Life in the fast lane A guide to the Internet's best broadband destinations.
(FORTUNE Magazine) – You've ditched your jet-age 56Kbps dial-up connection for one that delivers warp speed. It's called extra bandwidth. With your DSL, cable, T1, or T3 line, you're one of the lucky drivers cruising in the fast lane, where the minimum speed limit is 300Kbps and everything comes at you a lot more quickly. Sure, it's great that your favorite Websites load much faster. But you're looking for destinations that really put your extra bandwidth to the test.
Well, here's the ticket. Although we still live in a narrowband world, more and more sites are catering to broadband users, peppering their content with streaming audio and video, animation, and other rich media. And some sites, with an eye to the future, are geared strictly to users who have high-speed connections.
FORTUNE has crisscrossed the Web and assembled a guide to some of the best broadband content. To be sure, not everything here is for everybody. And not every site will be in business this time next year. But who cares? They're all at the cutting edge now.
So load up the latest free versions of Windows Media Player, Flash, Shockwave, QuickTime, and RealPlayer, stay clear of Net congestion, and enjoy the ride.
Movies, short films, and animation
Hollywood is hot for the Web, and a slew of new entertainment sites that offer films, animated shorts, trailers, interactive games, and Internet-only shows are trying to break out and become the online versions of studios or networks. Though most of the videos don't play well full-screen and their action isn't always that smooth (beware of Net congestion, even with broadband), you can spend hours watching a wide assortment of sometimes clever, sometimes stupid, often silly programming.
atomfilms.com With its personalization feature, this short-film and animation pioneer can automatically recommend programming. Genres include experimental, USC student films, and international comedy. Atom also has a large collection of animator Bill Plympton's work, and users can download content to their Pocket PCs and Palm OS handhelds.
entertaindom.com Warner Brothers' slick broadband-slanted entertainment site, complete with Marvin the Martian, Superman, Ace Ventura, and Xena, Warrior Princess segments.
heavy.com Media-rich site has an assortment of in-your-face programming, such as Behind the Music That Sucks (a parody of the VH1 program) and Shockwave games.
wirebreak.com WireBreak Entertainment bills itself as a content creator, not an entertainment channel. How well it does syndicating its original productions--such as Gimme 5, a show that features interviews with hot bands and musicians, and Baggers, where comedians make fun of passersby--will be the key to its survival. The site also features a couple of animation series and some silly Shockwave games.
ifilm.com Touts itself as the place for Internet film, with movie news from around the Web (stories are ranked with letter grades daily), links to other Internet film sites, and an assortment of short films and animation. Occasionally the site also offers the first few minutes of a film playing in theaters.
movieflix.com Large collection of old movies you can watch online for free. You can stream such film noir classics as The Stranger and D.O.A. right to your computer screen. In the comedy section, there's also His Girl Friday and several Three Stooges films.
on2.com Movie trailers, celebrity interviews, and short films displayed full-screen in a futuristic, TV-like box. Slick presentation; still building its content database.
The faster the connection you have, the faster you'll be able to download digital music and view other interactive content from your favorite bands. With most colleges and universities offering broadband connections to their students, music sites, which are geared to Gen Xers and Yers, are some of the slickest out there.
launch.com More than 5,000 videos on demand, free downloads, and LAUNCHcast, which allows you to create personalized channels that include your favorite musicians.
http://music.vidnet.com Music videos galore. Need we say more?
sonicnet.com Another pioneering music site, Sonicnet has a full collection of videos, downloadable music, and personalization features.
live365.com Choose from thousands of user-created music playlists--Live-365.com calls them radio stations--from around the world. A broadband connection allows you to listen to better sound-quality stations.
You would think there would be more live TV on the Web--particularly news broadcasts--but there isn't all that much. On the other hand, if you're into retro programming, a handful of sites are buying the rights to obscure and cult television shows from the '50s, '60s, and '70s, and streaming them for free. As with online movies, you'll have to watch most of the programming in a small box on your computer screen, but black and white tends to play more smoothly than color, because there are less data to stream.
apple.com/quicktime/qtv Apple's portal to its QuickTime Streaming TV Channels includes live broadcasts of Bloomberg TV and the BBC. Also: video clips of CNN's top stories and live streaming audio of ESPN news.
liketelevision.com Lots of classic TV shows, including Bonanza, more than 30 episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies, and the 1959 sci-fi series One Step Beyond. LikeTelevision also serves up some classic old movies, including a number of early Hitchcock flicks.
adcritic.com Not exactly TV, but this fun site is devoted to ads that run on TV.
nichetv.com NicheTV has acquired a smorgasbord of programming--some new, some old, some very old--and divided it into a wide assortment of "channels." Click on anything from AnimationCityTV.com to SpaceTravelTV.com to FightNightTV.
wwitv.com Live TV from around the world.
abcnews.com Click on the audio-video link at the top of the page for a full list of video clips.
msnbc.com Refreshed frequently with video and audio updates from MSNBC and other NBC affiliates.
