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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.