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Is Hulu dropping down to 360P or less?

By 4 October 2010 10 Comments

Update 10/8/2010 – Episode 3 of Fringe seems to be back up to 480P again.  Hopefully this is an anomaly and not a trend.  But just to be sure, I recorded the over-the-air HD version which was 14 Mbps 720P at 60 frames a second.  That’s a substantial improvement over the 480P version at 0.5 Mbps.

I missed the on-air HD broadcast of last week’s episode of Fringe on Fox so I went to Hulu to catch up.  To my surprise, 360P (640×360 resolution) was the highest quality offered and the 480P option had disappeared.  I figured maybe they require logging in or maybe a different web browser, but neither alternative offered anything better than 360P.

I analyzed the bandwidth using Perfmon in Windows 7 and found that after an initial buffering period where the bandwidth bursts, Hulu dropped to a steady state averaging just under 306 Kbps.  See bandwidth chart below.  Hulu’s 480P mode normally operates just above 500 Kbps.

So how does this affect quality?  It becomes noticeably blurry when I enlarge to full screen whereas 480P mode was at least tolerable.  With 360P, it’s limited to windowed viewing.

Is this a sign of things to come?  I don’t know.  I looked around and Saturday night live was still 480P as was “House” which is also a Fox production.  Perhaps this was just an anomaly or perhaps they are testing consumer reaction to see if anyone would notice and complain.  Well I certainly noticed, and I’m complaining.  Facebook already slashed the quality of their videos by cutting bandwidth and I hope Hulu isn’t following the same trend.  At this pace, many consumers won’t have much incentive to get anything better than 1.5 Mbps for their broadband connection.

10 Comments »

  • Paul William Tenny said:

    FWIW, House is produced by Universal Media Studios (NBC-U), not FOX, and Fringe is produced by Warner Brothers Television. FOX is a network which only licenses and broadcasts those shows.

    I don’t know if that has anything to do with this, but I thought I’d clear that up.

    I think it sucks if this is what’s happening (perhaps 480p will only be for Hulu Plus now?) because I mentioned to my dad how blurry the Eureka episode he was watching seemed to be. When I looked at the stats from our DSL modem (finally!) it was only pulling in like ~35K/sec though it was hard to tell since it wasn’t an average. It looked simply awful compared to a 350MB pirated video.

    On the other hand, with our 1.5mbit connection, a lower bitrate means we could watch more than one stream at once or not have a single person watching Hulu hit the connection hard.

  • Paul William Tenny said:

    Just went and looked to see if maybe it was a regional issue.

    “The Box” (3×02) maxes out at 360p for me as well George, but “Olivia” (3×01) will play in 480p. Perhaps once “The Plateau” (3×03) is available, “The Box” gets upgraded to 480p, and that’s just how they do it.

  • William F. Aicher said:

    I only watch Hulu via Hulu Plus on my PS3 or Samsung Blu-Ray Player, and the quality is pretty amazing at the 3mbps mode. Honestly, I get much better quality of video through Hulu Plus than I do in HD through my Dish Network subscription.

  • George Ou (author) said:

    Paul, thanks for your comments and clarifications.

    Season one Episode 1 was indeed 480P. Episode 2 was 360P only so we’ll see by Friday if Episode 3 is going to be limited to 360P as well. I’m not chancing it and I’m going to record the 10 Mbps MPEG-2 version from the live OTA HD broadcast.

    William, Hulu Plus sounds like Netflix. For $10/month, I would expect at least 3 Mbps.

  • Paul William Tenny said:

    Paul, thanks for your comments and clarifications.

    You’re most welcome sir.

    Hulu Plus sounds like Netflix. For $10/month, I would expect at least 3 Mbps.

    It seems like streaming solutions that adjust the bitrate to fit your connection are becoming more common. For $10/month, they should do that, and get rid of the commercials.

  • George Ou (author) said:

    No commercials and high bandwidth would be nice all for $10/month. However, HBO currently charges a premium of $15/month on top of your pay TV bill. I doubt they’ll drop their price that much (if at all) for online providers.

  • Paul William Tenny said:

    I don’t know that HBO will have any choice. Their model has barely been working all this time with OTA+commercials already being free. And now for content on a small time delay, it’s still free with commercials.

    I wonder if the premium channels might have better luck online if not just because they are already so small. ABC might not be able to replace a reality OTA broadcast which has 20,000,000 viewers with that many online (much less paying), but HBO has never had those kinds of numbers and with their current model, they never will.

    What I’m waiting for is some content innovation; someone like USA maybe (which is more profitable for NBC-U than NBC has been) to use the standard family model via broadcast, and HBO’s model online. No commercials isn’t what brings people to HBO, it’s more expressive and riskier content. USA on cable/sat, USA uncut online.

    That in my mind would be worth more money than fewer (or no) commercials and a better looking picture. There are other ways to get a better picture.

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