Our trusty TiVos can’t be everywhere at once. Sometimes, something great will happen that we didn’t record, and we won’t catch the snappy references at the next day’s staff meeting. For instance, did you see Neil Young sing the “Double Rainbow” song? For missed moments like these, Hulu Plus serves up a massive roster of TV shows and a smattering of movies to quell our pop-culture needs. You’ll be able to quote lines from old favorites--“It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping”--and recent hits. But before you mumble, “I want to go to there,” be warned that Hulu Plus still might leave you out of the loop at that meeting. In spite of the great iPad and iPhone apps, it omits certain episodes and other crucial features.
The paid Hulu Plus service builds on the free version when watched in your Mac’s web browser. You’ll get access to Hulu’s full catalog of 2,700 TV shows and movies, and shows often include the full current season or entire series. (Unpaid users usually get just a handful of recent episodes.) The Hulu Plus site says or implies that you can see all of Grey’s Anatomy and 30 Rock, and you can watch “the full run of Lost” or “all 6 seasons” of The Office. But those claims are misleading. At press time, all of these series each had missing episodes. We couldn’t see Season 2: Episode 10 of The Office or Episodes 3 and 4 from the first season of 30 Rock. And those are just the first omissions we found.
Even with tons of great shows, we get the feeling that something is missing.
If you’re a completist hoping to catch up on series that you may have missed, Hulu Plus’s gaps can be quite disappointing. For casual fans, however, the service can still be valuable. How else will you watch most (or all) of the episodes of Quantum Leap, Sliders, The Highlander, and other classic guilty pleasures? Buying DVDs is quickly becoming an anachronism, especially for shows that you’ll only watch once.
The ability to stream Hulu content to your mobile device is one of the key selling points of Hulu Plus. But using the service via its free iPad or iPhone app means missing even more shows. Individual episodes from our favorite series--say, Season 3: Episodes 7 and 13 from The Office--aren’t available on mobile devices. And many more shows that you can view on a Mac aren’t offered at all, including Community, NewsRadio, and V. Mobile viewers only get a catalog of 175 shows as we went to press. A Hulu representative assures us they’re working on getting permission from the content owners to put more shows on the mobile devices and that the number will continue to grow--but that doesn’t exactly excuse the discrepancies between the mobile and desktop versions.
If you’re satisfied with the mobile offerings--and even incomplete, there are more episodes than you could realistically ever watch--Hulu Plus’s video streams look great. On an iPad or iPhone with a Wi-Fi connection, everything we tried played back fluidly with sharp picture detail. Over the AT&T 3G network, shows have mild, fuzzy compression artifacts but still look good enough to watch.
Still, that leaves us wondering why we should bother paying for Hulu Plus? It still has commercials, it frequently omits individual episodes from seasons, and you can’t access the full catalog from an iPad or iPhone. Where are the bonus features? There’s no way to view shows by actor or writer, for example, letting you discover connections. Movies lack similar details, giving just a terse synopsis and no cast listing.
Shows look great on a Mac or iOS device, but Hulu Plus is disappointing otherwise. Omitted episodes are frustrating, and Hulu Plus skips other desirable enhancements such as deep show data.
REQUIREMENTS: Mac web browser with Flash; high-speed internet; iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch with iOS 3.2 or later
Video looks good across all devices. Can resume an exited show on the same device. In spite of episode holes, lots of content available. Smattering of worthwhile movies mixed in with the TV shows. iPad and iPhone catalog is expanding; some shows were added in the time we spent reviewing. Works on PS3, certain Blu-ray players, and certain TVs.
iPad and iPhone can’t tap the full website-accessible catalog. Misleading statements suggest Hulu Plus has episodes that aren’t available. Can’t resume show from one device on another. Lacks comprehensive details about cast, writers, and other background fodder. Commercials are still present. Access to shows and movies can expire.