I have been playing with the Hulu desktop app for the last few days, and so far I am impressed. At first blush, there isn’t much difference between the app and the site, but I did notice a few things.
First, the app crashes. Often. In 4 days I have had it crash on me about 2 to 3 times per day. From what I could tell, it was crashing when my connection dropped, and it ran out of buffer. I would imagine with a connection better than Completely Unstable and Unpredictable (as I have rated Time Warner – A.K.A. pure garbage) these crashes would at least be less frequent. I should also mention that this was not a normal person’s 4 days worth of viewing. I watched 1 and 1/2 entire seasons of one show. Additionally, in Hulu’s defense, it IS beta – early beta at that. Plus in those 4 days there have been 2 updates, so they are definitely trying to make it better.
The only non-crash problem I have had so far, is that it seemed to scramble my queue, although not significantly. Episode 18 of a show I was watching got bumped down to after the season finale. Lucky for me it was a non-arc episode, or I would have been pretty confused.
The key for this app is that it offers remote control, which will allow it to be used on HTPCs. Since I don’t have an HTPC (or a remote), I didn’t test it, but it is clear that the UI was designed for a remote. The biggest usability feature for me was the fact that it works well with dual monitors. I have a 23″ monitor plugged in to my laptop, and with Hulu in a browser, I can fullscreen a video on the monitor just fine, but as soon as I click on the laptop, it dumps me out and back into the windowed interface. No more with Hulu desktop.
The desktop interface has a couple bells and whistles, too. They aren’t make or break, but they are nice to have. You can select your default quality. Hulu offers “standard” 360p and “HD” 480. In the web browser, every time one opens a new video, one is required to click the 480p button. In the app, you can select that as a default. The other thing, and this is even more minor, is that when you are watching a queue in the browser, you can’t jump ahead until 10 seconds after the video is completely over. In the desktop app, it pops up a jump-ahead window as soon as the credits start to roll. The seek functionality is improved, too, adding a picture-in-picture preview of the place you are jumping to.
I also noticed that there are far fewer commercials in the desktop app than there are in the web player, although the white dots are there in the time line. This might be a bug, or it might be some sort of beta-bonus; I don’t know either way. The video seems to buffer faster in the desktop app than it does in the browser, too. Although, you might be able to chalk that up to my crap ISP.
Is the Hulu desktop app a game changer? Not really. It makes life a lot easier for those trying to make the break from cable, with the remote feature. If you are using a computer to watch, and you only have one monitor, there isn’t really a need to download one more piece of software, but if you have dualies, or an HTPC, it is definitely worth a look.
UPDATE: One thing I forgot to mention in my write-up is the fact that the player auto plays on launch. This would be fine, but there is no way to disable it, and most of the time it plays stuff I don’t want to see. After it runs out of your queue, it seems to just jump to some random thing that is mildly related to what you were watching before.