Android (s GOOG) users can now watch all the free content from Hulu.com on their mobile phone, thanks to the new ORB Live app from Orb Networks. The app, which was previously only available on iOS devices, (s AAPL) offers streaming to both 3G and WiFi-connected devices. In addition to Hulu, it also serves up content from Netflix, (s NFLX) YouTube, ESPN3 (s DIS) and other online services.
The concept of Orb Live is simple, but controversial: The app doesn’t get its content straight from Hulu and other distributors but from a user’s home computer, where software transcodes streams, pretending that a user accesses the site with a regular desktop browser. That’s particularly dicey in the case of Hulu, which makes users pay for its Hulu Plus subscription service if they want to watch videos on anything but a laptop or desktop computer. Orb Live users don’t need to pay anything to access Hulu’s content, save for a one-time $10 fee for the app.
Of course, there’s also a content disparity: Hulu Plus offers access to full seasons of a number of shows, whereas the free Hulu service generally only lets viewers catch up on the last three episodes. And Hulu Plus subscribers can access Fox content the day after it airs, but Hulu makes non-paying users wait an additional seven days. Orb Live takes this into account by offering users a chance to sign in to their Hulu Plus accounts, thereby giving them access to the best of both worlds.
So how well does it work? I’ve had a chance to play a little bit with Orb Live and tried it with both a HTC MyTouch Slide 3G as well as a HTV EVO 4G. The MyTouch had some notable playback issues, with videos looking pretty jerky even when streamed via WiFi. The EVO 4G, on the other hand, showed fairly smooth streams, making for a much more pleasant experience. I asked Orb Networks about the hardware requirements on the handset side, but all the company could tell me was that anything above Android 1.6 should work. Judging from my experience, a faster handset processor doesn’t exactly hurt either.
Orb has been around for some time, offering transcoding and media center solutions for game consoles and other living room devices. The company has stepped up its game in recent months and not only released its own line of Orb video player hardware, but also a $20 Blu-ray disc that brings Hulu, Netflix and ESPN3 content to any Internet-connected Blu-ray player.
Its foray into the mobile space puts more pressure on premium content providers to extend their support for Android handsets. Hulu Plus is currently only available on about a dozen devices, and Netflix only last week opened the floodgates to support all devices with Android 2.2 and higher.
The one thing consumers should keep in mind when using an app like this one is that video can consume quite a bit of bandwidth. And in the age of metered mobile bandwidth, watching all those streams while on the go can quickly get very expensive. (For more on the future of mobile video, make sure to check our Mobilize Conference on 09/26 and 09/27 in San Francisco).
Check out the images below for a first look at the Orb Live UI: