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Hulu’s best movies for cord-cutters

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Hulu’s best movies for cord-cutters

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Films like these make a Hulu subscription worthwhile.

The Virgin Suicides

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Feature films are a relatively new area for Hulu, so to come up with this list, we also considered its much larger collection of documentaries, its horror movie series Into the Dark, and a some of the great catalogue titles that make the service worthy of a subscription. Enjoy!

Updated August 24, 2021 to add 10 more film recommendations. More interested in Hulu’s TV shows? Click over to this story for our top picks.

Arrival

Arrival Paramount Pictures

Many sci-fi movies are essentially war movies with humans fighting aliens, humans teaming with aliens to fight other humans, or some variation thereof. Adapted from a short story by Ted Chiang, the amazing Arrival (2016) is something very different. It may not appeal to all comers, but if you tune into its thoughtful, meditative mode, it’s a great film. Amy Adams plays a linguist, Louise Banks, who is called into duty when 12 alien pods mysteriously arrive and hover over 12 seemingly random places all over the planet. It’s her job, along with scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), to learn the alien’s language and find out what they want.

In a normal movie, the answer would mean the end of the mystery, but here, it’s only enhanced. The timely message is one of empathy and understanding, rather than panic and destruction. Director Denis Villeneuve does remarkable things with shapes and light and dark, as well as a use of quiet and diegetic sounds; it’s pure poetry. The late Jóhann Jóhannsson, who died in 2018, provided the astoundingly beautiful music score.

Bound

Bound Gramercy Pictures

The Wachowski siblings did not always make futuristic movies about a “chosen one” that saves the world. In their directing debut Bound (1996), they created a twisty, character-driven crime film that was good enough to evade comparisons to Quentin Tarantino. In it, ex-con Corky (Gina Gershon) tries to go straight with a job as a painter and a plumber, but she meets gangster’s moll Violet (Jennifer Tilly), who seduces her. Together they cook up a plan to steal $2 million from Violet’s volatile husband, Caesar (Joe Pantoliano).

The movie includes a famous sex scene between Gershon and Tilly that is celebrated for its beautiful frankness and passion. Otherwise, the movie’s accomplished use of dialogue, rhythm, sound design, and color palette are all highly inventive. The movie was credited to Larry and Andy Wachowski, but since then the brothers have transitioned to Lana and Lilly. Hulu offers the unrated cut, which runs 14 seconds longer than the theatrical cut.

The Conversation

The Conversation Paramount

Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974) was released in-between his Godfather Parts I-II, a three-year feat of excellence that has hardly been equaled. This movie centers on Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), a surveillance man in San Francisco who may be the best in his field. He sometimes sees a girlfriend (Teri Garr), but doesn’t really let her into his life, and he even keeps his own colleague Stan (John Cazale) at arm’s length. Harry becomes obsessed with his latest job, recording a couple (Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest) as they walk around Union Square, trying to look and sound normal, but clearly wary, or afraid, of something.

As Harry re-jiggers the recording, and raises red flags for his employers (played, in brief scenes, by Harrison Ford and Robert Duvall), he finds that his own existence is not entirely opaque, much like the weird see-through raincoat he wears throughout the film. Walter Murch’s powerfully precise editing and haunting sound design are just two more parts of what emerges as a masterful film.

Heathers

The Heathers New World Pictures

Written by Daniel Waters and directed by Michael Lehmann, Heathers (1989) is the pinnacle of 1980s black comedy, taking themes like bullying, popularity, and social status in high school and bringing them to an entirely new level. Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) has recently been allowed to join the most elite group of girls on campus of Westerberg High, consisting of three Heathers (one played by future TV star Shannen Doherty). Meanwhile, a mysterious, cool new guy at school, J.D. (Christian Slater), turns Veronica’s head. He introduces her to a whole new way of dealing with the cool kids, and it involves murder made to look like suicide.

The movie’s finishing touch is a popular song about teen suicide (“don’t do it!”) that sweeps the school. Lehmann and Waters manage to get big laughs while digging into the blackest reaches of the human soul and coming up with a fairly accurate portrait of high school. The movie has since inspired both a TV series and a musical.

The Hustler

The Hustler Twentieth Century Fox

Robert Rossen’s The Hustler (1961) features striking, black-and-white widescreen cinematography, but not used for beauty; rather, it emphasizes sleazy, low-down rooms, late nights, sweat, exhaustion, and desperation. Paul Newman stars as Fast Eddie Felson, a small-time pool hustler who goes up against the legendary Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) and loses.

