With so many choices for viewing shows and movies, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the shuffle. Hulu was one of the flagship streaming services, offering television shows instead of movies as their primary focus. In the years since their creation, however, Hulu now offers original content and a wide range of movies, as well as exclusive deals with certain licenses that you can stream anywhere else.
I already had Netflix and we have on-demand cable in our home, so originally I thought maybe Hulu wouldn’t have its uses, but I was completely wrong. I’m going to go over how to set up a Hulu subscription, why I love it, and what to expect when you sign up, as well as why you’d want to invest in Hulu, both as a service on its own and also compared to other similar services.
Related: Netflix vs. Disney Plus vs. Amazon Prime Video vs. Hulu vs. HBO Max vs. Quibi (A Guide to Hearing Over the Hype of the Streaming Wars)
What does Hulu provide?
Hulu was always focused on television shows over movies, and the movies that they did have years ago were not that great. They’ve since bumped up their movie library but their focus is still on television, both original content and licensed shows from various networks.
One of the biggest benefits of Hulu – the one that hooked me, actually – is that if you miss your favorite show (Grey’s Anatomy, anyone?) it’s usually available to stream on Hulu within an hour of premiering. So if you happen to work late on a Thursday, chances are good you’ll still be able to catch your favorite shows before spoilers hit social media.
The service also has a great array of original programming from reality TV to cartoons, sitcoms, and dramas. Additionally, because of their contracts with certain networks, you won’t be able to watch many of the shows that are on Hulu anywhere else.
Setting up a Hulu subscription
Signing up with Hulu is super easy – you just need a device capable of streaming, an email, and a way to pay online. You sign up via email, and you’ll get a link to activate your account, prompting you to create a username and password. Hulu works on:
- Smart TVs
- Desktop and laptop computers
Once activated, you download the app on the device of your choice and sign in. There’s a free trial for the first month, and then there are a variety of billing options if you want to continue. The two primary costs are:
- $5.99/month for basic Hulu, which grants you full access to their library but shows have commercials
- $11.99/month for ad-free, which is what it sounds like
They have several new options as well, acting almost like cable company packages. Hulu+Live TV is the same streaming service as normal, but also grants you access to over 60 channels of live television.
This means you can watch your shows when they come out immediately, or wait until they stream, and at only $54.99/month, it definitely beats the price of most cable packages. This version still has ads, though, and it’s $60.99/month for Hulu + Live TV without ads.
You can also add premium streaming services, like HBO, Cinemax, Starz, and so forth to your Hulu account for the same price ($10.99-$15.99, on average) as it would cost to add them to cable service.
Finally, Hulu has bundles of additional streaming services like Disney+ or ESPN that cost less when you get them along with Hulu itself (around $12.99/month, though the Hulu in this bundle is ad-supported and they can’t be turned off).
How does Hulu rank as a streaming service?
I personally have Hulu along with Netflix and Disney+, but I use Hulu the most. As much as I love movies, it’s my recurring shows that I watch more than anything else, and Hulu helps me binge them when I’ve had a particularly busy week.
It simply has the most shows that I personally watch, but that’s the main thing when deciding to get a streaming service over another – make sure they support the shows and channels you watch the most. Netflix is wonderful, but when I found out they didn’t have Rick and Morty, I knew that Hulu had my back.
If you’re more into original programming, Netflix might be a better choice. Hulu’s shows are incredibly solid though, with a lineup that includes the Handmaid’s Tale, Castle Rock, and Future Man, all of which have become instant classics.
The sheer customizability of Hulu is another great feature – being able to add HBO when I felt like bingeing Game of Thrones and then ending that subscription when the series let me down was fast and simple.
In places where cable is bad and/or expensive (so basically everywhere), Hulu is a great alternative because of the low cost and volume of live television that’s available. It also grants you access to all your favorite streaming shows.
Hulu has some of the most responsive start-and-stop controls of any streaming service I’ve seen. You can fast forward and rewind, both at speed and in small increments. That said, one glitchy kind of problem I have is if closed captioning needs to be turned on in the middle of a show, it resets to the beginning. It’s certainly not a huge problem, but it’s annoying in the few times it happens.
Additionally, Hulu sorts shows by what you watched in the past, what you might want to continue watching, and then suggests shows based on your watch history. This makes finding new binge-worthy television exceptionally easy and allows you to go back to your favorite shows when a new season starts. They also tell you when a new season is up on the service, which is great, especially for kids’ shows, as my son in particular is always clamoring for a new season of his favorite series.
How does Hulu perform on various devices?
In our household, we use laptops, desktops, phones, and tablets to watch whatever television our eyes crave, so I have experienced the performance across all platforms.
