Hulu Plus is Great on Xbox Live; With Kinect, Not So Much

By  |  Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 6:43 pm

Hulu Plus comes to Xbox Live on Friday, and Microsoft let me have an early look along with a Kinect loaner unit to check out voice and motion controls.

If you’re not familiar with Hulu Plus, it’s an $8 per month streaming movie service focused mainly on current television shows. The selection isn’t as broad as Hulu’s free website, but it’s the only way to get Hulu on set-top boxes, iPhones and iPads (without workarounds like PlayOn). It also lets you watch archived back seasons of many television shows, instead of just the most recent episodes.

The most striking thing about Hulu Plus on the Xbox 360 is how closely it resembles Netflix’s console app, and for that matter the entire Xbox 360 interface. Microsoft has imposed a nearly identical design, with a list of sections on the top left and tile-shaped movies and TV selections in a sliding horizontal strip down the middle. Even Hulu Plus’ search function works exactly the same way as Netflix, with a row of letters on top and a strip of results that narrows down as you type. Microsoft’s made some big strides in user interface lately, borrowing much of Windows Phone 7’s uniformity and design flourishes, and it shows here.

Kinect support, however, needs a lot of work.

Again, Kinect handles Hulu Plus in exactly the same way as Netflix. You can glide through the library by moving your hand to a little bubble on one side the screen, then swiping through the air. You can start watching a show by hovering your hand steady over a selection for a second or two. Hulu Plus responds to voice commands, such as “Xbox, Pause” and “Xbox, Rewind.” It’s not quite as convenient as a controller, but it’s a lot more fun.

The problem, as with Netflix, is the amount of content available when using Kinect as the controller. Hulu Plus only lets you choose from a couple dozen movies and shows with Kinect. Categories and search options are unavailable, so the whole idea of whizzing through Hulu Plus’ menus with your hands is unrealized.

I’m reminded of the early days of Netflix on the Xbox 360, when you had to use a PC to add movies to the queue. Likewise, the limitations of Hulu Plus and Netflix with Kinect are glaring. Surely Microsoft knows about these limitations and wants to fix them. It’s just a matter of time.

For now, I can only endorse the traditional controller as a viable way to watch Hulu Plus on the Xbox 360. If you need an excuse to pick up a Kinect, this isn’t it.

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