Fun and games
Kids are constantly begging their parents to get high-speed connections so that they can play their favorite first-person action-shooters--Quake Arena, Half-Life, and Unreal Tournament--online against friends and total strangers. And the fantasy role-playing games, EverQuest and Ultima Online, have become hugely popular, with players auctioning off their characters on eBay for thousands of dollars. Those games cost money (EverQuest and Ultima Online require a monthly subscription fee of about $10), but there are plenty of games at free sites. Here's a sampling:
zilo.com This startup recently launched a unique 3-D virtual community game, Zilo Universe (ZU), geared to college students with broadband connections. Configure your avatar and enter a 3-D world where you'll meet other avatars, interact with characters, chat, watch streaming videos together, and even dance in the local disco. With its open architecture, players will be able to create and design their own ZU 3-D environments.
shockwave.com Shockwave games aren't nearly as sophisticated as 3-D, PC-based action games, but they have that retro feel and can be fun nevertheless. As one might expect, you can find lots of free Shockwave games to play here.
gamesville.com Cards and dice games, slots, bingo, trivia, and more. No real gambling, but players can win cash.
Content sharing and community applications
There's debate about whether file-sharing sites are infringing on copyright laws, and the court dates are mounting up. But until the justice system pulls the plug on them, these give-and-take sites are a broadband user's best friend. With thousands of digital songs to trade (and now other content) and with millions of users from around the world, you're looking at the biggest swap meets on the planet. You've heard about Napster. But here are a few more sites that have had to hire legal teams.
http://gnutella.wego.com Nutella's a European chocolate spread that tastes yummy. But this Gnutella ("Spread the sweetness" is the company's motto) allows you to share not only digital music files but video files as well. The Recording Association of America doesn't like the taste of that at all.
scour.com Scour Exchange, "a tool to search for, download, and share multimedia files," is similar in concept to Gnutella. It picked up steam when Napster was down briefly because of legal troubles.
http://freenet.sourceforge.net The Freenet Project, a decentralized peer-to-peer network, allows you to share whatever files you want, including software applications. The site looks techie, but that means it's all the more hard-core. Just read Freenet's description of itself: "Freenet is completely decentralized, meaning that there is no person, computer, or organization in control of Freenet or essential to its operation. This means that Freenet cannot be attacked like centralized peer-to-peer systems such as Napster." Chilling?
People learn in different ways. Some can be engaged by a magazine article. But others do better with pictures and sound and a more interactive experience. The Web is made for the latter. With a mix of Flash animation, audio and video, and other rich media, more and more sites offer multimedia content to teach difficult concepts, enhance featured articles, and bring places to life.
nationalgeographic.com National Geographic's site has some great multimedia features geared to broadband users. (iexplore.com is a travel site linked to National Geographic that's also good.)
pbs.org/wgbh/nova The home page at Nova offers links to current and past programming.
adventuretv.com Site geared to travel shows off travel packages with rich-media content.
medbroadcast.com Canadian medical site has excellent multimedia library.
discovery.com The Discovery Channel and its network of sites, which includes the Learning Channel (TLC), Discovery Health, the Travel Channel, and Animal Planet, all contain a good dose of multimedia content.
Where are the live broadcasts of sporting events? Why can't I watch my favorite NFL team play on Sundays if I'm out of town? Well, at the moment, there just isn't that much live sports on the Web. But several sites do a good job serving up video and audio clips to enhance their news and feature stories.
quokka.com A pioneer in broadband sports content, with its "immersion sports" features, Quokka recently acquired TotalSports to augment coverage.
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/multimediacentral/index.html The latest audio and video from cnnsi.com at Multimedia Central.
nba.com Click on the NBA.com TV in the upper-left-hand corner to get video highlights from around the National Basketball Association.
nfl.com/nflfilmstv Created by NFL Films, this is a broadband-only subsite of NFL.com
With much of the attention focused on broadband entertainment sites, there aren't a whole lot of broadband-oriented financial sites. Here are a handful that are leading the way.
bloomberg.com/tv/index.html?topnav=front Bloomberg TV offers various streaming links to its television programming from around the world. Get the live U.S. stream, Asia-Pacific, or one of several European broadcasts.
on24.com Original and syndicated streaming broadcast news for the online investor, including hourly market updates.
http://financevision.yahoo.com Live video coverage of the financial markets from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. ET.
Build your own
A number of sites have cropped up geared to consumers who want to create their own broadband content. Expect to see this type of site proliferate as more broadband users come online.
mytvnetworks.com Create your own site with a selection of broadband programming for free.
videofarm.com Video Farm, which won the Webby for best broadband site, helps people create and edit digital video.
If you're not satisfied with the sites listed here, more can be found at these sites. Bookmark and build your own broadband directory.
broadbandexperience.com Reviews and a directory of broadband sites.
http://speed.snap.com Snap's portal is loaded with video and audio clips.
onbroadband.com Broadband community and links to content.
channelseek.com Search for and access a wide variety of audio and video content from around the Web.
videoseeker.com This NBCi service has links to movie trailers, old movies (xoom.com), and more.
apple.com/quicktime/hotpicks A selection of sites that make impressive use of QuickTime technology.
broadcast.com/broadband Now owned by Yahoo, the granddaddy of streaming audio-video sites offers a broadband directory with links to content in ten different genres, including movies and film, education, and sports. Some categories are thin, but the film section has plenty of content. Look for the links to live television broadcasts in the left column.
perki.net/pages PerKInet, a portal for online TV broadcasts, also has a good directory for broadband content.