Saturday , November 28 2020

Hulu Plus Live TV vs. YouTube TV: Which live TV streaming service should you choose?

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Just ten bucks separates two of the best premium options for cord cutters who want live TV. Here’s how to choose between them.

We’re all staying inside watching more TV, and with sports such as NFL football and NBA basketball in full swing again, it could be a good time to consider a live TV streaming service. A subscription lets you cut the cable TV cord to save money while keeping your family’s access to live TV channels (e.g. CNN, ESPN and TNT) as well as your local stations including ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. Instead of a cable box you’ll watch via media streamers like RokuAmazon Fire TV or Apple TV, your game console or your smart TV itself.

At CNET we’ve tested all seven of the major live TV-streaming services and our two favorites for premium users — cord cutters who don’t mind paying a bit more for a full package of channels and features — are YouTube TV and Hulu Plus Live TV. Both offer large selections of live channels, a cloud DVR that lets you record shows to watch later and extras like user profiles and multiple simultaneous streams. But they also have major differences beyond the $10 disparity in monthly fee. 

In general we like Hulu Plus Live TV best, because it’s cheaper and includes Hulu’s massive selection of on-demand shows and movies. But YouTube TV also has its advantages, namely a better DVR and numerous channels that Hulu lacks, including NFL Network and optional RedZone as well as your local PBS station. (Editors’ note: CNET is owned by ViacomCBS, which owns CBS and several other channels mentioned below.)

Here’s how they stack up.

Hulu’s greatest asset is the integration of numerous live TV channels with a massive catalog of on-demand content for one price. With its recent interface upgrades and YouTube TV’s price hike, Hulu has become the most attractive of the two services. Its channel count is solid, including some must-have channels — like New York and LA-area sports networks — missing from YouTube TV. But you’ll have to pay another $10 a month to get the ability to skip commercials on Hulu’s cloud DVR, which would bring it to the same price as YouTube TV.

Read our Hulu With Live TV review.

With an excellent channel selection, easy-to-use interface and best-in-class cloud DVR, YouTube TV is still a worthy cable TV replacement. When the price jumped from $50 to $65, however, it became more expensive than any of the other services. If you don’t mind paying a bit more, or want to watch live NFL games, YouTube TV offers the highest standard of live TV streaming.

Read our YouTube TV review.

Read more: Best free TV streaming services: Roku Channel, Pluto TV, Tubi TV, Sling TV and more

The biggest difference comes down to channels. Comparing the total channel counts from our big list of the top 100 channels on every service, YouTube TV comes out on top with 76 from that list, compared to 60 on Hulu. That total doesn’t include every channel the services carry, just the ones in the top 100 as determined by editors at CNET, but it still provides a good indication.

The two share most major national channels including Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, ESPN, Fox News, TBS, USA Network and more, but there are a few differences. 

Here’s a condensed version of that list showing the 18 of those 100 channels carried by one and not the other.

Both services offer all four of the major local channels — ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC — in most areas of the country, and both also carry local affiliates from The CW and MyTV. Only YouTube TV carries PBS local stations; you can’t watch your local PBS affiliate live on Hulu.

Both also offer regional sports networks — channels devoted to showing regular-season games of particular pro baseball, basketball and hockey teams — in many areas of the country although generally not as many as your local cable or satellite provider. To find out if the RSN you want is available in your area you can search YouTube TV by ZIP code here and search Hulu Plus Live TV by ZIP code here. New York and Los Angeles area sports fans should note that YouTube TV dropped YES Network, Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket, while Hulu carries all three RSNs. 

Beyond RSNs however YouTube TV has a big advantage in national sports networks, with NFL Network, MLB Network and NBA TV all available as part of its base package. You can also pay another $11 to get NFL RedZone, part of a “Sports Plus” add-on that also includes Fox College Sports, GolTV and Fox Soccer Plus. None of those channels are available on Hulu.

Premium channels like HBO, Starz and Showtime are also available for extra fees, and Hulu has two optional channel packages. One is an add-on for $8 per month with 11 channels including CNBC World, the Cooking Channel and Science, and the other is a Spanish-language package with seven channels for $5. YouTube TV doesn’t have any additional channel packages, although you can add individual channels like Shudder and CuriosityStream for additional fees.

Read more: Best OTA DVR for cord cutters: Amazon Fire TV Recast, TiVo, AirTV and Tablo

The YouTube TV interface on Roku.

The menus and interfaces on both are quite different from one another and from regular cable, and we like YouTube TV’s menus better overall. 

YouTube TV: In general the YouTube TV interface is easier to use, and not just to people used to using regular YouTube. If you’re using the desktop or app versions, Google’s streamer offers a streamlined structure even if it’s not as pretty as Hulu. 

Hulu Plus Live TV: Hulu recently rolled out a new user interface which brings it in line with its competitors. The new look is brighter, easier to both use and drill down into the kind of content you want to watch. If it was all a matter of which interface is more fun, then Hulu would now take it.

The difference in number of simultaneous streams is worth noting, especially for families and other households who watch a lot of TV. YouTube TV lets you stream to three different devices — say, the living room TV, a bedroom TV and a tablet — at the same time, while Hulu lets you stream to two. Pay Hulu a hefty $10 extra per month and it will upgrade your number of streams to unlimited. 

YouTube TV’s biggest usability advantage is its excellent cloud DVR. It offers unlimited storage and works great, much like the hardware DVR inside your cable box. Hulu includes a 50-hour cloud DVR in the base $55 price too, but it has a big disadvantage: it lacks the ability to fast-forward through commercials on recorded content. To gain that ability you’ll need to shell out for another $10 to upgrade the DVR, which also ups storage capacity to 200 hours. DVR advantage: YouTube TV.

Read more: Best TV antenna for cord-cutters in 2020, starting at only $10

YouTube TV includes on-demand TV shows and movies from participating networks and shows, much like your cable service, and also offers YouTube Originals commercial-free. But it pales in comparison to Hulu. As we mentioned above, a Hulu Plus Live TV subscription unlocks all of the on-demand TV shows and movies available on the standard Hulu service, including thousands of episodes of network TV shows, as well as originals like A Handmaid’s Tale, Catch-22, Letterkenny and the movie Palm Springs. The latest iteration of Disney-owned Hulu’s push into originals is FX on Hulu, with exclusive shows like Devs premiering on the service.

Hulu Plus Live TV subscribers can upgrade their accounts for another $6 to remove ads from many of the on-demand shows, although some will still show ads.

Read more: 30 of the best TV shows to watch on Hulu

Both services represent the peak of what live TV streaming has to offer, and both are better overall than the other two major premium options, Fubo TV and AT&T TV Now. Your choice between the two comes down to channel selection, usability and content, and in our book YouTube TV bests Hulu Plus Live TV in most of those areas. Hulu is the better value option, however, as it enables you to integrate a wide channel selection with its exemplary on-demand library, for a $10 discount. In the end though it’s all about having access to your favorite channels so choose the service which gives you the channels you want.

Below you’ll find a chart that’s a smaller version of this massive channel comparison. It contains the top 100 channels from each service. Some notes:

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