Hulu, the popular online destination for streaming TV shows and movies, just opened up its new Labs project and one of the first projects to come out of the Hulu lab is a desktop application for viewing Hulu's content on Mac and Windows desktops instead of in a browser. In addition, Hulu also released a new video panel designer that allows users to customize Hulu's embed code, a new recommendations engine, and a new way to browse videos by when they aired on live TV.
The crown jewel of these new apps, though, is clearly the Hulu Desktop application, which works exceptionally well and is extremely well designed. A lot of similar applications have relied on Adobe AIR and were often nothing more than just the web app packed into a stand-alone browser. But Hulu actually developed native apps for both Windows and Mac, and the result is noticeably better than what the Hulu team could have achieved by using AIR.
For the most part, users can navigate the app with just the arrow keys and the space or enter button (or a Windows Media Center or Apple remote). Hulu's video quality has always been quite good, and the desktop app basically replicates the same basic experience as watching a video from the site in full-screen mode, but with a number of additional functions such as being able to quickly bring up more information about a video that is currently playing.
Overall, using the Hulu Desktop makes for a very nice experience, even though we sometimes felt that it took too many clicks to find and start a video.
Hulu and Boxee
Of course, it is hard to talk about Hulu and desktop apps without mentioning the company's conflict with Boxee, another popular desktop app that allows users to stream videos from a large number of sites. Hulu blocked Boxee's access to its videos in February, though by now, Boxee has found a work-around to still display the site's content in its application.
Cutting the Cable
Given that more and more households are now cutting their cable connections in favor of connecting their computers directly to their TVs and playing videos from Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and other sources, the release of this application is timely. Though, in the end, we would assume that most users who decide to go without cable would prefer apps like Boxee or MythTV because they would give them access to all their media files instead of having to switch between different apps.