Hands-on with Hulu Plus: is it worth $10/month?

Hulu finally sent me an invitation to sign up for Hulu Plus yesterday, and I wasted no time in taking them up on their offer. I'm mostly interested in the service as a way to get Hulu on my Playstation 3 (due out later this month) but figured I could use my iPad or my PC in the interim. I wanted to know if Hulu Plus was worth $9.99/month. I should admit upfront that I'm not normally a Hulu user. The idea of sitting at a computer watching TV isn't really appealing to me; I spend enough hours in my office chair as is. I want to flop on the couch and watch the big screen when it's TV time. (Yeah, I know I could connect a PC to the TV but I haven't gotten around to that yet.)

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My first surprise with Hulu Plus was that, just by browsing, it took me a good ten minutes to find a show that was available on Hulu Plus and not available on regular Hulu. All the shows I was interested in seemed to be available for both. Did you know you can watch the entire Stargate SG-1 series on Hulu? You can! But you know what's even stranger? You can't watch it on Hulu Plus. Yes, that's right. You pay $9.99/month to get less (in some cases) content then you would using the free service. Now to clarify, if you're accessing Hulu from the web you can watch these 'missing' shows whether you're signed on as a Hulu Plus member or not. But the iPad application (and presumably any non-PC device that supports Hulu Plus) is missing some content. Another show I looked at was The Royal Pains (I grew up in the Hamptons so I get a kick of this quirky dramedy about a 'concierge doctor' living among the rich and famous). Hulu on the web offered the 4 most recent episodes, but the Hulu Plus app on the iPad doesn't offer the show at all. So You Think You Can Dance is another example. Seven episodes available to non-members on the web, zero on the iPad. Eventually I did find some content that was exclusive to Hulu Plus. Dancing With the Stars (49 episodes on standard Hulu, 93 on Plus), Desperate Housewives (32 standard, 119 Plus), Cougartown (5 standard, 24 Plus) and so on. So there is some reason to pay for Hulu Plus. I'd just really expect Plus to have everything that standard Hulu offers, plus more. That just makes sense, right? But nope, that's not the case. I understand that all of this is due to licensing issues, but as an end user I really don't care; Hulu needs to go back to work and get 'device licensing' for all the content it offers on the PC. I also need to point out that the iPad app is pretty rough. I couldn't find a way to add shows to my Queue from the iPad app (though if you add them from the web they do sync over) and the search form is a black hole. Once you open search you can't leave it except by following a search result. If you get no results, you're stuck until you search again for something that returns results. That's just sloppy. If you use Netflix Streaming on a variety of devices you might be used to watching half a show on one device, then going to a second device and picking up right where you left off. Hulu doesn't offer this, either (though it will save your place on the iPad). In addition to all these shortcomings, remember that you're still going to be seeing ads when you tune into Hulu Plus. On the bright side, there are over 150 TV series on offer on the iPad Hulu Plus app. Sadly the only 'Browse' option shows you all 150+, or you can browse by network. But if you're looking for categorizations like "Drama" or "Comedy" you need to head back to the web. In addition to Browse you've got "Featured," "Most Popular," and "Recently Added" listings. In the Movies section you'll find over 130 titles, mostly indie films and some full length anime features. Whether or not Plus is worth it depends a lot on your taste in TV. My sister-in-law would go nuts at having all those episodes of Dancing With The Stars at hand! Most of the Plus content is listed on the Hulu site, so you should start by checking there. Personally I was disappointed to find that there's still some great Hulu content that I can only watch on my computer, even though I'm shelling out $9.99/month. For me, I have to say Netflix Streaming is a far better deal at this point. Content there isn't as timely, but there's more of it, it's ad-free and it's easier to find something to watch. In our house, Hulu Plus isn't anywhere near ready to replace Netflix. I'll be watching to see how quickly Hulu adds new content in order to determine if it's worth keeping Plus as a second service. If things don't improve, I don't believe that it is.

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