I’ve been a customer of both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video for some time now. Both services are fantastic (and cheap), but there’s one area they’re just not that great at–new releases. If you want to watch, say, a TV show that’s currently airing, you’ll have to wait typically close to a year after it goes off the air to watch it on Netflix. (Or you could just pay for a cable or satellite subscription, I suppose, but…why?)

Thus, in the interest of being able to watch the second season of Once Upon a Time sooner rather than later (among other things), my fiancĂ© and I decided to give Hulu Plus a try. Our experience with their service has been rather mixed, and I’m here to tell you why.

First of all, it’s important to understand what Hulu Plus is. If you sign up for Hulu Plus expecting it to be a clone of Netflix or Amazon Prime, you’ll be disappointed. Hulu Plus is intended to complement a subscription to something like Netflix, not replace it. What it is intended to replace is your TV subscription.

What does that mean? For one thing, even with Hulu Plus–a paid service–any shows you watch will still be interrupted by advertisements. It’s nowhere near the amount of advertising you’d have on regular TV, and at times they’ll do nifty things like letting you choose which ad to watch, or letting you choose to watch one longer ad at the beginning and not have any ads throughout. But it can still be a tad frustrating, particularly with shows that don’t have regularly scheduled commercial breaks (like anime). In these cases, Hulu often cuts to an ad at awkward moments, in the middle of a scene.

At first, I was very frustrated to find out that Hulu Plus still has advertising–especially considering that Hulu also offers a free service that has many of the same content. What am I paying for, if not to get rid of the ads? (The answer, by the way: you’re paying to have more content available for longer, and to be able to watch it through your gaming console, streaming box, Blu-Ray player, etc.) It’s also frustrating considering that you pay the same amount for Netflix–$8 a month–and Netflix is completely advertisement-free.

However, eventually I came to peace with the idea of watching ads. As I said, Hulu Plus is intended to complement Netflix and replace your TV service. And if you compare Hulu Plus to any cable or satellite service, it’s actually an amazing deal. It’s far cheaper, has less advertising, and allows you to watch currently or recently airing shows on your own schedule, without having to DVR them first. It depends on which shows you watch, of course, but with subscriptions to both Hulu Plus and Netflix, I think many people would find they had very little reason to continue subscribing to cable or satellite TV service.

It’s also worth noting that Hulu Plus doesn’t stream their shows in the same quality as Netflix or Amazon. Netflix has by far the highest streaming quality, offering up to 1080p and 7.1. sound on certain releases (as well as some 3D support). Amazon Prime Video offers 720p and 5.1 sound–still not bad. Hulu Plus is limited to 720p and stereo, even for shows that were originally broadcast on TV in 5.1. Depending on what your setup is and how much of an audiophile you are, this may or may not even bother you, but it’s worth knowing about. If you have a surround sound setup, Hulu Plus won’t be able to properly make use of it.

In spite of the advertising and the lower quality video streams, Hulu Plus does shine in two particular areas. Firstly, and most obviously–recently airing shows. If you want to watch the most recent episodes of Family Guy, the Colbert Report, Once Upon a Time, or any number of other shows, you just can’t do it on Netflix unless you wait for at least a year. Hulu Plus typically has new episodes within a week of airing, if not sooner.

Secondly, and surprisingly–anime. In spite of the awkward interruptions for advertisements, I’ve actually found that Hulu Plus is a great service for streaming anime. They have a very wide selection of popular shows, and more than that, they almost always offer the subbed versions. Many shows actually offer your choice of dub or sub, and those that don’t almost always default to the sub. Netflix does offer many of the same shows without advertisements, yes–but almost always in the dubbed versions. For purists like me that almost always prefer watching anime subbed, Hulu Plus is great.

One last note, however. We’ve had Hulu Plus for about two months now, and we’ve run into a lot of technical problems. I’ve honestly had more problems with Hulu Plus over the past two months than I’ve had with Netflix in the past two years. Sound drops out during episodes, the show randomly drops out of HD, it kicks me out of the Hulu Plus app, I’ve had problems logging in, I’ve had problems loading shows… Their reliability is simply not that great. (And the problem is not on our end, either–we’ve had problems on the PS3, Xbox 360, and my PC. Meanwhile, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and HBO Go all work perfectly fine.)

On the other hand, we did have to call their customer service once (due to problems logging in), and I have to say I was very impressed with the quality of their customer service. We shared our concerns about the reliability problems we’d been having, and the woman we talked to was very sympathetic. She made note of the episodes we’d had sound issues with, and gave us a month of service for free. Good customer service is rare, so it was nice to find that it’s something Hulu does right.

In summary, our experiences with Hulu Plus so far have been very mixed. It is definitely a much cheaper way of watching recent shows than a cable or satellite subscription, and it’s the only streaming video service I know of to offer a wide selection of popular anime with subtitles. On the other hand, the paid version has advertisements, it streams only in stereo, and their reliability is awful. We still haven’t decided yet whether we’re going to keep our subscription, and I can’t really give you a definitive recommendation one way or the other. Just be aware of what you’re getting into before you subscribe–if you expect Hulu Plus to be another Netflix, you’re bound to be disappointed.

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