Hitting the absolute bottom, he re-groups with sleazy gambler Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) and his new girlfriend Sarah (Piper Laurie) and prepares to build himself back up again for a rematch. Boxer Jake LaMotta appears in one scene. The movie received nine Oscar nominations and won two Oscars, for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. Newman was nominated, but had to wait 25 years to win—for playing the same character in Martin Scorsese’s sequel The Color of Money (1986).

Johnny Guitar

Johnny Guitar Republic Pictures

Nicholas Ray’s “Freudian” Western is one of the weirdest horse operas ever made, and yet it has inspired a cult following of viewers who watch it again and again to peel away its various, strange layers. Joan Crawford stars as Vienna, who owns a remote saloon, waiting for the day the railroad comes through. She gets trouble from cattle rancher Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge), an unstable, shrieking villainess that makes your fists clench. By contrast, the title character (Sterling Hayden) doesn’t really do much.

Shot in bold, garish colors and full of blood and lust, and with Ray’s remarkable use of space to unlock the psychological states of the characters, Johnny Guitar (1954) plays with Western conventions (familiar faces Ward Bond, Ernest Borgnine, and John Carradine appear in smaller roles), but packs an odd, upside-down sexual approach to the story. Along with the director’s In a Lonely Place and Rebel Without a Cause, it’s a masterpiece that continues to fascinate.

Once Upon a Time in the West

Once Upon a Time in the West Paramount Pictures

Many consider this king-sized movie by Sergio Leone to be the greatest Western ever made. Once Upon a Time in the West (1969) opens with an astonishing, 10-minute sequence as three sinister-looking men in duster coats wait at a train station. Leone cuts together huge, wide landscape shots and smashes them with close-ups, and similarly slams together dark with light. Finally, a man known only as “Harmonica” (Charles Bronson) arrives and easily dispatches the three would-be killers (two of them played by Woody Strode and Jack Elam).

Then, ex-prostitute Jill (Claudia Cardinale) attempts to join her new husband and his family but finds them all slaughtered. Trash-talking bandit Cheyenne (Jason Robards) is accused, but the real villain is the cold-blooded low-down dirty dog Frank (Henry Fonda). Ennio Morricone’s amazing, startling harmonica-based music score occasionally wails under the action, ramping things up to monumental heights. Two other notable directors, Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci, worked on the story.

Shadow in the Cloud

Shadow in the Cloud Vertical Entertainment

Arriving on the first day of 2021, Roseanne Liang’s Shadow in the Cloud is still the most demented, unpredictable, and entertaining “B” movie of the year so far. It’s 1943, and a woman named Maude (Chloë Grace Moretz) boards a bomber called The Fool’s Errand, mysterious package in hand. Over cries of “no dames on the plane!” she informs the men that she’s on a top-secret mission, and that the package is officially the most important thing on the plane.

From there, with no place for her to sit, Maude must crawl into the Sperry turret in the belly of the plane, where the camera stays on her until about the 50-minute mark. After the 50-minute mark, be ready for anything as the plane is attacked by both Japanese zeroes and gremlins, and Maude does her best to save the day while clinging to the outside of the plane. The pieces of this incredible, bonkers movie don’t always seem to go together, but there’s hardly a wasted moment in its 83-minutes. Even the ending is as incredible as the rest of it.

The Social Network

The Social Network Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Releasing

David Fincher’s icy, precise direction, interested in dark nights of souls, and Aaron Sorkin’s snappy, crackerjack dialogue collide perfectly in this brilliant biopic of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg). The Social Network (2010) is framed by two different depositions, as Zuckerberg is being sued by Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and the Winklevoss twins (played onscreen by Armie Hammer, with offscreen help by Josh Pence).

Fincher builds the story in flashback of how Facebook came to be, as well as the almost-instant accumulation of Zuckerberg’s wealth and power. As with Fincher’s other films, especially Zodiac (2007), the pieces are intricate, and fascinating, but Fincher knows that they will add up to something less than expected. In short, Zuckerberg connected the whole world, but he himself doesn’t understand a thing about actual connection.

