Hulu Plus exits closed beta, will accept your business now
Now that Hulu will take your money, should you hand it over? Hmm.
If you've been consistently frustrated by your inability watch Hulu shows, movies and clips on an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, paying for Plus ends that annoyance today. (Its iPad version appears at right.) The service also works on some Samsung HDTVs and Blu-ray players, 2010-vintage Sony Bravia HDTVs and Sony PlayStation 3 game consoles.
Other devices remain stuck at the "coming soon" stage of support: older Sony sets (including my 2009 LCD), the Xbox 360, Vizio HDTVs and Blu-ray players, TiVo digital video recorders and Roku Web-media receivers. It would be a mistake to buy any of these things expecting to have Hulu Plus switched on next week (as one reader apparently did, to judge from the e-mail I got yesterday).
At some point, Hulu will also let users of Google TV devices watch shows at the site by paying for Plus instead of blocking their standard-issue, Chrome-based browser. That suggests there will be an Android Hulu Plus app as well--but with this often-uncommunicative site, who knows?
Hulu Plus's 720p high-definition feed, an upgrade over the free site's standard definition, will become more of an attraction as it becomes available on more devices that either connect to HDTVs or are high-def sets themselves.
Hulu Plus's selection is a different issue. The Los Angeles-based site (owned by NBC Universal, News Corp., the Walt Disney Co. and other investors) advertises access to a far more extensive library of TV content, and sometimes that's true.
For example, on Plus you can watch the entire season of a current show, instead of just the last five episodes. Its catalogue goes much deeper as you go farther back in time: You can catch up on all 200 episodes of "The X-Files," none of which are available on the free site.
But on devices that can't handle Flash video, such as the iPad, Hulu Plus leaves out shows hosted on other sites that the free site indexes and links to, such as CBS's "CSI" and Comedy Central's "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart."
Don't forget that paying for Plus still leaves you watching ads inserted in episodes, even if they're shorter and fewer in number than what you see on regular TV.
Hulu's management needs to work on these issues--and think about cutting the price of Plus to $5 a month, as some reports have suggested they're considering--before taking the "preview" label off Plus.
But Hulu also has two larger issues to deal with. My top two suggestions:
* Stop blocking people who use the "wrong" browsers. I get the economic bargain in paying for Plus access on devices that, like my HDTV, can't play Hulu video on their own and instead need an additional app (even if a one-time fee for that app would be fairer). Repeatedly locking out people who use standards-based browsers that merely invite use from couch distance is a waste of time in the end. (To whoever at Hulu is charged with breaking their site in this manner: Admit it, you have the most degrading Web-development job outside of phishing and malware work.)
* Promise, signed in blood, that no viewer will be shut out of the site for paying the wrong company for a telecom service, as happened last month when Fox Networks briefly ordered Hulu to take away Fox shows from anybody using Cablevision for Internet access--even if they actually paid another firm for TV service--during its carriage dispute with that cable operator.
What else would you put on a to-do list for Hulu? Post your requirements in the comments--then stop by my Web chat, from noon to 1 today, to talk shop about the site and any other tech topics on your mind.
(11:13 a.m. Corrected an oversight in the paragraph about Hulu Plus's access to video hosted elsewhere.)
| November 5, 2010; 8:43 AM ET
Categories: TV, Video
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