Hulu Plus Now Available to All: What You Need to Know Before Signing Up

Today's post is a public service message of sorts.

You probably saw the news Thursday that Hulu Plus has come out of its invitation-only "Preview" phase and is now open to everyone. (If not, you can read the announcement on the Hulu blog.) Hulu Plus is coming to 2010 Sony BRAVIA tvs and will continue to be available on iOS devices and Samsung app-enabled TVs.

Hulu Plus has been available on the Playstation 3 for "Playstation Plus" members, but starting next week it'll be available to anyone with a PS3 and a (free) PSN account. Roku support is coming soon and the Xbox 360 is expected to get Hulu Plus some time after the first of the year.

So it's all good, right? Everyone loves hulu.com and Hulu Plus must be even better, right?

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Not necessarily. I've been subscribed to Hulu Plus for a few months now (using it on an iPad and a PS3) and just wanted to share my experiences with my readers before you throw down your $10 for the first month. Caveat #1 is that subscription fee. It would be an understandable mistake to assume that once you're paying a monthly fee you'll get ad-free content, similar to what you'd get via a Netflix Streaming subscription. This is not the case; you'll still get limited ads - pretty much the same number that you get watching at hulu.com. There are definitely fewer ads than you'd see on cable TV, but there's no way to skip them like you can if you DVR your favorite shows off of cable.

Caveat #2: This one is big and gets glossed over sometimes. Hulu Plus does not offer the same content as hulu.com. Yes, there's a lot of overlap, but hulu.com has content that Hulu Plus doesn't, and vice versa. So if you've been watching a show on hulu.com and can't wait to watch it on the big screen via your PS3, stop a moment and check the Hulu Plus listings. Don't get me wrong, there's a ton of content available on Hulu Plus - but you'll want to make sure it's the content you're interested in before you sign up. Hopefully now that Hulu Plus will have a wider audience, Hulu will be able to add more current shows to the Plus lineup.

Caveat #3: Performance. Now, I don't have a lab to test this stuff in. I'm currently a FiOS customer but when I first signed up for Hulu Plus I was with Comcast. With both these services Netflix Streaming has been stable and dependable. Every so often it has a bad night but that's unusual enough that it's a big surprise when it happens. Hulu Plus, however, hasn't been nearly as reliable. We'll be half-way through a show, everything is looking great, and then suddenly it'll start to stutter or even freeze up. Sometimes it'll clear itself up after a few seconds, other times I'd have to quit and restart the stream. It isn't the end of the world but it can be a hassle. Now in all fairness this has happened while streaming through the PS3 and that has been a 'Preview' program; next week we'll be getting an updated Hulu Plus app when the service rolls out to everyone. It could very well be that this issue will be cleared up in the update, but I still felt it was worth mentioning.

So after about four months of using it, do I think Hulu Plus is worth it? Have I gotten $40 worth of entertainment out of it? Not really. Keep in mind I have cable TV and Netflix. I generally turn to Netflix Streaming before I turn to Hulu Plus when I'm just searching for something to watch. If you're not a cable subscriber, Hulu Plus might absolutely be worth $10/month for you. I had hoped to use it to catch up on shows I haven't been able to DVR due to scheduling conflicts, but as often as not the show I'm looking for isn't available on Hulu Plus. I've probably turned to Amazon Video-on-Demand more often than Hulu Plus in recent months, even though I'm paying per episode on Amazon VOD.

There've been some rumblings that Hulu might drop the cost of Plus to something like $4.95, and to me that's a far more palatable price. In fact I'd like to see two tiers: a $4.95, ad-supported tier (basically what we have now, only cheaper) and a $12.95 ad-free subscription. I want Hulu Plus to succeed; if they could ramp up the amount of current content available, a dual subscription to Hulu Plus and Netflix Streaming really could allow you to finally 'cut the cord' (as long as you don't mind hitting the sports bars for the big game).

Hopefully this post will have cleared up some misconceptions and will help prevent any of my readers from being surprised after they sign up. I'll revisit Hulu Plus once the new PS3 app rolls out and let you know if it has gotten more reliable.

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