It’s been more than a year since I looked at ZeeVee’s Internet video manager application, and a lot has changed since then. The app formerly known as ZViewer is now called Zinc, and though it’s still in beta, it’s significantly more polished than it was last time I took it for a spin. The latest version, Zinc Beta 5, which ZeeVee launched this morning, also adds some key customization features that significantly up its appeal.
Like the original version of ZViewer, Zinc Beta 5 aims to provide a single portal to various sources of Internet video. The free application offers access to a variety of sites and services that offer TV shows and videos, such as Hulu.com, Amazon’s Video on Demand, ABC.com, CBS, and FOX — to name just a few.
You don’t have to go out and access each site individually to find out what TV shows and movies are available online; Zinc collects all the information for you, and presents it in a consistent, searchable interface. Zinc does not actually play back any of the content; instead it offers easy access to the various players you need, which open from within Zinc. So if you want to watch a show on Hulu, Zinc brings you to the page on Hulu, where you view the site’s ads. If you want to watch a movie on Netflix, Zinc pushes you to the Netflix player, but you’ll need your own account.
The organization features are fine, but they’re not enough to make Zinc essential to your TV watching experience. What could make Zinc a must-have, though, is its new Queue feature. This allows you to create your own list of shows and movies that you’d like to watch, whether those shows are on ABC.com or the Onion News Network. That means if you’re browsing the available episodes of Glee on Hulu and Amazon on Demand, you can just click to add them to your queue. Next time you launch Zinc, you don’t have to go out and find them again; just click on the title in your queue and the video will launch (provided you’ve coughed up the cash for any paid titles, of course).
What’s nice about the latest beta of Zinc is that you can take your queue and your Favorites (a feature launched on an earlier beta that lets you bookmark your favorite shows) with you to another computer, as the whole experience has been moved to the cloud. The “cloud” is one of those buzzwords I’ve come to detest, but I like how it works here. You can download Zinc to another computer, sign into your account, and presto, your queue of shows is waiting for you.
The queue is not without its limitations, though. For one, you can only add single episodes to it; you can’t add a whole season or series at once, so it can be time-consuming if you want to add several titles. It also doesn’t automatically delete titles, or even prompt you to delete them, once you’ve finished watching them. And it doesn’t remember if you’ve started watching a show or not, or allow you to pick up your viewing from where you left off.
Zinc is appealing on a computer, but ZeeVee’s goal is for you to access it from a TV. To that end, the company also is announcing today a Zinc TV Widget for Yahoo Connected TVs. While these connected TVs are becoming more popular, they are by no means ubiquitous. So, how else can you view Zinc on your TV? ZeeVee is no longer pushing its set-top box; the company realized that the devices were too expensive and difficult to install — something I experienced first-hand.
ZeeVee CEO Vic Odryna suggests two ways: either using a VGA cable to connect a computer or laptop to a TV, or buying an inexpensive netbook and creating your own dedicated set-top box. This idea sounds good in theory, but when I tested Zinc on my (admittedly worn-down) laptop, the application was so slow that using it was an exercise in frustration. When I used Zinc on my speedy new Windows 7 desktop PC, it ran at light speed. I’m not sure what kind of experience you’d get running Zinc on a netbook.
So, right now, Zinc remains a bit of an enigma. It’s a good piece of software for your computer that could be great for your TV. But getting it there could prove tricky. If ZeeVee — or another company — could come up with an easy, cheap way to get Zinc on the TV, the app could flourish. Until then, its purpose is limited.