Hulu with Live TV, first impressions from the beta version: This ia a bundle that pretends it’s not

Hulu with Live TV is not the channel bundle you might’ve grown
up with. The $40-per-month streaming service clearly wants to
be something other than cable.

Aside from being cheaper than the average pay TV package,
Hulu’s new bundle aims to blur the lines between live TV,
on-demand shows, and DVR. It pushes personalized
recommendations on what to watch, and it shunts the notion of
channel-flipping out of the spotlight. Recordings, on-demand
episodes, and Hulu’s existing TV and movie library intermingle
in ways that obscure the source of what you’re watching, as if
to suggest that only the content matters.

Hulu’s attempt to distance itself from the legacy TV experience
is refreshing, and it can lead to discovering some great
television. But it can also be disorienting, due to an
expansive, sometimes confusing menu system. Hulu also
accurately describes the current service as a beta, and it’s
marred by limited device support and occasional glitches. We’re
not going to render a review score until Hulu lifts the beta
tag; in the meantime, cord-cutters signing up for the service
in its current state should be aware they’re paying for an
unfinished product.

Hulu with Live TV: What you get

Hulu’s bundle is
one-size-fits-all
, with more than 60 channels for $40 per
month. That puts it in the ballpark of other streaming bundles’
primary offerings, though Hulu throws in access to its existing
on-demand service—an $8 per month value—to sweeten the deal.
The ad-free version of that existing service costs an extra $4
per month, and you can still tack on Showtime’s on-demand
catalog for another $9 per month.

Channel highlights include ESPN, Disney channels, regional
sports from Fox and Comcast, all three cable news networks, and
on-demand video from all four major broadcast networks. In
certain markets, you can get live feeds from local broadcast
stations as well. (A full channel list appears at the bottom of
this review, and Hulu’s
sign-up page
lets you enter a zip code for a list of local
stations.)

hulunetworks Hulu

Hulu includes roughly 60 channels for $40 per month—no more, no
less.

Like other streaming bundles, Hulu omits some networks to keep
prices down. AMC Network channels, Discovery channels, and
Viacom channels such as Comedy Central and MTV are all absent
from Hulu with Live TV, as are league-based sports channels
such as NBA TV, MLB Network, NFL Network, and NFL Redzone.

The service does include 50 hours of DVR at no extra charge,
but with some opaque rules and restrictions. Some live channels
let you rewind to the start of a program even if you haven’t
set up a recording, and then allow you to skip commercials.
Others allow automatic rewinding, but not ad-skipping.
Recordings are supported on all channels, but some won’t let
you skip ads unless you pay an extra $15 per month for expanded
DVR, which also increases storage to 200 hours.

hulumyepisodes Hulu

Hulu’s cloud DVR lets you record individual episodes or entire
series.

Subscribers can add up to six user profiles and are allowed up
to two streams at a time, either inside or outside the home.
That’s the same as DirecTV Now, and better than Sling TV
Orange, but less than PlayStation Vue, Sling TV Blue, and
YouTube TV. It also leads into another upsell: For $15 more (or
$20 total combined with expanded DVR service), you can stream
on unlimited devices at home and three devices on the road.

Currently, Hulu with Live TV runs on Apple TV, Xbox One,
Chromecast, iOS, and Android. Live TV subscribers can still use
Hulu’s on-demand service on a longer list of devices. The
service also includes access to
a handful of cable-authenticated apps
, but the limited
device support for live channels is one reason Hulu has applied
a beta tag for now.

How Hulu Works

As for the experience of using Hulu with Live TV, it’s at once
gorgeous, empowering, and utterly overwhelming.

Top-level navigation splits into three main sections: The
“Home” section focuses on recommendations and quick access to
recently-watched programming. The “My Stuff” section pulls in
all the channels, shows, and movies that you’ve marked as
favorites, including both on-demand and DVR content. The
“Browse” section is a catch-all for everything else, including
genres and a full channel list.

Logical as this layout may seem, the purpose of each section
isn’t immediately self-evident. Each section also has numerous
subsections, which in some cases share a name with subsections
in other parts of the interface. For instance, there are four
menus entitled “Sports,” three menus entitled “Movies,” another
three entitled “TV” or “TV Shows,” and two ways to access your
favorite channels. These redundantly named sections rarely
behave in exactly the same way. Better labelling could be a
short-term fix, but Hulu would really benefit from
consolidating the interface into fewer branching pathways.

hulutvshows Hulu

In the “My Stuff” section, the “TV Shows” menu provides a list
of your favorite shows. But there’s a different menu by the
same name under the “Browse” section.

