First impressions: Hulu Plus

Hulu is finally expanding beyond your PC’s monitor, but if
you want to take advantage of the service, it’s going to cost you. For the past
week, we’ve been running Hulu Plus, the site’s subscription service, through
its paces as it ramps up for a broad launch. And we’ve come to a few
preliminary conclusions.

We say preliminary since this is a service that’s still in
beta – and there’s still time to improve some of the bugs. On the whole,
though, Hulu Plus is a content-packed service that gets a lot of things right.
And its portability, especially via the iPad, is a welcome and long overdue
feature that might be enough to get some people to pony up the $10 monthly charge.
It’s far from perfect, though, and there are a few stumbling blocks that could
keep others sitting on the fence even after Hulu opens the service up to

The quality of the broadcasts is generally superb, streaming
at 720p – versus the 480p for the free version of Hulu. It looks spectacular on
the iPhone and iPad, oftentimes better than Netflix’s app. Newer shows stream in letterbox format, while catalog (non-HD) programming fills the screen.

There are occasional head scratchers, though. Select
programs, for example, only occupy a small percentage of the screen. (NBC’s
“Life” came through in a minimized version even though the show aired in HD.)
And there are occasional moments when programs would burst into fast forward
when we tried to pause them.

The scrub bar, letting you fast forward and rewind, works
well on the iPad – but the pause button is a bit awkwardly placed. Many users
have been spoiled on the iPhone and iPad by being able to tap the center of a
video to pause and play, whereas with Hulu Plus, it’s a small button in the
bottom left corner of the screen. Granted, it’s a small re-education, but it’s
one that causes more angst than it should.

The sign-in process to Hulu Plus is simple and fast. And the
expanded content library is deep – though after a week, you’ll start to notice
the holes. Select shows only have a limited number of episodes, while others
have the complete series. There are some quality older, cancelled series
available, but you’ll inevitably be left wishing for another that’s not
available. And the continuing absence of most CBS programming is frustrating –
though that’s certainly out of Hulu’s immediate control.

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