The Thin Red Line

The Thin Red Line Twentieth Century Fox

At the end of 1998, critics fought their own war over which was better, the popular Saving Private Ryan or the artistic The Thin Red Line; both are great films, but Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (1998) is something a little more. The former is a technical masterpiece, but this one is cinematic poetry. Based on a 1962 novel by James Jones, the movie depicts the U.S. taking Guadalcanal from the Japanese, but it’s really more interested in a bigger picture, in a sense of how man fits into nature, and how nature is bigger than any war.

John Toll’s glorious cinematography shows the soldiers among tall, wavy grass, against a huge sky. Images such as a bird being born, and then dying, in the midst of battle are more potent than the outcome of that battle. It’s not exactly a movie for everyone, but for daring viewers, it’s immensely powerful. The cast—some of whom appear onscreen only for a few minutes—includes Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel, Ben Chaplin, George Clooney, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Nick Nolte, John C. Reilly, and John Travolta.

How much does Hulu cost?

As of 2021, Hulu’s basic pricing plan is $5.99 per month or $59.99 per year (averaging about $5 per month) with ads, or $11.99 per month without ads. (The ads are so frequent and repetitive, you’ll quickly consider upgrading.) The special Hulu + Live TV service, which includes dozens of other TV channels, is $64.99 per month with ads, or $70.99 without ads. Additionally, streamers can get a bundle that includes Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+, for $12.99 per month. Free trials are available for each of these choices.

Our earlier picks

I Am Greta

I Am Greta on Hulu Hulu

Greta Thunberg holds a sign during a climate change protest in the documentary I Am Greta.

Nathan Grossman’s documentary I Am Greta (2020) follows Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg from her humble beginnings, staging a solo walkout from school on Fridays to call attention to the threat of climate change, to her international celebrity as she begins being recognized and invited to speak publicly. (Her speeches are boldly terse, scolding the old white men who have refused to take action.)

The film doesn’t dig very deep, and anyone who has followed the news knows the story, but it’s still filled with amazing moments that let us in on the way her brain works, from her insistence on a meat- and dairy-free diet to taking a small boat across the Atlantic rather than take an environment-destroying airplane. After seeing this, it’s difficult to deny that climate change is a pressing crisis, or that Miss Thunberg deserves our admiration for leading the fight.

Pooka! (Into the Dark)

Pooka on Hulu Hulu

Wilson Clowes inside the Pooka suit witnesses the carnage of “naughty” mode in the Into the Dark episode Pooka!

Certainly the weirdest and most divisive of the Into the Dark horror movies, “Pooka!” (2018) was apparently popular enough to warrant a sequel (“Pooka Lives!”) in season two. An out-of-work actor, Wilson Clowes (Nyasha Hatendi), takes a job wearing the giant-sized “Pooka” suit to help promote a weird new Christmas toy. The toy repeats whatever it hears, in either “naughty” or “nice” mode. The launch is a success, and Wilson is finally doing well. He even meets and begins dating a pretty real-estate agent and single mom, Melanie (Latarsha Rose).

But Wilson begins to experience strange, violent events when his suit seemingly switches to “violent” mode, and he becomes increasingly dependent on it. The creepy eyes and massive size of the suit make for some truly unsettling images, and the talented director Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes, Colossal) and Bear McCreary’s eerie score exploit them for all they’re worth.

Run

Run on Hulu Hulu

Chloe Sherman (Kiera Allen) begins to suspect that her mother (Sarah Paulson) is up to no good in Run.

Created by writer/director Aneesh Chaganty and writer/producer Sev Ohanian, the team behind the intensely clever found-footage film Searching (2018), the thriller Run (2020) doesn’t try very hard to play up the “is she or isn’t she a psychopath?” angle, and Sarah Paulson’s icy, calculating countenance certainly disguises very little. But the focus here is not on the puzzle, but on the escape, by Kiera Allen as teen Chloe.

In a flashback, we see that Paulson’s Diane has given birth to a sick child, and 17 years later, Chloe is wheelchair bound, with heart troubles, asthma, and other maladies. When Chloe begins to suspect that something is amiss with her mother, she must overcome her physical limitations and use her cunning to hatch a plan. Chaganty and Ohanian craft a snap-tight, exhilarating, 89-minute package here, and a very satisfying stream.

Little Monsters

Little Monsters on Hulu Hulu

While on a field trip with her class, Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o) must protect the kids from a zombie attack in Little Monsters.