At least the Hulu interface isn’t lacking ways to discover
things to watch. During setup, Hulu asks users to pick some
favorite channels and genres, which fuel the recommendations on
the home screen. Intriguing subsections such as “Star Wars” and
“Binge-worthy” pepper the home screen, and browsing the genre
menus yields fun results such as “Workplace Shenanigans” and
“Nostalgia TV.” You can also search for shows, channels, and
genres, but not for actors or directors.

Other parts of the interface show promise, but need further
development. Hulu’s centralized menu for favorite sports teams
is brilliant, but did not come with any setup process on Apple
TV. (A menu for setting up favorite teams did appear on the
Xbox One app). Support for kid-friendly user profiles is also
helpful in theory, though it lacks parental lock and misses the
mark with age-based recommendations. No disrespect to the
unashamedly bizarre Uncle
Grandpa
, but it’s not appropriate for a
three-year-old.

hulusports2 Hulu

Hulu lets you track all your favorite sports teams from one
place.

Performance Hits and Misses

By calling itself a paid beta, Hulu with Live TV is trying to
inoculate itself against early criticism for glitches and
performance hiccups. And there have been a few.

For instance, I experienced a persistent issue on Apple TV
where Hulu boots me out of a stream and back to its menu.
Sometimes this would happen while attempting to fast forward,
and a few times it’s occurred on its own. While I was always
able to resume the channel or program in question, it happens
frequently enough to be a nuisance.

The live channel guide—yes, this does exist; it’s accessible by
taping or swiping up from any video—also has a design flaw
that’s hopefully unintentional: The buttons to initiate a
recording or view more information only apply to what’s playing
in the background, not to whatever’s highlighted in the guide.
This makes a chore out of recording or favoriting soon-to-air
programs.

Yet in terms of reliability, Hulu with Live TV has performed
well in my experience. Channel load times were initially a bit
sluggish, but have improved over the past week, and I haven’t
seen any show-stopping errors like the kind that
afflicted DirecTV Now
in its early days. Video resolution
has been routinely crisp at 720p for live channels, 1080p for
movies, and 4K for some originals.

huluplayercontrols Hulu

Hulu managed to avoid any major buffering or freezing issues
during our testing.

The only major problem concerns frame rate, which tops out at
30 frames per second for all channels and programs. That means
you don’t get the smoothness of motion that’s typically found
in live sports, news, talk shows, soap operas, and late-night
programming. PlayStation Vue and DirecTV Now remain the best
options for 60-frames-per-second viewing.

How does Hulu compare with other streaming bundles overall? To
be honest, a strong opinion eludes me. The channel lineup is a
fine cross-section of what cable TV has to offer, but with
holes that may be disqualifying for some potential cord
cutters. The interface deserves praise for its vision, but not
so much for its execution. And the barrage of upsells—more DVR
storage, no streaming limits, fewer ads—is grating even if the
options are nice to have.

In the end, the right call on picking a streaming bundle is
still to thoroughly examine all the options—their lineups,
their features, their device support—and hope you find a match
for your needs. In beta or otherwise, Hulu with Live TV just
tilts the odds a little further in your favor.

Here’s the full channel list for the Hulu Live TV bundle:

21st CENTURY FOX

  • FOX
  • Big Ten Network
  • Fox Business Network
  • Fox News Channel
  • Fox RSNs
  • Fox Sports 1
  • Fox Sports 2
  • FX
  • FXX
  • FXM
  • National Geographic Channel
  • National Geographic Wild

The Walt Disney Company

  • ABC
  • ESPN
  • ESPN2
  • ESPNU
  • ESPNEWS
  • ESPN-SEC Network
  • Freeform
  • Disney Channel
  • Disney XD
  • Disney Junior

NBC Universal

  • NBC
  • Telemundo
  • Comcast RSNs
  • The Comcast Network Philadelphia
  • NECN
  • USA Network
  • Bravo
  • E!
  • Syfy
  • MSNBC
  • CNBC
  • NBCSN 
  • Golf Channel 
  • Chiller
  • Oxygen Network
  • Sprout

A+E Networks

  • A&E
  • The History Channel (THC)
  • Lifetime
  • Viceland
  • Lifetime Movie Network (LMN)
  • FYI

Scripps Networks Interactive

  • Food Network
  • HGTV
  • Travel Channel

Turner Networks

  • CNN
  • HLN
  • CNN International
  • TBS
  • TNT
  • TruTV
  • TCM
  • Turner Classic Movies
  • Cartoon Network & Adult Swim
  • Boomerang

CBS Corporation

  • CBS
  • CBS Sports Network
  • POP

This story, “Hulu with Live TV, first impressions from the beta
version: This ia a bundle that pretends it’s not” was
originally published by TechHive.

To comment on this article and other Macworld content, visit
our Facebook page or our Twitter
feed.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: