Hulu for iPhone
Hulu is a joint venture between a host of US TV networks, which provides a single gateway for viewers to receive their programming on-demand via the internet. The network is ad-supported, and has grown to include movies, music videos and content from other online broadcasters. Fans of the Hulu network have been waiting for an iPhone, iPod touch and iPad version for a long time, though it's not all good news now that it's finally arrived.
Perhaps the dissent that's risen around the iPhone's Hulu app boils down to a problem of expectations. The browser version is free, and it seems people expected the iPhone version to also be free. But this is actually a Hulu Plus app, which ties into the premium, subscription-based version of the Hulu service, so expecting it to suddenly go free is a tad unreasonable.
That said, Hulu has done little to answer or clarify those expectations, hoping instead that iPhone users will jump into a subscription before realizing that much of the content is free on their computers. Neither has Hulu made it especially clear that regardless of how much money you pour into a subscription, the adverts aren't going away. Paying for ad-supported content is considered one of the iPhone's greatest sins, and this is an obstacle Hulu is eventually going to trip over.
Exactly where the blame lies is anyone's guess, but it's important that iPhone and iPad users understand this is the premium service that's being fed to their devices. Once that's understood and (albeit begrudgingly) accepted, Hulu Plus reveals itself to be an impressive and highly entertaining app.
Islands In The Stream
Presentation of the various channels available through Hulu Plus is one of its most endearing factors. The layout feels very familiar after using the likes of iTunes, iBooks and a variety of digital comic book applications, and hunting down the series or episode you want to watch is quick and easy.
Info is immediately available alongside each episode, giving you a short synopsis and screenshot. This is useful to ensure you don't start wasting bandwidth on a show you've already seen, or if you're looking for something specific. Launching the episode is a single tap of the screen, at which point the streaming begins.
Playing time is certainly comparable to the iPhone's YouTube app, so there's very little waiting for your video to begin playing. Naturally signal strength plays a bit part in the efficiency of the incoming video stream, and at times you do see a little stuttering as the buffer runs dry, but for the most part Hulu Plus is able to get the video into the device's memory much faster than you can watch it.
Featured, search and popular pages offer up suggestions for content you might be interested in, and the buttons are all configurable within the app to get it looking just the way you want it. All in all, this is a neat and immediately accessible application that keeps the focus on the video content at all times, which is exactly where it should be.
Should You Subscribe?
And we're back to the underlying question that's currently plaguing the Hulu Plus app. Is it worth $7.99 a month?
There's no broad answer to this question. If you're a hopeless Hulu addict, then Hulu Plus will feel like a bargain – especially compared to the money you could spend on living room TV subscriptions.
If you suffer long and agonizing commutes your mental health could really feel the benefits of disappearing into your favorite shows, which is well-worth $7.99 per month for the money you'll save in psychiatry bills.
But if you're only vaguely curious about streaming TV to your iPhone or iPad, or you don't have much opportunity to watch a show or two each day, that $7.99 is going to feel heavy. You need to make good, daily use of Hulu Plus to ensure you don't resent the subscription fees alongside the ad-supported content, and if that's you, this is the best app for the job.
Otherwise, stick to listening to music on your commute.