Hulu's new competitors: The WB vs Internet Movie Database

It's been roughly seven months since Hulu's inception and already the NBC Universal- and News Corp.-backed giant has won over viewers with its clean interface and well-balanced mix of content. But creeping up behind Hulu is a small wave of new aggregators eager to steal some of its followers. Are these new sites worth your time or is Hulu still on top of its game?

Internet Movie Database
One of the most useful sites on the Internet just got a little better. The Internet Movie Database, the go-to site for anything movie related, is now offering free streams of full-length movies and TV shows. With over 6,000 shows and movies available, IMDB is looking to become more than just a site you head to for movie quotes and trivia.

Pros: We've always been fans of IMDB, so the site's new movie-streaming capabilities are just icing on the cake. We especially like the idea of being able to look up movie information, quotes, and celebrity info while watching a movie. Content-wise, IMDB has a nice mix of current and classic TV shows ranging from The Office to classic Star Trek episodes.

Cons: Unfortunately, IMDB's interface is a nightmare. For starters, there's no index to catalog its offerings making it difficult to see what videos the site has to offer. Browsing through content is also tedious as you don't always get season and episode information, giving the site an overall jumbled feel. And unlike other sites, IMDB's videos offer little customization, so you can't adjust brightness or pop out the player in a new window. Even more irritating are the banner ads, which remain embedded in the movie player. The TV shows and movies themselves also look a little more pixelated than its competitors with no HD options.

The WB
Not to be outdone by its competitors, The WB television network has given itself a full makeover. Although it's still in beta (the site just re-launched in late August), the WB offers advanced features not found on any of the network sites or aggregators.

Pros: With its new makeover, the WB has a lot going for it. Video looks sharper than it does on IMDB with few jaggies and less blur. We also like some of the site's special features, in particular its Video Search function and mashups. The WB is the only site that lets you search videos for phrases and words. We tested this by searching its catalog of "Friends" episodes for the phrase "Pottery Barn." In less than 10 seconds, we had three matches, the top match being the episode we were looking for ("The One with the Apothecary Table"). We were especially impressed at how the search results tell you at what point in the episode the term "Pottery Barn" is said aloud. The other feature we like lets users create mashups using am embedded version of Adobe's Premiere Express. The editor is a little slow and there's really no incentive to create mashups, but loyal fans of WB shows may find this feature fun. Finally, the WB facilitates sharing your favorite videos on sites like Facebook (much like Hulu).

Cons: While we commend the WB for some of its unique features, overall, the site is bogged down by many of its shortcomings. The site, for instance, is overly heavy on ads to the point where it's hard to distinguish between an ad and actual content. Furthermore, the ads themselves have no clock indicating their length, which while a small annoyance, is irritating nonetheless. Browsing through content is fairly easy, but every show you fire up starts with an auto-playing trailer for that specific show. In other words, you'll have to watch at least two ads before you get to the page that hosts the episode you want to watch. The WB's load times are also noticeably slower than they are on both Hulu and IMDB. And lastly, unless you're a fan of WB programming, your content choices are highly limited. In the end, despite the site's unique features, the WB's ads and limited content keep it from earning a space in our bookmarks folder.

Despite noble attempts by both the WB and IMDB, Hulu still offers the cleanest and simplest interface for online streaming. The site offers a wide selection of content (including HD), it's easy to browse through, and it gives users just enough personalization to keep IMDB and the WB away from the top spot.

Louis Ramirez is dealnews' Features Editor.

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