I've had a few people ask me about some of the different sites I use to watch television over the Internet. Here's my take on a few popular sites:
Hulu.com has been my standby. This site collects feeds from various sources into an easy-to-use interface. One thing I found hard to grasp initially about Hulu is that it lists clips from movies and TV shows alongside full episodes. The different types of content are clearly labeled, though, so as long as you read before you click, there's no need for any real confusion.
The site requires no login or password information; simply click and watch. As with similar sites, Hulu interjects commercials into its programs, and if you spend a lot of time on the site, you're likely to see the same commercials over and over again. Sometimes Hulu will give you the option to watch a longer commercial _ often an extended movie trailer _ at the beginning of the program, rather than having shorter commercials interspersed throughout.
I haven't delved too deeply into Hulu's more than 200 movies. The sites features plenty of tame, family-friendly titles, such as "The Karate Kid," "Toys" and "Ghostbusters"; a smattering of horror titles, such as the forgettable 1994 Jack Nicholson film "Wolf," as well as the 1968 classic "Night of the Living Dead"; but few new releases.The most current title seems to be the 2008 political documentary "Split."
In addition to popular American TV programs, the site features numerous Japanese shows, including several anime series. Another feature I appreciate about the site is that it offers updates about the availability of the programs it offers. Many of the programs are limited in one way or another _ only a certain number of episodes will be available at any given time, for example. Hulu posts this information on the home page for each show, and also includes notes about when a program will return after hiatus (such as during the recent holiday season).
Similar to Hulu is Fancast.com, another aggregate site combining television and movies. A property of Comcast, this site also serves as a program guide for Comcast subscribers to content available through their cable connection, including on-demand programming. The site also allows you to check customized TV listings (upon entering your zip code, you will be prompted to select your cable provider) and see when movies are playing in local theaters through Fandango.com.
Fancast has a longer list of TV programs, but this can be misleading. Many of the shows and movies listed are not actually available to watch online, but are available on demand through your Comcast service. Again, no login is required for the site, but Comcast subscribers can log in for additional options. The site does offer a longer list of movie titles than Hulu, but lacks the mouse-over feature that I find so useful on Hulu. Instead, when you click on a title from the alphabetical list, it loads immediately.
I've run into numerous dead links on Fancast, another frustrating experience. The site listed numerous episodes of the TNT series "Burn Notice" as being available, but when I clicked on the link for each episode, a message popped up saying that the video was no longer available.
Another aggregate site, Joost.com, combines free content _ television shows, music videos and more _ with social networking features. Anyone with a Facebook account can log in to Joost to add videos to a queue or favorites list, allowing other users to see what you're up to. However, login is not required to watch any programs.
Given the Facebook connection and the predominance of music videos and video game content (you can watch videos featuring highlights from the popular online role-playing game World of Warcraft), Joost seems aimed at a younger demographic. The site is easy to navigate and user-friendly, and I can see how the interactive features would appeal to Facebook fans.
Virtually every network has its own website, too, but I find these sites cumbersome, burdened with features I have no interest in using. ABC.com takes the viewer on a frustratingly indirect route to each video; when the proprietary player finally launches, it's difficult to adjust it to full-screen size. CBS.com puts you into a "viewing room" with live chat options that threaten to slow down video playback unless you opt out by clicking the isolationist "View by myself" button. NBC.com's interface is more streamlined, enabling viewers to reach their target in fewer clicks, but I've had trouble getting videos to play back smoothly _ maybe because of high traffic on the site.
For now, I'm sticking by my old friend Hulu. Next week, I'll explain why my cable-free experiment has a definite and specific end date.
Daily Star Community Editor Emily Popek is chronicling her cable-free lifestyle in "TV 2.0," a weekly column.