Watching TV Online - Part 1 Of 4

I'm going to tell you one of my dirty little secrets straight up: I watch a ton of television. Everything from reality shows to mainstream serial dramas to programming about the pyramids and even tawdry entertainment gossip shows. I seriously watch it all. While my secret may be shocking to you it's definitely no shock to any of my family, friends, and co-workers. They kid me quite often about it and I don't mind because I take solace in knowing that I am the person they go to when it comes to anything involving television programming.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because I all too often have the following conversation with people:

Them: Have you been watching *insert name of show here*?

Me: Yes! Did you see the latest episode?

Them: No, I missed it because of *insert reason here*!

Me: Oh my goodness! It was *insert adjective here*!

Them: Really? What happened?

Me: Well, he/she did this/that and so forth!

Them: I wish I could have seen it.

Me: Hey, did you know you can probably watch it online?

Them: I can? How do I do that?

That's the point in the conversation where I usually explain to them how they should go to that network's website and see if they offer that show up for viewing online. The comment I usually get to that is, "Wow, I never thought about that."

I used to have this horrible inside reaction at that remark but I soon realized that many people aren't aware of exactly how much legal, and usually free, television programming is available to them online. Most television networks, including the big boys like ABC and FOX, offer an impressive collection of programming at the click of a mouse.

I'm writing this four-part series because I want to show you exactly how much is truly out there. I'll be providing links as we go, so prepare to provide the favorites or bookmarks in your browser with a little extra company. I will be giving you the good, the bad, and the ugly of each site as well as some helpful hints. And don't worry about me pushing one particular site over another down your throat because even though the programming is the network's decision, the decision to watch is ultimately yours. As my series of posts progress, I'll also be pointing out some advantages and disadvantages of watching television programming online and even go over some portable options that might be available to you.

Now that you're ready, let's check out the offerings. Why don't we start with ABC since they come first alphabetically?

There's no doubt that ABC has some of the most popular shows going right now. Lost, Grey's Anatomy, Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives? You can watch their complete episodes for free online! The Bachelorette, Jimmy Kimmel Live, or Samantha Who? more your style? ABC has those for your viewing pleasure as well. For a full listing of complete episodes they offer go here. Psst, that was a bookmark alert! But don't forget about ABC's main site link because you can watch tons of extra programming for each show if you just go to that show's section.

Before you can watch any of the complete episodes at ABC's site, you'll first have to install their player on your computer. Don't worry though. It doesn't require you to create an account and login or put extra icons on your desktop or muddy up your start menu (assuming you're using Windows). It's a simple, quick, and painless procedure that you will only have to do once and will have you ready to view your show in a matter of minutes that very first time you launch their viewer from their website. One note: if you're on a dial-up connection, I don't recommend trying any of this on ABC's or any other network's site. Your experience is much more likely to be a favorable one if you have a DSL or cable connection to the Internet.

Now that you have ABC's player installed, you can begin watching your show. Your episode will begin with an ad but you can "click to continue" to your programming after ten seconds. If you're watching what would normally be an hour-long show, the episode will contain approximately three to four short ads spaced throughout. If it's any consolation to you, I consider ABC's ads to be the best of the four major networks. And what's watching approximately two to three minutes worth of advertising over the length of that show compared to the almost twenty minutes you get when watching it live as it airs?

Once your episode is playing, you'll have four options when it comes to the size of the viewing area in the lower right corner of the video: mini, normal, big, and full screen. The quality of the video will depend on your Internet connection and the monitor you're on but don't be afraid to play around with the different sizes offered to find what suits you the best. You also have your standard mute and pause buttons if you're interrupted by a child needing attention or an urgent phone call from the mother-in-law. When you're finished with that episode, proceed to the next or go on to another show. Easy peasy!

I don't recall ever having a problem with the streaming video quality on ABC's site. However, the problem I do have with ABC's player is that it doesn't always play nice with my Internet Explorer (IE) web browser. So to get around that, I usually load it up in Firefox. If you're not familiar with Firefox, all it is is a different kind of browser to use with the Internet. It's free for everybody to use and I actually use it more than I do the standard Internet Explorer browser which comes on Windows computers. I'm not going to bore you with any further details, but I highly recommend using Firefox to watch ABC's shows online if Internet Explorer is not doing the trick for you.

Overall, I find that ABC's player is one of the best out there. Very decent ads and the content of the shows they offer doesn't hurt either. High definition (HD) Lost on my computer is quite nice if I've forgotten to record it on my DVR or simply want to re-watch it later.

Join me back here tomorrow for Part 2 where I'll go over watching the programming offered online by CBS and FOX; as well, I'll discuss why watching any sort of television programming on a computer would even be an attractive option. I'm sure some of you are wondering about that!

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HamsterDame's blogs: Silly Reality and Silly Hamsters: A Big Brother Blog.