Streaming Internet TV has quickly become the first choice for those frustrated with the high price of cable and satellite services. Though traditional television providers still have a lock on live sporting events and many first-run shows, a recent outpouring of streaming movie, music, game and informational apps has contributed to a paradigm shift in home entertainment. To take advantage of these services, all you need is a high-speed Internet connection and one of the following devices.
If you purchased an HDTV after 2008, chances are good it already has these apps built-in. In that case, you can simply connect your TV to the Internet via Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable and navigate the on-screen menus using your remote control. If you have an older HDTV that doesn’t offer these features, there are several other ways to access them.
Digital media receivers
These small boxes offer a dedicated platform for streaming audio- and video-based content to your TV. There are many to choose from, but the Roku 3 ($99) offers 1080p HD video and a large selection of both free and paid content from providers like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu Plus. Roku also offers a wide variety of apps to round out its library.
AppleTV ($99) is a good option for Mac-centric users who already take advantage of the iTunes Store. While its selection of content is more limited than Roku’s, AppleTV allows its content to be viewed on iPhones and iPads over a shared Wi-Fi network, using the company’s AirPlay technology.
If you want additional flexibility and don’t mind paying more, a gaming system like Microsoft’s Xbox 360 or Sony’s PlayStation 3 might suit your needs. These come with rich feature sets and by far the most processing power of any streaming device on the market. This is due to the fact that they also offer interactive HD games as well as the ability to play Blu-ray discs (PS3) and DVDs (Xbox), making these consoles a legitimate threat to their less-versatile competitors.
One notable difference between these two devices is the cost of their online services. While Sony doesn’t charge for the ability to access various types of content and gaming on the PS3, Microsoft charges $9.99 per month or $59.99 a year to take advantage of their Web-enabled services.
If you’re a movie buff and all you want to do is play Blu-rays, DVDs, and stream Netflix, you should definitely consider this option. All current Blu-ray players also play DVDs, and most offer a basic suite of streaming capabilities that have a smaller learning curve than other systems.
You can also attach your computer to the HDTV and use a standard Web browser to stream media. While this eliminates the need for an additional purchase, the type of cable that’s required will depend on your specific equipment, so you’ll need to identify what kind of “video out” ports your computer has and purchase the appropriate cable.
Connecting your device
If you choose to use a gaming system or other third-party hardware, hooking it up is easy. First, connect to your Internet service using either Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable, depending on the type of home network you have. Then attach your new hardware to the TV using an HDMI or other A/V cable. Of course, different devices require different connections, so be sure to check your owner’s manual if you encounter any problems!