Tag: apple app store
Hulu Plus is a breakthrough service for people who want to completely abandon traditional television in favor of an Internet-based alternative, but there are a few things holding it back for some picky users. We spend the weekend watching items in Hulu Plus’s library on multiple devices, and our impressions are generally positive, although there are a few kinks to work out.
Not every complaint about Hulu Plus is a kink, of course. Some people will say that they refuse to pay a monthly subscription fee for ad-supported content on principle. We’ll talk a bit about what reasonable expectations should be there, but needless to say, if you feel strongly enough about the principle, Hulu Plus isn’t for you and none of its features will change your mind.
But if you’re open to Hulu Plus if the features are strong enough, we can help you figure out whether it’s worth signing up once the service goes live to the public. Once you’ve signed up for Hulu Plus, you’ll see all the features and content on the website alongside the free content you were getting before. It’s not just partitioned off on its own site, although you can access a list of premium content at the Plus website.
In addition to the ability to watch Hulu on several new devices, you’re paying for two things: an increased library of TV episodes, and the ability to stream them in 720p high definition on supported devices, including the web player.
- Extra Content
- High Definition Playback
- The iPhone App
- Technical Problems
- Is It Worth Paying For?
- Gallery: Hulu Plus for iPad
The library will change over time, we’re sure, but for now the exclusive content you gain includes all of the episodes from the following series: The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Law & Order: SVU, Grey’s Anatomy, Roswell, The Office, Arrested Development, Ally McBeal, Heroes, 30 Rock, Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty, 8 Simple Rules, American Dad!, Angel, The Biggest Loser, Dancing With the Stars, Eli Stone, Legend of the Seeker, Life, Lipstick Jungle, Miami Vice, My Name is Earl, Parks and Recreation, Prison Break, Quantum Leap, Reaper, Samantha Who?, Supernanny, The Office (U.K.), The Pretender, What About Brian, and episodes from many more programs.
Whereas the free version of Hulu often limits viewership of current seasons to the five most recent episodes, Hulu Plus lets you watch every episode from the current seasons of Glee, The Office, House, Modern Family, 30 Rock, Family Guy and Grey’s Anatomy.
There’s not much to say about this in our preview, except to say, yep, it’s all there, and it works just like you’d expect.
We watched several episodes of Modern Family in 720p on a MacBook Pro laptop, and while no one would mistake it for the quality of broadcast high definition, it was plenty sharp for a computer display. You will notice quality loss due to compression when watching on a large screen (we watched some episodes on a 40-inch Sony Bravia HDTV in a living room), but only true image quality connoisseurs will complain.
Of course, early adopters of this kind of technology are likely to be connoisseurs of image quality too, so that’s not something to brush off completely. You shouldn’t expect anything different from streaming video right now, though. The bigger problem is the lack of surround sound support. That one hurts a little for people who want to watch Lost on their home theaters.
Playback on a laptop — which is what most people use Hulu for anyway — is as fine as you’d ever expect on that platform, though.
The ability to view the library on-the-go is arguably the most significant draw of Hulu Plus, and for the most part the iPhone app [iTunes link] does not disappoint. The video playback is consistent and clear — better in both quality and reliability than most streaming video apps we’ve used, even over 3G.The entire library is available on the app, and the playback options and tools are simplistic but easy to use. You can access your queue, subscriptions and recently viewed videos, plus browse the library by popularity or name. There’s also a search field, but the sorting and filtering options are limited so it’s only sometimes useful.
At the time of this preview, there are 1,671 user reviews of the iPhone app in the Apple App Store, and the majority of them are negative. This isn’t because of the app’s features or stability. Rather, it’s a user backlash against Hulu’s decision to charge $9.99 per month for access to ad-supported content. We’ll get into that more later.
There’s also an iPad app [iTunes link]. It’s not all about new features as compared to the iPhone version, but it does have a larger interface more suited for that device.
