ZeeVee Zinc TV viewer hands-on and impressions

ZeeVee just let loose its Zinc internet TV viewer, and we couldn't help but give it an install on our Windows XP-based machine. While it can be said that this is a competitor to Hulu, it actually provides access to Hulu material. In that sense, maybe it's infringing more on boxee's territory. Underneath, it really relies on access to public video RSS feeds, so obviously the options are pretty limitless. If you're interested in seeing just how quickly you should download / avoid this new piece of software, follow us past the break for a few impressions.

When speaking with ZeeVee CEO Vic Odryna, he mentioned to us that he's spent the last half-year or so retooling his entire company, focusing less on consumer hardware and more on the pro install market and the booming software side. We'll admit, the original ZvBox was a real mess to setup, even for those with half a clue about DIY electronics. To that end, we're thrilled to see ZeeVee turning its talent to honing its ZViewer (now known as Zinc) software.

Now sitting at Beta 3.0, the software is completely final and ready to roll, but according to Vic, he sees the "Beta" logo as something that gives it the right to change the application as needed. In other words, you won't find a half-defunct piece of software here -- think Gmail Beta, and you've got the idea. The biggest improvement in this version over the last version of ZViewer is that there is far more content to delve into now. It has added CBS' catalog as well as Netflix Watch Instantly, and the fact that Hulu material is accessible is a real burn to rival boxee. You'll also find a nice unified interface, and there are lots of ways to customize how your favorite material is categorized and cataloged. Here's a few impressions for you to soak in:

  • The installation on a Windows XP machine was dead simple. The intro video upon first launching it was also quite helpful.

  • ZeeVee asserts that Zinc is built to handle commands from pretty much any remote, with Media Center PC remotes working particularly well.

  • There's no doubt that Zinc works great with a keyboard and mouse, but ZeeVee is hoping to add improvements to make things even more remote-friendly.

  • The interface is spectacular. We mean, it's just downright pretty. It's simple to navigate, not confusing at all, and easy to find content to consume. Quite refreshing, actually.

  • The interface was just as lovable on a PC screen as it was in a "10-foot environment" when used on HTPCs connected to televisions.

  • Screen transitions were super quick and super smooth. We quickly forgot that all of this is internet-based (read: we were expecting lag), and we're using a simple cable broadband connection that occasionally infuriates us when it comes to upload rates.

  • The amount of content at your fingertips is pretty remarkable, as is the ability to mark something as a "Favorite" and access your recently viewed shows in "History."

  • There's even a Local Content viewer to pull up media stored on your HDD within Zinc, meaning that you can keep Zinc open rather than having to pop in and out of apps depending on whether your material is kept locally or on the web.

  • Vic admitted that some content providers were better about hosting up UIs that worked well on HDTVs, while others obviously expect you to watch on a PC. Nothing ZeeVee can do about that, but we found its handling of various windows really admirable. Never once was our video window blocked by unexpected pop-ups or bad formatting.

  • The only time we managed to crash Zinc was when we attempted to view Silverlight-delivered content without Silverlight installed. Once we manually installed the software, we returned to Zinc and everything loaded up perfectly.

  • The bundled NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament portal is awesome. Granted, we dig the sports here at Engadget HQ, but how can you beat high-quality, live basketball presented right in your browser? Also, the tournament bracket GUI is a very nice touch. Needless to say, we'd love to see more providers offer up live broadcasts, and clearly, Zinc is really to handle it.

  • Video playback was smooth as butter in our testing, and while that doesn't have much to do with ZeeVee directly, we were thrilled with just how elegant the Zinc software handled the video feeds. It really enhanced our ability to consume online material by making it painfully easy to plug in.

All in all, we can't recommend enough that you download this immediately. For fans of online content, or even for folks who've been dodging it for fear of complication, Zinc is a perfect way to dive in. It simplifies the process of finding material, and best of all, it's completely free to use. As for Mac users, you'll have to wait until April or so to join the fun. For the PC crowd, give it a go and let us know how you like it. Did we overlook any glaring issues? Are you similarly impressed? Sound off!