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Netflix vs Hulu: Which streaming service is better?

Netflix vs Hulu
(Image credit: Netflix/Hulu)

As we managing our streaming budgets, the question of Netflix vs Hulu often arises. We're always looking for find ways to scrape aside some cash for all the other things we need in life, and there's always the question of "do we need this?" 

Hulu and Netflix have been around for ages, and in that time they've both earned pretty obvious reputations — which is why they're two of the best streaming services. Netflix has a ton of stuff, but loves to cancel Originals before fans are ready. Hulu's great for giving cord-cutters a way to watch recently-aired TV shows, but also has some fine exclusive programming of its own. 

So whether you worship at the house of Stranger Things and want to chase down demogorgons, or find yourself in the heated debates about Handmaid's Tale, you've probably wondered about what goes on across the street. And, of course, you can have both services, but you may not realize all the intricacies of their pricing plans.

Here's everything you need to know about Netflix and Hulu:

Netflix vs Hulu: At a glance

NetflixHulu
Monthly Price$8.99 for Basic, $13.99 for Standard, $17.99 for Premium$5.99, $11.99 for ad-free Hulu
ContentOriginals, licensed TV shows and moviesRecently aired TV shows, Originals, licensed TV shows and movies
Top titlesStranger Things, The Witcher, The Irishman, Ozark, The Crown, The Umbrella AcademyThe Handmaid's Tale, Letterkenny, Little Fires Everywhere, Ramy, Solar Opposites, Pen15
4K contentOnly with Premium NetflixYes
Simultaneous streams1 with Basic, 2 with Standard, 4 with Premium2
DownloadsYesOnly with ad-free Hulu

Netflix vs Hulu: Price

Netflix has a higher starting price than the $5.99 per month Hulu, with the $8.99 Basic package. But Netflix is ad-free, while Hulu's ad-free package costs $11.99. 

Netflix vs Hulu: Pricing

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Netflix's $8.99 package doesn't include Full HD streaming, which is limited to the $13.99 and above plans. Hulu gives you up to 4K streaming even in its $5.99 per month plan.

For all the bells and whistles on Netflix, you'll spend $17.99 per month on the Premium plan with 4K streaming. 

Winner: Hulu

Netflix vs Hulu: Supported devices

Right now, Netflix and Hulu are pretty much as ubiquitous as any services, available on all of the best streaming devices. That means all of the best Roku devices, Fire TV Sticks and Google Chromecasts can stream both services. They're also on most major smart TVs, Xboxes, Playstations, Androids and iPhones.

Netflix vs Hulu: devices

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

That said, Netflix promotes that it's even on Blu-ray players. It's like Spotify in that we just assume that if something has a screen, it also has Netflix. 

Winner: Tie

Netflix vs Hulu: Shows and movies

Neither Netflix nor Hulu publicize their library sizes for the number of movies and TV shows, but every report out there suggests Netflix's library is much larger. For example, Diffen claimed Netflix has more than 100,000 titles, including TV episodes and movies, and that Hulu has more than 43,000 TV episodes and 2,500 films.

Netflix vs Hulu: Stranger Things

(Image credit: Netflix)

And while Netflix may outsize Hulu on its content count, there are bigger differences at hand. Both have original shows and movies, but only Hulu gets weekly episodes of shows that are airing on network and cable TV — making it arguably a better deal for cord-cutters. The exception, of course, is that some US TV shows that have international distribution deals on Netflix, as is the case with Riverdale season 5.

It's hard to say which platform has better content. They both offer a pretty wide range of excellent shows, but since Netflix seems to offer so many more titles it's hard to argue with it. 

When you think about the biggest streaming shows, you often think about Netflix Originals such as Stranger Things, The Umbrella Academy, Ozark, The Witcher and Cobra Kai. Then there's a ton of documentaries, specials and un-scripted exclusives, such as Bo Burnham: Inside, Sexy Beasts, Tiger King and The Last Dance. 

Netflix seems to be putting more effort on originals than licensed shows, but it's still got excellent titles such as The Departed and The Big Lebowski, and sitcoms such as The Good Place and Community. But those could leave when contracts expire (they were there as of Aug. 16, 2021).

