With the very-recently-announced demise of a
large, legally dubious file-sharing website, and with an economy that's
currently in the gutter, what better time to explore the world of online media.
With nothing but your internet connection, it's possible to get all kinds of
free media and entertainment - and without breaking the law or risking lawsuits!
Getting access to music online was perhaps the catalyst for the file-sharing
revolution that brought broadband internet connections to many households.
Back then it was done through the likes of programs like Napster, but over the past few
years things have evolved in some exciting new directions.
Internet Radio has become a very convenient way of getting access to online
music libraries. Instead of downloading MP3 files and storing them locally on
your computer, the content is streamed from an online database directly to your
machine. There are a number of sites that provide internet radio, and the
quality varies greatly in terms of features available.
One of the most popular online music radios is Pandora, an online music
recommendation system. It works by letting you choose an initial song to
listen to, and then responds by recommending artists and songs that are
similar to your initial choice. Pandora is currently limited to users in America only, and has several
limitations as to how songs can be played. Control over songs is limited to
skipping ahead to new tracks, but only so many track skips are allowed per
account per day.
Last.FM is an alternative to Pandora,
with a similar recommendation system, interface and control
scheme. While Last.FM was at first both ad-free and available
internationally, recent economic pressures have now changed the site to
charge listener access fees to those outside of the
US, UK and Germany. Last.FM can be
freely integrated into several music players so as to provide new music
recommendations as you listen to music.
Out of all the free online music websites that I've tried, my personal
favorite is Grooveshark, a new start-up that blurs the line between
traditional internet radio applications and desktop-based music players like
Windows Media Player and iTunes. Grooveshark has a gigantic library of
user-uploaded tunes that can be accessed online as individual tracks or as saved
playlists. Unlike Pandora and Last.FM, it allows songs to be skipped
and repeated, as well as giving signed-up users the ability to create and save
custom playlists. Users can also upload their own music legally to played
through the service, and there's a basic Autoplay recommendation service,
although it doesn't quite measure to the quality of that found on Last.FM
or Pandora. Of course, the downside to all of this is that Grooveshark at
times will struggle to keep up with server demand, and is particularly prone to
skipping and track unavailability on slower connections.
If you haven't used internet radio before or have been turned off by some of
its limitations, Grooveshark is definitely a good place to start.
Free Movies and Free TV
For those couch potatoes that have been looking for new ways of getting
your TV on-demand, Hulu has
become the hot new thing. It's a free, ad-supported website that has access to
both feature-length movies and TV shows, and has become one of the most popular
TV-on-demand websites on the Internet. Unless, of course, you're not from
America - in that case you're
effectively blocked from accessing Hulu's content. While it's possible to work
around these restrictions through clever use of proxies and IP
spoofing, these methods have become decreasingly successful over
the past year.
For Canucks, CTV online and Global online are easy ways to
get access to prime-time TV shows such as Lost, The Daily Show, the Office and
24. There are some limitations on these services, the biggest one being that
only the latest episodes are available online, past seasons typically aren't
For content that falls outside of prime time, streaming-video website Joost has both a large selection of full-length TV
episodes, as well a collection of movies and music concerts
available. Joost used to be available through a custom streaming
application, but that's recently been dropped in favor of a browser-based flash
player. A lot of Joost's content is restricted by country, so again those
outside of the United
States may have trouble accessing their
favorite shows. Joost has a large collection of animation,
and anime fans in particular will want to check out the website for
access to popular sub-titled japanese cartoons.
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Valve's Steam content delivery
service isn't totally free, although there is some free content on it if
you know where to look. There are demos for a variety of new, triple-A PC
games that can be downloaded on demand. Steam also has periodic 'free
weekends' for popular games like Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead, which give you
a chance to try out a game before dropping your hard-earned money on it. Steam
has become a very slick service that's getting a lot of the latest and best PC
titles, and I'm sure there are many PCSTATS readers who have migrated to it as a
replacement from brick-and-mortar videogame stores like EB and GameStop.
Good Old Games
is similar to Steam, but it focuses on getting older, hard-to-find titles and
putting them up online for download. There are a few free games on Good Old
Games as well, including the excellent old-school adventure game Beneath a
Steel Sky. The majority of the games on there do cost money, but
fortunately they're priced very competitively - it's only $5 to $10
USD to get access to classics like Fallout, Duke Nukem 3D, and Unreal
Tournament. The best part though is that there isn't any DRM on these
titles, and they're all re-configured to be Windows XP and Vista compatible.
Of course, for those looking to game but have absolutely no money, there are
still some completely-free alternatives out there, as long as you're willing to
do some digging. Gnome's
Lair has an excellent list of freeware games that are available for
install on your computer, many of which are adaptations or re-releases of
major titles from a few years ago.
Finally, if you're looking for browser-based games that you can play on any
PC that has Adobe Flash installed, there a number of addictive ways to kill your
time. Instead of trawling the web trying to figure out which flash game
are hosted where, the OVguide has a directory that lists the top rated online flash game websites.
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