Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Watch TV shows online the way it should be. Hulu.com FTW!

Hulu.com. You may have heard of it, you might haven't. Hulu makes watching TV shows online easy, fun, free and uncluttered. There are tons of shows here, some that are already offered elsewhere on the web. The difference is Hulu does it better and does it legal. It also doesn't hurt that the newest episodes are usually up the day after they air!

Now first off, to answer a burning question up front: Are there commercials? The answer is yes and no. Are there blocks commercials like you and I usually imagine? No. What you will find is when you click on an episode to watch there will be a simple text & voice disclaimer. Something like: This program is brought to you with limited commercial interruptions by "enter name of company or product here". It lasts about 5-7 seconds, then the show starts. When the show gets to one of its usual commercial break points (which you can see visibly on the bar below the video box) it will play a short commercial break. And I mean short. And only one. The longest commercial I have seen is 30 seconds, often they are only 15-17 seconds in length. At any rate it is completely tolerable.

The way the play/scrub bar works is innovative too. If you want to skip right to watching the second half of Colbert Report because you know you only saw the first half last night, it will let you do that. Including skipping the commercials. It only makes you watch a commercial if you have watched part of the video leading up to the commercial. It's very intuitive. If I am clicking around the bar trying to find the place where I left off, no problem. But if I try to be tricky and skip watching the commercials, it catches me every time and jumps back to making me watch the ad. The ads are so short you barely have time to grab a drink from the fridge, I often end up pausing the commercials just to make sure I don't miss the show.

Some other great things that Hulu allows for are creating playlists, watching just clips of shows (like a clip of Colbert's "The Word") and searching by air date, popularity ratings and networks. Hulu also allows you to subscribe to shows (which is what I do when I sit down to watch Colbert and the Daily Show each week), this makes all the newest shows you haven't seen yet, ready to be played in order with only about two mouse clicks.

Something to note is the quality of the shows. The video looks great and they have even started incorporating HDTV (check out their examples). I've never had any problems with stuttering or buffering like I've seen on other sites.
Tool bars come up only when you mouse-over the video. From the left side of the video player you can choose to share the video on popular social-networking sites, email the video to a friend, embed the video on your own page or get more details about the video (episode description, title, episode number, air date, etc...). On the right of the player you can choose to full screen the video (which also looks great by the way), pop-out the video so its in its own little box while you work on other stuff, dim the white or lighter areas of the page to make viewing easier on the eyes and with a simple click, you can switch to viewing the content in DVD quality (480p, up from 360p standard resolution).

Finally I will mention Hulu also offers full length feature films (soon also in HD), but personally I don't care for this feature as much. Breaking up a TV show with commercial interruptions is one thing, they are made that way. Movies are not produced to be interrupted several times (Hulu movies have about 6 of the 10-20 second commercials I mentioned above), it disturbs the flow of the film. But they are there if you are interested, they too look fantastic and offer all the same features as the TV episodes.

So thats it, I hope you all check out Hulu.com and enjoy it as much as I do. Now I have to get back to my pilot episode of Burn Notice. Seems like a good show so far...

Credit where credit is due: photo source

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