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Hulu Desktop app gives full-screen experience to Mac users


NBC's online video site, Hulu, has launched a desktop app that allows Mac users to watch Hulu content without using a web browser, and with full Apple Remote support. After all of the boxee nastiness, I'm a bit surprised by the development. That doesn't mean this isn't still exciting.

For some background, Hulu has been involved in a back-and-forth battle with the social media center application, boxee, which allows users to access online content from their Mac or Apple TV and makes big-screen viewing a pleasure. The last big boxee update changed how boxee serves Hulu content, in an effort to make it more difficult for Hulu to pull the plug.

Hulu's justification (well, one of many justifications) for going after boxee was that the content is designed to be viewed from a web browser and not from the couch. Although the tagline for Hulu Desktop, "Lean-back viewing for your PC," keeps the sematic difference between a 24" LCD monitor and a 25" LCD TV in check, the execution, especially with extensive remote support, seems to say something else.

I don't know, maybe Hulu really believes that people won't be using this application with their TV-connected Macs or Windows Media PCs, but this app certainly feels like it was meant for big screens.

Regardless of the double-speak, how well does this application actually work? Well, based on my limited testing (I did want to get this post done), it is awesome. I totally want to figure out if the arbitrary system requirements can be bypassed so this can get running on the Apple TV.

The Interface

The interface is great. Although Hulu Desktop didn't take up the full-screen of my 22" external monitor when it was initially launched, a quick ⌘-F will take you full screen. I should also note that the size of the application window was larger than 1280x800 by default, so mobile users might get the "full screen" upon launch experience.

The Apple remote works flawlessly with the Hulu application. My only problem was with my screensaver -- unlike FrontRow, Hulu doesn't turn the screensaver off when playing back content. I also managed to crash the application, but that's to be expected.

All in all, finding programming to watch is easy and intutiive, not unlike the original Hulu implementation in boxee. Switching from playing a program to searching for others is easy (the Menu button) and fast-forwarding through content is a joy. As a long-time boxee user who hates trying to fast-forward or rewind Hulu playback (even before they switched serving mechanisms), this is nice. By default, my Internet connection played back everything at High Quality (you can adjust this in the settings), and the quality looked even better than in the browser.

Gallery: Hulu Desktop for Mac | 13 Photos

The Quality

Watching the pilot for "Glee," for instnace, wasn't as sharp as the HD iTunes downlad, of course, but it was quite good. Watching standard definition TV like "NewsRadio" or "Sesame Street" clips was excellent and without any lag. Using boxee for the Mac wasn't always the smoothest experience, so this is a step-up.

The Convenience

The nice thing about having an actual application for an online media center, which is what Hulu is really becoming, is that you have the opportunity to discover more shows and networks that have been added to the service in an app rather than navigating the web page. I had no idea that some of the stuff that was available on Hulu was available, and I use the website often.

If you have a Hulu account, you can login and watch shows from your queue, subscribe or unsubscribe, rate content, etc. You don't need a Hulu account to use, but it integrates nicely and makes getting the latest episode of a show really easy.

But what about boxee?

So, now that Hulu is at least acknowleding that people might want to watch Hulu content in a bit more comfort (again, I fail to see how my 22" LCD monitor is any different from the 20" TV in my bedroom), will Hulu be coming back to boxee? I wouldn't hold my breath, but according to a blog post, the boxee team has already reached out to Hulu to discuss working together to bring content back in an official manner. Like I said, I wouldn't hold my breath. Something tells me that if Hulu does get on the television (which is clearly the next step), it will be via their own set-top box and software.

That's a shame. Having said that, using boxee and Hulu Desktop together -- if you have a Mac mini, for instance -- doesn't seem like it would be a problem. Like I said, I want to see someone port this to the Apple TV. That would be SWEET.

The Requirements

You'll need an Intel Mac with 2 GB of RAM (not sure how that will be enforced) running OS X 10.4 Tiger or above, and Flash to use the application, but if you meet those specifications, the rest is a snap. Literally just drag the application to your Applications Folder and an Internet Plugin to a plugins folder (the installer conveniently includes a link to that folder so you don't have to search for anything). Launch, and you're off to the races. Also, please note that Hulu is currently only available in the US. They are exploring international deals, but this is US-only for now. Sorry!

So what do you think of Hulu Desktop? Are you going to try this with your Mac media setup or is it just a way to waste more time at work? Let us know in the comments.

Gallery: Hulu Desktop for Mac | 13 Photos

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