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Streaming movies and TV shows in 4K has been a growing desire for cord-cutters, and Hulu has been on the forefront of offering 4K content.
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If you're a serious movie buff, but haven't taken the plunge into high-quality 4K resolution content yet, you're probably looking at various streaming services to find out what they can offer you. Hulu, one of the major players in the streaming game, could be expected to offer content in 4K. It does, but not as much as you might think, and only on some devices. And Hulu doesn't offer 4K via its Hulu + Live TV service at all.
A 4K video display has a minimum of eight million pixels, which translates to a TV screen resolution of 3840 by 2160. By comparison, an HD picture (known as 1080p) has a resolution of 1920 by 1080. 4K is a substantial improvement, with four times the resolution of HD. That's a much sharper, clearer picture than standard HD. But in order to get the full benefit of 4K, the source material needs to be available in 4K; TVs that have to "upconvert" 1080p can do it, but the resulting picture quality will be degraded.
Hulu's lagging position on 4K is related to moves it made several years ago. It started 4K streaming in 2016, dropped it entirely, then reinstated 4K in 2019. The company has been playing catch-up ever since and has fallen well behind competing streaming services.
Hulu + LiveTV -- at $70/mo. -- is not available in 4K but is streamed in HD (1080p), which means none of your Hulu channels will be in Ultra High Definition. However, Hulu's standard service, which allows you to stream movies and TV episodes, supports the service's limited library of 4K content and costs $7/mo., or $70/year, after a 30-day free trial.
On the bright side, Hulu does not charge more for 4K content -- it comes with the standard subscription. Hulu's 4K streaming currently does not support Dolby Vision or HDR (high dynamic range) encoding.
Hulu says its library of 4K content "continues to grow, [but] at this time it's limited to a select list of programming," and that means it is primarily Hulu original movies and series. There's no list on the Hulu website of 4K content, nor is there a way to search for 4K content; instead, the show listings have "4K badges" on them in the content description.
Most (but not all) of Hulu's original content is available in 4K resolution. Here's a list of TV shows and movies you'll find in 4K:
Because 4K is a more detailed image, it requires more data, so 4K also needs more bandwidth to deliver it to your TV. Hulu recommends at least 16 Mbps download speed for a 4K video stream, and 25 Mbps would be better. (By comparison, it only asks for 3 Mbps for its regular streaming content.) Of course, when more than one person in a household is streaming 4K content, each stream requires that, so it's possible to get bandwidth jammed up fairly easily.
If you have a slower connection, you'll either see picture buffering or Hulu will drop the signal to standard 1080p HD as the stream begins to clog up. And if you have a data cap on your internet connection, be careful, because 4K content will eat up data quickly.
Your Wi-Fi router can also be a weak link. One you've relied on for a while may not be up to handling the volume of data that 4K uses. One (inexpensive) way to ensure a crystal-clear 4K picture is to use an ethernet cable between the device and your router. That way, you're not subject to Wi-Fi limitations.
Not every streaming device will support Hulu's 4k content. These are the devices that currently do:
Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick
Roku, Roku Stick (3810X, 3920X, 4400X and 46*OX)
The biggest caveat here is that Hulu's 4K content is not supported on legacy devices or devices running older operating systems. If, for example, you have an older Chromecast, it's time to open that wallet and buy a current one. Examples of devices that don't support Hulu 4K include Apple TV 2nd & 3rd generation, certain LG TVs and Blu-ray players, certain Samsung TVs and Blu-ray players, and TiVo.
For those looking for a 4K Ultra HD streaming experience, Hulu may not be the right choice at this time, as Hulu 4K content is seriously lacking. While it does have a good deal of original material in 4K, it does not offer much in the way of theatrical releases or live TV viewing. Your 4K TV will not give you the best picture it possibly can with most of the Hulu catalog currently available only in a 1080p HD resolution.
Hulu may have some caveats for 4K streaming, but it makes up with tons of options to bundle. For example there are bundles that include things like Spotify and Showtime, or even a Sprint Mobile plan.
Disney+, which also brings you Pixar films, National Geographic titles, and the Star Wars and Marvel movies, offers a much richer landscape of 4K content, and it's about the same price as Hulu, $8/mo. (There is a Disney Bundle that offers Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ -- which is also not in 4K -- for $14/mo.) However, Netflix, the reigning king of 4K streaming, has hundreds of 4K titles, and charges $20/mo. That's quite a jump, but you can decide if the large library of 4K content it offers makes the premium price worthwhile.
Meanwhile, Amazon's Prime Video features a lot of 4K content, some of which is free with the $9/mo. subscription and some of which you'll pay a premium price to view. You can also check out our comparisons between Hulu + Live TV and their competitors like fuboTV, Sling TV, and YouTube TV.
Is 4K Ultra HD important to you? If so, then Hulu does offer a wide library of 4K titles, but much of its releases wouldn't completely work for you.