Tuesday, April 27, 2010

At last, a better way to watch Hulu on Linux

If you've read my previous posts about setting up a Linux-based HTPC then you know the issues I've run into trying to play videos from Hulu full screen - issues primarily due to the Adobe Flash Player application.

Well, I found out there is a Linux-native version of "Hulu Desktop" available from Hulu Labs (actually two versions for both 32 and 64 bit Ubuntu/Debian). I installed it and lo and behold I can now watch Hulu videos full screen on my Linux box.

Of course there are a couple of caveats:

1. Just like playing through the Flash Player browser plugin, there can't be ANY other OpenGL applications running. So if I want to watch Hulu then I have to exit XBMC.

2. I can only get smooth playback by using the "Low Quality" (480p) setting. That may be more of a bandwidth issue, but I seem to be able to play high quality video from other sites so maybe its got more to do with the codec? I don't know. It's not a huge issue since I don't (yet) own an HDTV and 480 looks quite nice on a 32" standard definition screen.

The "closed captioning" option is quite nice for watching un-dubbed anime - especially since you can control the font! The default font is a little "thin" in my opinion, so it's nice to be able to change the size and typeface.

Ok, I realize this is a program that's still in development so I'm going to forgive some things, but hope they fix them. The "10-foot interface" is more like a 3-foot interface even on a 32" TV screen. Some of that may be the lower resolution (as compared to a computer monitor), but the thumbnails and text are a little small and I didn't see any way to change them in the preferences. Also, it's not very intuitive in how you get back to a previous screen to, say, watch a different video. It seemed, at first, the only way to do that was to "exit" the video you were watching and relaunch the program. A simple "Back" or "Home" button would be nice. Also, the "splash" screen shows whatever TV show they're showcasing and seems to ignore your quality preference settings in favor of "High Quality" - which means if you set it lower due to your system's ability to play the video streams you're greeted by a slide show (it automatically starts playing the video).

But overall I'm happy with it because now it means I can actually WATCH the videos from Hulu on my Linux HTPC.

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