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The videos I watched had five 30-second commercials each, including one at the outset. You can share and embed video, with direct hooks into Facebook and Google Bookmarks; but regardless of what options show, you may not be able to do more than share a link to a particular video (in some videos, the embed option is grayed out due to rights issues).

Of CBS's current prime-time slate, some shows, including CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and How I Met Your Mother, had four current full-length episodes available for viewing when I visited the site. Others — including Big Brother and the already-canceled CBS series Jericho — had even more episodes; and still others, such as Two and a Half Men, Without a Trace, and Cold Case, had only clips.

The episodes are accessible via a video tab or through the home screen for each show. This approach makes sense for current programming — the video becomes part of the network's online treatment of that show (along with community, blogs, episode recaps, and cast information).

Fox makes it really easy to find full episodes: The network prominently displays this option at the top of its home page, and its site fosters navigation thanks to its clean, attractive, and uncluttered design. Fox on Demand, the full episode player, featured 20 shows — pretty much all but three of Fox's shows (missing are reality fests American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, and Don't Forget the Lyrics).

Among the player's niceties are 'lights out' (to dim the text around the side of the player) and a nifty 'share episode' feature (as with NBC's player, you can share a full episode or a clip from a specific time code). Thumbnails, episode numbers, and episode titles for other available episodes appear at the bottom of the player screen; you can browse through these by scrolling from left to right. You choose either in-browser or full-screen video; both were of acceptable quality.

Fox fosters its own community by allowing registered users to rate and review shows.

NBC has aggressively pursued its NBCOlympics.com strategy (which includes more than 2600 hours of live streaming video and approximately 3500 hours of on-demand video). The busy home page makes video its centrepiece, but it provides too many ways of getting to the same place. Click on 'Shows' or on 'Watch Video' to see at a glance which programs are available as full episodes on NBC Video Rewind and which are available through NBC Direct, the network's beta service for digital downloads.

When I visited the site, the Shows tab accurately identified which series had episodes for viewing, but the Watch Video tab did not: There, 19 of the shows listed had full episodes, but 24 other listings (excluding movies and specials) did not. In some instances, full episodes were available — as in the case of Battlestar Galactica (the original 1970s version) — but I found them only after navigating to the particular show's landing page. Episodes are displayed in a row beneath the player, with thumbnails and episode descriptions that elegantly pop up as you mouse over them. A more accurate listing of shows appears at NBC.com\shows, which lists all of the shows and resources available online, including full episodes (in this view, 27 of the 42 shows listed had full episodes).

The video files play inside the browser, with extra features and download options visible briefly before they tuck away; the dark screen that surrounds the player thereafter makes for a very pleasant viewing experience. The player gives you three viewing options: Normal, Large, and Full Screen (letterboxed for wide-screen content); video quality in the Full Screen mode resembled that of an analog television image, free of the pixelation that I encountered with CBS's playback).

The series that I tried had closed captioning (pop-up text that ran to the right of the player in normal or large mode, or on top of the player in full-screen mode). Heroes had quick-bits interactive pop-up trivia, too. An extremely annoying flashing banner ad ran below the player on one Heroes episode. I endured five commercial breaks on Heroes; but they ran for a shorter time and were less annoying than the other commercials I saw on NBC.com.

An episode of The Office had three 30-second-plus commercial breaks. The ads here are a mixture of interactive media, stills, and video — in other words, they're much more intrusive new media than you get at other sites.

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Melissa J. Perenson

PC World (US online)
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