Updated Feb 20, 2020

YouTube TV vs. Hulu Live: The Best TV Streaming Service?

Cam Secore

After a year of testing, I determined YouTube TV is the best live TV streaming service because of its excellent stream quality and the widespread availability of regional sports and local channels. However, Hulu + Live has improved enough since its release that it’s a now serviceable option if it has the channels you need.

I’ll explain how I reached my conclusion by comparing two services (YouTube TV vs. Hulu Live) while evaluating five categories: stream quality, channels, interface, DVR, and device compatibility.

youtube tv

YouTube TV

  • Stream: Three simultaneous streams. You can pause, and if you’re behind watching live (due to pausing), you can fast forward.
  • Channels: You get regional sports and local channels in most locations.
  • Interface: The "Top Picks For You” learns what you like and queues up your DVR recordings, events, or shows.
  • DVR: Unlimited storage and six DVR profiles, but you can’t skip commercials on CBS once the show’s on-demand version is available.
  • Devices: Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Xbox One, Fire TV, Android, and iOS. (Not available on PlayStation 4).

Best for you if...

You want a perfect stream with all of your sports and local channels. The YouTube TV apps on streaming devices are rock solid, but finding content on the YouTube TV phone app to send to your Chromecast is even better.

hulu live

Hulu Live TV

  • Stream: You can’t pause live TV or fast forward with the entry package. However, Hulu’s quality has vastly improved.
  • Channels: Some regional sports channels are missing, along with AMC.
  • Interface: The "Home" tab still gets confusing, but the "Live Now" and the new guide are dynamite.
  • DVR: You get 50 hours of storage but can’t fast forward. For $10 more, you get 200 hours and commercials are automatically skipped.
  • Devices: Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Xbox One, Android, Fire TV, and iOS. Available on PlayStation 4.

Best for you if...

You want to record network shows without commercials ($65/month with Enhanced Cloud DVR). Hulu Live has come a long way since its inception and now has a brilliant guide and a more stable stream.

Frequently Asked Questions & Concerns

  • I love YouTube TV and it’s an affordable alternative to cable. But cord cutting and streaming aren’t for everyone. Here’s what you need to consider:
    • It’s not always cheaper. If you want to save money, you need to be flexible. If you can’t go without 10 or more channels, you’ll probably end up paying the same amount as you would for cable, once you’ve added up all of the services.
    • Know the type of content you want, and don’t worry about the channel your favorite shows air on. Many times you can find the shows you want on Netflix or Hulu for $10/month.
    • While cord-cutting is trending and millions of people have ditched cable, live TV streaming services are turning into the cable companies you hate. The prices have gone up and inevitably will rise more, while the channel bundles remain. In fact, two days after I finished this post, Hulu increased its price from $45/month to $55/month.
    • What’s the most significant difference between live TV streaming and cable? You don’t have contacts, and you use your own equipment. This could change too. The real difference is you’re paying a different billion-dollar corporation than you were previously.
    • You need great internet. You may have to upgrade your current internet speed or improve your router, both of which will cost money. These live TV services recommend around 10/mbps, but that’s for one stream with the assumption that no one else is using the internet while you’re watching TV. If you plan on having concurrent streams, I recommend at least 50/mbps.
  • You need a streaming device or a smart TV for each room you want to stream in. I recommend a dedicated streaming device over smart TVs because smart TVs typically have clunky and outdated interfaces or aren’t fully compatible with the live services. For instance, if your smart TV has a YouTube app, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s compatible with YouTube TV. My recommendations (I wrote about streaming devices too):
  • The current live TV options aren’t ideal for sports fans. The only content I watch on YouTube TV is my local Boston sports games. I stay away from news and reality TV and prefer to use Netflix, HBO, and Showtime for movies and shows over traditional cable. Two hypothetical dreams:
    • I’d pay for three sports channels only and save money. Unfortunately, channels are still bundled together and will never be unbundled.
    • I’d pay for MLB.tv, NBA League Pass, NHL.tv, and NFL Sunday Ticket packages, without a live TV service. Unfortunately, the sports packages blackout your local teams so they can’t be watched.
  • I don’t make money from this post. I’ve received emails from competing services, like Xfinity, with huge commission bribes. I don’t have plans to compare other live TV services aside from these four. My independence is my biggest advantage. Media companies aren’t telling me how or what to write.
  • You can’t watch your local channels with a live streaming service if you’re not logged in from your local area.
  • You can get your local channels for free with a cheap indoors antenna without paying for a live TV streaming service. I can’t get a signal my tiny town, but I think you’d have better luck in a city. If you can pick up local channels for free, it opens up your possibilities for picking a streaming service.
  • “Network sign-ins” should work with all four of these services.
  • How do you watch pay-per-view movies without cable? You rent movies from Amazon Video, iTunes or Vudu for $5 each.
  • Why haven’t I reviewed {insert company here}?
    • PlayStation Vue: It was my pick for people who prefer an experience most similar to traditional cable. It was an excellent service, but it shut down on January 30th.
    • Sling TV: You won’t have your regional sports or other local channels. It may be a solid bet if you’re not into sports.
    • DirecTV NOW: It had a clunky interface and never streamed well consistently without error messages last time I tried it. I haven’t tried it in over a year, so leave comments below if you are a fan of DirecTV NOW.
    • Philo: They have a bunch of channels for $16/month, but local channels (Fox, CBS, ABC, NBC), ESPN, and regional sports channels aren’t available. If you don’t like sports or network shows, it might be worth a look, but I can’t vouch for it!
    • Fubo: I haven’t tried it, but the channel lineup looks enticing. It’s $15/month more than YouTube TV to get the same channels and features.
    • There are many illegal live TV services. If the service is $10/month for 100 premium channels and the app isn’t available on streaming devices without a workaround, it’s not legal. Use your head. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Please don’t ask me about jailbreaking your device.

