i was really stoked when hulu plus was announced. hulu was really the only video the iPad was missing for me, as everything else i watched had either created an app (e.g., ABC, Netflix) or become HTML5 compliant (e.g., YouTube, TED) as of day one. you can read hulu’s blog about hulu plus here. the free preview was impressive, looked great, synced your playback position between devices/desktop. but after a few weeks of heavy use, i’ve gotten frequently irritated with a few things about it. (updates below)
the worst part is purely a big-time design bumble: iCal reminders and notifications take you out of the episode. this is not just pause. it takes you back to the episode selection menu (i.e. out of the video player portion of the app). once the notifications have been cleared, it does pop up an option to resume your most recent video, but then has to reload. it replays the network splash (e.g. “so bold, so brash, so Fox!), then replays show info screen (e.g., “Lie to Me, on Fox, Mondays at 9ET”), and then replays the advertising info screen (e.g. “the following episode has been brought to you with limited commercial interruption by…”) before resuming where you left off. this can be especially irritating if you get a few reminders in a row, since it can take about 10-12 seconds to resume watching. take a clue from the Netflix app, hulu — or really any other video app designed for iOS. i wonder if 4.2 will have any effect on this particular issue. this needs to be fixed soon. it is a HUGE irritation and completely ruins the continuity of watching media on a device.
(update #1: the new release of hulu plus (released hours after i hit publish on this post) completely resolves this issue, as Alex mentions below. now, when a notification pops up, playback is paused, and as soon as the notification is dismissed, playback immediately resumes. this has not only been resolve, but resolved in the best possible way.
the above image shows what hulu has updated in version 1.1)
there are often many errors and glitches. episodes are not always listed in order. sometimes video begins out of sync (you have to manually scrub to get it back in sync). sometimes on startup, an episode’s video will play very fast through the first 30 seconds or minute, but audio plays fine, never losing sync or skipping; then the video will pop back in line with the audio — the audio never misses a beat. sometimes the screen will just be black and it won’t play at all; i’ll have to completely reboot my iPad. lots of weird stuff that doesn’t happen with any other app. a problem every now and then is expected, especially as much as i use the iPad for watching video content. but it happens so frequently, there’s really no excuse for it. i don’t know all the technical stuff behind it, but i’ve never had these problems with hulu.com in Safari on OSX. i’ve only ever experienced these issues in the iOS app.
(update #2: i noticed last night that some previously mislabeled episodes of Arrested Development were corrected; this was most likely a cataloging error rather than an error within the app anyway. AD also was where i saw the sped up first minute or two problem; no sign of it yet this morning. i’ve watched 3 or 4 episodes and so far, no issues at all. the transition in and out of ads even seems smoother. however, at least one episode of Lie to Me still begins out of sync. another buffered and buffered and never started. it could be an issue with the way those episodes in particular are compressed. before the update, most of Season 2 of Lie to Me had this problem. and maybe it’s just me, but the overall video quality of everything even looks better.)
probably the most disappointing thing about hulu plus for iPad is something beyond hulu’s control. that is licensing. none of the USA shows i watch are licensed for anything but web viewing with hulu. this means they won’t play on hulu-enabled TVs or mobile devices such as the iPad. there’s a lot of shows i can watch on my laptop that i can’t watch anywhere else.
while adding a subscription model like hulu plus brings some more revenue back to networks (and theoretically back to content creators and show producers), clearly the film and television industry are taking their time and not rushing into anything. piracy isn’t cannibalizing their sales the way that Napster was with music, so there’s no immediate threat — no hole in the ship, so to speak. Apple (nor anyone else) has yet to figure out a business model that replaces the existing TV/film home distribution models. the inclusion of only ABC and Fox with Apple TV‘s $.99 episode rentals is a great example of this industry hesitancy. read this article for an industry perspective from the side of the content creators.
(update #3: unfortunately, no software update is going to solve this. hopefully content creators will work out something with hulu soon.)
still, with all its problems, i do use it several hours a day. i’m constantly watching something on it, even if it’s stuff i’ve seen before. tonight was the first big night for new season premieres, so we’ll see how much new content comes to my device over the next month or so. if there’s no app update, and if there’s no new licensing, i may cancel hulu plus for the time being. they’re definitely on to something — something that could satisfy viewers and content providers alike — but there’s still a lot of work to do.