Hulu Plus on TiVo Premiere hands-on

Hulu Plus on the TiVo Premiere
As rumored, Hulu Plus is now officially available on the TiVo Premiere, and according to TiVo, this "further extends its lead as the only one-box solution that integrates in one easy-to-use user interface." We supposed this is technically true, but it depends on your definition of "integrates" -- we'll discuss why after the jump. Hulu Plus of course comes at a monthly premium, but the other news is that new TiVo Premiere owners will get the privilege gratis for six months, while existing Premiere owners get what is described as a "free trial" which we assume is the standard one month risk trial -- as opposed to the variety that doesn't require a credit card.

Love it or not, TiVo's interface has helped make it the best consumer DVR for over 10 years -- although much of the interface looks as old as the company itself -- so last September when we heard TiVo was integrating Hulu Plus, we obviously had high expectations. Since then we've seen Hulu Plus implementations on everything from TVs, to game consoles, to portable tablets, and we're sad to say the TiVo implementation is right on par. What we mean is that Hulu Plus on the TiVo is exactly like the others, and nothing like a TiVo. Launching Hulu via the TiVo My Shows menu is almost as jarring as switching inputs on your TV, with the exception of not switching remotes, obviously. The scrub bar changes, the menus are different, even the info view looks different. So while Netflix, Blockbuster, and all the other TiVo add-ins carry on the TiVo experience, Hulu Plus does not. Now we admit this complaint is mostly superficial -- the real failure is the lack of unified search, making TiVo Premiere's universal search feature not so universal. That's right, when you search for The Office on your TiVo Premiere with Hulu Plus, you'll see results from your DVR, the guide, Netflix, and Amazon VOD; but you won't see results from Hulu Plus. TiVo tried to reassure us by saying "we are working on integrating the content into TiVo Search and plan to update with that functionality soon after," but we have a bad feeling this will be right after the rest of the Premiere UI is converted to HD.

Unlike switching inputs though, you don't have to switch remotes, but in some ways it feels like you did. The transport buttons obviously work as expected, but hitting the TiVo or Guide button takes you out of the Hulu app without warning, which can be a real drag considering how long it takes to launch and the fact that the Hulu videos won't resume. Even more odd though is that the zoom button is the browse button.

All of this reinforces our biggest fear of the future of video entertainment; a world where every content provider has their own interface and we are forced to bounce in and out of countless apps to evaluate our viewing options. This is the opposite of our vision where we can watch whatever we want, whenever we want, on any device we want, using the interface that we want. What makes this hurt the most is that TiVo was one of the only companies that seemed to share our vision, even originally touting the Premiere as the device that can bring all your viewing options "together into one unified and simple experience." So while the Hulu Plus experience is every bit as good as it is on TVs and other set-top boxes, it isn't as integrated with the TiVo Premiere experience nearly as much as, say, Hulu Plus is integrated with the Xbox 360 Dashboard.

If you were just hoping to get Hulu Plus on your HDTV without buying a new TV or another set-top, mission accomplished, but if your hopes were for a truly integrated media experience, you'll have to keep searching and waiting.


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