Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hulu Plus - More Wherever. More Whenever. Less Sound?!

Ah, the joys of instant video streaming.

People love it so much that Netflix is completely revamping their entire business model, making it more expensive to get DVDs mailed to you and less expensive to stream, essentially steering their customers away from the "DVDs delivered to your doorstep" model that Netflix itself perpetuated.

Blockbuster, struggling to compete, is closing its brick-and-mortar stores left and right and trying to play catch-up. We'll see how well that turns out for them.

The concept of instant streaming is fairly simple - you pay a reasonable monthly fee, and in return get access to a vast array of movies and TV shows without having to wait for the postal service to complete their daily routes. Netflix has its own streaming device that you can buy, or you can stream it to your computer, Playstation, Xbox or even Wii. It's fast, it's pretty reliable, and it's easy to use.

And then, there's Hulu Plus....

I like Hulu (most of the time). It's free, lets me catch up on my favorite shows if I've missed an episode and has far fewer commercials than regular TV.
And now, with Hulu Plus, Hulu's reasonably priced paid upgrade (operating on the same monthly fee basis as Netflix) I expected things to be champagne wishes and caviar dreams. I mean, there's a Playstation app for it already - I can stream it directly without needing to hook up my laptop to the TV. How can it possibly go wrong?

In a number of ways, apparently.

The ads are still there, except now they are in high definition. Because standard definition adds were just not annoying enough. Nor are there fewer of them than on the free version of Hulu. There are at least as many, and maybe one or two more per 42-minute episode.

The interface is clumsy and unintuitive if one tries to do anything beyond searching for a show. Adding a TV show to my queue (and the fact that there WAS a queue took a bit of time to figure out) required solving complex mathematical equations as I fumbled through what should have been something as simple as pressing a button but instead resembled open-heart surgery with a TV remote. Fast-forwarding and rewinding turned out to be taboo, as, after a LOOOOOOOOONG loading time the show would restart at the exact same spot or about 1 second in either direction, regardless how long the rewind/fast-forward was held.

But, my personal favorite, the AUDIO would completely shut off approximately half of the time whenever I would turn on the Hulu Plus app on the PS3. Not just the Hulu audio - ALL OF THE AUDIO FOR THE PLAYSTATION. I would need to reboot to get the audio to come back.

As a quick search using the Google Apparatus revealed, this issue has been around in various incarnations since pretty much the launch of Hulu Plus on the Playstation. Such dedication to customer satisfaction on the part of Hulu is admirable.

Hulu Plus is just Hulu with more choices and in High Definition - but it will cost you every month, will bombard you with the same ads, baffle you with its mind-numbing interface, and is likely to temporarily break your $300 gaming console/Blu-Ray player.

The bottom line - Hulu, take a good look at Netflix and learn how to do streaming right. The nice, sturdy, round wheel is right there - no need to re-invent it as a spindly square made of paper mache.

But hey, that's my opinion. If you don't like it, write your own.