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YouTube has quantity, but Hulu provides mainstream quality

November 17, 2008

by Mark Ollig

Where’s an Internet web site you can watch free and better-quality “mainstream” TV shows and movie videos?

It’s at Hulu.com.

The name “Hulu” comes from a Mandarin Chinese proverb which means “holder of precious things.”

Founded in August of 2007 and owned by NBC Universal and Fox News Corporation, Hulu began online public operations in March of 2008.

Hulu was recently in the news on MSNBC and in The New York Times online edition.

Hulu is an online video service that offers hit TV shows, full length movies and movie trailers – all for free.

Hulu brings together a large selection of videos from more than 100 content providers, including FOX, NBC Universal, MGM, Sony Pictures Television, Warner Bros. and more.

I was surprised to be able to choose from more than 900 current prime time TV hits such as: The Simpson’s, Family Guy, House, Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and many more. The episodes are available for viewing on Hulu the next morning after they air on “regular” TV.

Hulu also has classics like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The A Team, Airwolf and Married . . . with Children, and movies like Men in Black, Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid, and many others.

The user viewing interface is uncomplicated and easy to use. The larger viewing screen and better resolution provides for a high-quality streaming experience.

I have watched videos and some TV shows on Hulu and the viewing quality was amazing.

Hulu does not require a download of any software. Users only need a Flash 9.0 enabled computer and an Internet connection, preferably a high speed connection.

Hulu is totally free to the user and is supported by advertisements which will appear during normal commercial breaks within the show you are watching.

Although YouTube (which is owned by Google) is very popular with its online audience, the web site itself has gotten overgrown with so much video, that its home page is beginning to appear disorganized.

Even when using the YouTube search box, unless you know the exact title (which is created by the user who uploaded the video) of the video you want to see, you will come across hundreds of videos. It takes time to sort through them all to find what you want.

Another drawback was the low quality of some of the videos shown on YouTube.

YouTube is working on this, though, as I noticed some videos are offering a “watch in high quality” viewing option.

Here is the trick I have used in the past. To watch a video on YouTube at a higher resolution rate, add this tag: &fmt=18 to the end of the video’s URL and you will notice an improvement in audio quality and viewing resolution.

The video will sometimes “refresh” for a fraction of second, though, but it still makes for better viewing.

To really see the difference, you should view the video in full screen mode. Just click the button in the bottom-right corner of the YouTube player.

Of course, if the video is already formatted for high quality viewing, or gives you the option to watch it in high quality, you would not need to use this tag.

I read in The New York Times recently how many of the major media studios are hesitant to provide video to YouTube because it does not present itself as a featured video site – as featured videos seem to be too mixed in with so many other homemade and lower quality grade videos.

This is evident by the comments made by Jim Packer, MGM’s co-president, when he told The New York Times: “We will have some long-form videos up on YouTube, but I don’t think that’s the platform to have 30 or 40 movies up at once. I feel much more comfortable doing that on a site like Hulu.”

YouTube does have one advantage, though. It is accessible anywhere in the world, whereas Hulu is only accessible from within the United States.

Here is a test. Next time you are on YouTube search for “SNL Sarah Palin” video’s.

I came up with 3,340 videos, many of which were similar videos, mostly uploaded by users. Some of these were really low quality. Many of the videos were only ‘snippets’ and not full length.

Using the same search term on Hulu, I came up with 138 videos.

The main difference I noticed was these videos were all high quality and mostly the full length video segments which were uploaded by the originating television studios and media sources such as “Saturday Night Live.”

Hulu presented these videos in an “easy to see format.” They were nicely arranged and organized on its web page.

I did watch all of the Hulu videos of the Sarah Palin sketches that were broadcast on “Saturday Night Live.” The quality was excellent – it was video uploaded directly from NBC studios.

If you want to see an online movie or TV show for free, then check out http://www.hulu.com.