The Roku Netflix Player debuted last week to largely positive accolades. And why not? The $100 Netflix box delivers on-demand video to your TV for a flat monthly fee that's as low as $9 a month--the same price that would rent you just two to three movies on Apple TV or Vudu. But if the Roku box (and subsequent Netflix-compatible players) has an Achilles heel, it's the dearth of content: only about 10 percent of Netflix's 100,000-plus DVD library is available for streaming, thanks to Hollywood's byzantine licensing systems. The Roku box could stand to have another content source--and I think Hulu would be a perfect candidate.
Hulu, of course, is the joint venture of NBC and Fox that provides free (advertising supported) Flash-based video on its Web site. (Disclosure: CNET TV is also a Hulu content provider.) Yes, there are commercials, but the content is 100 percent free to view, and it encompasses a wide variety of TV shows (and even a few movies). More importantly, in addition to "classic" programming, it features brand-new episodes of most current shows on NBC, Fox, their affiliate networks (including FX, Sci Fi Channel, USA, and Bravo), and additional content partners as well. While some shows are randomly incomplete--some offer full seasons, some don't--it's free, easy to navigate, and delivers good quality video. The biggest problem is that you're stuck watching it on your computer's browser.
Of course, the previously browser-only YouTube has been popping up on more and more non-PC home devices--most notably, Apple TV, HP MediaSmart TVs, and the newest high-end Panasonic plasmas. Yes, perhaps Hulu would need to recode its videos to the H.264 format (which is how YouTube made its videos compatible with a growing number of home and mobile devices), and maybe it needs a good API for potential partners. But if YouTube can do it, it's certainly in the realm of possibility for Hulu.
Yes, I know that you can already get Hulu on your bigscreen by using the TV output on your computer. Or investing in a dedicated home theater PC. There are also "screen mirroring" devices on deck--the SlingCatcher and the ZeeVee, for instance--that will effectively put your desktop viewing on your TV screen. But the point here is for a solution that doesn't require a PC at all.
I'm not suggesting we'd need another, separate Hulu-only box, either. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 should be able to support a Hulu viewer, for instance. Apple TV certainly could. And--apparently--so could the Netflix Player: The Netflix vids use the VC-1 codec, but the box can handle H.264 as well. Of course, because all of these players--Apple, Microsoft, Netflix, and Sony--are already trying to sell you videos, it's unclear why they'd want to provide a free competitor that's just a click away. So even if a Hulu option is technically feasible, business considerations may keep it relegated to the drawing board. But hey, we can dream, can't we?
What do you think: Would you like to see a home video product with Hulu compatibility built-in? Does the service's selections remain too limited for it to be truly valuable? Or do you just record your favorite shows to your DVR?