A couple months ago, when I found out Hulu Plus was going into a closed beta test of sorts, I signed up. Hulu had always been somewhat of a foreign land to me, even though it supplied a service similar to Netflix streaming, which I use frequently. I rarely, if ever, sit in front of my computer to watch TV. But, as the summer wore on my thoughts turned to getting rid of cable TV altogether to save a boat load of cash each month. Most of my favorite shows were available on Hulu in some form or another so I wanted to check it out.
Late last week I finally got an invite. The main way I’d use it, of course, is on the PS3, which annoyingly requires a PSN+ subscription, but only during this trial period. Once Hulu Plus leaves beta, it will be available to everyone without PSN+. So, I signed up for a three-month PSN+ subscription just to try this out. An investment, sure, but even having both Netflix and Hulu Plus, as well as Xbox Live Gold and PSN+ was still infinitely cheaper than our cable bill every month, believe it or not.
So, enough about that – how does Hulu Plus stack up to Netflix? What are the pros and cons of the service? Is it worth it?
Well, the first thing that hits you is that the interface is pretty slick. In fact, it is better than both the PS3 and Xbox 360 Netflix streaming interfaces combined, if you can even picture that. You have access to all the features of Hulu Plus, including season passes, your episode queue, favorites, search functionality, newly added episodes and, of course, standard random browsing through their backlog of shows.
Just from a few minutes of browsing through Hulu you’ll notice that they have many, many more shows available than Netflix streaming – including most of the same ones that service has. Netflix has them trumped on movies, but if it is weekly TV shows you’re interested in, Hulu is the way to go. Their shows are updated within a week after they air and typically they maintain a backlog of five or six episodes. Some shows, such as The Office, Glee, Bones and others they have the rights to carry every season worth of content.
While on the PC, I looked up every show that I could think of that I’m interested in, from more niche fare like SyFy’s Warehouse 13 and Eureka to mainstream shows like Chuck, Fringe and Bones to “reality” TV like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars. They were all available on Hulu. Sort of.
See, the problem here is that there are different licenses Hulu has to obtain to play the show on different devices. Their entire library is available for viewing on the PC or Mac, but that is easily cut in half for PS3, iPhone or iPad usage. I couldn’t access two of the shows I’m watching religiously during the summer on the PS3 – Warehouse 13 and Eureka. Yet, they were available when I’d pull them up on my laptop. This disappoints me greatly.
During my “test” of Hulu Plus this last week, I watched one episode of Bones, several episodes of The Office, one episode of Bleach and one episode of Glee. I also tried an episode of The Office and two episodes of Beach out on my iPhone, running on both a wireless network and over 3G. For the most part, watching shows via the PS3 was pretty trouble-free. During one episode of The Office the entire stream froze. I had to back out completely and go back into the episode to pick up where I left off. After that, there were no issues. The quality of the picture was also pretty nice, I dare say better than Netflix in HD. The shows also look stunning on my iPhone over both the wireless network and 3G (which surprised me, but it does look great!). Just don’t stream too much over 3G if you’re not on an unlimited data plan!
I was actually surprised to see some commercials on certain shows, as I figured the subscription fee would make things commercial-free. Apparently not. Although, when I watched season five episodes of The Office, there were no commercials – that is the 2008-2009 season, so perhaps they only add commercials onto current season shows? I’m not sure, however the commercials do come during regular commercial breaks, and are only 60-second slots, at most. No three-minute (or more?) commercial breaks here.
With Hulu Plus, you basically get more access to their backlog of episodes, while the last five to six episodes of each show remain free. However, you need the Hulu Plus service to watch shows on devices other than your PC or Mac. After the trial period, the service will be available without a PSN+ subscription, and will still run you $9.99/month. So, if you’re using both Netflix and Hulu Plus on your PS3, that is a low $20 for a ton of great content. Keep in mind also that this service is planned to come to the Xbox 360 early next year sometime, however bet on having to have an XBL Gold account to make use of it, just like Netflix.
Will this be the perfect solution to high monthly cable bills? Most likely, although I sure wish Hulu’s entire library was available to stream to my PS3, otherwise my wife and I will have to huddle around a laptop screen to watch, and that isn’t any fun.