Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hulu Plus, Netflix, and iTunes replacement for cable?

After a few months of testing I can say I have a pretty good feel for Hulu Plus. First the application runs fine on the Mac, not quiet as nicely as Netflix with its Silverlight technology and ability to run in full screen on an extra monitor while you work on other monitors, but it runs fine if you are just looking to watch TV on your Mac. The iPad and iPhone applications are fantastic for watching TV shows while you are mobile. The picture quality is a little lower on 3G but still watchable.

For comparison I tried Hulu on the Mac, iPad, iPhone, and PS3. The PS3 was just a bad experience. Every time a software update comes out Hulu gets stuck on the login and will not open completely or close to allow the user to update without holding down the power key and rebooting the PS3.

On the iPad and iPhone It is a completely different experience. Just tap the app and you are ready to watch TV. The search is a little non-intuitive and new full episode availability is still limited. The older series library is growing constantly allowing viewers to revisit old favorites or even discover old series they missed for the first time Recently some content has starred showing up as web only not allowing it to be viewed by anything but a Mac or PC. Since there is a $7.99 a month subscription fee i should be able to watch any content on any device I own. That has been a problem for several shows I watch.

At $7.99 a month for Hulu it isn't a bad deal if you want some TV on demand or your DVR missed a show, but I am not throwing out my satellite TV just yet.

Netflix is another TV / movie on demand service with a large selection of movies and a $7.99 a month streaming only option. The system recommends movies based on what you watch and how you rate movies. It is easy to discover movies you may never have heard of before. Or if you happen to be at home and in the mood to watch a movie you can just flip through and find something without having to go out of the house or buy a movie from the cable or satellite company.

Netflix on the Apple TV, iPad, and iPhone are great experiences. Again on the PS3 the User Interface changes every time you sign in making it a little confusing to use. I keep hearing that Netflix is trying to find the right UI and getting feed back from customers on the three leading ones. My recommendation is let us choose which one we want to use and don’t assign a random one.

While Hulu is focused on TV Netflix is definitely focused on feature length movies and a few older TV series on DVD.

Netflix will also for an extra dollar a month will mail DVD's to you. The entire catalog isn't available for streaming yet but, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings says they plan to have the entire Netflix collection online in the next year and sees an end to mailing DVD's in the not to distant future.

iTunes has come a long way since it’s early days of just syncing the iPod. Adding a music store, a movie store, and a TV shows in addition to the app store. iTunes became one stop shopping for programs and content. In the early days we could only purchase content which was a little expensive for just watching a movie. Later they added rentals and HD content. Now with the Apple TV2 renting movies is simple and competitively priced with cable and satellite. The 720p HD stream looks great and it is most of all totally convenient. The only thing Apple is missing now is a subscription service to let you watch all the movies and TV’s you want for a low monthly fee. Maybe a few content deals from networks and we could see competition with cable and satellite. I don’t think that is likely to happen since most of the networks own cable companies as well. It would be good for consumers as it gives us choice. What is more likely and will be slow coming is independent content creators will start making their own deals and getting themselves into iTunes, Hulu, and Netflix and start making the big production companies and cable networks less relevant. Much like the Internet has given everyone a voice to share content they have created we could see the same thing come to streaming services in the future. This would give consumers more choices and more diverse content, give advertisers a less expensive medium to get the word out about their products and give us access to content anywhere, anytime, anyplace.

For the providers of content it is time to get on board with streaming from iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, or even your own app that is available on multiple platforms. Just last season my DVR had an issue and stopped recording a series I watch. I didn’t notice until the end of the season and missed several shows. Not wanting to get lost in the story I stopped watching and started looking for the season once it ended. It isn’t available in any streaming format and is coming out on DVD but really not worth me going out of my way to get it and to buy it. So the network just lost a regular viewer due to a technical glitch and their inability to make the show easily available for me to catch up and resume watching on my DVR.

So I am not quiet ready to give up satellite TV yet but Netflix, Hulu, and network TV apps that deliver content to any digital device might make a compelling argument for leaving cable behind. Particularly for road warriors who are on the road frequently and don't always get a chance to watch their favorite shows.