Deciding which streaming service is right for you can be tough. Obviously, if you want to watch everything, you have to subscribe to everything. If you’re on a budget, however, you’ll need to make some tough choices. Amazon Prime Video is home to some buzz-worthy original dramas and comes with other, non-video-related benefits. Specialty services like the horror-focused Shudder trade variety for a curated selection of stuff you know you’ll like. Disney+ is a hub of Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, and, of course, Disney content.
Chances are, however, that if you can only afford one streaming service, you’ll be choosing between the two biggest players in the game: Netflix and Hulu. Both services have enough content to keep you busy for years, but there are some major differences between the two. For a well-rounded viewing diet, you’ll most likely want both, but if you have to choose, we’re here to help you find the service that best fits your streaming habits and won’t break your budget.
- Supported devices
- Sound and picture quality
- Interface and accessibility features
A streaming service isn’t worth anything if you don’t like the movies and television shows on offer, so your biggest challenge is going to be figuring out whether Netflix or Hulu has more of the videos you’re interested in.
In terms of quantity, Netflix is second only to Amazon Prime Video but is ahead of Hulu. That’s what happens when you spend an estimated $17 billion a year on content. As a result, Netflix hosts some of the very best movies and complete seasons of many of the all-time most popular television shows, from Seinfeld to Breaking Bad. Netflix’s original programming also includes tons of huge shows and movies, from Oscar-nominated dramas like Marriage Story, The Irishman, and Roma to Stranger Things, The Haunting of Hill House, and countless others.
On the other hand, while Hulu has a number of great films on offer, its biggest draw is its up-to-date television content. Typically, Netflix only gets the newest episodes of a television show three months to a year after the entire season ends. On the flip side, networks and cable channels like NBC, FOX, ABC, and others put new episodes of many of their shows on Hulu the day after they air. Hulu has also been making big gains in original content, thanks to critically acclaimed projects like The Handmaid’s Tale, PEN15, and the Veronica Mars revival, although it pales in comparison to Netflix.
There’s also the Disney factor to consider, now that Disney’s purchase of Fox assets is complete. While Netflix is its own company, Disney owns 60% of Hulu. Comcast/NBC owns another 30%, while AT&T controlled the remaining 10% until very recently.
Disney is removing its content from Netflix and will be posting it on Disney+ instead. Reportedly, the Netflix-Disney split is why Netflix’s popular Marvel series, which included Daredevil and Jessica Jones, weren’t renewed for more seasons.
Hulu will be getting some of that Disney and Fox content, too: Reportedly, films like Deadpool and Marvel’s animated adult comedies, which don’t fit with the Disney+ family-friendly mandate, will make their way to Hulu instead. Netflix has enough high-profile original material to weather the breakup without much trouble, but it’s important to keep the upcoming changes in mind, especially if you’re a fan of the properties that Disney owns — which, these days, feels like almost everything. Finally, Hulu also offers a live TV service you can add to its on-demand service, though it’ll cost you a pretty penny.
Here is where things get tricky. Both Netflix and Hulu are available at a variety of different prices, and how much you’re going to spend on each depends on a combination of what features you want, how important image and sound quality are to you, and whether or not you’re willing to put up with ads.
For $9, you can get a Basic Netflix subscription that runs in standard definition and allows you to stream video to one device. The $14 Standard plan upgrades your stream to HD (if it’s available for the movie or show you’re watching) and lets you use two devices at once. For $18, you’ll get 4K Ultra HD resolution and four simultaneous streams. DVD mailing plans cost an extra $8 to $15 a month, depending on the plan.
Once a more budget-friendly option, Hulu increased prices yet again in October 2021. Now, Hulu’s basic subscription costs $7 a month ($70 a year) but comes with ads that run during scheduled commercial breaks. If you want to watch Hulu ad-free, you’ll need to pay $13 a month, but if you can afford it, the higher tier is the way to go. Hulu seems to be adding more ads as time goes on, and individual ads are tied to specific programs. If you’re binge-watching a particular show, you’re going to see the same ads over and over, which is a very easy way to ruin your viewing experience.