Yes, it’s another zombie movie, but Abe Forsythe’s Little Monsters (2019) is likely the sweetest zombie movie ever made. It works largely due to its contagious good nature, and largely thanks to the awesome presence of the mighty Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Black Panther, Us), who manages to be both adorable and badass. Alexander England co-stars as Dave, a struggling metal musician who has gone through a savage breakup and is now staying with his sister Tess (Kat Stewart) and her five-year-old tractor-loving son Felix (Diesel La Torraca).

Dave takes Felix to school and immediately crushes on his teacher, Miss Caroline (Nyong’o). He volunteers to chaperone a field trip to a farm, hoping for a chance to flirt with her. But a bloody zombie attack forces the field trip to hole up in the gift shop, where they must placate the children and figure out a way to escape. Josh Gad co-stars—and parodies his own image—as a famous kids’ TV star, Teddy McGiggle, who is an absolute scoundrel off-camera.

Crime + Punishment

Crimer + Punishment on Hulu Hulu

New York City police officers contend with an unfair, illegal “quota” system in the documentary Crime + Punishment.

Stephen T. Maing’s documentary Crime + Punishment (2018), which made the shortlist for the 2019 Academy Award nominations for Best Documentary, seems even more relevant now than it was when it first appeared. It deals with quotas within the New York Police Department, which were made illegal in 2010, but which still exist. Police officers are expected to make a certain number of arrests per month, and they are encouraged to target mostly Black and Latinx citizens.

Maing captures audio and visual evidence of this, as well as evidence of punishments doled out to officers who refuse to comply. The main focus is a harrowing trial in which brave officers, known as the NYPD 12, come forward and attempt to sue the department, while the main subject is a former officer-turned-private investigator, Manny Gomez, a bear-sized, highly persuasive, old-school New Yorker who is as devoted to fighting corruption as he is to tasty lobster roll pastries.

Culture Shock (Into the Dark)

Culture Shock on Hulu Hulu

Crossing the border to America, Marisol (Martha Higareda) finds herself in a weirdly perfect American suburb in the Into the Dark episode Culture Shock.

Arguably the best of the feature-length Into the Dark episodes, Gigi Saul Guerrero’s “Culture Shock” (2019) grapples with America’s shameful treatment of immigrants, as well as anticipating a show like Disney+’s WandaVision. Marisol (Martha Higareda) is a Mexican woman who has already made one failed attempt to get to the United States. Now pregnant, she must try again, at any cost. She hires a coyote (Sal Lopez) for the trip, and along the way she befriends a young boy, Ricky (Ian Inigo), and the tough-looking Santo (Richard Cabral), who seems determined to protect her.

They are nearly caught, but then Marisol wakes up to find herself in a perfect, pastel-colored vision of the suburban American dream, with American flags and fireworks and community barbecues. Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator) plays a woman who smiles too broadly (creepy, David Lynch-style), and Shawn Ashmore plays the mayor. Where it goes from there definitely tingles the synapses. This is a nimble, wise, and deeply effective horror-satire.

Boss Level

Boss Level on Hulu Hulu

Stuck in a violent time-loop, Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo) must face off with Colonel Clive Ventor (Mel Gibson) in Boss Level.

There are two Groundhog Day-like “stuck in a 24-hour time loop” movies on this list, and both are in the top five, proving that you can always approach an old idea with a fresh angle. Directed by Joe Carnahan, Boss Level (2021) comes right out swinging as our hero, ex-soldier Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo), wakes up dodging a machete in his apartment, and seconds later, machine-gun fire from a helicopter outside his windows. Roy must hit the ground running, every morning, to avoid a team of elite assassins who are trying to kill him. He has never survived past 12:47 p.m., and has mainly decided to spend his last moments at the bar.

But this time, he finds a clue that will help him figure out why this is all happening to him, and perhaps also save his wife (Naomi Watts) and son (Rio Grillo, Frank’s real-life son). The 94-minute movie pulses along like a beast on adrenaline. It’s paced just right so as to be exciting without being exhausting, and yet doesn’t leave much time to ask questions. Mel Gibson co-stars as a sinister bad guy, and with Will Sasso, Michelle Yeoh, and Ken Jeong.

Happiest Season

Happiest Season on Hulu Hulu

Abby (Kristen Stewart) spends Christmas with her romantic partner Harper (Mackenzie Davis) and her conservative family in Happiest Season.

