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Hulu improves its player, commits to Flash

Hulu's player just got a lot better, but it also comes with bad news for those hoping the company would offer an HTML5 option.

If you've been holding your breath for Hulu to offer an HTML5 video player, your skin's about to get purpler.

Eugene Wei, Hulu's VP of product, posted a missive on the popular video site's company blog that goes over various improvements while adding a decisive note about sticking with Adobe's Flash technology over using an HTML5 video player. At least for the time being.

"We continue to monitor developments on HTML5, but as of now it doesn't yet meet all of our customers' needs," Wei said. "Our player doesn't just simply stream video, it must also secure the content, handle reporting for our advertisers, render the video using a high performance codec to ensure premium visual quality, communicate back with the server to determine how long to buffer and what bitrate to stream, and dozens of other things that aren't necessarily visible to the end user. Not all video sites have these needs, but for our business these are all important and often contractual requirements."

The news does put a chill on the rumor that the company was working on a version of the site for devices that can run HTML5 video but not Adobe's Flash. A report last August claimed that Hulu was just months away from releasing a TV show watching application for the iPhone. The recent spat between Apple and Adobe over the inclusion of Flash on the iPhone and iPad has done little to give hope of that becoming true without Hulu changing the underlying technology of its player.

Though to that end, Hulu on Thursday rolled out a new version of its Flash-based player that builds upon the old one in several key areas. Besides being 25 percent larger than before and eschewing on-screen controls, it now features adaptive bitrate streaming, which will change the quality of the feed based on the live connection of the user. Microsoft's Silverlight can do this as well, and the result in both technologies is that you end up with a stream that spends less time buffering and restarting a video when a connection is slowed.

Adaptive bitrate streaming is not enabled by default. Instead, users will need to turn it on once, and the site can be set to remember that setting from session to session.

Hulu's new player is 25 percent larger than the old one. Hulu

Other tweaks include the addition of thumbnail previews when a user hovers on a part of the player timeline, a toggle to change the color style of the closed captioning, and a heat map feature that offers a way to see the most popular parts of a video as calculated by the viewing habits of other users.

Hulu is also experimenting with a new advertising platform called "Ad Tailor" that gives advertisers a way to have Hulu watchers fill out quick surveys before starting a video. Just like how Hulu has traded ad-free watching to users who agree to watch a single, long-form advertisement ahead of a video, those who fill out these surveys get the same treatment. The video site has also added a question at the top of advertisements that asks whether users find the video relevant, as if they were giving a yes or no on a site like StumbleUpon or Pandora.

All of these features are live on Hulu's site but not yet on the embedded player.