Tacking on Hulu’s Live TV service adds up to $65 per month, but the streamer again announced a price hike for that service, too, hitting consumers with a $70 bill beginning December 21, 2021, for access to its 60 or so channels. You can also pay $76 per month for the ad-free Premium tier. You should note, though, that the ad-free option only removes ads from Hulu’s regular on-demand content — you’ll still see ads while watching live TV. You can augment Hulu + Live TV with extras, too, although they cost even more. For example, Hulu’s Enhanced Cloud DVR service, which lets you fast forward through commercials and gives you more virtual storage space, costs $10 a month, and the ability to stream Hulu + Live TV on an unlimited number of devices (the default is only two) will set you back another $10.
You can also get great add-ons for Hulu, including HBO for $15, Cinemax for $10, Showtime for $11, and Starz for $9.
One advantage of Hulu is that you can also bundle it with other Disney services. If you want both Hulu and Disney+, you can buyin a $13 bundle that packages Disney+, the ad-supported Hulu plan, and ESPN+, Disney’s third streaming service. Separately, you’d pay $18 total for all three. Note that there’s currently no Disney+ and Hulu bundle that includes Hulu’s ad-free option.
Here’s the good news: If you have a smartphone, a tablet, a streaming box, a video game console, or a home computer, you should be able to watch both Netflix and Hulu without any trouble. Both services are extremely popular, which means they’re supported by almost every video-playing device. It’s probably worth checking each service’s compatibility list before signing up (here’s Netflix’s, and here’s Hulu’s), but unless your hardware is extremely old or phenomenally obscure, you’re probably set.
Sound and picture quality
If you’re an audiophile or home theater enthusiast, Netflix is the clear winner, although you’ll pay extra for the high-quality streams. While Netflix’s basic subscription is standard definition only, its $14 plan offers HD streams, while the $18 subscription gets you 4K quality. Netflix also offers Dolby Atmos soundtracks for some of its content, in addition to 7.1 and 5.1 surround sound offerings.
By contrast, Hulu streams in HD at all subscription tiers but doesn’t currently offer 4K resolutions. Hulu programming only broadcasts with stereo sound, too, so if you’re looking to show off your fancy home theater setup, skip Hulu. It simply won’t get the job done.
Interface and accessibility features
Both Netflix and Hulu look great and are easy to use, and if you’ve used a modern smartphone app, neither should give you much trouble. Netflix’s recommendation engine can be a great way to find new stuff to watch (although it seems to favor original Netflix content), while Hulu’s interface is fast and snappy, and, if you subscribe to premium channel add-ons like HBO or Showtime, the service helpfully consolidates all of your various channels into a single package.
If you rely on subtitles, Netflix has a slight edge: In 2014, the company announced that all of its content would have closed-captioning. Netflix also has more robust parental controls, including the option to block certain profiles out of any content with a rating harsher than PG. If you’re worried about what your little ones are watching, Netflix is the safer option.
If you love feature films and you love original content Netflix is going to work perfectly for your preferences. Netflix Studios produces some of the highest quality content available in addition to their extensive library of licensed movies and TV shows to choose from. If an extensive library wasn’t enough to convince you, you should know that you also get 4K resolution, and surround sound features that can take your viewing experience to the next level. If you love movies and don’t have a Netflix subscription yet, we highly encourage you to reconsider.
If you prefer broadcast TV over movies, Hulu may be a more fitting option for you. Hulu gives you on-demand access to your favorite TV shows, within a day or two after their original air date. So the next time you miss your favorite episode, you don’t have to be disappointed. It also means you won’t have to wait around for six months for it to show up on Netflix. If you want to end your relationship with your cable company, Hulu + Live TV is a great alternative. While the details of the merger are unknown, it might still be worth adding Hulu to your list of streaming services because of this feature.
There truly isn’t a downside of going with Hulu or Netflix as your next streaming service. Both of these services provide hours of entertaining content. Serious binge-watchers or those who have must-see exclusives on each platform may consider subscribing to both. If two subscriptions would max out your monthly budget, consider reviewing each provider’s libraries before you pick. That way, you can select the service that gives you the best content for you.