Saturday, August 15, 2009

Let's Waste Some More Time!

A lot has changed since my last post about wasting time (not this one, that one!) - users decided that downloading and installing a dedicated application to run Internet television is NOT on their to-do list. Web-based video sites have instead opted to follow a format most similar to YouTube. I like the application-based model because it didn't feel like YouTube, which lets you browse videos much as you would browse Ebay.

Admittedly the new online television sites don't look exactly like YouTube, but I dislike browsing video content inside of a browser window. The full-screen Babelgum and Joost clients had their own personalities which were expressed through various eye candy like slick menu effects, and Joost's fade-to-a-dot like an old-school TV was just awesome - it reinforced the fact that it was TV.

Now that I've got my pitiful whining out of the way, lets look at our FREE online television viewing options:

For the sake of completeness I've included the 800 pound gorilla. You know it, you love it. There's nothing that can't be found here - from the inane to the insane. It works in every browser on every platform (OK, that's a bit of a stretch, there's some geek reading this in
Lynx running under Linux on his Atari 2600 who can't). It features low-quality and high-quality modes, fullscreen viewing, and if you have a slow connection you can pause it and let it queue up some more data for a better viewing experience. It's owned by Google. What more can I say? Go watch something stupid.

The not-quite 800 pound Gorilla but having 800 pound gorilla backing (Fox, WB, and Comedy Central to name just a few) has many, perhaps too many, TV episodes online for your viewing pleasure. And it's legal - unlike Youtube, which is regularly asked to pull copyrighted content by the content's owners. The content owners have given their precious shows over to Hulu (when they haven't Hulu gladly links to a content-providers site on which you may watch your show), which places a single 20 or 30 second ad at the points where television viewers would endure a few minutes. Even with less ads, they're making a fortune because the advertisers are willing to pay for ads that they know will be seen - it's pinpoint accuracy advertising, unlike the shotgun of over-the-air TV.

Hulu has classics like AirWolf and V, and fresh content like The Daily Show (a day late). An added bonus: Movies. They're not terribly recent, and the content is changed up regularly, so if you missed The Fifth Element when it was on Hulu a few months ago you're out of luck.

OK, on to the geeky stuff: you will need a fat Internet connection to enjoy Hulu thoroughly - the video is usually very high quality. Many hotel networks don't fit the bill. Neither does dial-up. Users with a slow connection can pause the show and let it queue up - it has a handy queue meter when you pause it - for smoother viewing.

I thoroughly enjoyed their stand-alone client's visual effects. Kudos to Joost for managing to bring some of that visual style to their site. It seems that the corporate television overlords have seen fit to keep their eggs in different baskets (I won't name names, but one rhymes with Schmomedy Schmentral). Ads are placed at the beginning of the show and at appropriate places throughout the show, much like Hulu. There is a lot of classic cartoon content - like GI Joe, He-Man, and Transformers - great stuff, I rushed home after school for these! Newer content from Nickelodeon can also be found here. Also, I'm delighted with the PBS channel, educating and entertaining at the same time!

I'm not thrilled with the layout and navigation of their site - it's clunky, wasting lots of space and hiding the impressive depth and breadth of available content. The video quality is excellent, it queues when you pause it, and you'll enjoy it more with a good fast Internet connection.

The European answer to Hulu and Joost, Bebelgum has an excellent easily customized interface that invites you to search deeper. And deep is what you get here - independent films and Britain's BBC as well as a plethora of documentary films. My favorite documentary? Red Files.

The site is supported by video ads that play at the beginning of the video. Then, during the video, to my irritation, static ad content slides out in a translucent bar, which is closed by clicking the X in the top-right corner. Video quality is excellent. I like this site due to the sheer uniqueness of the content, all of which is professionally generated.

This one is pretty iffy. It's a web site that pairs with an application (spyware risk, anyone?) that streams live TV and radio stations from mostly non-American sources - like the BBC and Al-Jazeera. Remember how I was delighted with the video services that required a player to view the content? Well these guys got it wrong. The clunky player only plays the video or audio half the time due to the fact that users may add content that then becomes unavailable even though LiveStation shows it as available. I think that what they're doing with their client is aggregating the streaming content from a "partner" entity's web site. I'd save the effort and just go to the web site of the entity you want to watch - you'll likely not suffer as much disappointment. Quality is wildly variable. The player app is available for almost every OS and platform, from Windows and Linux to Mac (Intel and PPC!).

Miro is a horse of a different color. First up you have to download and install it. It is RSS for video. You tell it which "channels" you like, and whenever you run the app it checks those feeds for fresh content, which it will then download for your offline viewing pleasure (the bar doesn't have Wifi? Pshaw, I'm still entertained!). That's right, it saves the movie files right to your hard drive, from which you can copy them into your favorite mobile device and watch them on the go, or you can just watch them in Miro. Miro is NOT for those seeking instant gratification as it must download the entire video before it plays it. Miro seems to be the only video app that plays HD content, so if you hook your computer to your TV and play the videos your in for a real treat. My favorite channels include NASAcast and Monty Python.

This one has potential, but in its current form it's too hit and miss, too low quality, and too difficult to navigate to be used by most people. Unless you're an expatriate from Asia, Europe, or the Middle East who's missing the TV from home, you will likely be disappointed by this service. It's similar to LiveStation (see above) in that it attempts to aggregate several sites' streaming content into one searchable, useable place. It won't work unless you download their proprietary plugin (I wonder if its' loaded with spyware?), and the video quality is poor. However, I'm going to periodically check back on this one because I can see the potential - the web site has a visual appeal a la Joost.

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