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Ellen Gray: Online viewing options expand

I WOULDN'T NORMALLY talk about reading in a column about television, but many of you know already that I'm a technoholic.

I WOULDN'T NORMALLY talk about reading in a column about television, but many of you know already that I'm a technoholic.

My latest addiction, the Amazon Kindle my husband gave me for my birthday, is described by its maker as a "wireless reading device."

Though one of my sons has had one since Christmas and seems to like it, I've been calling the Kindle the iPod for old people because of its ability to bump up the size of the type of just about anything you're reading on it, from books to newspapers.

Certainly in the few weeks I've had it, it's become as important to me as my iPod.

But though the bookworm in me loves being able to carry as many as 200 books in a device that weighs less than many paperbacks, it's the wireless service Amazon throws in - so far, for free - that feeds my technoholic's ever-growing demand for instant gratification.

Because if I can buy and download a book I just heard about in less than 30 seconds, I'm going to be just that much more impatient the next time I have to go looking for a TV show or video I want to watch and can't take it with me when I go.

Sure, I can still pay $1.99 on Apple's iTunes for episodes of some TV shows and then transfer them to my iPod - because the Wi-Fi iTunes store doesn't work for video - but it remains a clunky, two-step procedure and costs more than it probably should for something I'll likely watch only once.

So I'll admit I was jazzed when I read recently that, which is now offering some video for mobile phones, had done an end run around Apple and formatted a few episodes of "The Office" and "30 Rock" specifically for iPhones and iPod Touches, whose users can no longer get those shows through iTunes.

Yes, I had to watch the same commercial over and over. (I really don't mind the trade-off of short ads for free streaming video, and neither, I suspect, do most users. But it might be time for sponsors to consider mixing them up a bit, because familiarity doesn't just breed contempt, but boredom.)

It didn't help, either, that NBC breaks the episodes into YouTube-sized bites and that one of the episodes I was trying to watch was missing Part 3 of what should've been four parts.

And the first time I tried, during a time of day when Comcast's broadband use tends to be high, I had trouble even connecting.

A day later, though, the streaming quality was good, bordering on excellent, with little beyond the commercials to indicate that I wasn't watching something I'd downloaded.

It's not the future yet, but it's a glimpse.

In the meantime, the present continues to get better and better for those who don't mind watching television on a computer monitor or laptop.

Where once I might have only shrugged and offered sympathy, I can now point friends who've missed episodes and come looking for a screener of that "Grey's Anatomy" episode they missed toward

I'm not crazy, though, about the way ABC's player, which is scheduled to finally get a true full-screen option this fall, clutters up my computer with hundreds of little files.

A similar program, from Move Networks, powers the CW and Fox Web sites, and as a result, I'm not able to use any of them on my office computer without causing problems.

Not that you'd be watching at work, right? Right?

CBS, unwilling to commit to any one means of distribution, has been scattering its programs all over the Web, from iTunes to YouTube.

Though I continue to turn first to Hulu (, as I did last week to catch up with the much-buzzed-about season finale of Fox's "Bones" (and, by the way, how wrong is it that Zack - sweet little Zack - should have turned out to be Gormogon's apprentice and a killer?), I've also recently been checking out Comcast's, which sometimes gets me stuff I can't find on Hulu (and uses the same Flash-based technology, which means it plays well with my office PC and network).

I've visited, though haven't fully explored the similar-looking Veoh (, but I'm holding off on Joost ( because, like ABC, Fox and the CW, it wants me to download a player.

Every day brings e-mails about new video sites or new offerings, such as CBS' announcement last week that and the more than 300 Web sites that it distributes programming to through "the CBS audience network" were adding clips and full episodes of a number of old shows, not all of which originally aired on CBS.

(Goodies include the first three seasons of Fox's "Beverly Hills, 90210," for those who'd like to check out the, er, classic before the CW serves up the new Coke next season.)

So as the summer "reality" season hits us like a breaking wave, you might want to give a thought to your online options. There's still an awful lot of good television out there.

On the other hand, it's never a bad idea to crack open - or switch on - a good book. *

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