Clearing up some Hulu Plus misinformation

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At the risk of beating a dead horse, I wanted to talk about Hulu Plus again. Yesterday when the Roku and Tivo Premiere announcements were made official, a lot of tech blogs reported the news and a lot of them got some details wrong or presented misleading information. In particular I read some stories that suggested Hulu Plus, in conjunction with Netflix Streaming, would allow users to finally cut their cable cord. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

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First let's establish what we know. Hulu Plus is currently available on Apple i-devices, Samsung "App-enabled" TVs and Blu-ray players, and the Sony PS3. Now we're adding Roku Players and the Tivo Premiere to the mix. Support is planned for internet-enabled TVs and Blu-ray players from Sony and Visio this fall, and for the Xbox 360 in 2011. Hulu Plus supports up to 720P streaming for now. It costs $9.99/month and content is still ad-supported.

That last bit gets glossed over a lot and is a big deal for most consumers. Unlike Netflix, when you pay for Hulu Plus you still need to watch a limited number of ads (the same number as you see in standard Hulu on a computer). To be fair there are far fewer than in a typical network TV viewing, but there's no way to skip them. If you're anything like me, you always time-shift programs by at least a small amount so you can fast forward through annoying ads; there's no way to accomplish that with Hulu Plus. The fast forward controls are disabled during ads.

Next let's talk about content. Hulu Plus has a lot of content that you won't get on Hulu; you'd expect that to be the case. What's less expected is finding that there are some shows available on Hulu that aren't available on Hulu Plus. On a computer you get all the content of both services, but on a device you only get the Hulu Plus content. Hulu's Plus site says it offers Over 120 seasons and 2,000 episodes of rich library content—that's thousands of hours of entertainment. and I'm sure it does, but numbers aren't everything. A lot of the content that makes up those numbers comes from archives of old shows. If you want to catch up on your viewing of The Amazing World of Kreskin or Kojak then they have you covered.

I'm not saying it doesn't have a lot of good content; it does. But if you've been watching a show on Hulu on your computer, don't assume you'll be able to watch it on a device on Hulu Plus. Instead, check the online listings of what Hulu Plus offers and see if your favorites are available. Filter that listing using the "Current Season Pass" checkbox and you'll find there are 32 current shows you can watch more or less at the same time your friends are seeing them on network TV (generally they go up about a day after their network airing). Honestly for $10/month that's not a bad deal if you're into a majority of the shows, plus you get all the archived stuff they offer, too.

Lastly let's talk about performance. I'm not going to claim to have any scientific metrics, but if I had to rate Hulu Plus performance I'd call it "adequate." If you start watching a show and let it run, it works fine most of the time. But if you need to rewind or fast forward things start to break down a little. I can't help but compare it to the more or less flawless performance of Netflix Streaming. In fairness, the service is still in a "Preview" stage so they might still be working out the kinks and improving performance.

To sum this up, if Hulu Plus comes to a device you own, definitely check it out but go into it with your eyes open. Keep in mind you'll still see some ads, and take a look at what they're currently offering and see if there are enough of the shows you want to make it a good value. Hulu says on its site (in fine print) Currently we don't have the rights to make all shows on Hulu.com available on all devices — we're working hard to continue clearing shows for mobile and TV access. so hopefully the amount of current content will keep increasing. Having the service on more devices should only help their cause.

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