Despite what its name implies, Yahoo Platinum has nothing to do with low APRs or frequent-flyer miles. Sign up for this service, and for $9.95 per month, you'll be able to check out previews of Survivor episodes, enjoy a steady stream of reports from ABC News and CBS MarketWatch, and for as long as the competition lasts, cheer on your favorite American Idol. And if sports are more your thing, Yahoo also offers a $16.95-per-month SportsPak, which currently features highlights from the National Hockey League play-offs, in addition to content from NASCAR.com. Currently, Yahoo's video library is nowhere near as extensive as what you'll find if you subscribe to RealOne SuperPass, and the quality of its streams varies. While Platinum has potential, Yahoo has some work to do. If you already have a Yahoo username and password, just sign in and head over to the Yahoo Platinum site to subscribe. If you don't have a Yahoo account, you'll have to sign up for one, but doing so is simple: fill out the Web-based form, and you're good to go. Platinum works with both Windows Media Player and RealOne Player, so if you already have one or the other installed (we prefer the former), you can start streaming immediately. However, some content on Yahoo Platinum is available for only one or the other. For example, NHL clips are available only via Windows Media, while NASCAR is available only through Real. So if you want to see it all, you must have both programs installed on your system. Be sure to upgrade to the latest version of each in order to get the best possible experience.
The Web-based interface for browsing video clips is well organized and easy to navigate: the left-hand menu takes you to videos categorized as News, Entertainment, or Sports. Right now, Yahoo provides content from ABC News, CBS MarketWatch, CBS's Survivor Insider, Fox's American Idol, NASCAR.com, CBS Sports, Discovery Networks, and the Weather Channel. On the roster of Coming Soon, there's CNBC Dow Jones Business Video, National Geographic, and Warren Miller Entertainment. RealOne has deals with 11 providers, some of which also broadcast on Platinum, including NASCAR.com, PGATour.com, the NBA, FoxSports, SI.com, CNN, ABC News, the Weather Channel, CNN Money, the Wall Street Journal, E, and iFilm.
RealOne also offers a slightly more flexible--but initially overwhelming--pricing scheme. If, for example, you just want to watch the PGA Tour, you can sign up for the $9.95 PGA Pass, which also comes bundled with SuperPass for $14.95--less than what you'd pay on Yahoo, which offers sports content only via the $16.95 SportsPak. If, on the other hand, you're a racing fan, $16.95 seems a small price to pay to keep tabs on your favorite NASCAR driver. Log in to Yahoo Platinum, click a video link, and the Platinum Viewer opens up in a separate window. There's no built-in search feature, so you'll have to browse to find clips, which are lined up chronologically by channel. This scenario suffices for now, but if Yahoo ramps up the number of clips, the company will need to set up some sort of guide.
The Platinum Viewer makes for easy watching; we just wish the video quality were better.
Audio quality was generally good and synced up well with the video, although we did experience a few occasions when voices broke up and sounded brassy. But that, too, varies depending on what you're watching. Yahoo's technical support has always been fairly good, even though most of its products and services are free. Click the Help link in the top right-hand corner of the site to access an extremely helpful, easy-to-browse list of FAQs and common technical support Q&A. Having a technical problem with your video? Is your audio all messed up? Try Yahoo's Media Helper, which automatically monitors your system and recommends upgrades or optimal settings to improve your experience. But there's no phone support.