By Dustin Sklavos
I was one of the people that thought Hulu was going to be stillborn, but as it turns out the service has withstood the test of time. With major backing from most of the networks and studios, Hulu has grown tremendously since its inception. While still primarily a gateway for watching television shows online — and in turn reminding us why it’s a bad idea to have the cable companies with everything to lose be responsible for our internet access — Hulu has grown into a massive service with a healthy selection of movies as well, all for free and paid by advertising.
Or at least it was. Hulu, like any great successful free service, was naturally due for some measure of monetization. Fears are largely unwarranted: people who have continued to enjoy free Hulu can do so, but the pay service they’re bringing to the table is something else entirely.
INTRODUCING HULU PLUS
For a very reasonable $9.99 a month subscription fee, Hulu Plus allows content streaming to all manner of internet-ready devices. That’s not the reason to subscribe, it’s just a nice footnote as we get on our way to the meat of what a crisp Hamilton a month will get you: high definition streaming and an ungodly massive library of television shows. While the usual count-inflators make an appearance, like “The White Shadow,” major shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Heroes,” “Lost,” “House,” and more will be available in their entirety. If Netflix’s “Watch Instantly” feature opened with a whimper, a modest selection of cheap movies, Hulu Plus’s opening salvo is a bang that should be heard clear across the entertainment landscape. Shows appear on the service in close proximity to the air date.
Starts to make you wonder just how much that $70 a month cable bill is really worth, doesn’t it?
Of course, Hulu Plus is still a lot of promises and something we can’t all just immediately sign up for, so in the interim we need to take a look at what Hulu offers right now. It’s not as exciting, but the selection is still fairly compelling.
First, the weak point: movies. While Hulu has a decent selection of streamable movies, most of this stuff is cult or obscure. In other words, you’re not going to see major blockbusters available for streaming here the way Netflix is starting to. “Return of the Living Dead” may be a classic in my eyes (and many other horror buffs); it’s not a major release that set the world on fire. Likewise, “The Naked Gun 2 1/2” is pretty hilarious, but it’s not cutting-edge. Those looking for more modern fare are going to be stuck dealing with low-budget, direct-to-video fare. If you’re like me that’s not a bad thing, since the ratio of crap-to-quality really isn’t any worse than mainstream movies, but it’s not for everyone.
To watch some of these movies, you’ll need to create a free log-in. For testing the movie quality, I elected to go with “Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV.” This isn’t something I recommend to anyone, but if your sense of humor is freakishly diseased it’s a fun time. Suffice to say, I know this movie well and have a pretty good understanding of about how it’s supposed to look, and it’s a great gauge to determine how adult content is going to be handled. So how did it turn out?
Well, in terms of content, Hulu has left the film uncut. I don’t think they’re going to be lining up any raunchy NC-17 material anytime soon (though you never know — Zalman King’s “Red Shoe Diaries” is one of the complete series being offered through Hulu Plus, sticking out like a sore thumb), but if they’d cut down “Citizen Toxie” they would’ve been left with about three minutes of usable material. If you’re worried about censorship, I didn’t see any here.
Movies aren’t really Hulu’s bread and butter, though: television is. In that respect, Hulu knocks it out of the park and beats the tar out of iTunes. Just about every popular network show is readily available on Hulu. Some have limitations, like “Family Guy,” where they only stream a few of the most recent episodes. On the other hand, some shows have the entire series available, with “Lost” probably being one of the bigger sells.
Beyond full episodes, Hulu keeps a stock of clips and featurettes for many shows, and with a free account you can actually subscribe to individual shows. I can see this running into the same situations a DVR might, where people wind up with a mountain of material queued up to watch but never get around to it. Having a surplus of content isn’t exactly a problem.