So, last night a depraved thirst for Celebrity Rehab led us into the arms of the free one week Hulu Plus trial.
During the whole Netflix freakout this was one of the popular war cries among the disenchanted-
HULU! REDBOX! BLOCKBUSTER!
They all sounded self-evidently insufficient to me- Hulu has ads & a sucky movie selection, Redbox is an automated, crappier version of the 'shitty corner video store' that was steamrolled by the advent of Blockbuster, and Blockbuster is a crippled, bankrupt ghost of a company.
But Hulu had the latest season of Celebrity Rehab, it plays nice with our Roku box & the first week was free! Our grim lust for borderline exploitative public displays of therapy would be slaked, even if it meant muting a few ads.
The setup was enjoyably simple, which as someone who remembers jiggering dip switches on modems I greatly appreciate. Fed Hulu a credit card #, stuck a post it note on my monitor to remind me to cancel it in 7 days, fed a Roku activation code to their website, and VOILA! there was Dr. Drew, welcoming an all new group of people who were *just* famous enough to completely wreck their lives through the doors of the Pasadena Recovery Center.
The show was terrific, delivering exactly the sort of reality teevee payload we expected.
The Hulu Plus experience was somewhat less delightful.
Some of this is attributable to my intimate relationship with the Netflix interface, with which I share the sort of closeness most people reserve for their cell phone. But some of it is just sheer weirdness on their part.
The ads weren't too bad- first, there were many fewer of them than on a real teevee. Each 'commercial break' yielded either 60 or 30 seconds of advertising. And unlike broadcast teevee, the volume didn't mysteriously jump several decibels when the ads started rolling- in fact the sound for the commercials is noticeably lower than for the shows they interrupt.
The big problem was an audio synch problem after the commercials. Twice we lost synch and had to back all the way out to the home screen & restart the show, which is rendered tedious by their menu arrangement. Netflix will very rarely have synch issues, but you can't fix 'em- it's an encoding problem. This was fixable, so I assume it's a streaming issue.
After we got that sorted it was smooth sailing for the rest of the evening. Image quality is solid and more consistent than Netflix, which varies depending on source material & encoding- most of their stuff is great, but occasionally you'll come across a really crappy transfer, or a transfer of a substandard source. On Hulu, everything looks the same. Show selection is fairly limited but works well as an adjunct to Netflix, being strong where 'Flix is weak (reality teevee, first run scripted shows).
My biggest complaints are their byzantine, badly organized & glacially slow front end, and the periodic audio synch/freezing issues. The menu, far more so than even the intentionally opaque Netflix front end, is there more to keep you from finding and watching things in a reasonably efficient manner than to enable enjoyment. It's like they realize that streaming is the future, but they're deathly afraid of making its navigation a pleasure rather than a chore lest the audience for broadcast fare steal away overnight, a gypsy encampment scenting greener pastures on the prevailing breeze.
I'm guessing that like Netflix the web interface is somewhat more helpful and user friendly (note to self- investigate this possibility), but as I am basically a lazy creature of habit, if it isn't easy to find on the teevee menu I'm probably not going to watch it.
To sum up, Netflix is a vastly more robust and populated space with far better infrastructure.
On the other hand, Hulu Plus has Dr. Drew and nine full seasons of Hell's Kitchen, among other delights.
Hmmm...we may not cancel it after all.