Performer Clea DuVall co-writes and directs this Christmas movie, an attempt to create a perennial classic for the LGBTQ+ community, and she succeeds so well that it could also become a classic for anyone with an open heart who loves the holidays. Happiest Season (2020) uses the old trope wherein one partner hasn’t yet “come out,” but DuVall fortunately digs into the characters’ emotions, rather than employing it as a slapstick device. On a romantic impulse, Harper (Mackenzie Davis) invites her partner Abby (Kristen Stewart) home to her family for the holidays.

It’s not until they’re halfway there that Harper admits that her conservative, politically active family doesn’t know about her sexual orientation, and could Abby please pretend to be her roommate? Abby is furious, but goes along with it, haphazardly navigating the next several days for a comically touching effect. The extraordinary cast includes Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber as Harper’s parents, Alison Brie and Mary Holland as her sisters, Aubrey Plaza as an ex-girlfriend (and a temptation for Abby), and Dan Levy as Abby’s comical best friend.

Palm Springs

Palm Springs on Hulu Hulu

Sarah (Cristin Milioti) and Nyles (Andy Samberg) are stuck in a time-loop together in the highly entertaining comedy Palm Springs.

Our second “time loop” movie, Palm Springs (2020) is so loose, cheerful, funny, clever, adorable, and thoroughly entertaining, that many film critics named it one of the best films of the year. (According to Metacritic’s roundup of lists, it was ranked the 12th best film of 2020.) It’s one of those films that was sorely needed during the pandemic year, a tonic for jangled nerves. Andy Samberg plays Nyles, stuck in a time loop on the day of a friend’s wedding. The movie cleverly lets us get through one day before letting us know that Nyles has been in this loop for a while, and has learned to just enjoy himself the best he can.

On this particular day, however, he accidentally brings Sarah (Cristin Milioti) along with him, and she becomes stuck too. As the couple deals with their feelings for each other, and Nyles’ past within the loop, they must decide whether to relax and enjoy, or try to break out. J.K. Simmons co-stars in a great performance as yet another time-looper with a different agenda.

Minding the Gap

Minding the Gap on Hulu Hulu

Longtime friends Zack and Keire ride skateboards and live their lives in the powerful documentary Minding the Gap.

Filmed over the course of 12 years in Rockford, Illinois, this great, Oscar-nominated documentary traces the nuanced, layered lives of three skateboarding friends as they grow and face life changes. Director Bing Liu is one of the trio, and with his camera so ever-present, the other two, Keire Johnson and Zack Mulligan never seem shy or guarded. We watch them grow from childish teasing to being able to confide in each other. We see Zack’s volatile relationship with his girlfriend Nina, complicated when Nina becomes pregnant. We see Keire begin to wrestle with his identity as an African-American. And we see Liu interviewing his mother about the relationship she had with the man who helped raise him, and abused him.

At the center of Minding the Gap (2018), however, are the beautiful, fluid skateboarding sequences, showing the three gliding through the streets like superheroes, escaping life for just a little while.

Best movies on Hulu: The runners-up

Once you’ve seen all the films on the top-10 list, here are a few runners-up: The Amazing Johnathan Documentary, a sometimes annoying, but ultimately clever documentary about the notorious magician/comedian; Bad Hair, a wry horror film about a Black woman in the 1980s who is pressured to get hair implants, with chilling results; Batman & Bill, a curiously touching documentary about the attempt to get proper credit for Batman’s co-creator Bill Finger; and Big Time Adolescence, a rough, but surprisingly sweet comedy with Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson.

A Christmas episode of the Into the Dark series, “A Nasty Piece of Work” has two corporate-climbing employees over to the big boss’s house for a holiday meal that turns into a series of “tests.” Too Funny to Fail is an excellent documentary about the creation and ultimate failure of The Dana Carvey Show in 1996. And the Oscar-nominated The United States vs. Billie Holiday is a somewhat problematic drama about the great singer, but an incredible performance by Andra Day in the title role makes it worth seeing.

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Jeffrey has been a working film critic for more than 14 years. He first fell in love with the movies at age six while watching “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” and served as staff critic for the San Francisco Examiner from 2000 through 2003.

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Roblox settles NMPA lawsuit, paving path to music in the metaverse

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Roblox settles NMPA lawsuit, paving path to music in the metaverse

Roblox Swordburst 2 and Flood Escape

Roblox Swordburst 2 and Flood Escape

Image Credit: Roblox

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Roblox announced today that it has settled a lawsuit filed by the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA). The lawsuit from the NMPA has been summarily dismissed, and Roblox will be open to further agreements with artists who want to debut their music in the game world, as they can now make their own deals with Roblox.

