max: a medium-sized library with a lot of enjoyable content and very few true stinkers.
How It Felt to Use Hulu
Like most other streaming services, Hulu puts a lot of focus on content discovery features. Its menus are packed with recommendations, trending content, and other lists of movies and TV shows that its algorithms suggest you’ll be interested in watching.
Sometimes, all of the content discovery features on streaming apps like Netflix can annoy me. I know I can be pretty indecisive sometimes, but I’m okay with that: I’d rather just be able to look through an organized menu and figure things out for myself. I find it particularly frustrating when services like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video hide my watchlist, favorites, or “previously watched” sections behind their excessive recommendations. I have some great news: Hulu doesn’t have this problem.
While there are plenty of recommendations to be found in Hulu’s app, it’s also very easy to find your saved shows. It’s also shockingly easy to find menus of just movies or just TV shows, and — wonder of wonders — you can even drill down by genre within these categories (no “secret Netflix codes” required). This can sometimes make it clear that you don’t have a lot of options, which might be why other streaming services avoid it; I occasionally worked my way through every single title Hulu had in a given genre without finding something. But I’d rather have that happen and then go read a book than spend my whole evening flipping through algorithmic menus like the ones on Netflix, seeing titles multiple times in different categories and never being sure if I’ve seen every option or not.
Like its fellow Disney-backed service Disney Plus, Hulu also has a “hub” system that makes it easy to find content based on larger brands (and, in some cases, genres or themes). This doesn’t work quite as well on Hulu as it does on the brand-dominated Disney Plus, where categories like “Star Wars” and “Marvel” are obviously pretty meaningful to fans. But it’s a nice feature all the same, and it helps make Hulu feel a bit more organized and a bit easier to navigate.
I found Hulu’s user interfaces and menu systems to be superb. Interestingly, I think they work better with just-plain Hulu than they do with Hulu + Live TV because the latter starts stuffing TV-related content where it doesn’t belong (for more on that, check out my review of Hulu + Live TV). Hulu’s on-demand service gets full marks here, and I hope more streaming services take Hulu’s lead in the user experience department.
Using Hulu’s Features
While performing my testing, I realized that I’m not a particularly demanding Hulu user. Other than adding titles to “My Stuff” — Hulu’s simple and very effective watchlist/favorites system — I didn’t feel much need to use many of Hulu’s features. (I still tested them all out, of course!)
You’ll most often use Hulu to stream videos, but you can also choose to download a few for offline viewing. This feature is limited to mobile platforms. You can download videos and movies to up to five different mobile devices at one time, and you can save up to 25 total movies and TV show episodes (each download on each device counts separately toward this total).
Hulu also has user profiles, which is a very standard feature but still nice to see. You can set your own preferences and generate your own personalized recommendations without messing up the algorithm for your roommate, sibling, or significant other.
Hulu Streaming Quality
Hulu’s on-demand content streams at 60 frames per second and features picture quality as high as 4K Ultra HD — though the 4K content is pretty limited, and you’re more likely to end up watching your show or movie in 1080p. Hulu marks 4K-compatible content with a little “4K” badge, so it’s easy to track down 4K content in the service’s menus. Among other titles, Hulu’s originals are available in this top-tier streaming quality.
In my trials, I found Hulu’s streaming quality to be very impressive. As I’d expect from a long-tenured on-demand streaming service, Hulu was able to deliver reliable, high-quality streaming on all of my devices regardless of whether I was using a wired, Wi-Fi, or mobile network connection.
Hulu Platform Support
Platform support is a real strong suit of Hulu’s. Hulu’s latest app, which includes support for Hulu + Live TV as well as the on-demand version I’m talking about here, is available on every major streaming platform, mobile platform, web browser, and video game system. That includes all of our familiar favorites (like Roku, Fire TV, the Chrome browser, iOS, and Android) as well as some options that aren’t always supported by Hulu’s competitors (like the Nintendo Switch and — to my delight — the Firefox browser).
I found the Hulu experience to be very consistent across all of the different platforms. No matter which device or platform you’re using, you’ll recognize the Hulu approach and the great user experience I’ve been praising.
I tested Hulu on Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast, iOS, Android, Chrome, and Firefox.
Hulu has a lot going for it, but its strongest suit may be its value. Hulu is strikingly affordable for a streaming service: It’s just $7.99 per month, which is half the price Netflix charges for its standard plan.
Of course, Hulu is different from Netflix. Its catalog is smaller. It also has ads, which users can pay a bit more to remove — ad-free Hulu costs $14.99 per month. But even with those differences accounted for, Hulu looks like an incredible value for the money.
Hulu’s pricing is reminiscent of Disney Plus pricing, which makes sense: They’re both owned by Disney. These streaming services are very cost-effective and seem to be built with subscription stacking in mind. It’s very easy to justify adding Hulu to an existing streaming budget without canceling something else; it’s even easier to combine Hulu with Disney Plus. The two are offered in a three-piece deal that also includes ESPN Plus.
Hulu Review Verdict
Hulu has slowly earned a place near the very top of the on-demand streaming heap. Hulu is much cheaper than Netflix, which makes it much easier to add to a budget or combine with other streaming services. It offers more bang for your buck, and it chips away at Netflix’s dominance with little advantages like the more straightforward organization of the Hulu menus and the enticing discount deal that bundles Hulu in with Disney Plus and ESPN Plus.
In short, former “little brother” Hulu has some big-time appeal, and the service seems to only be improving with time. Now one of the elder statesmen of the on-demand streaming service, Hulu doesn’t feel like a knock-off or a newcomer. Pound for pound, it’s one of the very best streaming services that money can buy.