Hulu‘s player, IMO, has always been one of the best models of simplicity, functionality, and aesthetic harmony (defined in my book as “not getting in the way of the video”). This remains the case with the new 3.0 player which recently went live.
In it’s default “play” state it’s 100% clean, with the exception of the very unobtrusive copyright notice and “more options” tab.
On the rollover state (i.e. when your curser moves over the video), a standard set of player controls and timeline appear overlaid on the video, and a row of options appears flagged off the upper-right-hand corner. I really like the arrangement of these particular player controls, as they tend to get visually detached from the player on other sites.
In the above screengrab, I had clicked the “Video Settings” icon, which brought up a dialog allowing me to save a default preference for any of the 3 available bitrates, or for dynamic bitrate switching (which they define as “Auto-select the best quality for my bandwidth”). You need to be logged in to save as a default, but since certain Hulu content is behind login anyway (for “mature” themed content, e.g.) this won’t be a barrier for most users as we tend to be logged in anyway.
This new capability to save a default resolution does fix one of the more annoying aspects of the previous player, which defaulted to delivering the 360p stream, and required that you manually click on the 480p button at the beginning of the video, and you could only do this after all pre-rolls were completed. When you watch as much content on Hulu as I do, this is a very, very nice improvement to the UX.
Another welcome improvement is dynamic thumbnails on the timeline, which they’re calling “Seek Preview”:
It is really, really fluid, As you move your curser left and right over the timeline, it updates the timecode as well as the thumbnail. I’m fond of Netflix On Demand‘s timeline scrub feature, as it shows you 5 frames as you scrub through, which can definitely help you locate the scene you’re looking for much quicker, and I think Netflix may still have Hulu beat on this one (although Hulu’s implementation is really darn responsive).
Finally, the all-important Fullscreen state has 2 new features I really like. The first is the clock showing the time-of-day, positioned in the upper-right corner which is exactly where the OS clock appears on my Mac’s desktop. This means I don’t need to leave Fullscreen to check the time. Nice.
Second, in the upper-center you can see the state of the buffer. Unless I’m semi-passively watching a video (e.g. I’ve got a ballgame on as I’m getting some work done) I like to control the bitrate I’m getting, and make the necessary pauses to buffer if necessary to sustain the quality I want.
There are some other great features in the new player, but these are the ones that stand out to me, in the way I use Hulu.