Web TV Dashboard: Useful Controls, Dodgy Navigation

It seems like every month or so another video site rolls out online. There’s YouTube, Joost, Jaman, iTunes, Miro, PluggedIn and Yahoo, not to mention offerings from ABC, Cartoon Network, ESPN Fox, Hulu and Spike, just to name a few.

As the choices for Internet TV viewers multiply, a need has arisen for firms and utilities that bring order to the chaos. One called “ZeeVee,” an Internet TV technology company, launched a limited beta for its Zviewer Monday. Built on Mozilla technology, the open platform is a free downloadable application that provides a one-stop destination for some of the top video content sites on the Web.

Using the Zviewer, Web video enthusiasts can browse videos from a range of sites, including Amazon’s Unbox, Netflix’s Watch Instantly as well as the aforementioned video content sites. The application also keeps track of locally stored video on a PC’s hard drive.

Media Wrangler

A lot of companies have sought to bring order to various parts of the Web. Some of these efforts have been more successful than others. Whenever I hear of a new aggregator I’m always a little skeptical.

Why, I wondered, was Zviewer necessary? It wasn’t such a big deal for me to go trolling from one site to another to watch my favorite network shows, YouTube videos and Netflix movies.

That was, at least, until I tried the Zviewer. Although I’m not totally sold on every aspect of the application, I’ll continue using the software as an alternative to surfing from site to site.

How It Works

Using the Zviewer is fairly simple. The application offers a menu of choices along the left-hand side. The give users access to their “MyZv” playlists of selected shows and movies; locally saved content, new and recently watched content, media applications and the Web browser.

The bulk of the main screen is set against a black background and is loaded with tiles featuring top video content sites.

Want to see what’s most popular on YouTube today, this week or during the last month? A couple clicks will take you there. How about checking out the latest episode of Fox’s “Fringe” or Comedy Central’s “Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report” or “South Park?” It’s all right there with a simple click of the mouse.

Once you’ve selected your show or movie, the Zviewer gives you the option of saving it in your personal “My Zv” playlist or watching it. Video playback happens within the Zviewer for some sites such as YouTube; for others like Fox, Hulu, Amazon Unbox and Netflix, users are taken to the site via the Zviewer browser.

Watching the content, I did notice that the streaming videos seem to run more smoothly, without the buffering issues that sometimes make watching programming online arduous at best.

Staying up to date on new episodes of your favorite shows is fairly easy as well. The application uses RSS (really simple syndication) to keep track of new content and adds it automatically to the MyZv playlist. For sites that are not integrated into the Zviewer, users can bookmark them. However, the content will not be available in the visual tile format, and content will not be updated.

Static Interference

A few things bugged me about the Zviewer. First, navigating through the tiles was not easy at any level. Typical methods of navigation do not seem to be included in the application. Moving through the tiles is accomplished with the mouse — no scroll bar included. This makes navigation ponderous and a little frustrating — mousing over a show also brings up a brief description automatically, which tends to get in the way.

Another sore point was that the application does not provide access to the full catalog of videos from each site. That wouldn’t be an issue if there was some way to search for a particular show or video through the Zviewer. However, no such feature appears to exist — if it’s there, it’s not easily found. To search a site users evidently have to actually go to the site. At that point, one might as well be using Firefox or Internet Explorer.

In the whole scheme of things, however, these complaints are relatively minor. As this is still a beta application, I’m sure the developers over at ZeeVee will be playing around with the application’s features and functionality.

In the end, I’ll continue using the Zviewer. It’s a handy way to view and keep track of some of my favorite shows, and the automatic episode update function really is a keeper. I look forward to a more mature application at the end of the beta.

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