YouTube TV


Stream (A):

  • The stream quality is impeccable. This is partly because they always seem to have a buffer of at least 20 seconds. As a result, live streaming is a little behind real-time, but it’s worth it for the improved stream quality.
  • YouTube TV uses 60 frames per second for sports channels to avoid choppiness.
  • This is the only service with which you can see and change the picture resolution while watching a show. It only requires a couple of taps. You don’t need to mess with the settings.
  • There’s a “Stats for Nerds” interface you can pull up when you’re on a channel. You can see buffer strength, latency, video quality, and frames per second. If you’re having problems with your stream, it’s great for diagnosing that.
  • You can watch on three separate devices at the same time.
  • You can pause live TV, and if you’re behind live (from pausing), you can fast forward. You can also go back from any point when you started watching.
  • YouTube TV works when you travel away from home, but local channels (CBS, ABC, FOX, NBC, and regional sports networks) from your zip code won’t work while you’re out of the area.
  • YouTube had several outages during major events. This wasn’t ideal, but YouTube handled it admirably by giving users a free week of service. There have been no outages in the past six months and I don’t expect more because Google is a powerhouse with amazing software developers and vast resources.

Channels (A):

  • Membership is simple; it’s $50/month for all channels. There are no complex tiers.
  • You’ll get your local sports teams in almost any location. The Denver and Washington DC areas are the only two I’m aware of that don’t have all of the local sports because the Altitude Network and MASN aren’t on any streaming services.
  • I get live versions of all my local channels (CBS, FOX, ABC, NBC) and you should too.
  • Like Hulu Live, YouTube TV is missing BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Network, NFL Network, and VH1.
  • History and A&E are the only major channels missing that Hulu Live has.
  • Why give YouTube an “A” when Hulu Live has a similar lineup? As you may have noticed, I prioritize regional sports and local channels and YouTube has them in almost every community. My reasoning: Sports and other live events are much better live. Other shows can be anytime with cheaper on-demand services without compromising the experience.
  • The sports setup is excellent. It lists all of your local teams with the full schedule and standings. You can click one button to record every game, no matter the channel.

