Hands On: Hulu Opens Doors Early to PS3 Users

Hulu Plus

Sony's just full of surprises, announcing immediate access to Hulu Plus courtesy the PS3 far in advance of the service's anticipated late 2010 or early 2011 launch timeframe. The only catch? You have to be a subscriber, both to Hulu Plus, which costs $9.99 a month, as well as Sony's premium content PlayStation Plus service, which costs $49.99 a year.

Oh, and you'll need to get that pesky Hulu preview invite sorted.

Plugging In

To get started, sign into PlayStation Plus via the PlayStation Store, and there it is, a little green square teasing early access to Hulu's streaming multichannel banquet, overlaid with the signature golden d-pad icon indicating that it's for PlayStation Plus members only.

About 300 people had rated the preview when I tapped on it, giving it a few ticks of yellow past 4 stars of 5. (I'm guessing the ones holding back a full five are those waiting for an invite to actually use it.)

The "exclusive PlayStation Plus offer" identifies it as a "limited preview," meaning, presumably, that the plug could go anytime. But while it's live, you'll be able to "watch...every episode of the current season for top titles from ABC, Fox, and NBC," view "full series of shows" and "back seasons of classics," and pore over "hundreds of titles and tens of thousands of videos." (That thumping sound you're hearing is Netflix's heart beating a little faster.)

All That Potential

Once you download the application--it's all of 28 MB--you're only a potential user. You still have to request an invitation using your PSN sign-in ID, after which you might (and I repeat might) receive an official invite to participate in the preview.

As for how you make that request, once the app's pulled down and installed, you'll want to exit the PlayStation Store and tap over to the Video column, where the Hulu Plus Preview icon sits between Video Editor & Uploader and the subsection's PlayStation Store entry point.

Once loaded, you can either request an invite, view sample videos, or click an "Already A Subscriber" button. The latter's for those who already have invites, and generates a random code you'll have to type into your Hulu Plus account (at www.hulu.com/activate) to get your device past the gate guards, after which you can log in (name and password) and start viewing stuff.

Sample While You Wait

If you're stuck outside the gate, waiting, you can still fiddle with a dozen or so sample videos. For instance, I pulled up a Family Guy clip of Peter fighting with a chicken to check out the video quality and playback options. Once the clip loaded, I had the option to pause it and tinker with the video quality, tapping L1 to modulate the standard definition feed between either 1.0 Mb/s or 650 kb/s. There was no high-def option for this one, and the video quality looked about the same at either speed.

Bringing up a high-def clip from Grey's Anatomy, on the other hand, provided the option to switch between HD at either 3.2 MB/s or 2.5 Mb/s in addition to the slower SD options. The quality difference between 650 kb/s and 3.2 MB/s was pretty dramatic, as expected.

According to Sony, the PS3 will be the only console to offer Hulu Plus access in 2010. If true, that's a pretty major coup for Sony, and assuming Sony isn't stingy on the preview invites, could actually drive PS3 sales.

Then again, it does cost an additional $9.99 a month (around $120 a year). And there's no guarantee Sony won't pull the rug out from under us at any point in the interim between now and the service's official launch.

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