Hulu on Thursday announced Hulu Labs, a new section of the site that allows users to
beta test play with new products and services as they are almost ready for prime time. Among the new toys of everyone's favorite piracy-busting online video service is Hulu Desktop, a bona fide client for the service running on both Mac OS X and Windows computers. It also single-handedly answers all the questions about the recent Boxee
As you would expect, Hulu Desktop does exactly what it says, delivering Hulu straight to your desktop with no browser required (though you will need Flash installed). Hulu Desktop is wrapped with a media-center-like bow, with a customized "lean-back" UI that can run full screen and even respond to Apple Remotes and Windows Media Center remotes. Hulu users can log in, access personalized features like queues, rate videos, change personal settings, and even search Hulu's help files.
This clearly explains why Hulu has been so persistent in blocking Boxee—an open-source media-center application for Macs, Apple TVs, and other devices—from including its content. Since Hulu provides free, ad-based mainstream content from the largest studios and networks in the business, they are under tight constraints imposed by these major players. We have already seen good examples of where Hulu is heading with integrated advertising inside the browser. A desktop client produced in-house will be much more conducive to monetizing Hulu using these kinds of campaigns.
As Hulu's popularity has skyrocketed over the past year, users have been clamoring for a way to get it out of the browser and into the living room. Hulu Desktop looks like quite a major effort towards answering this call, so we'll have to see how users respond.
Hulu Desktop is a free download and requires a Mac with a 2.4GHz Intel Core Duo or comparable processor, 2GB of RAM, and Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger or later. You'll also need Adobe Flash 9.0.124 and a 2Mbps Internet connection.