Last week, the Roku player gained support for Hulu Plus. I’ve been trying out the combo for the past few days, and it’s pretty awesome. It further fulfills the promise of streaming TV content from the internet and back to your TV in the way that Google TV hasn’t.
Roku: My First Day Review & Impressions is my look at the Roku box and how it works from last month. That piece also covers Hulu Plus, a version of Hulu that allows access to more episodes that the regular Hulu offers — for a $8 per month fee. The Hulu Plus price just dropped last week from $10 per month.
Coinciding with that price drop, Hulu Plus finally came to the Roku. Previously, it was a promised “channel” but one that you couldn’t actually use.
I’ve used Hulu occasionally from my laptop to catch-up on TV shows. Having it as part of the Roku box makes life even easier. It just works, something Apple likes to say about its products, but this is a non-Apple product that delivers on the promise.
Side note: This is a review about how the Roku works with Hulu Plus in the United States. That’s where I’m based. Sorry I can’t test this for those outside the US, who might have access to one or both of the services.
Roku, Meet Hulu
From the Roku home screen, you select the Hulu Plus channel, as shown in the picture at the top of this article. From there, you get a main menu of options, dominated by various TV show suggestions that Hulu pitches past you:
As you can see, you have options to:
- Browse Movies
- Browse TV
- View “Recently Added” content
- See “Most Popular” content
- View what’s in your queue
I spent most of my time checking out TV shows, rather than exploring the movie option. To start, I played with seeing how the browse feature worked. It’s pretty easy, with the ability to flip through everything, narrow by the starting letter of a show’s title and so on:
There’s a wide variety of old and new TV shows, plus there’s also non-TV content. Chad Vader, for instance, is Darth’s brother who works in a grocery store. I found it through browsing, and it was pretty funny:
The Most Popular browse feature makes it easy to browse what’s hot on Hulu as a whole.
Saving Shows To Your Queue
As you’re browsing, you may come across shows that you want to “bookmark” or remember to watch later. That’s where the “Queue” comes in. This allows you to save a show to revisit later:
Above are some of the shows that I queued up. This doesn’t mean that the episodes are stored to your device, as would happen with a DVR. They’ll still play on demand, streaming from the internet. But it is an easy way to keep track of favorites.
Searching For Shows
Of course, you’ll probably want to search for shows rather than just browse, at some point. I was previously impressed at how well Roku made this work with Netflix. It delivers again with Hulu Plus. Just enter a few letters, and you get show suggestions that may match what you’re looking for, saving you time from having to key in the show’s entire name:
Above, I was looking for “The Event.” When I selected that choice, I was easily able to navigate and find full episodes that were available:
Yes, that’s me reflected in the TV screen. Sorry about that!
What You Get
Oddly, when I did this same search last Saturday, I was only shown the last four episodes from The Event, which was disappointing. Part of the reason I wanted Hulu Plus was to catch up on all episodes of this and some other shows. But yesterday, I got the full current season of The Event. That made me pretty happy.
Similarly, all episodes of the US-version of The Office are available, so I’ve finally been able to catch up on that show. I didn’t need to buy or order DVDs. I didn’t need to hunt down if old episodes were offered on the NBC web site. I didn’t need to watch on the small screen of my laptop or try hooking the laptop up to my TV. I clicked a little bit with my Roku remote control, and there it was the pilot episode of The Office streaming in great quality to my TV.
And Don’t Get
I wasn’t so happy when I tried to catch up on Modern Family. In that case, I really struggled to figure out what was going on. I was offered choices for the series, such as to view full episodes or clips, and I could see that there were two seasons of the show. But only full episodes from seasons two were offered:
Bummer. Somehow, I’d had the impression that Hulu Plus was going to give me access to every episode of TV shows that it carries. But looking more closely at the page about Hulu Plus, it’s really offering access to the “full current season” of many shows. Some shows will have older episodes. Some won’t.
Perhaps the oddest thing was when I tried to catch up on episodes of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Hulu listed the show:
However, the message below the show’s logo was full of disappointment:
Sorry, we do not have the rights to stream this show to your device. It’s available at Hulu.com on your computer and browser.
Crazy. Part of the reason that Hulu Plus exists is to help enable internet-to-TV devices to stream content without the blocking that some networks want to do with these gadgets, because they fear lost revenues. Here, I’ve paid my money, and I’m told basically to turn off my gadget and fire up my computer.
To be fair, even using my computer, I’d only get the three most recent episodes of It’s Always Sunny there, which will increase to five episodes as of December 20. After that, it’s down to hoping that Hulu can strike a licensing agreement, if you want to watch more.
Another annoyance with Hulu Plus are the commercials. You get them, even through the paid service. Unlike “real” TV, there’s no skipping. Indeed, you’d think television networks would be desperate for more viewers to watch TV online, even streaming online through their TVs, because of the inability to skip the commercials.
At this point, I might puke if I see another Verizon FiOS ad on Hulu. I feel like I’m hammered by them. Worse, I can’t even get the FiOS in my area. Hulu and Roku both have my physical address, as well as my IP address. Here’s to using that for better ad targeting.
The ads also kind of suck if you want to “channel surf” on Hulu. Start any show, and you’ll probably get a minute or two of ads. I was sampling a lot of things as I played with Hulu on the Roku for the first time. I wished Hulu was smart enough to realize I’d sort of already paid my dues by watching several ads in a short period of time.
This is especially difficult if you view clips. I started going through some of the clips from Modern Family, all of about two minutes long:
Typically, I had 15-60 seconds of ads to watch before each clip. That’s a big chunk of time compared to the actual content I was viewing.
Holiday Stocking Stuffer?
Hulu Plus — as well as Hulu Plus on the Roku, clearly isn’t perfect. But most of my complaints are relatively minor. There’s plenty of great TV to watch, in high quality and without having to be a tech guru to do so.
In addition, the price of the Roku box is so much lower than competing products like Google TV or the Boxee Box that it really shines for anyone considering an internet-to-TV solution, especially when neither of those products (nor the $100 Apple TV device) offer Hulu Plus yet.
Starting at $60, Roku could even be viewed as an easy stocking stuffer as the holiday shopping season kicks off later this week with Black Friday in retail stories and Cyber Monday online.
For more about connected TV devices, including my past review of Roku, Google TV and Boxee, see our past articles below:
- Life With Google TV: First Day Review & Impressions
- Programming Your DVR Made Easy: Google TV, Dish & The Logitech Revue
- Boxee Box: First Day Review & Impressions
- Apple TV: First Day Review & Impressions
- Roku + Hulu Plus = Pretty Awesome
- Internet-To-TV Players Compared: Roku, Apple TV, Boxee & Google TV
Also see our Internet-To-TV page for further stories that will come.