Hulu Plus (*Est. $8 per month) is the subscription version of the free Hulu.com website, a joint effort of ABC, NBC and Fox Broadcasting. Hulu Plus adds some important benefits to the free version of Hulu, but also introduces some drawbacks.
First and foremost, Hulu Plus is the simplest means of getting Hulu's content to a living room TV screen. It's currently supported on a growing variety of TVs, Blu-ray players, set-top digital media players, gaming consoles and portable devices.
On the content front, Hulu Plus offers seasons and episodes from over 1,000 current and classic series, including all episodes from all seasons of many. That number also includes all the current season episodes of over 230 programs. Most of the content is from U.S. networks, though some foreign and web-only TV shows are also carried. In contrast, the free version of Hulu offers a wider selection of series, but not the full lineup of shows and seasons in many cases. In addition, only the last five episodes of current series are available, not the entire season to date as with Hulu Plus. Still, that means that some shows and episodes available on free Hulu.com are not available -- at least not yet -- via paid Hulu Plus, and that's one of the chief annoyances cited by the video-streaming service's critics. Another is that the embedded commercials -- albeit shorter ones than if watching over the air -- found in the free version remain in the paid version.
The final difference is that Hulu.com offers content in standard definition only, while Hulu Plus streams in 720p HD. That's significant, as reports say that picture quality via Hulu Plus is pretty good, and a notable improvement over the 480p content delivered via Hulu.com. The Hulu Plus interface is described as easy to navigate.
Up until recently, Hulu wasn't a great destination for feature-length films, with most of the content consisting of titles that are so obscure that they are not even available on DVD. However, in February 2011 Hulu signed a deal to bring the entire library of Criterion Collection films to Hulu Plus. Criterion Collection titles, while not mainstream, are highly regarded by movie aficionados. All of the films are available on Hulu Plus, with the free Hulu.com website carrying a small, rotating selection. Criterion Collection films on Hulu Plus are shown without commercial interruption (though commercials will appear before the beginning of the movie), but those on Hulu.com will still see periodic commercial breaks. Hulu Plus has also added films from Miramax, including titles like "Good Will Hunting," "Pulp Fiction" and others.
While critics say that Hulu Plus is the best single destination for viewing streaming TV programs from the current season, they also say it's not the only game in town. You can purchase current season TV episodes for streaming from Amazon Instant Video (*Est. $1 to $6 per rental) and iTunes (*Est. $1 to $5 per rental). If you are most interested in seeing episodes from past seasons, Netflix includes an impressive number of TV shows as part of its subscription-based video streaming service (*Est. $8 per month).
Hulu Plus has received a good amount of editorial commentary. It's included in the round-ups of top video streaming services at Mashable.com and Wired, and in the analysis of the best spots to view current-season TV programming at TNL.net. TechOfTheHub.com runs through content, pricing and features to see where Hulu Plus stacks up against its competitors. Additional coverage can be found at PCMag.com, About.com and The Verge.
Hulu Plus is called a great service for those who watch a lot of television. While Christina Warren does note that there's a lot of content overlap between Hulu Plus and Netflix when it comes to older TV shows, Hulu Plus has a clear advantage when it comes to streaming current TV shows.
Review: 5 of the Best Streaming Media Services Compared, Christina Warren, Feb. 14, 2011
Mike Isaac looks at services that either stream content direct to your home or that rent DVDs and Blu-ray Discs. He likes the scope of the content offered by Hulu Plus -- "I challenge you to find a more comprehensive archive of 'Hell's Kitchen' reruns on the web," he writes -- but hates the fact you need to sit through commercials and that rights agreements complicate what can be shown by the service.
Review: From Apple to Vudu: 8 Netflix Alternatives Compared, Mike Isaac, Sept. 21, 2011
PCMag.com gives Hulu Plus a modest recommendation and a rating of good. While the reviewers say that the subscription-based video streaming service might not offer enough to get Hulu.com users to switch over, "it's a worthy investment for those eager to watch full seasons of their favorite shows on a variety of devices." A link is provided to a separate review of Hulu.com, which rates a half star higher (3.5 versus 4).
Review: Hulu Plus, Jeffrey L. Wilson and Errol Pierre-Louis, June 14, 2011
This comparison of online video streaming services pits Hulu Plus against its top competitors, including Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and Vudu. The included chart documents content, costs and key features. Gabe Gagliano notes that Hulu Plus has added lots of movie titles to its library -- bring the count of those up to over 1,500.
Review: Streaming Services Compared: Amazon, Hulu Plus, iTunes, Netflix and VUDU, Gabe Gagliano, Aug. 29, 2011
Which online service offers which 2011 top 100 TV series is documented here. Though Hulu Plus clearly outpaces Netflix among subscription services, the pay-per-title services such as Amazon Instant Video and iTunes outclass both.
Review: Legal streams for 2011 TV hits, Tristan Louis, Jan. 21, 2012
Sam Costello looks at the Hulu Plus Apple iPhone app, but also address some of the pluses and minuses of the service itself. In the end, he calls the service a good value for some people, but clearly not for everyone. He rates it 3.5 stars out of 5. (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.)
Review: Hulu Plus iPhone App Review, Sam Costello
Ross Miller notes that Hulu Plus on the Microsoft Xbox 360 looks like most other apps on that gaming platform. He notices some minor "nuisances," but the biggest negative is the content confusion between what's on the Hulu.com site and what can be viewed via Hulu Plus. Still having Hulu Plus and an assortment of other Internet streaming video providers puts him "another step closer to throwing away my cable box altogether."
Review: Hulu Plus for Xbox 360 review, Ross Miller, April 29, 2011