Hulu launched its live TV service in beta on Wednesday, officially entering a crowded market of livestreaming TV services, each of which is trying to cater to cable cord cutters.
Hulu Live TV was first announced back during CES, where I had a chance to take a peek at the new software well before it was ready for primetime. Hulu is taking a smarter approach to the market. Instead of providing a traditional list of shows that are on TV, it tries to recommend shows people will like based on what they've already told the service they enjoy, and past habits. It also adds a fresh and colorful user interface where people are otherwise used to drab interfaces that haven't changed in more than a decade.
Plenty of players are in this space, though. Dish's Sling TV got an early start, followed by Sony's PS Vue, AT&T's DirecTV Now and Google's YouTube TV. Each offers very different experiences and channel packages.
Let's just take an exploratory look at what Hulu Live TV offers now.
Hulu starts at $39.99 per month. That gets you more than 50 live channels, up to 50 hours of cloud DVR recording, the ability to watch on two devices at once and unlimited access to the Hulu library of on-demand content. A $43.99/month plan removes commercials. Hulu also offers an add-on for $14.99/month that lets you stream to an unlimited number of devices at home or three devices on the go. Another $14.99 per month will expand your Cloud DVR to allow you up to 200 hours of saved movies and TV shows. Those bundles can be combined and purchased for $19.99. Showtime is an additional $8.99 a month. All-in and without commercials, you're looking at $73 (with the combined bundle.)
You’ll be asked to help Hulu personalize your experience when you first open the app. If you already have a Hulu Watchlist of favorite shows, you’ll be able to import that during setup. I like comedies, so I’m selecting all of those, in addition to news.
You’ll also add networks you’re more likely to watch. Don’t worry, you can still watch anything, this is just for Hulu to pick recommendations.
Hulu then creates your custom Lineup. Obviously there’s some self-promotion here, since a Hulu original "The Handmaid’s Tale" is front and center. You can flip through this to see other shows.
If you swipe left across the screen, you’ll get the option to keep watching shows you’ve started, view your channels, or dive into different genres, see featured movies and more. Recognize that guy?
There are five icons along the bottom of the screen representing the home screen, your “stuff,” channels, search and your profile.
The My Stuff page is my favorite. Here you can find the TV shows you like, movies you’ve added to watch, sports teams you follow and networks you prefer to tune into. As you watch content, anything you add by tapping the + button will appear here.
Like I said, you’ll never run into a traditional “TV” guide. Here we’re browsing through various networks, each with a large banner icon, details on what’s on TV and how much time is left in the show.
Each show has a really beautiful page with a background wallpaper, details on when it airs and the actors and actresses, episodes and even extras. Notice the button to add the show to “My Stuff” at the top. You’ll use that a lot as you get started.
You can tap the screen to pause, rewind, fast forward or access the “flip tray,” which provides quick access to other episodes.
Here I am up and running on two devices at once. Don't forget you'll need to pay $14.99 per month if you want to watch on more than two screens at once.
All of this sounds and looks very promising. I've used all of Hulu Live TV's competitors and there are a lot of pain points that each service tries to address. Hulu seems to do a good job tackling selection of content, DVR functions and a clean interface.
Something worth watching out for is how well the service performs over time, though, and whether or not it drops out during evenings when millions of people are tuning in to watch TV. AT&T's DirecTV Now, for example, continued to crash weeks after the service launched. Take this away, though: Hulu looks good, is easy to use, and puts content front and center.
That's a great start.
Disclosure: Comcast, which owns CNBC parent NBCUniversal, is a co-owner of Hulu.