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I'm testing Hulu with Live TV to cut the cord — here's the pros and cons

Cord cutting with Hulu with Live TV
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

I'm ready to cut the cord, and I've spent the last week testing Hulu with Live TV, one of the most well-known competitors in our best cable TV alternatives list. I've had the itch to cut the cord for years, but I finally made the decision to move on from cable recently, and began my testing by looking at YouTube TV

Hulu with Live TV Cheat sheet

Price: $64.99
Channels: More than 74
DVR: 50 hours (or 200 hours for an extra $9.99 per month)
Simultaneous streams: 2
Broadcast networks: ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, The CW

And while it impressed me, it still had some quirks about DVR recording management and its mobile picture-in-picture failings. That said, it proved good enough for me to not delete my account.  

But I moved on to Hulu with Live TV, a service that is notable because it includes Hulu's shows and movies at the same $64.99 per month price as YouTube TV. That said, I had some difficulties actually watching shows, enough that I'm not exactly impressed. 

To recap how I got here, I want to cut the cord because of the cable box's archaic nature, but my roommates don't want to give up their specific channels. So I'm planning on getting rid of my cable box, and telling them that their $127 per month cable bill is their problem. I'll even offer to let them share my account with me.

My goal is that somewhere in this experiment I convince them it's time for all of us to wave goodbye to cable. Maybe I can find the set of channels they want in a service we like. But that's not as likely, as they're big Yankees fans and the YES Network is stuck on DirecTV Stream, fka AT&T TV, which I'm not optimistic about.

Where Hulu with Live TV beats (or matches) cable

Cord cutting with Hulu with Live TV

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

Hulu with Live TV defaults to a recent channel view, which is a great way to jump back to what I was just watching.

So let's start with the positive things, and I hope this section isn't too short. Video (mostly) looks great on Hulu with Live TV, and the app often feels like a cable TV box that is adapting to me. The Live TV grid defaults to a recent channel view, which is a great way to jump back to what I was just watching. 

YouTube TV and cable do not take this personal approach. When you're trying to find a channel — and you can't just dial in a number, as I'll get to below — menus can be tiring, so Hulu with Live TV's Recents sorting is welcome. 

Cord cutting with Hulu with Live TV

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

Hulu understands how the grid view of channel surfing is still a priority for those who think like they still have cable. While both Hulu and YouTube have said grid on your TV, Hulu also offers it on mobile, whereas YouTube TV just gives you a single column stack of what's on live on what channels.

Also, Hulu offers picture-in-picture support on iOS, something Spectrum does (and YouTube TV doesn't). 

Where cable still beats Hulu with Live TV

Cord cutting with Hulu with Live TV

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

The biggest problem for me with Hulu with Live TV was stream stability. While the shows looked great, about once every two hours or so, it would freeze. I'd have to hit pause and play, or move to a different show and back to un-stick it. 

This is likely the thing that's stopping me from keeping Hulu around, instead putting it near the bottom of my playlist. And before anyone asks, I've got pretty damn good internet, with 232.49 MBps down and 9.68 MBps up, according to Ookla's speedtest.

I've noticed something particularly aggravating and inconsistent about Hulu with Live TV, and it made me instantly not want to keep it around. And it's all about rewinding and fast-forwarding live TV. Unlike cable or YouTube TV, there are limitations that might have you pulling your hair out.

Cord cutting with Hulu with Live TV

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

I often struggled to rewind and fast-forward live TV programming, including a moment where I hit an un-skippable ad break while skimming through the ABC game show The Hustler. 

Also, Hulu, because it doesn't have an unlimited DVR cap like YouTube, gives you two options for managing shows you want to see/follow: add to My Stuff or Record. If you make the mistake of just adding a show to My Stuff, you'll not be recording it, and have an ad-filled queue of episodes to watch. 

I also just find the Hulu apps on all platforms to not be big enough for both Live TV and the regular Hulu content. You’ve got a Live section and a TV section, and that feels redundant. It’s even more awkward on mobile, where the TV section is up top and the Live section is on the bottom.

