Following in the footsteps of online movie vets CinemaNow and Movielink (as well as upstarts Guba.com and Amazon Unbox), AOL Video now offers a selection of A-list Hollywood movies for viewing on a computer and on many portable devices. Yet another content choice for Windows users, AOL Video offers a substantial 14,000+ videos (most in the form of TV shows and free user-uploaded content) in an approachable and mostly user-friendly, Web-based (and ad-supported) interface. While it's a good place to purchase or stream legitimate video content, the overall premium selection is on the weak side. Plus, we experienced some initial problems with playing back both streaming and downloaded content, and you don't get to burn movies to disc. Despite its proven compatibility with many WMV portables, AOL Video has some growing up to do in the quality of its library and its overall reliability.
Unlike iTunes, where you must shop for video within the application, AOL Video is as close as the nearest Web browser. The AOL Video interface is clean and well organized, and though there's a lot of content on the page, with the presence of definitive sections and scrolling logo-based buckets, it's easy to find what you need. The left-side column lists many video subgenres, including Celebrities, Comedies, Kids, and of course, Movies. You'll also get a link to a listing of all AOL's VOD Channels A-Z, where you'll see the logos of every network available on AOL, including Fox, A&E, MTV, the History Channel, and so on. The list is diverse and even includes esoteric brands such as Lime, National Lampoon, and TMZ.com. If this is to become a one-stop shop for video, however, it needs more major network content (not to mention a better sports section).
Fortunately, a wealth of free video content exists, both within the VOD Channels (Drama Rama, and so on) and from AOL users. Clicking User Created Videos actually takes you to the UncutVideo subbrand of AOL Video; unfortunately, that site's interface has a different look and feel and takes away from AOL Video's overall cohesiveness. You can find some interesting content (and submit your own) on UncutVideo, which is searchable by tags and is very much a user-driven community, like YouTube. However, you'll also find an uninspiring and plain interface.
Most TV shows costs $1.99 and can be previewed for 30 seconds. Movies are available starting at $9.99 (and up to $19.99)--not a bad price, though new movies will cost an exorbitant $19.99. More pressingly, AOL's movie section needs some work. First, you can't sort movies by genre and instead, get all of the offerings in one amorphous listing (conveniently, though, you can view all content in detail, grid, or list mode). Secondly, at the time of this review, the site offers only about 68 studio films (most coming from Sony Pictures and Universal Studios), and even the new listings aren't that new. Perhaps movies will be sortable by genre when there's a larger and more comprehensive collection (titles from Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox will be added soon). The site does list movies on the horizon (such as Jackass 2), some of which will be available on the same day as the DVD.