Interface (A):

  • YouTube TV opens on the Home tab with “Top Picks For You,” regardless of what device you use. This is their secret sauce. The Home tab learns your patterns and provides recommendations. Since I watch mostly sports, my “Top Picks For You” always has a few live games. I rarely have to go to the guide to find them. It’s simple and beautiful.
  • YouTube TV’s app is visually stunning. Rather than showing a generic thumbnail of the  NFL logo, it shows a thumbnail of the two teams playing. It sounds stupid, but seeing familiar team logos make it easier for my brain to process than a channel name or text description does.
  • The YouTube TV apps on streaming devices are solid and have a guide, but there’s nothing unique about the app, apart from the “Top Picks For You” section.
  • The phone interface is amazing. It’s set up with three tabs: Library (your DVR), Home (a way of finding stuff to watch through searching and curation), and Live (a beautifully designed guide). Once you find what you want to watch, you can flawlessly cast or AirPlay to your TV.
  • The fantastic phone app is a big part of what differentiates YouTube TV from the others. It’s a different experience than traditional cable and exponentially better. While I still use the Roku and Apple TV apps for YouTube TV, I prefer to use the YouTube TV phone app to find content, then AirPlay to Apple TV or cast to Chromecast.
  • You can customize the guide. If you only like four channels, for instance, you can hide the other channels, and bring them back whenever you want by switching to back to the “default view.”
  • You can get notifications on your phone to alert you when your shows are on.

DVR & On-Demand (B):

  • YouTube TV’s Cloud DVR gives you unlimited storage, and your content is stored for nine months.
  • You get up to six accounts, and everyone gets an account for DVR with their own Google login. Your recommendations will only be based on your profile.
  • YouTube’s DVR has a catch: your recordings are sometimes overwritten with the on-demand version. When this happens, you can’t skip the commercials.
    • The commercials are shorter (three one-minute breaks for a 30-minute show) with on-demand than live TV, but you can’t skip them.
    • In my experience, CBS and Fox are the only channels that I found that were affected. Other channels record normally, with commercials, which you can fast forward.
    • You typically have a 24-hour window before the on-demand version is posted, so watch your shows quickly if you want it to be ad-free!
  • On-demand and DVR recordings are easy to find, sort and watch. I love the interface on the phone and the streaming device apps. Rather than displaying shows by the date they were aired, it orders them by season and episode number. But you can’t record individual episodes. When you record an episode, it records every airing of the show and bundles in previous on-demand content too. It’s a smarter approach, but it may bother some because it’s unique.
  • I’m not sure how YouTube does it, but they record the entire sporting event, no matter how long it goes over the scheduled time slot. My guess: They’re pulling the scores in real-time and note when the game’s done. It’s seamless!

Compatibility (B-):

  • There are apps for Apple TV, Roku, Android TV, Xbox, and newer Samsung & LG smart TVs.
  • While there are apps on lots of devices, my favorite way to use YouTube TV is to find the content on the phone app, then cast it Chromecast or AirPlay it to my Apple TV.
  • YouTube TV works on Apple TV, Xbox, Roku, and finally Fire TV devices.
  • There isn’t an app on PlayStation devices.
  • Streaming with the Chrome and Firefox browsers is great.

Hulu Live


Stream (B-):

  • In Hulu’s early days, sports channels had a latency issue when the screen moved quickly. Sixty frames per second are critical for watching sports because otherwise, there’s a lag in action. Luckily, Hulu started rolling out 60fps on half of their channels, and it looks like more are coming.
  • Hulu Live users reported lots of stream quality issues in the early days, and I experienced this too.
  • In my recent month-long test, however, the streams worked well and I only had a couple of minor hiccups. I don’t rate the stream quality as highly as YouTube TV, but Hulu hammered out many of the kinks and stream quality shouldn’t factor into your decision in this case.
  • You can pause TV, but once you do, you can’t fast forward. You’re stuck watching preloaded commercials. It’s a terrible experience. But for an additional $10/month, you can add “Enhanced Cloud DVR,” which allows you to pause when you want, then fast forward until you reach live.
  • You get two simultaneous streams in the entry-level package. It’s an additional $10 for unlimited streams.

