Microsoft launched its own rival to the iPlayer last week, the MSN video player, which features thousands of hours of free programming.

It isn’t a rival to the BBC as far as catch-up TV is concerned, but it does have archive content, something the iPlayer doesn’t offer, as well as more recent content. 

I’ve been trying the MSN Video Player out… 

Content 

There seems to be a lot less content available on the new MSN Video Player than on the iPlayer, ITV Player, or via 4OD. Also, much of the content is already available on other web TV services. For example, Peep Show, Skins, and Shameless which are already available on 4OD.

The content is not comprehensive, and the range is no match for some other VOD services, but is instead intended to appeal to MSN’s target audience of 18-34 year olds. 

Navigation

From the full TV shows section, you can search by keyword or browse by category. Actually, since you can pretty much view all the content in one screen, the navigation isn’t such a huge issue. 

When more content is added though, features such as user reviews, top tens, and recommendations based on viewing history would be useful additions for discovering new videos. 

The organisation of content could be better though. For instance, all the available episodes of Peep Show are shown on this screen, but in a completely random order. Displaying them in chronological order shouldn’t be too hard to do and would make it easier for users to find the episode they are looking for. 

Labelling of video links could be improved too. On the recommended episodes shown below, the actual title of the programmes is easily missed: 

It would also help if it remembered the last few programmes watched, as well as allowing you to resume viewing at the last point, if you were unable to finish watching a particular programme. 

Usability 

Viewers will need to install Silverlight if they want to access any of the content in HD – but the service will still function for those users who have Flash. The site also recommends that I upgrade to a newer browser (I’m using Safari) for a better experience, but it works well enough anyway.

The MSN Player is ad-supported, and there are pre-roll ads before each video of around 30 seconds, which isn’t too intrusive. Also, unlike ITV Player, if you go away and come back to a programme after a while, you aren’t forced to watch the ad again. 

Video quality is good too, though not as sharp when extended to full screen. You can view the video in the default size or full screen, but a third in-between option as provided by iPlayer would be handy. 

Conclusion

The MSN Video Player isn’t bad at all, has some decent content, and is usable enough. At the moment though, much of the content and more can be found on ITV.com, 4OD and iPlayer, so it’s hard to see too many people choosing MSN over these rivals.