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In my opinion, Hulu Plus has so few ads, it really doesn’t bother me. To a certain extent, I do want to see some ads, as I am always interested in new products. The ads are highly targeted, which is a bit creepy at times. I always get ads for DICE, specific to jobs in San Francisco, since they know I am a techie. However, since Netflix has no advertising, it is preferrable to Hulu Plus.
Video Quality: Netflix wins
There are differences in video quality, which is quite apparent on Apple TV. Netflix is more mature and offers better video quality. Netflix streaming has been around longer than Hulu. They went through a lot of growing pains. I remember watching Netflix streaming when it first came out, and they would shut down the service at night for maintenance. Back then it was free, as a bonus for subscribing to their DVD-by-mail service. This is no longer the case. Indeed, Netflix is more robust and offers a better quality experience than Hulu Plus. First and foremost, Netflix can stream 1080p video, while Hulu Plus can only do 720p. Of course, if you are watching on a 2nd generation Apple TV, 720p is as good as it gets. Hulu seems to have jerky motion compared to Netflix. They may do some additional compression before converting to H.264 video. It’s hardly noticeable most of the time.
Netflix doesn’t stop or stutter as often as Hulu Plus. Instead, Netflix will “thin” the stream, meaning it will reduce quality if there are bandwidth issues. In fact, you can even set bandwidth limits on the Netflix website (useful if you have an ISP that caps usage). Hulu Plus, on the other hand, doesn’t thin the stream. It will deliver HD quality video (if available), and if there are bandwidth issues, it will pause playback until the buffer fills. You can adjust video quality on the desktop versions.
Hulu Plus is also a bit quirky, particularly on Apple TV. Sometimes video playback will stop, while the audio continues. It syncs up a few seconds later. It crashes a bit too often. Last night I was watching “Parks and Recreation”, and Hulu Plus crashed 3 times. Netflix doesn’t crash. The Hulu Plus apps are not as mature as Netflix, but they are good enough. If you have to pick one, based on overall playback quality and stability, Netflix is the better option.
Between your ISP, the service’s data center, and overall usage of the Internet, one can experience problems with streaming media. To be fair, cable and satellite are not perfect either. In fact, I have less problems after cutting the cord! (continue…)