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www.launch.yahoo.com (or www.launch.yahoo.co.uk for UK surfers like myself) is the address you'll be needing for some of the best and most up to date free music videos around.
I already had a Yahoo account before starting to use Launch but it is really not necessary. You can watch videos free of charge without being a registered member. There are other features of the site for which you are required to register and I will point these out as we go through what's available.
The homepage usually shows a featured artist, which when clicked on will take you to that artists profile from where you can access their videos and buy their tracks. There is also always a large link to the latest videos, but I personally find it easier to navigate my way around the site using the black bar at the top which can take you to; LaunchCast Radio, Videos, Artists, News, Chart and Shop. I will go through each of these individually in a moment but I think it it really worth pointing out that the search facility available on the homepage is fantastic. You enter your search term and can choose to search; All, Artists, Videos, Albums or Songs. As an example, I put in the search term "Eminem" and searched All and was led to a page with a brief biog about him and links to his songs and videos.
Should you choose to navigate your own way around as I am sure most do, the first option is LaunchCast Radio. There is an option to customise your own radio station here, which requires a Yahoo login and this is great. Essentially, this feature allows you to choose your preferred type of music and when you launch your custom station, it is that type of music that is played. I recomment this feature highly.
Other options on the Radio section are a Radio Station guide, to tell you what's on each station, and a help section. More recently there has been a feature to listen to the radio through your Yahoo messenger added, though I can't comment on this as I am not a Yahoo Messenger user.
The first option on Videos is the Top 100, which is based on the most watched over the previous week. You simply click on the title and the video launches. The number one often corresponds with what is number one in the charts at that time, which gives you an idea of just how up to date it is. You see the current position of the video in the margin alongside its title and also the position it had last week. You can also rate the videos from one to five stars, which requires a login. It is a average of these user ratings which are featured alongside the video titles to give the users and idea of what everyone else thought.
The next section is New Videos, which (still without needing to login) leads you to a list of the latest videos added to the site. These can range from the latest chart hits to old classics that have only just found their way onto the site, to Senegalese music you might never have heard of. You simply click on the title to launch the Yahoo Launch Music Player, which works with Windows Media Player but is browser based and does not permit any saving of videos, for obvious legal reasons. You are, instead, invited to purchase the song.
The next option is Videos by Genre, in which you browse the entire catalogue of available videos by genre. This does not require a login.
Music Video Help comes next, which I will elaborate more on later. This is follow by "Dig it or Diss it". This feature does not require a login and simply features selected videos from which you must pick your favourites. The theme and artists change weekly.
The next option on the main menu is Artist, which essentially lets you viewfeatured artists or search your own. From each artist page you see their available videos, have the option to purchase their music and find a little out about them as well. This is another feature that does not require login.
News and Charts displays world album and single charts and gives you the latest showbiz gossip. No login is required here either.
It is worth adding here that there is the option to search the videos by artist using the alphabet menu which runs over the top of the video lists. There are thousands available.
The Launch Player automatically screens a thirty second or so advert every 3 or 4 songs, but that i to be expected considering the extent of service they are providing free of charge. Also, when your video of choice has finished playing, it autmatically plays another video of similar genre, until you select another of your own choice.
Let me elaborate on the player itself. There are both search and browse functions within the player and a "full screen" option to have the video take the complete amount of your screen. There is a pause option and a skip to next track option, but no rewind to play the same track again. You can also choose the quality of video you wish to reveive from within the player, which will depend on your internet connection speed. The player automatically detects the optimum one for you from the three options (56k, 100k 300k) but you can change this.
This brings me onto connection. I have a very good broadband connection and can view the videos at 100k, which is good picture quality and excellent sound quality. I know from personal experience (my days on dial up) that the site is far less pleasurable viewing without a fast connection. The videos tend to jump as they load and take a long time. But for those on a high speed connection I really rate this site.
The content on the site is suitable for all age groups. Any obscene language in songs is bleeped out and only radio edit versions of videos are played.
There are hundreds of radio stations to choose from and simply thousands of videos. The only feature I have not yet been struck by is the Shop, from which you can buy ringtones, wallpapers and CDs. I have never purchased a ringtone as I know several wap sites from which I can download them free (only costs the amount your network charge for GPRS/WAP connection). As a sidenote, if anyone wants any of these wasite links, contact me via guestbook! Anyway, back on topic, the ringtones cost £3 for the latest polyphonic or real tones. I do think that for Realtone users this is great value. Less so for polyphonic users. Wallpapers cost £3 as well and, while this is extortion in my opinion, there is a huge variety, ranging from pictures of celebs to funky patterns.
When it comes to purchasing CDs it works slightly different. When you have selected the CD you wish to buy you are led to a menu which features the shops/online stores from where you can buy it in ascending price order, ensuring you always see the cheapest first. This is a feature I quite like but I think the shop layout on the whole with the shop is unnecessarily cluttered and by far the weak link in the site in my opinion. It simply isn't as clearly or a user-friendly in its layout as the other sections of the site, but I personally only tend to use the site for the free music videos, so that is not something that bothers me so much.
The colours used right throughout the site are easy on the eyes and the spacious layout works well for most of it. There are links to all main parts of the site from each other part and good access to help.
The last thing I will focus on is the Help System in place. From each of the Radio, Video, Artis and Shop menus you can select the appropriate help which leads to the relevnt text on a sort of "menu". The text is dense and does take some reading through, but it is concise and clear, so does the job well. You can also contact Yahoo for further help but these details come right at the bottom of the "manual", and not on the site which is no particularly useful.
On the technical front, although I use Mozilla Firefox for everything I do on the Internet, I have to use Explorer here as the Player will not launch on Netscape or Mozilla yet. There have also been occasions when the video and radio sections have been completely out of use, though this is rare (twice in the last two months) and when this happens the system is usually up and running again very quickly (two hours is the most downtime I have experienced personally).
All in all this site is great. A service which allows you to watch thousands of Music Videos on demand without paying a penny or even registering can't be harped at! Get watching! www.launch.yahoo.co.uk