The NMPA originally sued Roblox for about $200 million for copyright infringement. Now the two companies appear to have come to an agreement that will allow music within the metaverse, or at least it will give publishers the chance to decide whether or not they are willing to allow it. NMPA President David Israelite called Roblox “a unique platform for musicians and songwriters in the metaverse” and said it offers unique options for artists to connect with fans.

According to the NMPA, this new settlement will allow Roblox to broker more agreements with music publishers going forward. They now have “an industry-wide opt-in open to all eligible NMPA publishers” with Roblox as well as a negotiating period that allows publishers to work out individual licensing contracts. The NMPA adds that these deals will offer new ways for songwriters to monetize their music.

Roblox has recently begun expanding its music offerings, most recently with the addition of Listening Parties — in-game music streams in which artists can show off their work. It’s also held several virtual concerts within its metaverse for users. Roblox’s Global Head of Music Jon Vlassopulos said in a statement: “We are pleased that the publishing industry sees the potential of Roblox to be a significant creative and commercial opportunity for its members.”

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The NMPA also recently settled a similar issue with Twitch, wherein it didn’t exactly condone the widespread use of licensed music on the platform, but it did leave the possibility open for individual artists or labels to have their own deals with the platform — an “opt-in” it described in almost identical language to its settlement with Roblox. The NMPA said this agreement will allow artists to find their audiences: “From virtual shows to studio sessions, the partnerships stemming from this agreement will connect the Twitch community in many ways to the music they enjoy.”

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How IT managers plan to deal with rapidly growing API complexity

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How IT managers plan to deal with rapidly growing API complexity

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The rapid increase and ceaseless evolution of API technology has ushered in a challenging new era of API complexity. A new study of IT leaders by Axway reveals that the average enterprise currently uses three different API management vendors, and plans to engage more to reach an average of four by 2023. In some countries, the number could even grow to five different API management solutions on average per company.

While 44% of IT leaders primarily benefit from reduced IT complexity and/or better oversight, 34% of enterprises do not have access to the multi-management capabilities needed to master API complexity, though 66% say they have some kind of plan in place to master these complexities.

There was a surprisingly strong correlation between enterprises that have mastered API complexity with an API-first approach (those who can build APIs the quickest), and the number of digital projects they can launch each year. Enterprises that build APIs in a matter of hours or days are more likely to launch more than 40 new digital projects every year, while enterprises that need weeks or months tend to launch fewer digital projects per year.

The study also showed the same correlation between the number of digital launches and the time to onboard new partners, or how often enterprises are able to reuse APIs. Companies stand to save nearly US$ 30K on average every time they reuse an API.

Axway, a global API Management company, analyzed new data from more than 800 senior IT and business decision-makers in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Australia, and Singapore. The study concluded that API complexity is negatively impacting the bottom line, raising numerous challenges and pain points — from security to governance to innovation and many others.

Read the full report by Axway

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Use your TV as a computer monitor: Everything you need to know

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Use your TV as a computer monitor: Everything you need to know

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Will that big, sexy screen look as good on your desk as it does in your living room? Let’s dig into the specifics of using an HDTV with your PC.

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You’re not the first person who’s wondered what it would be like to have a giant desktop monitor. Think of all the multi-tasking and immersive gaming you could manage if you had a 50- or 60-inch monitor instead of a standard 24-inch monitor! But you’ve probably noticed that as monitors get bigger, they also tend to get prohibitively expensive.

You’ve probably already got a big screen in your house, though—a high-definition television. At the end of the day, isn’t an HDTV just a giant, living-room-oriented computer monitor?

Not exactly. While you can use a TV as a computer monitor in most cases, that doesn’t mean it’s the best option. In fact, it’s likely less attractive, convenient, and usable than you think (not to mention, probably not that cheap). There’s a reason dirt-cheap 32-inch HDTVs aren’t flying off the shelves to be used as budget-friendly jumbo screens.

You definitely can use an HDTV as your PC’s display, though, and your television can also work in a pinch if you suddenly need a second screen. Here’s everything you need to know about how to set up a TV as a computer monitor—and why you might not want to.

Will it even work?

The short answer: Yes. You may need a special cable, depending on your PC’s outputs and your HDTV’s inputs, and you’ll need to check a couple of settings, but you shouldn’t have too much trouble hooking most modern PCs up to most modern HDTVs. 

Modern HDTVs have HDMI outputs. Some older HDTVs have DVI inputs, and some even have VGA inputs specifically designated for “PC use.” If your graphics card has an HDMI output, you’re good to go: Just use an HDMI cable to connect your PC to your HDMI.

dsc01797 Brad Chacos/IDG

All modern graphics cards (like this Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 6600 XT) include at least one HDMI port (second from left, between several DisplayPorts).

If you’re using an older graphics card or motherboard that only has a DVI output, you can snag a cheap DVI-to-HDMI cable and plug it into your HDTV’s HDMI output. Amazon sells a six ft. AmazonBasics version for just $7. Although some older HDTVs and some older computers only have VGA inputs/outputs, they aren’t not an ideal choice. VGA’s an analog signal that will give you a far fuzzier, lower-resolution image than you’ll get with an HDMI or DVI cord.

If you want to use your HDTV as a second or third monitor, you may need to use a different port, such as your graphics card’s DisplayPort output. In this case, you’ll need to use a different cable (DisplayPort-to-HDMI). The main advantage to using the DisplayPort output instead of DVI or VGA is that HDMI and DisplayPort carry both video and audio signals. A DVI-to-HDMI cable can transmit both video and audio if your graphics card supports HDMI audio via DVI—unlikely if it doesn’t have any HDMI ports—while VGA only transmits video. If you use DVI or VGA, you will most likely need to connect your PC’s audio up to the HDTV separately, or use external speakers or a headset.

Bottom line? Try to stick to HDMI if or DisplayPort-to-HDMI connections if it’s possible. It’s the easiest solution.

Getting your PC ready

You’ll also need to determine whether your graphics card (or your PC’s integrated graphics) is capable of outputting at the resolution of your HDTV. To do this, you will first need to find the resolution of your HDTV by consulting the manufacturer’s manual. Some HDTVs have non-standard resolutions; it’s not a given that your HDTV will be supported. Most stick to standard 720p, 1080p, or 4K resolutions however. Next, find the maximum resolution your graphics card/integrated graphics supports.

display adapter properties Brad Chacos/IDG

Open the Windows 10 Start menu and head to Settings > System > Display > Advanced display settings > Display adapter properties for Display 1. In the window that pops up, click List All Modes. Find the resolution that matches your HDTV’s resolution and select it. 

If you’re using the HDTV to supplement a standard computer screen, simply follow our guide on how to set up two monitors to tell Windows how to manage both displays. 

Will it look good? Maybe. It depends on how you’re using your HDTV.

HDTV features to keep in mind

If you’re turning your HDTV into a PC-backed multimedia powerhouse, and you plan on using it primarily as a television and streaming hub—e.g. a screen you’ll continue to view from several feet away—it will probably look fine. But if you’re trying to stick a 60-inch HDTV on a desk, you’re more likely to end up with headaches and eye strain.

There are a few different factors to keep in mind if you want to use an HDTV as a computer monitor.

Pixel density

Pixel density, or the number of pixels packed into one square inch of screen (measured in pixels per inch or ppi), is the most important factor to consider. A 15.6-inch laptop screen with a 1920 x 1080 resolution has a pixel density of 141.21ppi, while a 32-inch HDTV screen with the same resolution has a significantly lower pixel density of 68.84ppi. The lower the pixel density, the less clear and detailed the image becomes.

But the importance of pixel density decreases with viewing distance. The further you sit from a screen, the lower the pixel density need to be for you to have a comfortable viewing experience. You won’t have any problems looking at a 15.6-inch/141.21ppi screen from two feet away, but you will find it much harder to view a 32-inch/68.84ppi screen from the same distance. This is why a “Retina” screen on the iPhone has a pixel density of 326ppi, but a “Retina” screen on the Macbook Pro has a pixel density of just 226ppi.

55r635 front hero TCL

A normal user typically sits between two and three feet away from a desktop monitor. To comfortably view a monitor at this distance, you should aim for 80ppi or higher. This means that for 1920×1080 (1080p) resolution, your screen should be no larger than 27.5 inches diagonally, and for 4K sets, you’ll want to max out at 55 inches, like the $700 TCL 6-series 4K UHD quantum dot TV shown above. It’s our favorite bang-for-buck HDTV.

Important: “4K” is not a market standard. A 4K HDTV can mean 4x720p (3840×2160 resolution) or 4x1080p (4096×2160 resolution). Most models use 3840×2160, but you should check the exact specs of your model to determine pixel density.

