Is Hulu dropping down to 360P or less?
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.