Even as NBC was pulling its episodes off the iTunes music store and closing down its YouTube channel this fall, there was a new hope for people who wanted to watch TV online: Hulu, a new site that hosts full TV episodes and selected clips. The site is fully sanctioned by NBC, Fox, and several major studios — no copyright infringement here! — and it allows users to watch, rate, and even embed and share content legally.
The site is still in a private testing stage, but you can sign up for a username and password. I recently got mine and took a spin through Hulu, and here's what I found:
- The selection. Hulu is by no means comprehensive, but there's a lot here — more than 100 series, including current shows such as Damages and old favorites such as Picket Fences, along with several full-length movies. Scrolling through the list, I was already mentally assembling a playlist: The first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, followed by a little Arrested Development, then maybe some vintage Weird Science . . .
- The video quality. Hulu video looks sharp in its default resolution, and even at full screen, it's much easier to look at than many streaming video sites.
- Custom clips. If Hulu has a full episode, you can create a custom clip from it, choosing when the video should start and stop.
- The interface. Hulu is easy and intuitive to use, whether I'm looking through the list of series or trying to figure out how to embed a clip. You can even "turn the lights out" while watching a video, dimming everything on the screen except for the clip itself.
Hulu has a lot to recommend it — but there are downsides. To see what they are (and see an episode of Arrested Development that I embedded, just because I can) just read more.
- It's not open to the public. Obviously, that will change. But for now, Hulu has limited reach, just because a relatively small number of users can access the content. Sure, we can embed videos for others (like I did below), but that's a cumbersome process.
- The pre-selected clips are silly. Hulu has several short clips from its shows online, but I've never found exactly the clip I wanted there (and the search function doesn't help much in that regard). The custom clip function is a much better solution.
- No promos. Often when I turn to YouTube, it's because I'm looking for a commercial or those little 20-second previews from the end of an episode to embed on Buzz. Hulu doesn't include those yet, and so I'll have to keep finding them elsewhere.
- The ads. OK, this isn't that bad. The sponsored ad breaks come at regular intervals and are much like what you'll find on the networks' own streaming video players right now. They're unskippable, but I suspect there are still fewer ads in one Hulu episode than you'd see watching the same show on TV. Still, it's unlikely to woo people who are used to buying shows to watch commercial-free on iTunes (or, alternatively, download shows illegally).
- The movie content. Hulu currently has just a few movies — Sideways, The Jerk — and it would need hundreds more to be a useful movie resource. I think the medium is just better suited for TV.
Hulu is a good resource for me when I need to watch a TV episode or cut a specific clip. It will be better once it's open to the public and once it gets more studios and networks on board. If it adds promos and other commercials for its shows, I could see it becoming my first-choice source for online video for TV.
Want to check out Hulu's video for yourself? Here's the Arrested Development pilot: