For Android tablet owners, the announcement that Hulu Plus was finally coming to their tablet platform of choice must have been met with cheers, as Hulu has been a major Android Market/Google Play Store omission since it launched on iOS in 2010, and jeers, as it is only available on seven devices at launch. Those devices include the original ASUS Transformer Pad and its quad-core sibling the Transformer Pad Prime, and the Motorola Xoom as well as the Xyboard 10.1 among others, but no Samsung Galaxy Tabs (or smartphones, for that matter).
Will more widespread availability on a greater number of Android devices ever bring Hulu Plus up to Netflix-at-its-prime levels? Before we call a premature verdict, let’s take a closer look at how the re-imagined HuluPlus stacks up.
Second only to the good news about those seven newly-supported tablets is the additional announcement that Hulu Plus has cleaned up its act, so to speak. Boasting a more “clean, visually rich design” the revamped Hulu Plus interface bears a striking resemblance to that of Netflix Watch Instantly, displaying rows upon rows of colorful thumbnail images that advertise each available TV show or movie title. To the Hulu Plus developers’ collective credit, they’ve gone and improved upon the Netflix design by making the titles easily readable and thus more quickly identifiable. This is an area that Netflix Watch Instantly still needs to improve upon, as it uses thumbnails derived directly from poster or DVD cover art and sometimes it’s impossible to tell what you’re looking at. Hulu Plus, on the other hand, only uses thumbnails that prominently display the video’s title. Score one for Hulu Plus.
Quality and Selection
The updated and handsome Hulu Plus dashboard isn’t the only pretty thing about it. The HD video streaming looks great and is comparable with HD quality available via Netflix Watch Instantly. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough to overcome the small selection of movies available on Hulu Plus. If this were the only entertainment streaming service on the planet, it would be the cat’s meow. But it isn’t, therefore it’s not. As far as choice goes, movie lovers can get a whopping lot more bang for their bucks by subscribing to Netflix Watch Instantly instead of Hulu Plus. So how is it that they’re even still in business? In a word (or two): TV shows. Hulu Plus is essentially the equivalent of Netflix, but for viewers who prefer TV over theatrical (or straight-to-home-video) releases. Yes, Netflix offers its fair share of TV viewing enjoyment, but Hulu Plus has it all over Netflix when it comes to getting you your dose of small screen entertainment.
The reasonable $7.99 monthly fee for Hulu Plus even makes it feasible for someone living on a tight budget to do so without having to foot the bill for an expensive cable TV package – even more so if that person’s favorite flavors are all satisfied by Hulu’s selections. Perhaps the comparatively anemic movie selection is something that will change as time wears on, what with Hulu doing what it can to catch up with the competition. Signs that Hulu Plus is a service caught in the middle of a transitory leap are all over the place, and its TV-heavy influence remains in evidence everywhere you look: from pop-out movie summaries that still read “Air Date” instead of “Release Date” to the personalized Queue options lets you group all of your selections “By Show” instead of “By Title.”
Believe it or not, there are some exciting features that prove the creators of Hulu Plus have been working overtime to come up with stuff you just can’t get elsewhere. One of those features is called Caption Search. Still in the Beta testing phase, Caption Search lets you key specific words (or key phrases) into a dedicated search box, which then scans the closed captioning of a specific TV show or movie for the precise text entered. For example, if you want to scour the database of all X-Files episodes where the words “Trust no one” are spoken, you can do this. It only works with shows and movies that are offered with closed captioning, and you can’t cross-search the entire database of movies and shows yet. But it’s a powerful feature that enables you to jump directly to certain scenes rather than forcing you to scan and search to find what you’re looking for.
Hulu Plus charges $7.99 per month for unlimited streaming access to its library of TV shows and movies, which is exactly what Netflix charges for its Watch Instantly streaming service. Having these matching price points would serve to make it a relatively even match up for the person trying to decide between one or the other: Hulu Plus for TV lovers, Netflix for movie lovers. Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy. The only catch is, Hulu Plus is a pay service that still forces you to sit through occasional advertisements, whereas Netflix doesn’t. Perhaps Hulu’s argument that the ads are necessary to keep costs down would hold water if the price of admission were even a buck lower than that of Netflix… but when both are charging the same price and one subjects you to commercial interruptions, making the decision between services becomes a no-brainer
If you’re already a Hulu Plus subscriber but you’ve haven’t been able to make it work with your tablet, you’re probably in luck. Add ‘TV show love without a cable package’ to the mix, you’ve got cause to be over the moon. But if what you’re looking for is a good pay streaming service that will give you tablet mobility, value, and choice of movies, you might just find yourself turning to Netflix to satisfy your need until something better comes along.