Let the battle of media applications begin. For the past month or so, iPad users have had the option of using the “Netflix” app to stream their favorite TV shows and movies with a few taps on the screen. Now, however, it’s no longer the only program-viewer in town. Hulu recently launched its “Hulu Plus” service, enabling users to download numerous TV shows and select movies for the subscriber rate of $9.99 per month.
So which is the better service? Well, let’s weigh the pros and cons across a number of categories and see who comes up a winner.
Both “Netflix ” and “Hulu Plus ” use top-notch video quality, coming across at a streaming 720p with very little loss in detail – depending on your wireless connection, of course. We tried out several older movies on “Netflix,” including the first season of "Arrested Development" and the golf comedy "Caddyshack," along with the more current release "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." All came through with great visual clarity, and only a few seconds of loading time at the beginning.
Likewise, “Hulu Plus” doesn’t take long to get started at all. It only took a matter of seconds before our programs of choice loaded up, in this case the “Family Guy” Peter Griffin vs. Chicken fight (which, is, yes, still epic) and an episode of “Ugly Betty.” However, users do have to put up with mini-commercials for the first few seconds of video playback, with a “The following is brought to you by…” message, attached to a specific Hulu advertising party. It’s slightly annoying, especially when you consider that you paid $10 to use the service. Hopefully, it’s something Hulu will update in the future.
Winner by a nose: “Netflix”
In order to access the “Netflix” service, you need to be a subscriber. Fortunately, memberships start as low as $9 per month for a one-disc-at-a-time rental service, which also includes streaming services. Currently, we’re paying $12 for a second-tier Blu-Ray rental membership, complete with the ability to stream hundreds of movies and TV shows. That’s a small price to pay for what is essentially a pay TV service. And there are over 20,000 programs to choose from.
“Hulu Plus” may not have that expansive a library, but for ten bucks a month, you’ll certainly get your money’s worth. Full seasons of select shows from ABC, Fox and NBC are available, including "The Office," "30 Rock," "American Dad," "Family Guy" and others. Select films are also available, although no new releases like “Netflix” offers (at least, not yet.) Older shows are also offered on “Hulu Plus,” including "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Ally McBeal." Overall, no matter which you use, it won’t kill your wallet like, say, a subscription to cable would.
“Hulu Plus” isn’t off to a bad start, providing shows and select programming from Fox, NBC and ABC. While there is specific programming that isn’t available on “Netflix” (at least, not at the moment) such as "Brothers and Sisters," "The Biggest Loser" and "Eli Stone," there are also a majority of favorites missing from other channels, such as CBS ("The Big Bang Theory" and "CSI" come to mind) and HBO ("True Blood," "Entourage," etc.)
On the flip side, “Netflix” has thousands of shows, movies and specials to choose from. Just the other day, we engaged in a marathon session that included two episodes of "Veronica Mars" before moving on to "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and "Futurama: The Beast With a Billion Backs." And that’s just on a select night when we were tapping buttons. “Netflix” divides programming into categories, such as action, comedies, romance, horror (you can even choose all zombie stuff) and more. “Hulu Plus” doesn’t go that far…not yet, anyways.
So, it’s easy to see that “Netflix,” being around longer and establishing itself better, really takes the cake here.
Ease of Use
Both “Hulu Plus” and “Netflix” provide touch-screen controls that make them fairly easy to use. Again, depending on your connection speed, sometimes particular segments take a little longer. Other than that, you can touch a scroll bar on the screen to find your favorite point in a film or show, such as skipping right to the final battle in "The Karate Kid Part II" (and skipping the mushy stuff) or going to your favorite sing-alongs in "Glee." The interfaces are a cinch to scroll through, and it didn’t take long using either program to track down favorites. In this case, "24" on “Hulu Plus” and "Arrested Development" on “Netflix.”
“Hulu Plus” is off to a good start, with hundreds of shows available and a keen interface that everyone can use, from kids to seniors. However, “Netflix” has been around longer and built its digital empire in that timeframe, so it holds the advantage at the moment as our favorite iPad media service. That could change within the next year, though, so we’ll have to revisit this debate and see where each party stands. For now, “Netflix” all the way!