On my phone, Hulu stutters a bit when starting, and when I close it out, it delays about 30 seconds. None of this is game-breaking or terrible, but it’s just an observation. Otherwise, the streaming is clear and the video quality is great. The sound quality could be better, though, but that’s at least 50% my phone.
My kids are the ones who use Hulu on the tablet primarily, and they don’t have any issues. There is a “kids” section that is very easy for them to navigate, and they rarely need help. The kids’ section is probably what I like the most about Hulu after the shows I watch; it lets my kids use their tablet time independently without my getting worried they’re watching something they shouldn’t be.
Laptop and desktop
Hulu on the computer is quite functional and has the highest video quality after my smart TV. It is a bit clunky in terms of using it, however, but that makes sense as Hulu was originally optimized for television anyway. Still, it’s nice to have shows on in the background while I’m doing mindless work or paying bills, and Hulu streams easily without hogging memory. Even Youtube in my browser window slows things down at times, so streaming full-length shows without interruption is a pretty big deal.
I’ve only had to call Hulu’s customer service line twice; once for a billing issue and once to add additional subscriptions because their site was being goofy and I couldn’t add them from my computer. Both times I got to a real person in under 1 minute, and the process was simple and easy. They were polite, got my questions answered, checked to see if I had any other concerns, and asked if I wanted to know about other offers without being pushy or overly salesy.
The second time was how I found out I could bundle Disney+ and ESPN with Hulu for a single price. I had called about adding Starz and in passing, I mentioned I was considering getting Disney+ and that I was just chock full of streaming services.
The person I spoke with said they had a Disney+ bundle, including Hulu and ESPN, how much it cost and asked if I was interested, and so I signed up. They didn’t push it on me, but took the time to listen and then suggested based on what I was talking about and that’s amazing customer service for sure.
Pros and cons of Hulu
Not all streaming services are as responsive or content-filled as Hulu, which is a huge plus, to begin with. Now that just about every single major cable channel is getting or already has its own streaming service, it’s nice to know that Hulu still provides access to tons of shows and 60+ live channels, even as other streaming services lose intellectual properties because their creators have their own services now.
- Hulu is still one of the cheapest streaming service options available at $5.99 for ad-supported content. This is perfect for anyone on a limited budget looking for some great entertainment.
- Being able to use Hulu as a cable replacement is great, because cable companies are generally pretty antagonistic to their clients. It’s reasonably cheap and you don’t even need someone to come to your house to set it up. It’s also great for areas where you can get internet but cable might be harder or simply less appealing. Finally, cable companies typically have a pseudo-monopoly on the areas they serve, and this sets them up for unfair pricing and gimmicks, which Hulu allows you to avoid if you so choose.
- Hulu has a huge entertainment library and allows for near immediate access to new programming. Their original content is really great, too, and is wonderfully diverse.
- Streaming on all devices reliably is a big deal, and Hulu does this easily.
- Very simple to sign up and start streaming, and streams great even on cellular data.
- Hulu still specializes in television, so if you’re into movies more, there are other streaming services that would be better suited for your tastes.
- As things shape up and as more studios start to create their own streaming services, you might see some of your favorite shows leaving Hulu (and Netflix) in the coming year. At the same time, however, these companies might simply leave their properties on Hulu because it’s easier than creating your own service, and we will soon hit a saturation point where there are simply too many individual streaming services. If that happens, people still start flocking back to aggregate companies like Hulu once again.
Ultimately, I will continue using Hulu, and if you like tv, I suggest you at least try it. At $5.99/month and with a free trial, there’s really nothing to lose and if you like what you see, it’s dramatically cheaper than cable. I spent most of my college years streaming on Hulu and only paying the cable company for internet access, which saved me about $50/month.
- Ease-of-use: Hulu is simple to set up, pay for, and get started. It streams beautifully on all devices, and doesn’t suck up bandwidth or computer memory, which makes it great to have on in the background while you do other stuff.
- Value for money: Hulu is cheap, and it’s even cheaper if you don’t mind watching some ads. It’s definitely worth the price, especially for people who have bad access to cable, or access to bad cable.
- Customer support: Their customer service, in my experience, was fantastic, intuitive, and not pushy at all. I got through quickly and got my questions answered thoroughly.
- Features: The interface works well, and it lets you set up different user profiles based on preferences. My wife has one full of her shows, I have my own filled with my stuff, the kids have a safe profile, and then my wife and I have one for shows we watch together.
It’s a great streaming service that still holds its own in a landscape with Disney+ and Netflix, and will continue for a long time, I believe.