Only a couple of years ago, missing your favorite television show meant, well,
missing it. Unless a friend had taped it, your only chance for catching the episode
would be to wait for a rerun.

Thanks to broadband Internet connections, it’s possible to download the episodes
that you’ve missed, as well as older shows, and even programs that may not be be
shown in your area. Missed the latest episode of “Lost” or “Desperate Housewives”?
You can download it and watch it on your computer.

There are a variety of tools for downloading TV programs, including “legal” tools like
the iTunes Music Store and Google Video, and “unauthorized” tools like BitTorrent
and Internet Relay Chat. The difference between legal and unauthorized methods is
whether the television network has authorized the distribution of that program. The
legal tools typically charge about $2 to download an episode of a television show;
the unauthorized ones are typically free.

Which method should you use? Either iTunes Music Store or Google Video — today’s
two major legal video download applications. I’m not going to tell you not to use the
unauthorized programs because they’re unethical or illegal, or because the poor
networks should be paid for their work. You should avoid them, if at all possible,
because they’re quite difficult to use.

Downloading a program with BitTorrent is a complicated process that requires
navigating cumbersome (sometimes untrustworthy) video search sites and waiting
hours (sometimes overnight) while the show downloads. Even then, the episode
might turn out to be encoded in a format that your PC doesn’t handle: so you’ve got
to find and install the proper video CODEC. It can be a time-consuming, frustrating
process video downloader online.

The alternative is paying $2 or so at the iTunes Music Store or Google Video. Your
program will be available to watch within seconds, or a few minutes at most, with
none of the tears and drama (unless, of course, the program is a drama.) My time is
precious — I would rather spend my leisure time watching a favorite television
program than waiting for it to download or fussing with video software. I suspect
that you would, too.

Online video is in its infancy. The number of programs available for legal download
is a drop in the bucket compared to the vast number of programs on television. But
the big TV networks are jumping in the bandwagon quickly — many of the most
popular shows, from Battlestar Galactica to The Daily Show, are waiting for you

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