Hulu Plus isn’t without its technical malfunctions and iffy design choices, and we’d be remiss not to mention them. The most frustrating of these was the tendency of the web-based player to freeze the image while still proceeding with audio playback. We were able to fix this by adjusting the resolution (for example, switching from 480p to 720p or to the variable bitrate option) but it’s a pain, and sometimes we even had to refresh the page, which forced us to watch the most recent commercial break again.
The greatest flaw of the iPhone version is that it doesn’t always jump right back into the video when you return from another app using iOS 4’s multitasking tool. Sometimes it does, so that was clearly the intention, but other times you’re returned to the episode selector. You can tap on the episode you were watching and it will probably start playing where you left off, but you’ll have to watch another commercial first.
These two complaints are clearly bugs, not design flaws, so we hope to see them fixed in the near future. There is one unfortunate design choice in the iPhone app, though; when you browse TV series alphabetically, the app downloads the list from the server — along with thumbnails — every time. This isn’t a problem on Wi-Fi, but on 3G it can be time consuming. Sometimes you want to reach a specific show and you’re stuck waiting for two minutes while the list loads. That’s not ideal for the pick-up-and-play style that’s necessary or a mobile app.
You’d be able to bypass that by using the app’s search tab instead of browsing, but searches turn up individual episodes, not series. If you search for Buffy the Vampire Slayer you’ll have the same problem, but with a long list of episodes with thumbnails instead of series — and that list might not be sorted the way you want it to be to get to an early episode
We also experienced some odd cropping when returning the app when we’d switched apps after leaving in landscape mode.
As we mentioned earlier, there’s been a huge backlash against Hulu Plus because you still have to view ads even though you’re paying a monthly subscription fee.
The folly is the argument that paying for ad-supported content is unprecedented. Cable TV subscribers pay a much larger monthly sum for shows that are loaded with many more commercials. Pay for a ticket to a movie theater or a sporting event, and you’ll still be hit with a long string of advertisements and promotions. The same goes for magazines and many types of video games. Hail a cab in a major metropolitan area and the backseat TV will throw quite a few ads at you too. Some paywall websites serve ads on the other side of the wall.
It is admittedly unusual for web video, but then again, so is Hulu. The most obvious competitor to Hulu Plus is Netflix Watch Instantly, and it doesn’t have commercials at all. However, Netflix usually doesn’t serve every episode of a currently-running TV series before the season comes out on DVD. It’s likely that the team at Hulu was forced to make concessions with the business model to get immediate access to that stuff.
Given the current business and legal climate for this stuff, it’s unprecedented and endlessly impressive that Hulu is able to offer all of this fresh content on this wide array of devices at all. And $9.99 per month is not a steep price by any means, especially when you consider that the only legal alternative for getting all these shows on all your devices in HD is buying each episode on iTunesat $2.99 a pop.
You’ll know for yourself whether you’re willing to pay the fee and watch the ads, but we’ll go on record saying that we’re impressed enough that Hulu has pulled this off at all, that the model is not unprecedented for consumers of entertainment and that the price is about as reasonable as we would have ever expected, given the legal and financial hurdles involved in getting the service going.
Game-maker Electronic Arts (EA) is selling a big chunk of itsiPhone game library for just $0.99 per game for the next 48 hours — a steep discount for many of its titles which includeMadden NFL 2010, FIFA 10 and SimCity.
Not all of EA’s games are on sale, though. Sure, SimCity is $0.99, but The Sims 3 [iTunes link] is still a steep $6.99, and while FIFA 2010 is just $0.99, the more timely FIFA World Cup[iTunes link] hangs at $2.99 — though that’s not a bad price, either.
EA is one of the world’s biggest game publishers. Its EA Sports line of games is at the top of the heap, and franchises like The Sims, Mass Effect and Medal of Honor have at one time or another led in sales or influence. Increasingly, the company has extended those franchises to mobile devices like the iPhone.
The full list of games on sale includes: SimCity, Madden NFL 2010, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2010, FIFA 10,Need for Speed Shift, Need for Speed Undercover, Command & Conquer Red Alert, NBA Live, CLUE, Trivial Pursuit, CONNECT 4, Battleship, YAHTZEE Adventures, and The Game of Life: Classic Edition [iTunes links].