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Unlike at other sites, CBS videos play in-line within AOL's browser. Nevertheless, the experience at AOL can be frustrating. For example, I clicked on How I Met Your Mother, and got 11 clips — with no designation of which were simply clips, and which were full episodes. In the player screen, the same thumbnails appeared at right, this time with their running times, indicating that 9 of the 11 were actual episodes. Unfortunately, some of the options appeared to be duplicates (to judge from the episode names), and none of them actually worked. One of the clips I picked was no longer available, and the AOL page simply referred me to CBS's own site. Episodes of CSI had similar issues, with clips — originating from "CBS on AOL" — no longer available. And the thumbnails were identical, anyway. Talk about a waste of clicks. (In AOL's defense, I later had a similar experience with expired CBS content at other sites; still, AOL's layout makes the extra clicks all the more annoying.)

Babylon 5 was here, but it was part of AOL Television's In2TV not an import from Hulu. Because all of the thumbnails showed the same still image, I couldn't use them to help identify the episode (nor could I rely on the running time — all episodes were listed as being 26 minutes long, unlikely given that the original broadcasts ran for an hour each, with commercials). Many other Warner Brothers — produced shows appear on In2TV (Time Warner is the corporate parent to both), including numerous shows, such as The Adventures of Brisco County Jr, That I didn't find elsewhere on Hulu.

At the highest quality setting (for broadband, greater than 700 kbps), images looked blocky and pixelated. The smallish in-browser player was passable, but the full-screen Babylon 5 experience was not. Remington Steele, whose video originated from Hulu, came closer to matching the Hulu experience than not; but even here, the version seemed to possess a little more detail than the Hulu-by-way-of-AOL version.

Yahoo offers full episodes, too, but the experience remains rudimentary at best. Yahoo's partnership with Hulu is source of available episodes. The player occupies more of the page than do the players on AOL or MSN, and like other Hulu syndication sites it carries the Hulu bug; but the mediocre images made me wonder why anyone would go here for video rather than going directly to Hulu.

At least Yahoo has a wide-screen player; AOL and MSN have only a 4:3 aspect-ratio player, which means that shows filmed in 16:9 high-definition format, like 30 Rock, end up displaying in letterbox format.

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Melissa J. Perenson

PC World (US online)
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