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Fanhattan review: One app to rule your iPad video

Trying to search for your favorite movie or TV show across spotty streaming-video libraries? Fanhattan on the iPad tries to help, with mostly good results.

New to Fanhattan: Vudu, Facebook.
New to Fanhattan: Vudu, Facebook. Screenshot by Scott Stein?CNET

Devices like Apple's iPad are revolutionary for their myriad ways of accessing TV and movies, but discoverability across services is a huge pain. Example: knowing whether any Steven Spielberg movies are on Netflix streaming. Or, is your favorite TV show on Hulu, Netflix, or neither? Is it on iTunes, or maybe even Vudu? Fanhattan is an app that intends to help users tackle this problem by tying together a media-browsing interface and search that doubles as a launcher for those TV shows and movies. The app launched earlier this year, but a recent app update has added more features, including a Facebook connection. Is it the ultimate way to figure out what video to watch on your iPad? Well, it's close.

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The idea's not unlike Clicker, a Web site turned iPhone app that aims to browse and launch video content across platforms (disclosure: Clicker is a CBS company). Clicker doesn't have an iPad app, however, while Fanhattan makes the iPad its primary platform. Clicker also browses Web videos from sources such as The Onion.com as well as movies/music/TV, while Fanhattan only browses TV and feature movies.

Fanhattan ties together the searchable content libraries of the ABC iPad app, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Crackle, iTunes, and Vudu, and searches all of them via its relatively clean interface. At first, you're asked to pick between TV or Movies to browse, which opens up a series of swipable-pane search options, offering either search filtering or browsing of lists including top-rated/award-winning movies, Facebook recommendations, or browsing by Network, Schedule, or Genre. Netflix-like thumbnails of shows and movies line the bottom of the screen accordingly. Tapping on a show opens up more panes full of information: show availability (tapping on Netflix, for instance, launches the episode right from the Netflix app), as well as IMDB-like cast/crew lists, episode synopses, and Metacritic reviews.

Browsing by actor/director can be confusing, but it's possible. Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

Even better, clicking on actors/directors will bring up their film/TV history, all of which can be browsed for availability in the same way. It's odd that Fanhattan doesn't offer direct search by actor/director/writer--they leave it to you, the user, to browse the app and "discover" discoverability--but it's a useful tool that's still missing from Netflix and Hulu Plus' iPad apps.

New to the latest Fanhattan app update is support for Vudu's browser-based streaming library, and Facebook Connect, which syncs lists of recommended movies and TV shows from Facebook friends. This info started syncing to Fanhattan immediately, pulled from liked movies/shows on their Facebook profiles, and it's worth browsing for some social fun.

Browsing by TV episode. Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

All of Fanhattan aims at adding additional ways to discover and recommend movies and TV shows. Right now, it's still a messy experience: separate panes and multiple swipes split up the experience into oddly discrete squares and lists, instead of offering a more integrated interface. Still, the fact that it's free and offers better integrated search than what's otherwise available makes Fanhattan a must-download, or at least a must-try. Like Flipboard, Fanhattan's most valuable service might be as a visual demonstration of how Hulu Plus and Netflix could improve their own apps. It's not perfect, but for now we're glad Fanhattan even exists.