Friday, June 23, 2006

Review: ABC Television Shows Streamed for Free with Ads

Given the recent news that Disney says ABC free web TV a hit with consumers I figured I would give this another try. When they first announced this functionality, I tried it and it crapped out pretty disasterously, so I hadn't given it another thought. But this week I have had decent success using the feature to watch the last season of Alias. I was curious how the show got wrapped up, so this seemed like a good way to find out since I missed it when it aired, didn't Tivo it, and don't have an iPod video to download shows to. This isn't a commentary on the show, just the technology and the overall experience. First, the best thing about this is that its free, this is certainly not an experience that I would pay for. At first, the presentation seems slick, like a good experience, but the more you use it, the less satisfied you become. The video quality is pretty good, but not great, with a decent number of video artifacts. I wouldn't call it HD quality at this resolution, its definitely more heavily compressed than I would like. Skipping around within a show is good, fast, but there are no Chapters to jump through, say if you want to skip the opening recap. The Bad
  • Too many clicks - Getting to the point of actually viewing a show is a lot of clicks if you don't want to view anything but the most recent show. If you are trying to catch up on a season, its annoying.
  • No bookmarking - The next annoyance is no bookmarking. If I am watching a show and have to close the current session, I have to remember where I left off, there is no concept of bookmarking where I might have been in any show.
  • Pausing frequently doesn't work. Pausing for short periods of time seems fine, but for any extended duration, say over lunch, gets very iffy.
  • Server bandwidth problems - Over one multiple hour session, there were many times where the server couldn't be connected to anymore, with frequent restarts of the web app to fix the problem
  • Performance Is OK to terrible - Performance while watching a show is ok, nearly 50% of my ThinkPad T42's 1.70 GHz is consumed, but during some ads, the box gets absolutely crushed
Overall, at least until June 30th when the ABC web site hints something will change, perhaps in the feature not being free but who knows, this is a pretty good way to catch up on some ABC shows you may have missed. The key question is, would I use this instead of buying episodes from iTunes? Only if portability was not a concern, then I would probably pick this over iTunes, especially if it stays free.