We’re all watching more TV, and now’s as good a time as any to consider a live TV streaming service. At CNET we’ve tested six of the major services, and our two favorites for premium cord-cutters — who don’t mind paying for the most channels and features — are YouTube TV and Hulu Plus Live TV.
These two cost more than streaming services like Netflix, but they’re still cheaper than cable. A premium subscription lets you cut the cable TV cord while keeping features like an advanced DVR with program guide and extensive on-demand content. Both of these live services offer a large selection of live channels, such as CNN, ESPN and TNT, as well as local stations ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and more. You can access them via media streamers such as Roku, Amazon Fire TV or Apple TV, your game console or your smart TV itself.
Both services have their pluses and minuses but ultimately each offers a great live TV streaming experience. In general, it’s a choice between having the biggest streaming bundle for the least amount of money, or being able to watch the greatest number of top channels. Hulu has an excellent selection of channels and not only adds a gigantic catalog of on-demand shows and movies but also includes the Disney Bundle — Disney Plus and ESPN Plus — for the $70 price, and as a result is our current Editors’ Choice. Meanwhile, after an $8 price hike, YouTube TV still offers the most of the top 100 of any service, though it’s now close after Hulu added both PBS and Magnolia.
Want a little bit more information? Here’s how they stack up.
Hulu’s greatest assets are the integration of a full complement of live TV channels with a massive catalog of on-demand content, and all for the one price. Hulu’s channel count is solid, including some must-have programming. Its $70 price includes the ad-supported versions of Disney Plus and ESPN Plus, and there are even higher-priced choices for people who don’t want to watch ads. If you want the most bang for buck, Hulu Plus Live Tv is where the smart money is.
With an excellent channel selection, easy-to-use interface and excellent cloud DVR, YouTube TV is an excellent cable TV replacement. It offers a $20 4K upgrade, but the downside is there isn’t much to watch at present. If you don’t mind paying a bit more than the Sling TVs of the world, YouTube TV offers a great live TV streaming experience.
YouTube TV and Hulu Plus Live TV compared
|YouTube TV||Hulu Plus Live TV|
|Base price||$73 per month||$70 per month|
|Number of popular channels (out of 100)||77||73|
|Local ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC channels||Yes||Yes|
|Local PBS channels||Yes||Yes|
|Simultaneous streams per account||3 ($20 for unlimited and 4K)||2 ($10 option for unlimited)|
|Family member/user profiles||Yes||Yes|
|Cloud DVR storage||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|Fast-forward through or skip commercials with cloud DVR||Yes||Yes|
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Channels: YouTube wins but Hulu is catching up
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 77 from that list, closely followed by Hulu with 75. That total doesn’t include every channel the services carry, just the ones in the top 100 as determined by the 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, NFL, TBS, USA Network and more, but there are a few differences.
Here’s a condensed version of that list showing the 14 of those 100 channels carried by one and not the other.
Major channel differences
|Channel||YouTube TV||Hulu Plus Live TV|
|BBC World News||Yes||No|
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. Both Hulu Plus Live TV and YouTube TV now carry PBS local stations.
Neither service offers many regional sports networks after both YouTube TV and Hulu dropped them in 2020. Beyond RSNs, however, YouTube TV has an advantage in national sports networks, with NBA TV available as part of its base package. Though YouTube TV used to have MLB Network as well, it dropped the channel earlier this year. YouTube users can pay another $11 to get the “Sports Plus” add-on that also includes Fox College Sports, GolTV, NFL RedZone and Fox Soccer Plus. In addition, users also have exclusive access to the NFL Sunday Ticket for an added $349. Meanwhile, Hulu users can sign up for a $10 package which includes NFL RedZone, Outdoor Channel, Sportsman Channel, MAVTV Motorsports Network, TVG and TVG2.
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 17 channels including MTV Classic, 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 other 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
Usability: YouTube TV has simpler menus
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
. 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: If it was all a matter of which interface is more fun, then Hulu would take it. Hulu’s look is brighter, and though it lacks YouTube’s comprehensive search, it’s still relatively easy to drill down into the kind of content you want to watch.
The difference in the 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. On the other hand, the only real reason to pay for the $20 4K upgrade on YouTube is to also get unlimited streams.
YouTube TV has rightly earned accolades for its excellent cloud DVR but Hulu closed the gap with an upgrade in 2022. Both now have unlimited storage and let you fast-forward through commercials in recorded content, so while we still consider YouTube TV’s DVR the gold standard, Hulu’s is very good too.
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On-demand and originals: Hulu with the runaway win
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 The Bear, The Handmaid’s Tale, Only Murders in the Building, Pam & Tommy and the movie Palm Springs. It also includes an ad-supported Disney Plus and ESPN Plus subscription, with their massive on-demand libraries.
Read more: Hulu: The 42 Best TV Shows to Watch Now
Which service is best for you?
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, FuboTV and DirecTV Stream. Your choice between the two comes down to cost, channel selection, usability and content, and it’s pretty close between the two Hulu enables you to integrate a wide channel selection with its exemplary on-demand library which may be worth it for some. 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:
- Yes = The channel is available on the cheapest pricing tier. That price is listed next to the service’s name.
- No = The channel isn’t available at all on that service.
- $ = The channel is available for an extra fee.
- Not every channel a service carries is listed, just the “top 100” as determined by CNET’s editors. Minor channels like AXS TV, CNBC World, Discovery Life, GSN, POP and Universal Kids didn’t make the cut.
- Regional sports networks — channels devoted to showing regular-season games of particular pro baseball, basketball and hockey teams — are not listed. To find out if your local RSN is available you can search YouTube TV by ZIP code here and search Hulu Plus Live TV by ZIP code here.
Read more: Best live TV streaming service for cord-cutters: YouTube TV, Sling TV, Hulu and more compared
Top 100 Channels
|Channel||Hulu with Live TV ($70)||YouTube TV ($73)|
|BBC World News||No||Yes|
|Big Ten Network||Yes||Yes|
|CBS Sports Network||Yes||Yes|
|Lifetime Movie Network||Yes||No|
|MGM+ (formerly EPIX)||No||$|
|Nat Geo Wild||Yes||Yes|
|NFL Red Zone||$||$|