You can also watch TV shows by going to the broadcast network Web sites or to any of the scores of cable-hosted channels.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

Watch free TV shows and movies on the Internet

Aug. 9, 2009

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2009, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2009, The Post-Standard

   Watching TV used to mean sitting in front of a TV. But these days it sometimes means looking at your computer screen.
   It's easy to do. You simply log onto YouTube, Hulu or Joost and choose the shows you want to see, or you go to the Web sites of the main TV networks and choose shows from their offerings. It's all free.
   But what interested me recently in a test of online TV was whether free video streaming services work well enough -- and give you enough choices -- to replace your TV on a regular basis.
   The answer is a definite maybe. Here's what I found.
   Hulu, at www.hulu.com, was the most sophisticated. A program called the Hulu Desktop (available for Macs and Windows) makes everything slick. You can easily search among full-length feature films and TV shows, and you can queue them up for an evening's entertainment. You can also subscribe to shows so you won't miss future episodes.
   Hulu doesn't have as many online videos as YouTube, but its user interface is much better. You have a choice of low, medium or high quality video, with the medium- and high-quality settings both providing good viewing quality when you watch full-screen.
   YouTube, at www.youtube.com, looks old-fashioned once you get used to Hulu, but it does an excellent job streaming video at either of its settings (regular or high-quality video). YouTube is famous for its amateur videos and short TV clips, but it also has a good selection of TV shows and movies.
   YouTube's big plus is its way of linking each video to others. If you have a few hours to spare, YouTube can entertain and enlighten in dozens of ways.
   Joost, at www.joost.com, has a good selection of older TV shows and an amazing selection of so-bad-they're-good B movies, including "Attack of the Giant Leeches" and "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians."
   As I mentioned earlier, you can also watch TV shows by going to the broadcast network Web sites -- www.cbs.com, www.abc.com, www.nbc.com and www.pbs.org -- or to any of the scores of cable-hosted channels.
   Usually, only the top-rated shows are offered as streaming videos. As an example, ABC provides video (in normal and high-definition quality) of its top shows, with current shows available for streaming as soon as the broadcast version has been aired. My wife and I watch Gray's Anatomy that way, and we like the way ABC's playback software supports both Macs and Windows PCs, since we use both in our home.
   What about commercials? When they're inserted into movies and TV shows, they're usually shorter than commercials on TV, and they're sometimes a lot more entertaining. (Web producers don't have to worry about complaints from the FCC.) I didn't mind them at all.