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Hulu Plus for Apple TV has vastly improved. First and foremost, they seem to have adopted stream thinning, so that if bandwidth decreases, you don’t have to endure long pauses for buffering. I have watched hours of Hulu Plus after the upgrade, and it is virtually flawless. This is a huge improvement. It is a pleasure to use. Hulu Plus for Apple TV used to crash and continually pause. It got to the point where I didn’t want to watch Hulu Plus. Now I am starting to prefer it to Netflix. If you use Hulu Plus a lot, update your Apple TV as soon as possible. I have not had one crash or pause yet. It’s just like watching cable TV, except you are in control.
Even if you have the fastest Internet connection on the planet, content from providers such as Netflix or Hulu may not be delivered as fast as you would hope. As the data is transmitted over the Internet, it has to hop from one server to the next. Any surges in traffic can delay your data. NPR ran a story about this the morning after I was extremely frustrated with Netflix’s performance.
Netflix and Hulu could also be having data center problems. They may even be experiencing too much demand. The solution is to scale the data to the available bandwidth. Video streaming providers cannot make the assumption that people have perfectly steady bandwidth. Of course, the latest Apple TV update has exacerbated the problem with Netflix. Regardless of bandwidth issues, there are bugs in the code that cause buffering and audio synchronization problems.
The alternative is iTunes, which typically requires downloading the program entirely. With iTunes 11, you can “stream”, but you have to download a huge chunk of the program before it will play. Apple is correct that people dislike interruptions when viewing video. Indeed, they’re not too concerned about competing with Netflix or Hulu Plus. Many people will not put up with either streaming service, and will just use iTunes. Netflix and Hulu Plus are almost the gateway to iTunes. These streaming services don’t really compete with iTunes as much as one would think, because they sacrifice quality for price. That said, I mainly watch Netflix and Hulu Plus because they are good enough and less expensive than iTunes.
AirPlay has improved with the latest Apple TV update. It still has problems. I did not have one single crash in 5 hours, playing music from my iPad to Apple TV. Unfortunately, it didn’t show the album art and track info. It simply showed a blank “eighth notes” icon and “Internet Radio” for track information. I tried again, just playing an album directly without a playlist, and it worked. I still feel more comfortable using the Amazon Cloud Player for these short listening sessions. When I really listen to music, I fire up the Mac and use my Amphony wireless audio transmitter, bypassing Apple TV entirely. (continue…)