After months of speculation the wait is almost over and Hulu Plus is just about upon us. Hulu was nice enough to share an invite with us so we could to try it out -- sorry, we don't have any extras -- and we just so happened to have a Samsung LED LCD TV in the lab to give it a go. Of course, we also tried it the old fashioned way (in the browser) as well as via Hulu Desktop, on the iPhone, and on the iPad -- sadly it isn't live on the Xbox 360 or PS3 yet. The bottom line is it isn't perfect, but doesn't disappoint either, and you'll have to click on through for the rest.
You've all seen Hulu.com and Hulu Desktop, and we're happy to report that once you sign in with your Hulu account that is subscribed to Hulu Plus, you'll feel right at home. The addition of HD content is new, as is the improved selection, but other than that we didn't notice anything new. What is new, however, are the Samsung, iPhone and iPad apps, which are for the most part done as well as the other Hulu user experiences. The iPad app is the roughest around the edges, with the search screen being down right lame looking, and the iPhone and Samsung app aren't the best we've ever seen either, but at least they are responsive and intuitive. None of them worked perfectly, which explains why Hulu Plus is a preview and not live. The biggest problems we ran into were unavailable videos via the Samsung TV and a browser crash when trying to watch a show in HD on a Mac. But we also had a problem adjusting the picture settings on the Samsung when running any of the Internet TV apps, which was very annoying and prevented us from producing a decent video since it completely washed out the image. One slick aspect that works exactly as we envisioned is that the queue and subscriptions sync across platforms, and it lets you connect multiple times with the same account. We're not sure how our tests align with real use scenarios, but unfortunately the resume feature across devices only seems to work occasionally.
More bad news; not every show that is on Hulu is also on Hulu Plus -- a few shows on USA for example -- so Plus isn't really a accurate name. There is plenty of older exclusive Plus content, but it's hard to tell without searching which content is available where. It is also impossible to know when a new show will be available on either. Some shows pop up the next day, while others appear to take as long as a week after airing on TV. We're not sure how all of this is determined, or how long a show will continue to be available, which is not a great experience. Ideally shows would be on there forever, but we're not naive enough to assume that'll be the case.
Then the worst news of course is that although you're paying $10 a month to access additional content and get it on your other screens, there are still ads. Interestingly there was only a single network ad via the Samsung App, and no 30 second spot, which we're sure is a temporary deal that they'll get worked out before it goes live. Speaking of subscription, the invite only preview is for 30 days, and we had to provide a credit card that we're told will only be charged if we don't cancel before our preview expires.
The picture quality is what we'd describe as watchable and that is a big improvement over Hulu.com, in our experience. No one would mistake the HD streams as broadcast quality HD, and while they look really good on the iPhone, they are just acceptable on the iPad and still watchable up on the big screen. The biggest downer for home theater geeks though is the lack of surround sound, so if you combine that with the lower bitrates, some will argue that even if Hulu Plus was free, they'd still rather find other online sources for these shows.
The bottom line is that while we doubt Hulu Plus will really spur the cord cutting that many think it might, it will be a great supplemental source of content for those who can't get enough TV. The fact is that Hulu Plus is one of the closest services we've ever seen to delivering what we like to simply call "the dream" which is access to any content, any where, at any time. So while we have plenty of complaints about our initial experience, we do find it more compelling than Hulu minus and will at least be giving it a month or so before we rush out and cancel our account.