Archive for February, 2009

My Hulu obsession (part 2)

In my previous post, I talked about the various ways I’ve tried to watch Hulu on my flatscreen TV, and how they have all fell somewhat short.

Personally, I’m hoping that Hulu  is secretly working with Apple on the next generation of AppleTV software.  Perhaps they already are!  There are already 1 Mbit H264 encoded videos are on Hulu now.  With decoding of the stream handled by the hardware itself, the current AppleTV unit would be more than capable of displaying beautiful streaming content from Hulu, complete with a few commercials to keep the network executives happy.  With the way prices have dropped on hardware, Apple could probably drop the price to $129 (or lower, perhaps to the $99 level).  They could corner the market on streaming home media players.

Many people would say that would never happen because of all the content on Hulu would compete directly with the iTunes store’s own content.  I don’t see that as a major issue, though.  I think of Hulu as the “free samples” that you get from the grocery store, encouraging you to buy.  Think about it – For old content, they can put as much as a season or two on Hulu for free to get people hooked into a story, then sell the next several seasons on iTunes.  (I’m pretty close to buying the DVD set for seasons 3-5 of Babylon 5 because seasons 1 and 2 are on Hulu!)

What about the market for new shows on iTunes, you ask?  I could see a slight downside to iTunes sales from streams here, but only very slight.  I imagine occasionally people purchase an episode here or there because they miss it, for whatever reason.  For shows people absolutely love (that have a good re-watch value), they’d probably keep spending the money to buy them on iTunes.  Since the quality of downloads would be better from iTunes than the streamed content from Hulu, and there are no commercials on iTunes, I think a large percentage of iTunes buyers would still buy shows.  (I have season passes to Monk and Psych, both shows that are on Hulu).  Because Hulu cycles through the recently broadcast shows, you can only go back about 4-5 episodes typically.  The networks would benefit here if for no other reason than they’d get more eyeballs on their Hulu advertising.  Plus, with the massive story lines in shows today you can get lost if you miss an episode or two.  Think of Heroes, or Lost as examples.  If the content is right there, ready to be streamed down at no cost, people who occasionally miss an episode of a show they enjoy won’t end up missing enough episodes that they lose track of what’s going on and just stop watching.  Think this doesn’t happen?  It happened with me and the show 24.  Though I loved the 1st season, a PVR problem caused me to miss an early episode of season 2.  Though I recorded like the next 4-5 episodes, they didn’t replay the one I missed.  I got discouraged, week after week when they didn’t re-run the episode I missed.  Eventually, I gave up and just deleted all the unseen episodes.

If AppleTV could natively do this, Apple would have a constantly updated source of content for the AppleTV.  Once word got out about it, they’d probably be hard pressed to keep them on store shelves.

Anyhow, I sincerely hope that if Apple and Hulu people aren’t already working together, that someone from Apple runs across my blog and realizes how awesome this would be, and then takes the action needed to actually make it happen.

February 18, 2009 at 12:40 am Leave a comment

Hulu, my new obsession!

No, I’m not the last person on Earth to discover Hulu.  I’ve used it occasionally over the last year or two, but only since Boxee came along have I really used it on any sort of regular basis.

Unfortunately, the Boxee experience of Hulu is not quite what it should be on the AppleTV.  The playback stutters a bit, the resolution isn’t as sharp as it should be, and the GUI is sluggish when trying to pause, fast-forward, or rewind.  Boxee does have a tremendous interface to Hulu, making it very easy to see what shows are available, but the performance makes me not want to use Boxee.

So, I could go out and buy a new Mac mini, and my problem would be solved, right?

In the real world, the price of the AppleTV was pushing my budget, so something that’s more than twice as expensive just isn’t in the cards.

So, I tried PlayOn with my SageTV HD200.  On the negative side, navigating the PlayOn interface (via the HD200’s uPnP browser) is beyond slow.  This isn’t PlayOn’s fault, though, as browsing it with Boxee or XBMC is quite fast, but the interface isn’t nearly as easy to navigate as Boxee’s native Hulu interface.  On the plus side, the video quality is great with PlayOn.  But, watching it on the HD200 means you can’t accidentally hit FF, or it will restart the entire video.

One day while reading the Boxee forum I found a post about an XBMC plug-in for Hulu.  Videos that play back through XBMC (on the same AppleTV hardware) exhibit none of the issues I mentioned above with Boxee.  Unfortunately, the plug-in is a bit buggy.  By default, it won’t read some shows (like Babylon 5).  Changing a setting in the settings.xml file (flat_seasons, I believe) lets you get a list of shows for Babylon 5, but since it uses the hulu RSS feeds, it only lists a maximum of 20 shows per season.  If there are more shows than that, they simply don’t show up.

I took care of that problem myself by learning a bit of python.  My code reads the hulu website itself, not the RSS feed, so it gets all the episodes.  (I have posted my code for the author to use, if he decides to go that route, but he’d need to touch it up a bit, as it doesn’t support some of the other features of his plug-in.)

Unfortunately, watching Hulu via XBMC this way is not nearly as stable as it should be, reducing the enjoyment greatly.

1.  If you fast-forward through the intro of a show (about 60 seconds, I’m guessing), it stops to buffer, waiting probably another 60 seconds (though sometimes it seems longer!) before continuing.
2.  If you pause the show and leave the room for several minutes (5-10 or s0, I believe), when you come back, unpause the show and resume watching, the show stop abruptly within about 2 minutes, exiting playback (so you’d have to start the show over)
3.  Sometimes, when hitting “Stop” button near the end of a show, the interface freezes (though audio still plays).  This requires a hard reboot to fix.

So, that’s hardly ideal either.

I understand SageTV is planning to include native Hulu support in an upcoming version.  That will be a welcome addition, assuming it doesn’t have the negatives of the other options I’ve already explored.

February 18, 2009 at 12:08 am Leave a comment


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