As the world of media is seemingly shifting more to online streaming and digital downloads and less from cable companies and physical media, another small shimmer of light shines through for Xbox 360 owners. Up until now Xbox 360 owners who were also subscribers to the Gold Membership could, for extra fees, enjoy large amounts of content from Netflix and Zune Social. Now, the long-awaited Xbox 360 Hulu Plus has been released, and with a tasty promotion deal as well. Until May 6th, they are offering new registrars to test drive Hulu Plus; I believe that is more than enough time to get hooked onto what Hulu Plus has to offer (unless what you’re looking for is not offered on Hulu Plus). After the promotional period, you can continue with the Hulu goodness for only $7.99 per month.
First off, I’ll get the disappointments out of the way.
SELECTION – The first one that everyone seems to mention, but it’s more a licensing issue, is that there are shows that aren’t available on Hulu Plus, but that are available on basic Hulu online. And they are quick to remind you of that, by still showing it in your queue, with an icon that reads “Web Only”. Honestly, I’m not sure why this is even an issue, but I won’t get into it here, because if I do, you’ll never hear the end of it.
GUI NUANCES – One small feature (or lack of a feature) that really bugs me is that the horizontal menus don’t wrap. I had around 70 TV shows in my queue, and the one I wanted to watch (Bones) was at the end. I couldn’t simply navigate left to wrap to the right side, I had to scroll all the way to the right. As I am writing this though, I am remembering that if I had used an Xbox controller, I probably could have pressed the right trigger or right bumper to quick-jump to the end, but I’m not sure that is the case. I’ll try it later and post an update. Eventually, I stopped scrolling, went up two lines to the Popular menu and Bones was right there, saving me navigation time.
Another feature that appears to be lacking is a simple search feature. Every app with content should feature this simple function. It’s almost required if your catalog is more than what can be displayed on one screen. I can’t imagine that this would dissuade people from using the app altogether, since the Web Only content (and lack of other popular content) might hold more weight in gaining or losing customers. Without the search function, you are forced to either drill down from the menus to find what you are looking for, or make a visit to your computer to complete your search query and add the result to your queue.
KINECT – Since I don’t have an Xbox Kinect (yet), I was unable to test this feature. The word floating around is that the reason why this app took so long to be released was that they were polishing up the Kinect navigation. Honestly, I believe that they would have done themselves a greater service to release the app ealier, without Kinect navigation, then offer it later in an update. The reason being is that many of the reviews I am reading about the Kinect nagivation aren’t giving that many praises, and there are more people that wanted the app sooner. So, delaying the app for a feature that doesn’t work that well anyway was probably not the greatest idea.
Aside from the negative, this long-awaited app is very welcome in my home. Up until now, we have used a Roku box to deliver Hulu Plus content to our TV. Now we have two devices that deliver that content, so I am able to move the Roku box downstairs and extend coverage, so to speak.
SPEED – The Xbox 360’s quick GUI response seems to translate nicely into the Hulu app as I wasn’t finding myself waiting for the GUI to catch up. There were times when the content itself had to buffer up, but that’s more network related and less in the control of the app developers. I did notice, however, that wen firing up an item from my queue, that it did start up a bit faster than other non-queued content. This makes me wonder if Hulu Plus is doing some kind of pre-buffering in the background for the queued items.
GUI – The interface is just elegant overall. Granted, it is the Xbox 360 interface translated into the Hulu Plus app, but one is inclined to agree that it’s sleek design and lack of clutter leaves one feeling at peace. Unlike the web interface, you are not bombarded with large amounts of data, and are allowed to browse to your content without much interruption.
CONTROLS – The controls during playback are intuitive and fast. They appear to respond faster than the controls of the Netflix app (again, going back to speed), and while fast-forwarding or rewinding, you are given a thumbnail preview of that that frame looks like so guesswork is eliminated.
After all is said and done, some people will accept Hulu Plus for Xbox 360 really well, and other’s may not. I think that the biggest factor whether someone subscribes to Hulu or not will be based on content. And the biggest factor whether a Hulu Plus subscriber will use Hulu Plus on Xbox will be the cost of the Gold membership on Xbox Live. If you don’t have a Gold Membership, and Hulu Plus does not have the content that you want, then this is not the app for you. But, if Hulu Plus is your staple, and if you already have a Gold Membership, then using Hulu Plus on your Xbox is a no-brainer. And moreover, if you have a Gold Membership, and haven’t tried Hulu Plus, then try it out for free until this Friday. You have nothing to lose except for the regret that you’ll feel if you don’t.
UPDATE: There IS a search feature. Not sure why I didn’t see it before. The search allows you to drill down alphabetically to the title you are looking for. It is especially helpful if you have a chatpad on your controller (which I do). I would like to know how well the voice recognition works with the Kinect; has anyone with a Kinect tried that out?