The 4th of July, Let-Us-Entertain-You Edition

Happy Independence Day!

(This weekend, we in the U.S. celebrate “July 4th,” which is the day our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, and we do so by blowing things up (in the form of fireworks, where allowed by local law and weather conditions, but that’s another story). Canadians had Canada Day earlier this week, and on the 14th the French will celebrate Bastille Day, and for many other countries and cultures there are plenty of summer festivals and celebrations to go around, so whatever your holiday, today’s theme in this column is “independence.”)

Independence is good word, it means to be free from outside control or the authority of others. I suppose that social living cannot be truly independent living, we all depend on one another for something, after all, but it doesn’t mean we can’t exercise our ability to choose. It helps if we have viable options to choose from. In the world of iDevice apps, our choices just got a little better.

The 800 pound app for the iPhone and iPad this week is from Hulu, the folks who offers TV shows and movies online, and device ladened couch potatoes everywhere are rejoicing.


Because, for the longest time, Hulu chose to show it’s videos using Adobe’s Flash, and even school kids know that Flash won’t play on iDevices, which meant that boatloads of TV and movie content was beyond the reach of millions of iDevice users.



Now Hulu Plus is available to iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches, and whatever else Apple throws at us with an ‘i’ in front of its name. Better yet, it will hopefully be available on whatever Apple decides to call its next iteration of Apple TV, if there’s a next iteration.

Of course, Hulu’s availability on iDevices is not all sunshine and popcorn, whereas you can still watch most Hulu content on your Mac or PC for free via a browser (and Flash), iDevice users will have to cough up $10 a month for the same privilege.

Yeah, that kinda sucks until you step back a bit and look at the larger picture.

Let’s take my TV situation; I currently pay about $80 a month for a satellite dish TV service. For my $80 I get a bunch of channels that I can’t watch because I’m not willing to pay more, and a bunch of channels that I don’t care to watch because I’m just not interested. Of the ones I do watch I watch maybe a few times a week. That’s pretty much it. Definitely not worth my hard earned dineros.

Now, let’s say that Apple decides to offer up an Apple TV that let’s me get Hulu Plus and Netflix; I’d pay $10 a month for all I can eat on each service for a  grand total of 20 smackers. With a decent user interface and iPhone syncing and interconnectivity, and iTunes a la carte service, I can watch what I want, when I want, where I want. I save money ($60 and month for those of you who are mathematically challenged), and I get what I want instead of what I’m forced to have.

The pieces are starting to line up, and Hulu Plus for iDevices is part of that equation. We just need Apple cough up a new AppleTV or iTV, or whatever it wants to call it.

“But Vern,” I hear you saying, “if Hulu Plus is a subscription service why are you featuring it on Free on iTunes?”

Excellent question. It’s because the Hulu Plus app is free and Hulu Plus does offer free content for those of us not willing to part with another ten bucks just yet. And it’s good free stuff too. TV shows, cartoons, movies, all free and all in reasonably good definition depending on the quality of your connection. (Don’t expect 1080p, but you can get 720p with a good WiFi connection.)

Right now the subscription service is being called a “preview” for which you can request an invitation. This pretty much means that they’ll take your money while they work out the kinks. You’re paying to be a guinea pig. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just be aware that content and services may change before they open the public floodgates.

Hulu Plus. It’s about independence from the entertainment pablum we’ve been fed in the past. It’s about choice. And I welcome it. (Cue patriotic music) Check it out.

If you are just looking for free content to while away some layover minutes or keep the kids entertained then I may have just the app for you; NFB Films for iPad and for iPhone.

NFB? Nasal Fracturing Ballastics? Nearsighted Frisbee Burning? Naked Fan Balancing?

Umm…no. National Film Board of Canada (don’t ask).

It’s cold up there in Canuck-land, and its people have a lot of time on their hands. Some spend that time creatively when not drinking beer (eh!). The result is a lot of really interesting movies that cover all manner of subject matter.

I poke fun at our northern neighbors, but the truth is Canada’s got talent, as you’ll see as you sample any of the hundreds of free movies. What’s cooler still is that you can download movies to watch on your iPad later when you’re no on WiFi. The app gives you 48 hours to watch offline, plenty of time to watch while traveling or relaxing at the beach or as a diversion during your stakeout.

What’s also nice is that NFB films are available on Boxee (free content watching software available for multiple platforms including the current version of AppleTV).

There’s even a kid-friendly channel so that you can let Junior and Missy watch kid flicks without worry.

NFB Films for iPad and for iPhone both have nice interfaces and are easy to use. And they’re FREE!

Speaking of free ( which is why we’re here, right?), how about an app that highlights the original story of the Phantom of the Opera?

Phantom of the Opera, iPad Edition is an amalgamation of movie clips, text, photos and more that gives you an immersive view into the world created by Gaston Leroux, author of The Phantom of the Opera. This is a wonderful app folks, multimedia adds to the original story text, making this an experience, not just another read.

The clips are not the best quality, but you can watch in full screen and in any orientation. The app lets you switch screen color to black background/white letters for night viewing and you can expand the size of the characters easy enough for more comfortable reading.

Phantom of the Opera, iPad Edition is a nice addition to any iPad entertainment collection.

That’s a wrap for this week. More freebies below with direct links.