Input lag

Input lag is the delay between movement you make on your input device (in this case, a mouse and keyboard) and what displays on your screen. While most computer monitors prioritize minimal lag times, HDTVs generally do not—they prioritize (laggy) video processing instead. These extra milliseconds may not seem like they matter, but they will make a massive difference if you’re trying to do something like competitive online gaming.

DisplayLag maintains a good database of input lag times, sortable by display type. An input lag of less than 30 milliseconds is considered good for an HDTV if you’re using it as an HDTV. For a computer monitor, you’ll want to aim for less than 20 milliseconds, and the lower you can go, the better.

Response time

Often confused with input lag, response time describes how long it takes for a display’s pixels to switch colors between scenes. HDTVs and computer monitors can have very different response times. HDTVs tend to prioritize richer colors, higher contrast, and wider viewing angles—all of which lend to a longer response time. Computer monitors tend to drop some of the image processing and viewing angles for faster response times. If you use a display with a slower response time, you may see “ghosting” in fast-paced video and gaming sequences.

lg oled55e8pua rear inputs LG

Also pay attention to the type and number of ports. This is only one of two port areas on an LG TV. Many TVs offer ports nearer the side as well for the sake of easy access.

Some HDTVs have a “game mode” setting, which cuts some of the image processing to improve both input lag and response time. If you plan to play PC games on your TV, definitely dig around in your HDTV’s options to see if it has this feature.

Refresh rate

Another factor that may affect performance is a display’s refresh rate. Refresh rate is the number of times a display “refreshes,” or re-draws, its image each second. Most modern displays have a refresh rate of 60Hz, which means they refresh their image 60 times per second. But you’ve probably also seen higher-end gaming monitors and HDTVs with higher advertised refresh rates—120Hz, 144Hz, or even 240Hz. This can be misleading, however, because a computer monitor with a 120Hz refresh rate may not be the same as an HDTV with a 120Hz refresh rate.

The reason for this is because the content people watch on a television is produced at either 24fps, 30fps, or 60fps. The content people view on a computer monitor can be very different—many games can output frame rates higher than 60fps if you have a powerful enough graphics card.

An HDTV with a high advertised refresh rate may use post-processing technology to achieve that rate, such as by creating additional frames to upscale content, or by adding black frames between each frame to prevent image blur. The good news is that this probably won’t make a difference if you’re not playing PC games at very fast frame rates. But if you have a PC designed for the best possible gaming experience, hooking up an HDTV instead of a computer monitor likely means that you’re not getting the most out of your machine.

Is it worth it?

There’s no harm trying to connect your computer to a TV you already own to see if it works for you. Go for it!

pcw windows10 tv Getty Images / Dmitriy Moroz

Our advice varies if you’re shopping though. If you’re looking to get the best bang for your buck, an HDTV isn’t necessarily going to save you money over a monitor. In fact, if you’re purchasing a new display, I recommend sticking with the tried-and-true computer monitor. For one thing, smaller, cheaper HDTVs are typically 720p resolution, not 1080p, while similarly priced monitors will almost always be 1080p. So if you’re looking for something under 27 inches, an HDTV will probably be more expensive and lower-resolution.

These lower-priced 1080p monitors often support AMD’s FreeSync adaptive sync technology as well, which can help your games look buttery smooth. You won’t find that in a cheap TV. 

If you’re looking for something larger than 27 inches, remember that pixel density decreases significantly with every few inches you gain, and there’s a reason HDTV-makers suggest sitting several feet away from their displays. If you need a display that will multitask as an up-close work/email display as well as a movie/entertainment display, you’ll want something with a high enough pixel density that text won’t be a pain to read—and even with a high pixel density, a large display may still cause eye and neck strain if you sit too close to it.

twitch stream Twitch

An HDTV as a secondary monitor is perfect for streaming Twitch, watching Netflix, or keeping an eye on Twitter in real time.

There is an ideal situation in which the HDTV-as-monitor shines, though.

If you want to add an extra display to a single- or multi-display setup for entertainment—say, so you can watch Netflix or Twitter while you write articles, or so you can play Skyrim on a 60-inch screen—then an HDTV can be a very capable (and cool!) monitor replacement. Bonus points if you happen to have an extra HDTV lying around, or if you can pick one up for dirt cheap.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

Sarah is a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She has a love/hate relationship with social media and a bad habit of describing technology as “sexy.”

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