Saturday, December 22, 2007

HULU beta opinions

2008-01-24 Update: TechCrunch wrote Hulu Discusses Private Beta, Suggests Public Launch Time Frame

HULU works!

However, as I participate in the beta I find a few things are lacking.

A simple little annoyance is the placement of advertising within the stream. For the 49 minute Alfred Hitchcock show above there are 4 internal commercial breaks (other videos had more) and 1 additional one at the start (pre-roll). The internal ones break up the show because they are not placed at logical flow transition points. They are distracting. More recent videos have the commercials placed at better breaks. The ads are noted with dots along the stream time line so you know when they are coming up. The show above actually has natural commercial points but these are not used. You have the ability to jump forward and backward along the time line, but not to the point of avoiding the ads. Even if you jump past the ads, they play and the stream then continues back at the time location you clicked. Once played during the viewing, the ads are not played a second time as the time marker crosses their location.

Also missing is the ability to download for synchronization with offline players. This is another big deficiency. Not surprisingly, external downloaders can grab only the pre-roll commercial. Noted on the screen is "SHOW is available for purchase on DVD or electronic download", but these are not active at this point. The statement implies that the download must be purchased. These options are not shown for all shows.

The videos cover recent and "ancient" shows. That's right up my alley because I love watching the great old shows. My machine of preference is a laptop connected via an 802.11g network. The quality of the show compression is excellent and the wireless network is sufficient to feed to stream without jumps and starts.

Creating a play lists is simply. The site remembers which videos you are watching and will pickup in the stream where you left off. The interface is logical and appears on cursor rollover. It provides the ability to play the video and navigate some of the other features. Whenever the other features are accessed the video is paused, this doesn't accommodate all of us multi-taskers. It would improve the experience if you could get info and perform sharing all while watching the show.

Several interesting capabilities are the ability to share via email, embed (as done in this post, but not all videos can be embedded), display in a pop-up browser window, although the quality suffers in the pop-up window for some reason.

Opinion: This method of delivery works. If this remains a free service supported by inline commercials and border ads AND they develop a download scenario, then Hulu will be successful. In addition, they need to keep in mind that more and more people are using their cellular devices for this purpose, so a mobile player or format needs to be added. It should also be noted that Hulu is currently in beta, so things could improve significantly as time moves forward. If you get the opportunity to give a try. I would recommend trying it, however, if the model becomes a subscription service then it would not be worth it.

Personal Note: This service allowed me to catch up on the "Chuck" series that I missed recording. Starting with episode number 1 and proceeding as if I had my own private DVR. Excellent!

Disclaimer: Hulu was tested using a Windows OS machine running Hulu in Firefox, Opera and Safari. Each of these browsers worked but not all features functioned equally in each one. When using IE, most tests were not successful, hopefully this was not due to some default security settings.

If you try Hulu (request beta account via email on site) and have experiences you would like to share, feel free to comment on this post.


Rich said...

Update: Tested Hulu using a Media Center PC running Vista. The PC is an older vintage and is just barely sufficient for Vista. Display is a 42 inch plasma monitor. The experience was very good. It could have been better but the PC performance was an issue. The display is crisp, rivaling DVD quality. An occasional display stutter reminded the viewer that this was running via an online experience rather than from a DVD.

As another choice to watching regular TV, this is an exceptional alternative.

One comment made during the testing was that the commercials' audio volume was far more acceptable than those coming in through broadcast TV. With the exception of the Verizon ads, all the commercials were 30 seconds or less and volumes were either at or below program level. The Verizon ads were perceived as louder than the program's volume. The ad time remaining countdown was also commented on, in that the viewer wished for it on their broadcast channels.

What's needed now? More program choices.

Rich said...

Update: HULU also includes "web exclusives". This is a very good additional of interviews, outtakes, snippets of shows, etc.

Both entertaining and nice supplement to the lineup.