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Hulu heads to HD: new Flash player powers HD Streams

hulu flash hdEarlier today Adobe announced the availability of the latest update for their popular browser video player software.  This latest version of Flash, previously codenamed Moviestar, had been in Beta since August.  Now available, it brings to market full support for high definition video.  Hulu, NBCU and Newscorp’s high profile video site wasted now time in taking advantage and supporting the upgrade.

Logging into Hulu’s beta moments ago, I was able to watch HD quality content streamed over the web. Available content was limited.  There were approximately a dozen movie trailers. I watched three; the previews for the now playing film, Hitman, Angelina Jolie’s upcoming movie, Wanted, and the soon to be released Charlie Wilson’s War trailer. I was impressed.

On both computer monitor and TV (connected to the computer’s video card), the image was crisp. Even with somewhat reduced bit rates, intentionally throttled back by Hulu to make the offering more widely available, quality was high.  And relative to the image quality of standard streamed web content, the results were spectacular.

The only complaint, no fault of Adobe or Hulu, the technology requirements to enjoy this quality level of streaming are still not widespread in the mass market. To make use of the Hulu HD stream requires a fast computer, a 1280×720 resolution monitor and an internet connection faster than 2,400kbps.

Slightly lagging that kind of bandwidth speed, in a few cases, at the start of the streams there was a little stutter in the delivery.  A faster internet connection on my side, or more time to buffer the content before display, would remedy that.  Simply hitting pause to allow more content to download before starting was a Hulu suggested workaround. All things considered, however, it was the best quality Internet video experience I’ve had so far on the basis of image alone. And the Hulu interface isn’t bad either.

Flash is widely adopted. It’s found on more than 99% of Internet Connected desktops as well as hundreds of millions of mobile and set-top devices. CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS, MTV and the BBC all use it for distributing their content on-demand. Given that kind of user base, and the likelihood more HD content will be available online soon (especially TV episodes already broadcast in the format), this latest release could be a small landmark on the path of convergence between professional Television/Video and Internet distribution.

With time, as consumer bandwidth and in-home technology improve, it’s easy to see wider adoption for this kind of service happening. At that point, it could go from a small landmark, to major one. For now, Widespread HD over the web remains a little bit futuristic.

Hulu, which is a joint venture between News Corp and NBC Universal, is still an invitation only Beta site.  That is scheduled to change at some time in 2008.  Once openly in the market, the video service could be widely adopted.  Thus far, it’s exceeding expectations.   (More information on Hulu can be found in the Related Articles below)


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Official Flash Upgrade Press Release
Flash Moviestar: Looking at HD Video Streaming Online
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