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Hulu Offers Application Alternative

hulu labsGo back a few years ago and companies pushing net video streams out to proprietary applications were all the rage.  IP TV had the hype of a key convergence technology.  It was the next new thing. With companies like Joost there was massive venture funding, and talk about how their plans would change the face of TV distribution.

That didn’t happen. The buzz faded, staff left  and many of the companies that were yesterday’s darlings have faded from tech culture stardom (at least for now) like the backup singer to a one hit wonder.  Two notes hummed and forgotten.

The problem may have been timing, or programming, but it was also in no small part because the offerings required a change in consumer behavior.  They required applications downloaded to a desktop when consumers were used to (and comfortable) working within their web browser. 

It’s ironic given that, that today’s web video stars, companies like Hulu that have gained audience traction with browser-based video distribution are exploring stand alone players.   I guess it comes down to timing, and giving customer’s the choice.  That, and of course, offering the quality of programming necessary to make the consumer choice matter in the first place.

Today, Hulu the web video joint venture that was started by NBC Universal and News Corp (and now includes Disney), debuted the Hulu Labs, an enviroment for testing tweaks to their user experience.   The first of several disclosed offerings from the experiment is a standalone application.

Whether or not consumers accept and choose to use the alternate incarnation of the Hulu service remains to be seen.  It is, after all, a test market.   Still,  Hulu’s marketing it as something of a home media center, a way of making a PC  video experience more like the lean back leisure time of watching TV while plopped on the couch.

It tests, the application worked largely as described. The interface was clean and navigation was more or less what the Hulu web environment already delivers.  Simple, accessible and crisp.

In a forty minute stream of a recent episode of Chuck, the video and sound were good.  On one of two computers tested, there was an occasional lag or slight syncing issues between sound and picture – likely a factor of the computer’s resources, not Hulu’s. The program also crashed on the same computer, once, but otherwise, it ran the episode glitch free.

Proper system standards to enjoy the application are  set a minimum of a Pentium Core Due (1.8 GHz) and 2 GB of Ram.    Mac users need a minimum of a Pentium Core Duo with 2.0GHz and 2GB of ram.  The internet service should also be capable of providing at least 2 Mbps in download speed. Assuming those baselines are satisfied, the program seems to work well.

Will watchers try it and get hooked? Or will they stick to their browser? Time will tell. But the release coincides with trends toward larger computer monitors.  It also sits well as an intermediary offering capable (potentially) of filling a niche as the greater convergence between TV viewing and Internet delivery continues its slow evolution. (Just don’t watch the Hulu player on a connected TV, that’s a violation of the terms of service… if Hulu choose to (and is able to) enforce it)

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