Click here to see screenshots
Watching TV and movies over the Web took a big step forward this week with the launch of Hulu.com, a well designed and, most importantly, legal site where people can watch and share TV shows and full length movies.
Hulu is backed by NBC Universal and News Corp. but is run independently and the site includes TV shows and movies from multiple networks and studios. The site has been running in beta but is now fully open for use to any users in the United States, though the site is currently closed to international users.
As for the site itself, it has pretty much jumped to the top of my list for watching video over the Web. I found the site to be well-designed and the browser-based video player to be intuitive and easy to use.
Probably the biggest benefit is that the player is based on Adobe's Flash technology, meaning that it runs on multiple platforms, including Linux and Mac OS X, unlike competing services such as Netflix's WatchNow, which only runs on Windows.
To use Hulu, I first created a user account and then was quickly up and running on the site. It was easy to browse through the TV shows and movies using multiple filters, such as genre or network. The selection of TV shows was very good, including current hits such as "Heroes" and classic shows like "Starsky and Hutch." At launch time, the movie selection included around a hundred full length movies and clips from many more.
Watching a video is as simple as can be. A click on the screen starts it up and I could run the video within the browser screen, in a separate browser window, or in full screen mode.
There's no charge to use Hulu but it isn't exactly free. That's because all of the videos on the site include commercials, though when watching a full video there are far less than on traditional TV. Probably the biggest hassle with the commercials was that every time you jump ahead or back within a video an advertisement runs. Also, small banner ads sometimes ran across the bottom of the video screen.
Another nice feature of Hulu is the ability to share videos and custom made clips from videos. When playing a video I could e-mail a link to friends and automatically upload the video to popular Web 2.0 sites such as Facebook or MySpace.
Even nicer was the embed feature. Clicking on embed brought up a window from which I could use sliders to select the portion of the video I wanted to use (and could even preview the selection to make sure it was correct). I was then provided with code that I could input into any site or blog that I was running. For an example check out this clip from the classic Steve Martin movie "The Jerk."
(don't worry about the mature audience warning, it's a safe clip from the movie)
Overall I found the video quality on Hulu to be good, though hardcore videophiles will probably be disappointed. Hulu does include a sort of beta portion of the site where users can view the future HD capabilities of the site.
While the advertisements can be a bit frustrating, all in all I was impressed with Hulu.com and expect to be spending a fair share of my free time getting caught up with TV shows and movies that I've missed.
Of course, with it being this easy to watch videos over the Web, the other negative of Hulu may be that it will become the next big time waster for office workers, so remember to wear headphones when watching "Family Guy."