Popular TV-over-the-Web service Hulu announced its subscription service Hulu Plus will be extended to Sony’s 2010 line of Bravia HDTVs, and all PlayStation 3 owners next week. Previously, Hulu Plus on the PlayStation 3 required a PlayStation Plus membership.
With the PlayStation Plus requirement dropped, the price of Hulu Plus has effectively been cut by more than 29%, but the question remains: is it a worthwhile investment for those people looking to finally quit cable?
What a month gets you
The idea behind Hulu Plus is that customers pay for access to Hulu on devices other than their computers; and at the same time gain access to content not available for free on the standard Hulu website.
So a monthly fee lets users stream TV episodes to their mobile devices, Connected HDTVs, or video game consoles. Currently, iOS-based mobile devices, select Samsung and Sony TVs, and the Samsung BD-C6900 Blu-ray player, and Sony Playstation 3 all have access to the service. In the near future, Vizio devices, Roku set top boxes, and the Xbox 360 will be added to the list of devices supporting the service.
In August, media analyst group One Touch Intelligence released an analysis of the content available on Hulu Plus which found that the for-pay service added 3,564 full-length TV episodes that weren’t available on Hulu. This amounted to roughly 12% more content than what could be obtained for free (28,418 full-length episodes in total, 3,564 exclusively Hulu Plus.)
“The unresolved question is whether these incremental content enhancements are enough to compel Hulu users to begin paying for a companion subscription service,” said Senior Director for Industry Intelligence at One Touch, Stewart Schley.
I’ve been testing the preview version of Hulu Plus on PlayStation 3 for the last four months, and the experience has been mostly favorable. The stream quality is consistently excellent, and the interface is both easy on the eyes and informative. Unfortunately, the PlayStation 3 controller makes for an awkward and highly error-prone remote control, especially when scanning, which is controlled by the L2 and R2 analog triggers by default.
I repeatedly find myself searching for content in Hulu Plus that is not there, and end up browsing through content and watching something based solely upon its description. Yes, it’s led to some pleasing discoveries (like the UK’s Green Wing,) but it’s no replacement for the content I’d originally hoped to find.
This is ultimately the problem with Hulu Plus when looking at it as a “cable cutting” solution. It is high quality, but not a likely replacement for your existent services.
PlayOn Media Server is kind of a bugbear to Hulu Plus because it brings the free Web-based Hulu to devices connected to a user’s home network at a much lower price. PlayOn costs .99 for the first year and .99 each subsequent year, or a one-time license purchase of .99, and can stream to iOS devices, Wii, Xbox 360, PS3, GoogleTV, and a handful of other connected media players. Furthermore, it access much more than just Hulu; it also provides access to Netflix, CBS, Comedy Central, TV.com, SpikeTV, ESPN.com, ESPN3, MLB, NHL, CNN, PBS, Amazon VOD, YouTube, MTV, Vevo, Pandora, and more through third-party plugins.
This does not mean PlayOn should be viewed as a stand-in for Hulu Plus. Assigning a value to the service is much more subjective. Hulu Plus, for example, can be accessed outside of your home network, while PlayOn is tied to a connected media server client running on a PC. Furthermore, Hulu Plus’ user interface is infinitely nicer than PlayOn’s, which is oftentimes a series of menus with blank icons and cut-off text.
But looking at strictly at the volume of content available, PlayOn wins hands down.
Assuming that PlayOn’s Hulu channel offers 12% less content than Hulu Plus, that service would cost around .80 per month according to Hulu’s valuation. Even PlayOn’s most expensive premium charge amounts to just .34 per month. Add into it all the other content you’ll be able to stream from other sources, and it becomes a solid component in a cable-cutting home setup.