Hulu Plus hits the Playstation 3; another hands-on report

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Hulu Plus hit the Playstation 3 today, at least for Playstation Plus owners (it'll be available to all Playstation 3 owners once the 'preview phase' has ended). As I'd already signed up to test the iPad client I was able to put this iteration through its paces, too. Many of the shortcomings I talked about earlier this week apply to Hulu Plus on the Playstation 3 as well (lack of content, basically) so today I'll focus on the PS3 client and the Hulu experience on a home theater setup.

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First though, one correction on my earlier post. In it I said "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..." but in fact it does when going from PS3 to iPad and back (and presumably jumping between other devices). For whatever reason that syncing doesn't seem to apply to the PC version, though. And there's still one drawback to the Hulu Plus implementation: you get the pre-roll ad even when you're trying to jump back to where you left off in the show you were watching.

So back to the PS3 client. We still don't have categories for TV shows, just an A-Z listing or browsing by network. The Search function works much better on the PS3, and there's a new option: Recommended. This doesn't seem to offer personalized recommendations, though. Hulu Plus suggested a group of shows, after which I went through and rated a bunch of stuff, including marking one of the recommended shows as something I didn't like. When I went back to the Recommended section, it was still suggesting the same group of shows including the one I specifically said I didn't like. So perhaps Recommended is more like a "Staff Picks" area.

For my final testing I watched part of a couple of shows: Wipeout and Modern Family. Both played in HD but Wipeout looked pretty bad. I suspect it might look just as bad on cable TV, though, since it's a low budget game show probably filmed with low budget gear. The video quality in Modern Family was quite good but the sound seemed ever so slightly out of sync. One interesting feature with Hulu Plus PS3 is that you can pick your bandwidth. There are two SD & two HD selections, from 650 kb/s for the lowest SD to 3.2 Mb/s for the highest HD feed. The client defaulted to HD at 2.5 Mb/s, when I turned it up to 3.2 Mb/s the audio sync got better to the point where I probably wouldn't have noticed it if I wasn't looking for it. Overall the quality of Modern Family, at least, was pretty good once I boosted the bandwidth.

But the biggest shock to me was the commercials. I normally time-shift everything I watch and even though I think I'm pretty accepting of commercials (I don't always bother to fast forward through good ads) the ads on Hulu Plus are generally the schlocky low-budget ads that you immediately grab the remote to avoid. What do I mean by 'good ads'? I mean stuff like the now-retired "I'm a Mac" commercials or the new Old Spice commercials. They're entertaining enough that I'd rather sit through them rather than bother with fast-forwarding past them. On Hulu Plus you get ads for stuff like 5 Hour Energy drink and feminine hygiene products. And in classic cable tv style, the ads come complete with jacked up volume. I'd honestly forgotten how awful unaltered TV can be and of course Hulu disabled all controls while an ad plays. You just have to sit there and wait them out. It was awful. For some reason they seemed much worse on a 52" TV than they did on an iPad.

There're a few shows on Hulu Plus that my girlfriend and I would like to watch on the big screen. The decision we have to make now is whether it's worth paying $10/month and suffering through the ads, or just waiting until these shows hit DVD and wind up on Netflix streaming, ad-free. I'd honestly be happier paying $14.95/month for a Hulu Plus without ads then listening to the blaring, inane ads that Hulu Plus dumps into its content now.

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