Hulu with Live TV review: Getting better

Why you can trust Tom's Guide Our writers and editors spend hours analyzing and reviewing products, services, and apps to help find what's best for you. Find out more about how we test, analyze, and rate.

A series of TV show images appear in Hulu with Live TV on a TV, tablet and phone
(Image credit: Hulu)

Streaming services are ever changing, as is our Hulu with Live TV review. Sitting alongside the likes of Sling TV and YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV lets you watch some of your favorite cable channels live, as well as a lot of your favorite cable shows on demand — making it one of the best streaming services.

Unlike other cable replacements, though, Hulu’s live TV service integrates seamlessly into its already-robust subscription streaming service (which is included in the cost). We just wish that price didn't keep going up. 

Right now, the basic Hulu with Live TV's (with ads) price is $76.99. That's more than you can expect to pay at competitors, but that does net you both Disney Plus (ad-supported) and ESPN Plus. Opt for the package where only ESPN+ has ads, and you'll pay $89.99. For no ads on Disney+ but ads on everything else, you'll pay $81.9. Want Live TV only? You'll spend $75.99. 

Hulu with Live TV is now one of the most attractive ways to get either service, but Hulu's decision to add unlimited cloud-based DVR truly boosts it in our esteem. 

At a glance, Hulu with Live TV is colorful, easy to navigate, effective at recommending new content and priced fairly.

However, a multitude of ads, a complicated interface and a bevy of overpriced extras prevent Hulu with Live TV from being the best cable replacement on the market right now.  Hulu’s live TV service is one of the best cable TV alternatives.

Hulu with Live TV review: Interface

Unlike YouTube TV, Hulu’s live TV service doesn’t come in a separate app; it’s part of the Hulu experience you already know and love, or at least tolerate. Comparatively, YouTube TV is a standalone app, and we break down all the differences in the YouTube TV vs Hulu + Live TV face-off. We've argued that combining Hulu + Live TV and the main Hulu app creates an over-stuffed interface, but some may prefer that convenience.

Friends is playing on Hulu + Live TV

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey / Tom's Guide)

Hulu redesigned its app from the ground up for Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, Android and Xbox One — although it's now available on most platforms. Instead of the old green-and-white menus, Hulu’s interface now makes use of the whole color spectrum, centering on an easygoing blue-green-pink pastel scheme. It’s colorful, but not distracting.

Hulu also deserves some praise for an interface that’s remarkably consistent across every platform. If you know how to control the Android app, you won’t need to learn anything new to make it run on the Xbox One. The controls, visuals, menus and even the general sense of space are all the same, which is impressive, considering the various screen sizes.

The channel grid on Hulu + Live TV

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey / Tom's Guide)

In particular, the service does a good job of quantifying user tastes and recommending relevant new content. You can take a deep dive into some of your favorite categories, rather than just telling the service that you like vague descriptors such as “comedy” or “horror.”

Getting around is pretty simple. In addition to a home screen full of recommended content, you can access My Stuff (favorite programs and channels), Browse, Search and Settings from either the top or bottom of the screen, depending on which menu you’re using.

Each main menu leads to a slew of submenus. The home screen can recommend new stuff to watch or help you pick up where you left off in the Keep Watching section. The Browse menu lets you choose content by genre, as well as explore by network, live, on-demand, Hulu Originals and other options. It’s a robust, intuitive system that strikes a usable balance between simplicity and functionality.

Hulu used to charge $10 to expand your DVR to 200 hours from the default 50, but that changed, thankfully.

The only downside to Hulu’s approach is that once you get deep into the menus, there’s no easy way to return to the main screen. You’ll have to click the back button a bunch of times. 

Although that doesn’t take too long, it does make me wonder whether there could be an easier way to access the main menu, especially on touch-screen-enabled devices, where buttons aren’t a limiting factor. The menus also lagged a bit on the Xbox One, which is surprising for such a powerful system.

Hulu with Live TV review: Availability and Pricing

Currently, Hulu with Live TV is available on many of the best streaming devices, including the Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, Android and Xbox One. It later added apps for Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs, PlayStation 4 & 5 and the Nintendo Switch. 

The pricing tiers can be a bit confusing, however. Live TV only, expect to pay $75.99 monthly. For the service with ads as well as Disney+ (with ads) and ESPN+ (with ads), you'll pay $76.99 monthly. For no ads on everything but ESPN+, you'll pay $89.99 monthly. Get Disney+ with no ads and you'll pay $81.99 a month. That particular plan is no longer available unless you're already a subscriber who had been enrolled previously. 

Cord cutting with Hulu with Live TV

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

Hulu with Live TV offers a variety of add-on services that users can purchase on top of the base cost. But if that price is already too high, we're guessing you may want to learn more about how to cancel Hulu

Cutting out commercials from Hulu content adds $10 to your monthly rate, but not if you have Hulu + Live TV, then, you must pay $13 extra to upgrade to the ad-free experience. Allowing unlimited simultaneous streams rather than the default two will also cost $10. Hulu used to charge $10 to expand your DVR to 200 hours from the default 50, but that changed, thankfully. You now have an unlimited DVR by default.

