The best TV on the Web
- — 05 August, 2008 13:10
Here, too, the browser-based player is central to the presentation, though you can opt for a full-size player or for a tiny pop-out player that you can position anywhere on your desktop. Unfortunately, video (even Hulu video) looked unduly pixelated at full-screen resolution. Many of the episodes come from Comcast's distribution deal with Hulu; others, from Comcast's separate deals with CBS and ABC. Video dimensions and resolutions vary from one provider to another.
One noteworthy convenience is the ability to resume where you left off — no other site I examined offers this feature. On the horizon is a Fancast store, for buying digital content for download.
TV Guide, not content with its status as king of the programming grid, now offers a compelling Online Video Guide. TV Guide's new owner, Macrovision (yes, the same company responsible for copy protection), aims to expand the role of video on the site. For the moment, however, video is just one component of the TV Guide site's offerings.
TV Guide lets you browse videos based on top shows, top celebrities, genres, or networks. Its comprehensive video search integrates everything from the paid world of iTunes, CinemaNow, and Amazon Unbox to the free streaming world of Hulu and CBS. The advanced search lets you narrow searches to only free or only paid videos, and to only full episodes or only clips. Results are shown in two columns, one with links to full episodes, the other with links to clips; if you like, you can sort within the clip or full episode category by free or paid.
Like Hulu, TV Guide's search puts you one click away from full video hosted on other sites. Video offerings from Hulu and other sources pop up within TV Guide's own pop-up player, which launches on top of the browser screen; you must then choose to enlarge the video to full screen or minimize your browser window — a minor annoyance. A larger annoyance is TV Guide's distractingly busy interface, which impedes your efforts to find what you want and to enjoy the video once you've found it.
Veoh Networks differs from the other aggregators in that it focuses on both user-generated and professional video, offering the best of both the community and pro worlds.
The site has worked out distribution deals with Hulu, ABC, CBS, ESPN (for short-form content), NCAA Football, Viacom, and Warner Brothers, making it one of the more comprehensive aggregators around.
The in-browser player is large and changes from 4:3 aspect ratio to wide screen, depending upon the video. The page is better designed than most — not overwhelmingly busy despite being filled with links to content related to a given episode. The source of each video is clearly identified. Most of the syndicated content plays within Hulu's player on Hulu's site, but video from ABC will work only in the ABC player (when you click on ABC content, Hulu launches a separate window and prompts you to install the player separately if you don't already have it). Interestingly, though CBS content plays in-browser here, Star Trek episodes wouldn't properly display full-screen as they do at CBS. Another quirk: The same How I Met Your Mother episodes that seemingly had expired and wouldn't play on AOL played fine on Veoh.
Social features at Veoh include the tools for uploading videos or publishing them to other sites, including Facebook and MySpace.