Hulu, my new obsession!

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

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.

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Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

SageTV HD200 with Playon – Improvements…? My Hulu obsession (part 2)

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