Hulu: TV On Demand and Online

Tivo revolutionized television watching, bringing in the flood of Digital Video Recorders that allowed TV enthusiasts to skip commercials at lightning speed, pause and rewind live TV as well as controlling when they watched their favorite shows.

Now there is another revolution stirring: online television. We all remember having to either purchase TV shows through iTunes or, if we wanted to watch them for free, we were sent on a wild goose chase through various network websites.

This is where Hulu steps in. Hulu’s new Mac desktop offers a simple way to stream television shows online. This review will take an in-depth look at Hulu Desktop, investigating whether it sets a new standard in TV streaming, or whether we’ll still be turning to Boxee for the best desktop experience.

Setup

Labs

Labs

To grab a copy of this free application, head on over to Hulu Labs and download the Mac version. Once you have downloaded the software, go ahead and drag it into your Applications folder to install it, and add it to your dock if you want.

Installation

Installation

Basics

Once you launch the software, you can set it to full screen for the best experience. This can be done by going to the View drop down menu and Fullscreen or by pressing the keyboard combo: Command + F. The first thing that you will note is how the application, similar to a TV, begins playing a show once you open it.

The interface is very simple, offering only three distinct options: Start Watching, which starts playing the default episode in full screen; Menu for finding the specific show that you want to watch and finally Login, which allows you to access your Hulu.com account.

The Main Screen

The Main Screen

If you select Menu to find a specific television show, Hulu Desktop will continue to play the current show in a smaller size, at the top left hand corner of the screen. This is very similar to digital television provided by cable giants like Comcast.

If what Hulu decided to play upon startup isn’t exactly what you were in the mood for, you can scan through the popular, recently added, TV and Movie sections of the on demand content. I found it oddly difficult to find a particular show this way. It was much easier to Search for the specific show. Once you get the show started, you can start to enjoy limited commercial interruptions, about one ad per commercial break, lasting about 15-30 seconds.

Searching

Searching

Playlists & Subscriptions

Hulu also has an option for dealing with subscriptions when you’ve created your account (and logged in). To access subscriptions to shows, which are kept track of in your account manager, just click your account name under the main menu. They are even placed in a queue to make Hulu seem like a much more viable cable replacement, putting together a continuous channel of all of your favorite shows.

Watching

As with the Hulu website, there is an option to watch episodes in Low or High quality; 360i and 480p respectfully. Also, once a show begins to play, a transparent set of options allow you to rate the show, add to your queue, or enabling closed captioning.

Playing a Video

Playing a Video

Setting Up Hulu As Media Center System

Hulu used to be available through the popular media center software program Boxee. However, due to demands from networks, Hulu blocked access to their website via Boxee. So the Boxee community found ways around this via accessing Hulu’s RSS feeds to continue playback.

Boxee is well suited to use as a media centre as it can be loaded onto an Apple TV by following instructions such as these. However, because this is similar to iPhone jail-breaking, you do risk invalidating your Apple TV warranty.

Boxee & Hulu

Boxee & Hulu

We will soon be running a week of tutorials and articles dedicated to setting up your Mac as a media centre, so keep your eyes peeled for further details on how to get the most out of Boxee.

Remote Control & iPhone

You can use your standard Apple Remote to control Boxee or Hulu on your Mac but there is also a Boxee iPhone remote control and Apple’s Remote iPhone application that makes controlling these software applications easier than ever.

There has been speculation around the possible Hulu app for the iPhone/iPod Touch. Though we don’t know anything yet, consensus agrees that it is likely to offer playback on both 3G and Wi-Fi network connections. Stay tuned for more information.

Conclusion

Hulu has created a well designed and easy to use desktop version of their amazing website. The content is the same, and the experience resembles the web interface, just without the hassle of a web browser. The desktop version also makes the experience more natural. Since it is free, it is definitely worth a shot.

Hulu doesn’t support every TV network out there, so don’t go cutting your cable company off quite yet, and it doesn’t offer quality greater than 480p. If you prefer to get HD for most of your shows then stick with your cable or satellite company.

Hulu is making great headway, and it’s only a matter of time before software such as this starts to become even more appealing than a traditional TV setup.


  • artmania

    Thanks for great post, but I hate this message from Hulu page :(

    “Sorry, currently our video library can only be streamed from within the United States”

    • http://www.akmalwardak.com Akmal Wardak

      same with me. we poor canadians :(

    • http://www.horoshok.com Josh H.

      Exactly, Hulu is only available in the USA. Obviously a huge market but not the only one!

  • fellowweb

    Hi Quintin, Thank you for your review. When you write the series on turning a Mac into a media center with Boxee, could you please share some helpful advice for effectively using the library feature?
    It looks so great. However, it is such a pain to manually rename all movies to be in accordance with Boxee’s naming scheme. And still then, it is difficult to (manually) find out which movies were imported and which ones not.
    Could you also maybe outline the strengths/weaknesses of Boxee compared to XBMC (on Mac) and Plex?
    This would be of great help!

    • Quintin

      Personally, I’m a Plex man myself, but it too required me to follow some naming conventions to get everything working. Check out Name Mangler and Name Changer, which are apps that can do batch file renaming, and should get you within Boxee’s requirements.

  • http://www.noahread.net Noah Read

    I’ve been using Hulu Desktop for a while now and I’ve noticed a bug that has made me stop using it. While Hulu Desktop is running the scaling tools in Adobe Illustrator and InDesign do not function correctly. I’m not sure whether this is Hulu’s fault or Adobe’s but it’s definitely a deal breaker. It’s a shame because I love Hulu Desktop’s ability to sit on top of other windows like Apple’s DVD player or iTunes.

  • Son

    Here is a great icon replacement for Hulu Desktop for those who want more than just the 2D H.
    http://jonasraskdesign.com/downloads/downloads.html

  • http://www.themeflood.com Will

    The fact that you have to be living in the US in order to use this product / service indicates straight away that Hulu is dead and has no future IMO. Other services like Miro don’t have these sorts of limitations and are way ahead in the game of on-demand TV.

  • http://ravemedics.com Adam

    Thanks for letting us know…I’m in the UK though =(

    Also, looks as though you’ve forgotten your “read more” tag =)

    • Jon

      UK here too… pitty I got all the way through the article gradually thinking, ‘this sounds really cool’… only to find I was unable to use Hulu! DOH!

  • DHamel

    I like using Plex, which has a Hulu plugin, over the dedicated Hulu desktop application. The main reason is that Plex offers far more options for online media making it a one-stop-shop for online television, music, and photos. Plus, it’s free!

  • IsSidha

    although Hulu could be a great product, for the majority of the World it means setting up proxies and other stuf to create fake IP’s and making the system think you’re within the US.. in that respect it’s easier to just buy iTunes gift cards from ebay

    Due to the refusal of the TV and Motion Picture industry to acknowledge an on-demand global economy this product will remain utterly useless outside the US..

    More over, the BBC has come with his iPlayer, for UK only, and probably more will follow soon, in a few years we will have 30 Hulu-like programs running just to watch TV.

    Here in the Netherlands we are soooooo happy that we actually have the “Free Song of the Week” from the iTunes store and still they are wondering why we download so much from other sources..

    As i said, Hulu is great software but totally useless for more then 6 billion people

  • Edwin

    You could use a proxy server to use Hulu. An app like App Shield could help you with that.

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