Showtime costs an extra $12 per month, which added to the base rate would bring your potential total over $99 with all the above options. 

You could also opt for Max for $16 monthly, Cinemax for $10 monthly, Starz for $10 monthly, ESPN+ for $11 monthy, or Disney+ (with ads) for $2 extra. 

Add in all those extras, and you could find some pretty decent full-fledged cable packages for less, obliterating cord cutting’s cost-saving appeal.

A college basketball game plays on Hulu with Live TV

(Image credit: Hulu)

A note on that commercial-free surcharge: It won’t cut commercials out of on-demand shows from individual networks, nor will it even cut every Hulu ad; some networks require ads to be shown before and after shows rather than in the middle. Paying for content and still having to sit through ads has always been my least favorite part of Hulu’s service, and unfortunately, it’s as obtrusive as ever here.

Hulu with Live TV review: Content and Channels

Hulu's most basic plan offers more than 74 channels for $80 per month, which is a fair price for a cable replacement. For the most part, Hulu even includes channels that you’ll want to watch. Hulu’s live TV lineup includes A&E, Bravo, CNN, Disney Channel, ESPN, FX, Food Network, Fox News, Fox Sports, History, National Geographic, Syfy, TBS, TNT, USA and plenty of other worthwhile programming, including  sports and kids’ content. Depending on your region, you’ll even get a generous assortment of local channels, such as ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.

Sports teams you're following on Hulu with Live TV on a TV, tablet and phone

(Image credit: Hulu)

Fortunately, some missing channels have been added while the price went up. The Viacom channels were a glaring omission, particularly Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon — but they're now here. 

In comparison, most other cable-replacement services even offer BBC America. And there are not many options for premium channels, such as Cinemax, HBO or Starz. For whatever reason, you also can’t get PBS as a local station, which could prove problematic if you come down with a terrible bout of insomnia.

The absence of some networks is somewhat forgivable, because you also have access to Hulu’s full lineup of streaming shows, movies and original programs. Some of Hulu's original series have made a big splash in the streaming scene. You can also stream episodes of "Family Guy" and "The Kardashians" to your heart’s content, as well as view a surprisingly decent selection of movies, which changes from month to month.

A wide range of sports content on Hulu with Live TV on a TV, tablet and phone

(Image credit: Hulu)

Hulu’s library isn’t quite as robust as what Netflix or Amazon Video offer, and you’ll have to sit through ads on a lot of the programs, even if you pay extra to skip commercials. It's important to understand how much paying for the ability to skip commercials really does add to your monthly total. 

Hulu with Live TV review: DVR

Cable replacements have had a pretty mixed record when it comes to recording shows for later playback. Generally, they either they do it well (YouTube TV) or they left it out entirely (DirecTV Now used to be like this). 

Most recently, though, Hulu joined YouTube TV as one of the best examples of how to do this right. Did they invent a new way to show your DVR'd content? Change the wheel in some other way? Nope. Hulu literally copied YouTube TV's homework. And that's a good thing.

ESPN content on Hulu with Live TV on a TV, tablet and phone

(Image credit: Hulu)

Hulu now offers an unlimited DVR cap, with recordings expiring 9 months after recording. 

Setting up your DVR options is extremely simple: If you see a show or movie you want to watch, just add it to My Stuff, and Hulu will automatically record it when it comes on. Movies will record once; shows will record all episodes that Hulu can find.

Hulu with Live TV review: Video quality

Hulu has made great strides with its video quality over the past year. Like its competitors Amazon and Netflix, the streaming service now offers 4K video for its original series and selected movies. 

A grid of TV shows you've added to My Stuff in Hulu with Live TV on a TV, tablet and phone

(Image credit: Hulu)

Most TV stations broadcast at 720p; most on-demand movies reach 1080p. This is true whether they come through Hulu’s on-demand service, networks’ on-demand libraries or live broadcasts. Although Hulu doesn’t provide any simple method to gauge a video’s resolution, you can set caps in case you’re watching on a metered connection.

TV channels you can stream on Hulu with Live TV on a TV, tablet and phone

(Image credit: Hulu)

From what I observed, videos achieved HD quality within 5 to 10 seconds on an unencumbered home Wi-Fi network. Live feeds and DVR took a little bit longer than Hulu and network on-demand content. It would be nice if Hulu could pre-cache some of this content — maybe whatever’s on the top of your list in My Feed? — but as it stands, it’s no worse than any other streaming service out there, and indeed better than some.

Hulu with Live TV review: Bottom Line

Hulu with Live TV is a serious contender worth considering. The streaming service’s redesigned interface is gorgeous and pretty easy to navigate. You get plenty of interesting channels for a reasonable price. You get access to Hulu’s robust streaming library, and that unlimited DVR is nothing to scoff at.

But the advertisement situation still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and the interface could be a little snappier. The extras cost a lot of money, and I question their utility for most people.

While these aren’t negligible concerns, they don’t take away too much from what is ultimately a very solid effort on Hulu’s part. As our Hulu with Live TV review has shown, the service is a top contender for your dollar, as its original shows are unmatched by Sling, YouTube TV and the rest.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.