- Hulu is less expensive than all but the most basic Netflix service.
- Hulu's content quality and simultaneous streams are comparable to the Standard (mid-tier) Netflix plan, at a lower cost.
- Both platforms have popular original content. Hulu is better for the latest TV shows, Netflix is better for binging series.
Netflix may not be the top dog of the streaming world anymore…
At one point, Netflix was the obvious go-to for streaming content. But over the last few years, some serious contenders have popped up -- and Netflix has, arguably, declined in quality.
These days, you have a huge array of available streaming services, some of which may actually be a better deal than the increasingly expensive Netflix.
One of those options is Hulu. A content-packed service, Hulu is probably best known for its wide variety of TV shows and the next-day availability of many just-aired episodes. However, the streaming platform also has tons of movies and even some original content.
But how does Hulu really stack up against Netflix? Let's take a look.
Netflix has a fairly complex pricing chart, and pretty much every feature you can ask for varies based on how much you're willing to pay:
|Cost per month||$9.99||$15.49||$19.99|
|Video quality||SD||HD||HD (Select 4K)|
|Offline viewing||Yes (1 device)||Yes (2 devices)||Yes (4 devices)|
Hulu's on-demand streaming offerings are simpler, broken down into two options: ads and no ads. Most other features are the same between the two, with the exception of download ability:
|Cost per month||$6.99||$12.99|
|Video quality||HD (select 4K)||HD (select 4K)|
|Offline viewing||No||Yes (5 devices)|
Unlike Netflix, Hulu does offer a few extras. For example, you can bundle premium channels, like HBO, or add Disney+ for an extra fee. Hulu also notably offers a live TV option for those who want a true cable experience. For the purposes of this comparison, however, we'll focus only on the direct-offer on-demand streaming plans.
On a pure price comparison, Hulu comes out ahead. Its $6.99 Ads plan is 30% cheaper than Netflix's Basic plan.
If you want an ad-free experience, however, the $9.99 Basic plan is better than the $12.99 Hulu No-Ads plan. But if you want no ads and HD, Hulu again comes out as the more affordable choice.
Number of simultaneous streams
Most streaming services limit how many devices can stream content at once. If you have a family -- or even just two of you -- who can't agree on what to watch, then having the option to use a service on different devices can be a big argument-saver.
With Netflix, you need at least the mid-tier Standard plan to stream on more than one device. And the Premium plan will allow you to stream on up to four devices at the same time.
In comparison, Hulu allows you to stream on two devices no matter which plan you have. Unfortunately, if you need more than two simultaneous streams, you're out of luck with Hulu.
Video quality has improved drastically over the last decade. HD (high definition) has become the industry minimum for new content, and a lot of stuff (but not everything) even comes in 4K Ultra HD. But all of that means nothing if you don't get a high-quality stream from your provider.
For example, if you have the Basic Netflix plan, you're only going to get SD (standard definition) content -- which tops out at 480p -- no matter how good your screens are. If you want HD -- that's 720p or 1080p -- you'll need the Standard plan. And if you're looking for 4K (2160p), you're going to need the $19.99 Premium plan.
Hulu, on the other hand, doesn't stint on the quality. Even if you get the $6.99 Ads plan, you're good to go. Everything will be at least HD-quality, plus you'll get 4K-quality for content that offers the option.
Downloading for offline viewing
While most of us are connected pretty much all the time, sometimes you need offline entertainment. There's a lot of variation here between Netflix and Hulu, so let's break it down.
All three Netflix plans let you download content to watch later. How many devices you can download content onto depends on your plan, and it's the same as the number of streams you get.
With Hulu, you'll need the more expensive Ad-Free plan to get the option to download content for offline viewing.
Both services have limits on how long you can keep your downloads. Unwatched Hulu downloads typically have 30 days, while unwatched Netflix downloads have variable expiration dates. If you start watching a download on either service, it will expire after 48 hours. Downloads can be renewed (downloaded again) on both services.
As important as the number of streams and video quality are, which service is better for you will probably come down to the content library. After all, if you can't find something to watch, does it matter if it's in SD or HD?
Netflix used to have a truly massive content catalog, but that library has been dwindling as contracts end and networks introduce their own streaming services. That said, Netflix still offers a decent amount of popular content, and it's good for binge watching older favorites.
However, Netflix is relying more and more on its original content -- some of it produced by Netflix, much of it imported from other countries and slapped with a "Netflix Original" label. If you like stand-up comedy and foreign films, Netflix may be a good content fit.
If you're looking for a way to keep up with your favorite current TV shows, then Hulu may be the better option. It has tons of popular television shows and often has access to new episodes within days of airing on traditional cable.
But that's not to say Hulu doesn't have anything for movie lovers. It has a decent movie library, including newer releases from 20th Century Studios. Hulu also has a surprisingly robust catalog of original content.
The ever-changing landscape of streaming
At the end of the day, the right streaming service for you -- and your bank account -- will depend on what you need out of it. Hulu has a lot to offer, and it does so at a lower price point than all but the Basic Netflix plan. But if you prefer the content on Netflix over Hulu, you may be willing to pay a little extra for it.
That said, the best part of the streaming world is that, unlike the cable plans of yore, we're not tied to any one platform for more than a month at a time. This means you don't actually have to choose between services. You can try Netflix one month and Hulu the next. Then move on to something entirely different if you want.
And if you're a big fan of watching shows at home, check out our picks for the best credit cards for streaming services to see if you can save a little bit of cash in the process. The streaming world is your content oyster.
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