Another chapter in our search to find great live TV without paying the cable company. Find the first two parts of this series here and here.
David and I stayed with DirectTVNow for several months, and it was okay. Although it buffered a good bit at times, for the most part, it was worth the $35 per month that we were paying. We still depended on our Mohu Leaf antenna for local stations—especially network football—upstairs. We never could get our local PBS station to come in, though, so we still stream those programs from the website shortly after air date using Chromecast and our smart phones.
Last spring, I saw an ad for Hulu Live TV, and although it sounded good, it was not yet compatible with Amazon’s Firestick. Then, a couple of months ago, I checked again and they had upgraded. The service is $40 per month and is still in beta, but we signed up for the one-week free trial. Within a couple of days, I dropped DirectTVNow. Here are the differences in the two services:
- Hulu Live has DVR. Need I say more? The $40 plan offers 50 hours of DVR storage, but you can pay for more. Why would you need to store more than 50 hours? You watch what you recorded and delete it. Done. It works perfectly and is intelligent enough to only record new episodes, so instead of recording what seems like 30 episodes of Fixer Upper each week, it only records one.
- Hulu Live has live support. DirectTVNow has online chat “support” with people—or robots—who seem to pick out a word from your question, match it up with a word in their canned responses, and paste that into the reply. Incredibly frustrating. Hulu Live has intelligent, helpful people who actually answer the phone and give good advice. Kudos.
- You also get the entire Hulu library of movies and TV shows that they have in the $8.99 service for which they are famous.
- Hulu Live has all of the channels that DirectTVNow has, and then some. We get our local NBC station, for example. Both give us all the cable news channels, HGTV, and sports channels— all the ESPNs, Fox Sports, and even the SEC Network, which is essential in our house. In essence, you get all the channels that you would get with your cable service. It also has on-demand content, including BBC America, which has the Musketeers series that Netflix dropped before we got to season 3. Huzzah!
- The playback quality, after we made the changes I’ll talk about below, is very good.
- You can back up live TV, and if you miss a show, you can look it up and hit “View latest episode,” even if it only finished minutes ago.
Nothing is perfect, of course, and if I could change one thing about Hulu Live, it would be the user interface. When we first installed the app, I had to spend some time on the phone with a customer service rep in San Diego in order to figure out how to get to the programs. It is not at all intuitive. Once you have used it for a while, it becomes customized, which makes it easier, of course, to watch your usual programs, but more difficult to discover new material. I worry that I will wear out my Firestick’s “back” button, since you have to back out of every category to get back to the home screen. Since it is in beta, I offered this helpful feedback to another customer service rep later: “Your user interface is dreadful.” I’m sure she appreciated it.
One other bothersome detail is that the viewer cannot fast-forward or rewind during commercials. I will grudgingly admit that fast-forwarding through commercials might cost them money, but why should we not be able to rewind during commercials? If I log onto a show in progress while it is in commercials, and I want to rewind it to the beginning of the show, I have to wait through the commercial break before I can restart the show. It does not make sense. I’m going to watch those commercials again when I get to that point in the show. But, hey. I can’t rewind at all on other streaming apps like Sling or DirectTVNow.
We did have some serious issues with buffering, but they turned out to be our problem. We called Hulu Live, and they tested and said that it was our internet connection. So, we called Spectrum (now only our internet provider), and they came out twice, once for the inside and once for the outside of our house. After cleaning up everything they could, they saw that the problem was in our router. It turns out that our router was outdated, and it could not handle our smart TV.
Just as a humorous aside, the second Spectrum guy showed up when David and I were a couple of days away from our son’s wedding, and he was doing yard work while I was working inside the house. In other words, we were not exactly looking our best. So, this Millennial is trying to reassure us [old folks] that our 2.4 router is probably fine for us, since, he says, “You’ve probably got, what? A laptop and your phones? Do you use your phones for anything besides talk and text?” I said, “We have three laptops, two smartphones, and two smart TVs streaming the Hulu Live app as our basic TV source, plus we use our phones to stream Chromecast onto our TVs. We have Netflix, use YouTube on the TVs, and we listen to podcasts on our phones. We’re not gamers, though.” His face was priceless. The upshot was: we needed a new router.
I did some research online and, after clearing it with our IT department (son who is a software engineer), we ordered the Netgear Nighthawk AC1750, which is a dual-band wifi router for larger areas. It has worked very well for us, and now Hulu Live may buffer very occasionally, and only for a moment, whereas before it would buffer often, and sometimes even black out the screen. If you are a gamer, I would probably go for something more powerful, unless you live by yourself in a small house or apartment.
So, that’s it! I think we’ve arrived, unless some great quantum leap in entertainment and information services takes place sometime soon. We’re still saving $70 per month over when we had basic cable with Time Warner/ Spectrum, and now we have the Hulu catalog of TV shows and movies, too!