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CES: Hulu fans PlayOn

January 8, 2010 |  6:50 am

Logo-playon Trying to protect the revenue they collect from cable operators, the Hollywood studios that own Hulu have stopped the online TV and movie outlet from working with "over-the-top" companies such as Boxee that bring video from the Web to the living room. But as set manufacturers equip more of their models with Ethernet jacks and the software necessary to act as displays on a home network, there's just no holding Hulu back.

Consider MediaMall Technologies' PlayOn, a $40 program that enables people to stream programming from Hulu to their TV sets via their computers. (The software's server also can transmit videos from YouTube, CBS, Netflix and several other online sources.) Today, PlayOn relies on a game console (Wii, XBox 360 or PlayStation 3) or a DLNA-compliant set-top box (e.g., Moxi's digital video recorders) to decode the streams for a TV set. But with set-makers equipping more and more of their models with Ethernet jacks and home-networking software, PlayOn is increasingly able to send shows straight to the TV screen. "Unquestionably, the notion of getting online [programming] into the living room is a very good trend for us," MediaMall Jim Holland said at a CES event Thursday night.

Holland also offered a few statistics that confirm some of the studios' fears about Hulu on the TV screen. About 40% of MediaMall's customers said they used PlayOn daily, with Hulu being the most popular source of programming by far. In addition, 38% said they had either significantly reduced or canceled their cable subscriptions; of that group, almost 80% said they were still watching their favorite programs in spite of the cable-cutting. 

Another way to watch Hulu on a TV is to connect a computer directly to your set. Laptop makers have tried to encourage this trend by equipping their models with digital-TV-friendly HDMI outputs instead of just a VGA plug. At CES, Alereon Inc., which makes chips that send information in the Ultra Wideband spectrum, offered a simpler (albeit pricier) alternative: a stubby USB dongle that can transmit programming wirelessly from a PC or laptop to an antenna attached to a TV's HDMI input.

The signal travels 20 to 25 feet and can pass through walls, although the most likely use is to beam programming from the couch to the TV, said Eric Broockman, Alereon's chief executive. He added that the unit is expected to be available by April for less than $200.

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division. Follow him on Twitter: @jcahealey