Does Hulu with Live TV hit the sweet spot for channels and price?

Cord cutting with Hulu with Live TV

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

Just like YouTube TV, Hulu doesn't leave me hurting for channels. It's actually even better for me. It's got CNN and MSNBC for when I feel basic enough to want to see how most people process the news, ESPN for when I want to see Stephen A. Smith blow up about sports trades, and I can follow my favorite sport (pro wrestling — yes, I'm trash) on USA, TNT, FOX and VICE. 

Hulu with Live TV struggles on the My Roommates Test, lacking PBS and YES, the two channels that this household believes are must-have. It's also missing BBC World News, another channel the roomies want. 

Answering your cord-cutting emails

Reader David Cross (not that David Cross), wrote in to mention that he switched to Sling TV from YouTube TV for the selection. He noted, though, that he got in early, back when YouTube TV was only $35 per month, but that didn't last as he said "I thought since I was an early adopter they would show more love!" 

This brings up an interesting situation, as service prices do get raised over time. Sling bumped prices up by $5 over the last year, and finally moved that new price to users in August. As these still relatively new services grow, it's good to keep an eye on them, and to think of them still as businesses, like cable. It's up to these companies to prove that we shouldn't un-cut the cord.

David's favorite part about YouTube TV is how the Turner Classic Movies channel would put movies in his library for later. I'm curious about what on demand content that I didn't watch will show up in my library.

Reader Alan points out something I didn't think of that we lose when we cut the cord. On cord-cutter services, channel numbers are gone. Now you have to navigate menus to find the channel you want, and not just tap in a number. 

Hulu with Live TV does not rank highly

Two of the best cable TV alternatives in, and I've got a wide disparity in my #1 and #2 slots. Because even though I like Hulu's guide-centric organizations, I had too many issues with buffering/stuttering, as in I had any. YouTube TV offered a much more stable stream, so I'm keeping it around for the time being.

Cord-cutting power rankings so far

1. YouTube TV
2. Hulu with Live TV

Next up, I'm going to take a look at the affordable Sling and Philo (starting at $35 and $25 per month, respectively). After that? Fubo TV and the newly re-christened DirecTV Stream (the service fka AT&T TV) are on deck. By the end of this, I'll have made up my mind. But for now, I'd need some big shocking reveal and upgrade to Hulu's offering for it to climb out of its hole.

Stream Time is where Tom's Guide senior editor Henry T. Casey dives into the big choices we make about streaming media. We tackle it all, from the best and worst streaming services and devices, to the never-ending list of shows to watch.

Be sure to check out my guides to the best streaming devices (and best streaming services) for more recommendations. Email me at henry.casey@futurenet.com or leave a comment below with anything you’d like to see me cover in the streaming world — I might just address it in a future installment.

Henry T. Casey

Henry is an editor writer at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and Apple. Prior to joining Tom's Guide — where he's the self-described Rare Oreo Expert — he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. You can find him at your local pro wrestling events, and looking for the headphone adapter that he unplugged from his iPhone.

  • RobynS
    We just cut the cord (was paying $150 for cable) and after several weeks of researching, chose Hulu Live TV. We also signed up for Philo for several channels not on Hulu. Philo is a bit clunky and doesn't have the Recent option that I love about Hulu. But for the few channels that Philo has, I'm learning to live with the clunkiness! Our total bill is now $72.
    Initially, I was leaning towards YouTube, but they don't offer the History channel which is a must-have for me. I researched other ways to get the History channel but couldn't find anything I was happy with. It's only been a week with our new streaming services so time will tell. And the best thing about all of this is knowing streaming services change from time to time and I plan to stay up-to-date with the latest offerings. After all, you can cancel your current subscriptions with no problem and try a new service!
    Reply
  • Oakmike67
    Good article! I'm an old guy who had cable since 2000. I cut cable about five years ago. I have been with YouTube TV. I chose this service because I watch a lot of local sports and includes all my teams in the SF Bay Area. The hardest part of cutting was the representative wanting to "save" me as a customer, only doing their job. I later cut the internet with them and went with Google Fiber. That's a separate story, but it's nice not having a modem and router cluttering up my small space. Just a high speed router. Savings over cable are not huge, but hey it's $50 month. Another nice part is if I want to cancel YouTube TV I can do it online just like other services. I think they have a pause service too. I'll read a little more about HULU and perhaps try it in the future. I'm still trying to figure out if I can set up my TV to open on YouTube TV rather than use the menu to arrow over every time.
    Reply
  • Rich 1944
    I hope this appears in the right spot. I tested them all a long time ago when people were complaining about DirectTV Now or whatever it was called for stuttering. I chose Sling because it had all my channels (less than 10 that I watch) and it was less expensive.

    But as to stuttering, I had no problem with Now and no problem with any other. I only had 100 Mbps at the time. Everybody except people in FL were complaining about DTVN (well maybe not everybody).

    One person brought up the idea that it was a locality problem because of the way the services use a network of big routers that they contract with or something like that but right or wrong, I didn't have a problem with any of them, but as you can see, that was a long time ago.
    Reply
  • Rich 1944
    commenting on Robyns - Like you no service at the time had Hist or I think AMC together except Sling Blue which is the one that I had mentioned in my other comment that I chose because it had all my channels. Channels came first, then price and luckily the one with all my channels was the lowest price.
    Reply
  • RobynS
    Rich 1944 said:
    commenting on Robyns - Like you no service at the time had Hist or I think AMC together except Sling Blue which is the one that I had mentioned in my other comment that I chose because it had all my channels. Channels came first, then price and luckily the one with all my channels was the lowest price.
    I looked into Sling Blue & Orange, but it lacked a few channels me and hubby liked. I remember reading an article stating a lot of people sign up for 2 services to get the channels they want and it's still cheaper than cable!
    Reply
  • ChicagoRus
    I'm wondering why they don't create channel numbers. They could pick any numbers they wanted, but it would make navigating on a standard TV much easier. In fact, having been a Comcast and a Spectrum user, many channel numbers are the same or close. Most of us learn our favorite channel numbers, and then we could negotiate as normal for those we don't remember.
    Reply
  • Wolfshadw
    ChicagoRus said:
    I'm wondering why they don't create channel numbers. They could pick any numbers they wanted, but it would make navigating on a standard TV much easier. In fact, having been a Comcast and a Spectrum user, many channel numbers are the same or close. Most of us learn our favorite channel numbers, and then we could negotiate as normal for those we don't remember.
    A lot of these services (including Comcast/XFinity) are trying to push the "Voice activation" function on their remote controls. Why press three or four buttons when I can just press one button and say what channel I want to watch?

    -Wolf sends
    Reply
  • RobynS
    admin said:
    I'm testing all the cord-cutting services to see which is the best for me. Here's what I like and hate about Hulu with Live TV.

    I'm testing Hulu with Live TV to cut the cord — here's the pros and cons : Read more
    In a follow-up to my previous post, I have to admit the one thing I miss about cable is the ability to choose a channel by its channel number. Maybe someday, someone will invent a streaming remote with numbers that the user can program on their own, matching the channels with a programmed number!
    Reply
  • RobynS
    ChicagoRus said:
    I'm wondering why they don't create channel numbers. They could pick any numbers they wanted, but it would make navigating on a standard TV much easier. In fact, having been a Comcast and a Spectrum user, many channel numbers are the same or close. Most of us learn our favorite channel numbers, and then we could negotiate as normal for those we don't remember.
    I just posted the same thing!! I remember when first learning to navigate my streaming services, I would see channel logos that I had no idea who they were! I had to Google it to find out!
    Reply
  • ChicagoRus
    Wolfshadw said:
    A lot of these services (including Comcast/XFinity) are trying to push the "Voice activation" function on their remote controls. Why press three or four buttons when I can just press one button and say what channel I want to watch?

    -Wolf sends

    I can see it now "Change to CNN", and the TV responds "Pizza ordered!" :-)
    Reply