Channels (B-):

  • Hulu has most of the regional sports channels, including YES Network for Yankees fans, but they don’t have all of the regional sports networks. Unfortunately for me, NESN isn’t an option.
  • I get live versions of all of my local channels (CBS, FOX, ABC, NBC) and, in most cases, you should too.
  • Like YouTube TV, Hulu Live is missing BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Network, NFL Network, and VH1.
  • AMC and MLB Network are the only major channels missing that YouTube TV has.
  • You get “Hulu Limited Commercials” for free (this is the original Hulu that most people know of for $6/month).

Interface (B-):

  • Hulu with Live TV is a different take on television. I admire the boldness. They use huge, eye-catching fonts and focus on getting content in front of you through a curation process, rather than just showing channel names. (Keep in mind, it’s not traditional, so it might take some getting used to).
  • If you search Google for reviews, you’ll see Hulu users have universally hated the app since its redesign in 2017. It’s pleasing to look at but not easy to use.
  • When Hulu Live launched, it didn’t have a guide, you couldn’t mark shows as played, and you’d so get deep in the threaded menus you can’t find your way out. Hulu made major adjustments in 2019. Now, your content is more customizable, and there’s a guide.
  • Hulu Live has three main menus.
    • The “Home” menu is the most confusing because there are over 15 submenus, but the first four of five are all you’ll need:
      • “Hulu Picks” is the sub-menu Hulu opens with. It’s useless and just shows generic on-demand content that Hulu wants you to watch.
      • “Live Now” shows you everything that’s currently on that they think you’ll like based on your previous viewing. I watch a lot of the Boston Celtics and each time they’re playing, it’s the top pick in my “Live Now” section.
      • “Keep Watching” shows you your recordings or live shows that you haven’t finished watching yet.
      • “My Channels” is easy access to live versions on your favorite channels, that were selected by you.
    • The “Live” menu turns on the channel you last used. Then with one swipe up, you can find your guide.
    • The “My Stuff” menu is where your on-demand and DVR recordings are stored.
  • Hulu created a new take on the traditional guide. It’s not a grid style, but it works in the same manner. It’s the cleanest and most intuitive guide I’ve ever used.
    • The guide can be viewed anytime you’re watching a show with a swipe up on the remote.
    • There’s no superfluous information on the guide. It only shows you what’s on now and if you want to see future programming, you can scroll right.
    • The guide defaults to showing only your last ten channels watched. This removes clutter and makes things easier to navigate. You can view “All Channels” if you want to watch something outside of your ten recently used apps.
    • There are clear green playback trackers to show to the show’s progress.
  • Hulu Live has taken huge strides in improving their interface, but I’d love to see two improvements:
    • An option to declutter by deleting or hiding certain menus.
    • When you’re watching a channel and a show ends there’s a slight delay and reloading that happens before the new show loads. I think I know why this happens, but I think it can be fixed.
    • Thumbnails while scrubbing through the timeline.
  • There are push updates you can turn on to alert you when to watch a certain game. Let’s say a guy is in the 8th inning of a no-hitter in a game you wouldn’t usually care about. Hypothetically, Hulu would alert you, and with one tap you could watch the end of that game.

DVR & On-Demand (A+):

  • With the entry-level $55/month package, you get 50 hours of DVR storage, but you can’t fast-forward commercials. You’ll get two sets of non-skippable three-minute ads for each 30-minute show.
  • I can’t recommend buying Hulu Live with the standard package and the DVR category would get an “F” from me.
  • But for an extra $10/month, with Enhanced Cloud DVR you get 200 hours of DVR storage, and you don’t have to watch commercials.
  • Even better, commercials aren’t even recorded, so you don’t even need scrub through to find the right positioning. It’s fantastic.
  • If DVR is your preferred method of watching network shows, the Enhanced Cloud DVR is a no-brainer.
  • You can create up to six profiles, so each profile’s algorithmic suggestions and DVR recordings are individualized.

Compatibility (A-):

  • Hulu is on Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast, Xbox, iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, and the app works well everywhere.
  • You get a universal experience on all the apps. It’s perfectly synced and beautiful.