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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Tuesday (4/17/12) 2:31pm - ... wherein hulu's Roku channel really sucks.

I thought I'd just vent a bit about how awful the hulu Roku app is.

The simplest (and most illustrative) problem with the hulu app that I can cite is with their main video-selection screen.  That screen gives users a cover-flow of videos you can watch; the currently-selected video has a slightly larger thumbnail than the ones to either side.  It also has a large right-pointing triangle -- the classic "Play" icon -- superimposed on it.

So far so good.

What's funny is that, if you press "Play" at this point... nothing happens.  There's a clear "Play" icon onscreen, but no, you're supposed to hit "Enter".  Yeah.  Ideally, I'd want "Play" to, y'know, *play the currently selected video*.  Or at the very least, I wouldn't want "Play" to fail silently -- it should at least guide me towards the proper usage, and give me a notification that, no, I'm supposed to hit "Enter" on this screen.  But instead, it fails silently.

Or, no, it's better than that -- "Play" *doesn't* fail silently.  The app responds to "Play" with the same "beep" noise produced by the buttons that actually *do* something.  And even better, the hulu app is so logy that, for several seconds, you're not sure if the app is genuinely not doing anything, or it's just taking its usual three seconds to show any response whatsoever to a user action.

And mind you, this is for the most common thing you will use the app for.  This is for the number-one use case for a video app:  "play a video".

The number-two use case would be "pause the currently-playing video", and hulu sucks at that, too.  To their credit, it at least has logical behavior:  the "Play" button (which is actually a "Play/Pause" button) will pause and restart the current video.  The problem is, this behavior is by no means consistent.  Sometimes it'll pause the video.  Sometimes it just won't.  Sometimes your "pause" request ends up backed up in some kind of queue, and after several seconds, all your attempts to pause and unpause will happen in a rapid sequence.


I'm guessing the number-three use case is "resume playing the thing I was watching earlier".  Or at least, this is a common use case for me -- I tend to watch TV while doing other things, so as soon as my meal/exercise/laundry-folding is done, I pause what I'm watching so as to resume it later.  This means that pretty much every time I fire up the hulu channel, I'm resuming a video.

The netflix app handles this perfectly -- every time you start it, the app defaults to showing you the last thing you were watching.  If you want to resume that video, you just hit "Play", because the "Play" button actually works right.  And if you want to resume something you were watching a couple of videos ago, there's an easily-accessible "recently watched" queue.

Sometimes the hulu app does this okay:  when you come back to the hulu app, it will say, "Hey, you were just watching this video!  Do you want to resume it?"  (Note:  most times, it fails to do even this.)  And you can hit "Enter" (*exasperated sigh*) to play it.  But even then, hulu works really badly.  For starters, when you "resume", the app starts by playing the *beginning* of the video you were watching.  This continues for about five or ten seconds, and woe is you if you press any buttons (like, I don't know, "Fast-Forward") during this time.  No, what you're supposed to do is DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING for those five or ten seconds, and then the video automatically 'blips' forward to the resumption point.

And then if you watch that video through to the end, it drops you back at the main menu.  And this is fine for, I suppose, a movie, but hulu is used primarily for television shows.  And when I finish a TV episode, what I want to do next is *watch the next episode*.  But now I'm yanked back to square one.  And with no way to access "stuff I just watched", I have no easy way to get back to the show I was watching.  So I seriously have to go through the "search" function, re-find the show, re-find the *episode* I just watched, move forward to the next one, and *then* resume watching the show.

(Side note:  I'm sure there's a way to use hulu's web interface to put the show on hulu's equivalent to netflix's "instant queue".  But really, should I have to enqueue a show via the web just so I can watch it conveniently?)

All the other controls on the hulu app are as sluggish and inconsistent as its "pause" functionality.  You press a button, and maybe the app responds, and maybe it does what you're asking for.  Half the time, it doesn't.  And don't even get me started on how often a show's video and audio get out of sync (the solution seems to be to pause, rewind, and resume, assuming you can get those functionalities to work) or when the captions and audio get out of sync (no solution to that).

The hulu app for Roku is just about as crappy as the current incarnation of the facebook app for the iPhone, or maybe one-tenth as crappy as Lotus Notes.


This makes me respect netflix a lot more, in retrospect.  Generally, the workflow with the netflix app is (1) turn on the TV; (2) press "Play" to resume the last show.  And that's it.  Furthermore, if I finish a TV episode, netflix automatically kicks me to the info-screen for the next episode.  If I want to resume previously-watched shows, there's a queue for that.  "Pause", "Fast-Forward", and "Rewind" functionalities are intuitive, consistent, and responsive.

Plus, netflix doesn't include ads.  And about that:  seriously? I'm already paying a monthly fee for hulu plus and I'm *still* getting ads?  (Could I just pay more and not see them, please?)  The only disadvantages are that (1) the old Roku box I have doesn't allow for captioning on netflix, and (2) there are lots of shows that just aren't on netflix streaming.

But the netflix app just works.  And now I'm starting to think that making a video app that "just works" is a much bigger and tougher accomplishment than I thought.

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[User Picture]
From:Steve Olshewsky
Date:Sunday (6/19/16) 9:01pm

Hulu Watchlist - Epic Fail !

Hulu seems determined to lose customers by eliminating the navigational advantages of its biggest market differentiation when it traded its Queue for a worthless Watchlist that does not work.

Thank you Netflix and Amazon Prime for providing better programming without the commercials that continue to haunt Hulu.
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