Going back to school? Hulu + Live TV is the one streaming service you need to get

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Families getting ready to send their kids back to school: don't forget to pack a streaming service. Sure, you want your kids more focused on their studies than anything coming on TV, but Hulu + Live TV is the service to keep on your radar.

First off, yes, I know that Netflix is out there. It might be taking up your whole budget, because it's seen as essential as running water. That's especially true if you love international originals, stand-up comedy, reality TV, documentaries and docuseries and star-packed movies that are hit-or-miss with critics.

Instead, I want to talk about Hulu + Live TV, one of the under-talked-about streaming services, and the one I'm paying for right now. Not only have I tested all of the best cable TV alternatives — and paid for Sling TV and YouTube TV with my own cash — but I feel confident that it's the best option for some folks on a tight budget. Allow me to explain why.

Hulu's not the cheapest, but its value is hard to deny

Yes, I'm proposing college students pay for something that isn't the cheapest option. I may be 17 years out of college, but I still know it's a hard ask for the pizza and ramen crowd that rely on parent-filled dining cards for the campus cafeteria.

Instead, I'll explain why Hulu's offering the right value for college students. Philo? It's great if you want to watch Yellowstone and a group of cable networks (AMC, A&E, Comedy Central, Discovery, Food Network and TLC), but it lacks the broadcast networks and ESPN. Here's the full chart of starting prices for the main live TV services:

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 Starting monthly price
Philo $25
Sling TV Orange & Blue$55 or $60 (with ABC in select markets)
Hulu + Live TV $70
YouTube TV $73
DirecTV Stream$75
Fubo $75 (before regional sports network fees)

Yes, Sling TV's Orange & Blue can be convincing at $55 (for many) or $60 (it charges more for ABC in some areas), but there are caveats. It lacks CBS, which some may find essential for NFL live streams, and it's also got the weakest DVR capabilities. 

In a field where most (Hulu included) have unlimited DVRs, Sling only gives you 50 hours by default, and an extra $5 per month only bumps you up to 200. 

Swipe to scroll horizontally
ServiceDVR capacityPaid upgrade
Sling50 hours200 hours costs $5 per month
Fubo1,000 hoursn/a
PhiloUnlimited (9 month limit)n/a
YouTube TVUnlimited (9 month limit)n/a
Hulu + Live TVUnlimited (9 month limit)n/a
DirecTV StreamUnlimited (9 month limit)n/a

That leaves three other competitors to talk about: YouTube TV, DirecTV Stream and Fubo. Fubo's best for international sports, YouTube TV might be your call for its discounted NFL Sunday Ticket pricing and DirecTV ... well, do you need the regional sports networks in the location you'll be living? If so, it might be the best. Those services also cost $5 more, but at this price, I guess that might be "acceptable."

And at that slightly cheaper price of $70 per month Hulu + Live TV, is not lacking on cable TV channels. It's got everything from AMC to Vice, from ABC to TLC, from CBS to TNT and FX to USA. It's a very solid selection.

But it's not why Hulu + Live TV stands out. That feature is called the Disney Bundle. 

The $13 perk that puts Hulu above its $75 competitors

Computer with logo: Netflix , HBO MAX, APPLE TV PLUS, NETFLIX, PRIME VIDEO are online video streaming services

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Hulu + Live TV gives you a whole cable alternative, plus three extra streaming services. 

First, you get Hulu's originals and excellent catalogue of licensed shows and movies, then Disney Plus for all the folks who need their Marvel, Star Wars, Disney and Pixar fix. Finally, it's topped off with ESPN Plus, which includes NFL games, gold and is a requirement for watching UFC's numbered PPVs.

That's a combo package for $13, thrown in gratis. So, for anyone looking to build their own ultimate streaming service, getting Hulu + Live gives you live TV and an excellent on-demand back catalogue, more than any other live TV service can claim. 

Outlook: Of course, your mileage may vary

Picking the right streaming services is tricky, and it's the ultimate personalized shopping decision. While I love Hulu + Live TV because it gives me my cable channels with shows like The Bear and everything on Disney Plus, others may look at those bonuses and think they can spend their $70 better.

Who am I to tell someone that Max for $16, Sling Blue for $40, Peacock for $6 and Apple TV for $7 isn't a great package? It's up to you to figure out what's right for you. I just think Hulu's live TV deal is too good to miss out on.

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Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.