Anybody who has clicked on the latest viral e-mail has experienced video on the Web, but it's only recently that Web TV is starting to be considered a valid alternative to mainstream media.
A small, but increasing proportion of Australians have their main TV hooked up to the Net, either via a dedicated Media Centre PC or an Internet enabled Xbox 360, PS3 or Wii game console. CNET.com.au's feature story and video, Watch downloads on your TV, provides a step-by-step guide for those just getting started with Web TV.
But what if you're in the mood for more than crazy clips of some German guy juggling hammers or a couple of teenagers in Shanghai miming to the Backstreet Boys? You want a TV experience on the Web, with a channel structure and content you can identify by format.
These 10 sites show the way that Internet innovators are responding to the challenge of providing TV viewers with a way to navigate through the murky waters of IPTV. Take note though: some of these sites are providing HD content from the US via streaming or download, which is incredibly bandwidth intensive. Be sure you are on a broadband plan that gives you plenty of headroom before you dive in.
1. StumbleUpon Video
We always like it when other people do the thinking for us, and the good people at StumbleUpon have come up with the alluring trick of only presenting content related to your specified areas of interest.
Getting started is just a simple matter of downloading a browser plug-in and selecting your topics from a list of around 500 subject areas. Your browser will be directed to a series of short clips on a range of different online video sites such as YouTube, MySpaceTV and Metacafe. When you get tired of your own interests, you can browse those of your friends, who can be imported from your Webmail contacts, Facebook Friends or Mail Client address books.
There are two faces to Veoh, the online presence that opens in any browser versus the sleek interface presented after you download the Veoh client software (PC or Mac). Veoh users in the US can watch full-length episodes from over 200 network sitcoms and dramas, but Australians are locked out. (Unfortunately, many of the online video sites that are creating the biggest buzz in the US, for example Hulu.com and Fancast, do not make any of their content available to Australian browsers.)
Nonetheless, Veoh still has plenty of stuff from more esoteric sites that is indexed in a very clean, easily navigated list. You can choose to download content and schedule those downloads to take place overnight if you have an off-peak broadband plan. Once you have built up a list of favourite channels you can share them with friends. The Veoh client is in beta, which means it does crash, but not too often.
Unfortunately most of the top channels are restricted to US users, but there is still a wide variety of documentaries, drama and comedies to explore.
The Joost Player scales nicely to large screen resolutions and provides a much better viewing experience than the typical video sharing site. However it is still in beta and relatively unstable.
4. Google Video
If you know what you're looking for, Google Video can hold some televisual treasures.
Since the YouTube purchase it has been the poor relation, but there is plenty of rewarding viewing on offer, from high profile acts in concert to full length public domain movies and television classics.
And hey, it's on Google so it must be legal, right! Video quality is pretty crappy, but that's commonly part and parcel of the Web TV experience.
It may not be as pretty as some of the Web TV newcomers, but FreeTube provides a no-nonsense index of over 500 useful streaming sites. It's an easy job to navigate through the alternatives and add your selections to favourites on your social network of choice. You can also rate content. A program guide for each channel is promised and will be a welcome addition when it arrives.
FreeTube is an Ajax site that presents each channel in its original format, whether Windows Media Player, QuickTime, Real Player or Flash, so you will need to make sure your plug-ins are up to date.
6. Current TV
Founding partner Al Gore describes Current TV as a "multi-way conversation" and user generated content forms a big part of the online offering. The Current TV cable channel is being offered in the US and UK, with that content also streamed online.
A neat online Channel Guide wheels you through the bit-size programs contributed by assorted blogs and independent producers. The political leanings of its founder shine through brightly, and Current TV probably does not share too many viewers with Fox News.
If you are desperate for a fix from RCTG in Montenegro, then here is the place to start looking.
At last count his simple Web TV index offered 2714 individual streaming sites listed by county and topic.
Whether its community access TV in Sacramento or the nightly newscast from Montevideo, WWiTV will give you a direct link to the stream or the Web site where it is hosted.
Miro is an open source media player available for OS X, Windows and Linux.
Programs are downloaded upon being selected in the MiroGuide, or you can schedule regular downloads via RSS. The founders boast over two million downloads of the client alone, and there are already co-branded players being launched for online networks such as Revision3.
There is no digital rights management (DRM) on any of the content, although Miro is exploring the possibility of using the platform to deliver paid video on demand (VOD) content. With the open source heritage, Miro channels have a definite geek flavour, so if you like to see a couple of guys chatting about the latest stories in Digg in HD, this is the service for you.
Instructional videos are providing a lot of the excitement in online video in 2008.
If you want to know how to change a tap washer, how to use chopsticks, or perhaps How To Turn Yourself Into a Werewolf, you should be able to find a relevant clip on Howcast.
Does a day go by any more where we don't visit YouTube at least a couple of times?
Not surprisingly, it has already eaten its parent and overtaken Google.com as the world's second most visited Web site (Yahoo comes first).The typical YouTube video is probably more suited to snacking on in your coffee break at work rather than devouring a rainy Friday night at home. However, initiatives such as youchoose, devoted to the US presidential campaign, provide a more compelling reason to stay online at YouTube for longer sessions.
Have you found other Web TV gems? Share with us the best web sites you've found for watching video and why you think they're great on our CNET.com.au Best Web TV forum.