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Hulu's iPhone hiccups (with video)

Hulu Plus is both the name of a new app for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, and the premium subscription service that Hulu just launched. Find out the flaws we've discovered so far, and our take on how Hulu can course correct.

With such insistent clamoring for a mobile version of Hulu.com ever since the streaming TV site captured the hearts and eyeballs of American viewers, this week's release of Hulu's new Hulu Plus app for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch has received a surprisingly large number of user complaints.

Why? Of the multiple reasons, the most significant is price.

Although the Hulu Plus app is free to download, the premium Hulu Plus service costs $10 a month for access to a full helping of TV series and movies, rather than the current online sampling of five episodes for each show. For many users, the price feels too steep, and the fact that advertisements run with the same frequency for subscribers as they do for online viewers of free shows only serves to rub salt in the wound.

The detractions, however, are countered by profuse praise from Hulu fans who enjoy strong signal on their iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches. Indeed, when the iPhone and iPad are glutted on data and Wi-Fi, Hulu Plus runs extremely well.

However, we also experienced signal interruptions even with reliable 3G and Wi-Fi while testing the Hulu Plus service on both the iPad and iPhone 4. The video quality could get pixelated and choppy, and when the signal flagged, the app suddenly stopped and restarted. Luckily, the videos often picked up again close to where they left off, though we were shown a few more ads in the process than we should have been.

Occasional hiccups are to be expected, though they made us wish Hulu Plus included a way to download content--even for a limited time--for later viewing in areas with rocky, or no, signal, like an airplane.

Thanks to its larger screen size, Hulu Plus for iPad provides a cleaner, more easily navigated interface than the cramped app for iPhone and iPod Touch. The latter tended to bury features we'd rather bring to the surface, and lacks a well-positioned search bar in each screen, though there is one search screen for the entire app. The lack of a search bar and filters is especially noticeable in movies catalog.

While you can sync Hulu Plus content across Hulu.com and the Hulu Plus apps, only the Hulu Plus videos videos will show up in your mobile queue, since the content not covered by the subscription won't play in the Hulu Plus apps.

Though we're glad to see Hulu make a splash on mobile, we hope the company continues to improve its apps as they expand to mobile phones that have less screen real estate than the iPad.

Update, 2:10 p.m. PDT: We updated the story with more information on syncing Hulu Plus content.