AOL continues to try to add some new polish to its image with the Video Gadget for the Windows Vista sidebar, exclusively (well, for today) on CNET Download.com.
The gadget is simple in concept and more elegant than I expected in execution. It streams video content directly to your desktop through the sidebar dock. A single click undocks it and blows it up to a more useful size. The layout is pleasantly intuitive and surprisingly uncluttered given how much the interface can do. There's a link to the AOL Video Web site on the top-left. On the top-right, there's an icon to e-mail the current clip to a friend and a color wheel to change between one of 12 skins. Mousing over the main screen reveals a panel to pause the video, adjust and mute the volume, watch the previous clip, browse categories, and skip to the next clip. Below that is a ticker scrolling the clip name.
In other words, there's a lot of functionality crammed into that tiny frame. But so what? Is a streaming video gadget worth getting if all it streams are "Dick Cheney's Greatest C-Span Moments"?
Here's where the gadget fails, but only a little. Each of the five built-in video categories contains 10 clips. News and Business show a smattering of U.S. and international stories, ranging from hard news to tech and stocks to "Tree robs bank" goofiness. The Movies category shows only movie trailers, while Comedy has ostensibly funny short clips--"Ninjas (or whomever) in Elevators" makes me want to put LOLcats in jars. The Music category rounds out the bunch by playing music ads--I mean, music videos.
Unfortunately, you can't record or save any of the video, nor is the queue adjustable by the user. So AOL's Video Gadget for Windows Vista is useful if you like streaming video, but until it allows more user control there's definitely room for improvement.