Netflix vs Hulu: Pen15 on Hulu

(Image credit: Hulu)

Hulu's excellence comes from exclusive originals such as Palm Springs, Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar, The Handmaid's Tale, Pen15, Solar Opposites and Shrill, as well as licensed shows and films including Atlanta and Fargo (the FX on Hulu brand is strong), 30 Rock, Parasite and Sorry to Bother You. Recently, Hulu's invested in music-based content, including the Lollapalooza 2021 live stream and the Summer of Soul documentary film.

Winner: Netflix (unless you need a way to watch still-airing TV)

Netflix vs Hulu: 4K, HDR and surround sound

Both Hulu and Netflix offer 4K content, but one makes you pay more for it. As noted above, only Netflix's $17.99 has Ultra HD content, which includes Dolby Vision and HDR10. 

Hulu offers all customers 4K content from its originals and other select content. It doesn't have Dolby Vision or HDR.

Select Hulu and Netflix content both support surround sound up to 5.1 surround sound. 

Winner: Hulu

Netflix vs Hulu: Simultaneous streams

You can share your Netflix or Hulu account with family members, without any issue — provided you know how many people can watch on that account at the same time.

While Netflix defaults to just one stream in its $8.99 per month basic plan, its more popular $13.99 Standard plan has two simultaneous streams. Its $17.99 premium plan, though, lets four devices stream at once. 

Hulu lets two devices stream on the same account at the same time.

Winner: Hulu

Netflix vs Hulu: Ads

Netflix is, thankfully, ad-free. Hulu can't quite make the same boast, even for its ad-free tier. Yes, just like you'll find on many streaming services, ad-free doesn't always mean ad-free. Hulu blames this on contractual "streaming rights."

This means that Hulu's $11.99 per month ad-free tier (which costs $6 more than its entry-level plan) places ads in select content. As per a support page dated July 10, 2021, the only show that has ads no matter what tier you're on is Grey's Anatomy.

That said, while Hulu could wind up streaming more shows that have to have ads due to contractual reasons, Netflix seems pretty tied to its ad-free nature. 

Winner: Netflix

Netflix vs Hulu: Special features

Netflix lets you save a lot of content for offline: up to 100 downloads per device in total. And it lets every user save shows and movies for later.

Hulu only lets some subscribers save for offline — those who pay more for the ad-free Hulu experience. This may be tied to the fact that the company wants to serve ads live, and not pre-load them for later. 

Hulu also has one feature Netflix doesn't. Those watching shows or movies with friends remotely can use the Watch Party feature to synchronize their streams. The only catch? It's available only for those with web browsers.

Winner: Netflix

Netflix vs Hulu: Scorecard

NetflixHulu
Price (15 points)914
Supported devices (10 points)1010
Shows and movies (30 points)3022
4K, HDR and surround sound (10 points)69
Simultaneous streams (10 points)69
Ads (10 points)106
Special features (15 points)127
Total (100 points)8377

Netflix vs Hulu: Bottom line

At the end of the day, the debate of Netflix vs Hulu doesn't have to result in you choosing one over the other. You can have both. It's just about knowing how often you need to be paying for each.

Our winner, Netflix, doesn't always feel like the winner in our hearts. Depending on your favorite shows, and if they're still running (or ended too soon), the big red streaming machine may feel like it's too big to consider the fans of the programs it creates. That said, it's one of the very best streaming services for a few reasons. Not only does it pack way more content, but its ad-free experience beats Hulu's ad-filled experience hands down. 

Netflix's dominance may be a part of why it doesn't offer free trials anymore, while Hulu often emails us offers to come back without paying. Hulu's compelling Originals and exclusives can feel fewer and further between, making it easy to cancel and come back to later. Hulu's role of providing recently-aired TV shows a day or more later is great, but it can lead to subscriptions starting and ending with the latest season of a show. 

That said, we really wish Netflix didn't make you pay for 4K (especially since Hulu doesn't) or for more than one simultaneous stream. Hulu's lower price is also more compelling, except when you remember you're paying for a service with ads. 

Kelly Woo

Kelly covers streaming media for Tom’s Guide, so basically, she watches TV for a living. Previously, she was a freelance entertainment writer for Yahoo, Vulture, TV Guide and other outlets. When she’s not watching TV and movies for work, she’s watching them for fun, seeing live music, writing songs, knitting and gardening.