Bring the Web to your Living Room
When you have nothing interesting to watch on TV, you can always switch to the Internet for an unlimited supply of videos ranging from television shows, podcasts, music, full-length movies, news and even live concerts.
Your computer screen is not always the best option to watch web videos, especially if the whole family wants to join in, so let’s look at some devices that will let you enjoy Internet TV on your widescreen television without requiring any complicated setup.
Apple TV - Connect the device to your TV using a HDMI or component video cable and you’ll be able to download movies, TV shows, podcasts and music from iTunes’ vast library directly through your TV.
You can also use Apple TV for watching YouTube videos, for listening to Internet radio stations and for viewing photos that are on your computer or on Flickr. Apple TV will connect to the Internet through Ethernet or built-in Wi-Fi and retails at $229.
Roku - If you are looking for a simple and cheap option to watch streaming movies from Netflix or Amazon on your TV, Roku Player should fit the bill.
Roku offers quick access to video channels including Netflix, Amazon on demand, Pandora radio and Blip.tv as well as photos from Flickr and Facebook on your TV. The Roku player will connect with virtually any TV and it supports both wireless and wired connections. Starts at $79.99.
Vudu - Vudu has a large collection of movies in HD quality that you can instantly buy or rent using the Vudu box.
Additionally, Vudu allows access to Youtube videos, Flickr pictures, Pandora music as well as streaming video from sites like CBS and ESPN. The Vudu box costs $149.00 though you’ll have to buy an additional wireless kit to connect Vudu to your home network over Wi-Fi.
Boxee Box - Boxee is a free media center software that lets you access content from a variety of sources including YouTube, CNN, BBC, Netflix, TED, University lectures, etc. on your computer. The company has also developed a set-top box that will let you enjoy Boxee’s content directly on your TV.
Other than streaming videos, you can also access content from sites like Flickr, Picasa, Last.fm, Pandora as well as media files store on your TV through the Boxee Box. It is expected to cost around $200.
TiVo HD - The TiVo, that made DVRs a standard household item, now lets you watch millions of videos from YouTube, TV shows and movies from Amazon, Netflix, etc. on your TV.
You can subscribe to video podcasts with TiVo and if a show is not listed, subscribe to it directly by specifying the RSS feed. In addition to videos, TiVo also lets you enjoy music and pictures that are stored on your PC or Mac. Price starts at $249, plus a $12/month service plan for TiVo service.
VuNow - VuNow is an affordable set-top box that will let you watch online videos on your TV without requiring a computer. It supports both wired and wireless network connectivity.
With VuNow, you can watch Live TV channels, YouTube videos, content from video sites like CNN, ESPN, etc. or even listen to Internet radio through your TV. You can also play photos, videos and music directly from your PC or an attached USB Storage device. The VuNow box starts at $129.
Neuros LINK - This is an Ubuntu based set-top box that will bring virtually any web video to your TV using the home network. With Neuros, you can play videos and audio on TV that are on your computer or a USB device.
The device will connect to your television via an HDMI port and is designed for use with a “keymote”, a wireless keyboard with an integrated trackball. Available for about $300.
Netgear EVA2000 - The Netgear Digital Entertainer Live is a small box that allows you to easily access digital media stored on USB devices and other networked computers from your television. You can also use the device to watch streaming videos from Youtube, CinemaNow and VuNow. The device comes with a trial version of PlayOn software so you can access videos from Hulu, Netflix, and other sites on your TV. Retails for $150.
All of the latest generation of game consoles offer easy access to a wide variety of Internet content on your TV.
Wii - The Wii offers full access to the Internet through Internet Channel, which is actually a version of the Opera browser designed for Nintendo’s Wii. It will play any web video that’s in the Flash player format and if you try accessing YouTube on your TV using the Wii, it will automatically redirect to YouTube XL.
You can connect Wii to the Internet though a wired or wireless network connection. Retails for $199.99.
Xbox 360 - The Xbox 360 can connect to Windows Media Center on your PC, bringing internet TV and downloaded media from the computer to your TV. There’s a video store where you can purchase or rent movies, TV shows, or even stream movies from Netflix. Starts at $199.99.
Playstation 3 - You can use PlayStation 3 to access any website through the built-in internet browser though it doesn’t support flash-based content.
You can also access photos, music, and videos on your computer from a PS3 using a wired or wireless network. The PlayStation Store built into the PlayStation 3 console offers movies for instant rental and purchase over the internet. Starts at $299.
If you have digital content on you PC that you would like to enjoy on widescreen television, you can go for Media Center Extender. These devices will help you stream pictures, music, videos, and other media from the PC to your TV over the home network without any wires.
Xbox 360 can be used as an Extender device but there are more like the Linksys DMA2100 and D-Link DSM 750. These are however expensive options and will only work if you have a PC running Windows Media Center software.
Although Blu-ray was initially positioned as the future in videos, streaming videos from the internet are quickly making any disk-based technology seem dated. LG and Samsung have combined the best of both worlds in some of their Blu-ray players.
LG Players - The BD370 player offers streaming videos from Netflix, CinemaNow and YouTube, while the costlier BD390 version adds support for Vudu and wireless connectivity. You can also enjoy photos, videos and music from your home network on a large screen. Price starts at $249.
Samsung players - Like LG, Samsung too offers support for streaming web videos in their Blu-ray players. These device offer direct acces Netflix, Blockbuster on demand, Youtube, and streaming music from Pandora. Blu-ray players start at $199.
Most hardware devices discussed above will let you watch streaming videos directly from the Internet on your TV using a wired or wireless network. However, if you are looking to save some bucks, there’s another option.
You can use your existing computer to download videos, music, pictures and other digital content from the Internet, transfer them to a USB stick or an external hard drive and then play these files on a TV using a Digital Media Player.
Western Digital HD - Connect the WD HD Media Player to your TV, attach a USB drive (or a digital camera or your portable device) and you’ll able to enjoy all the digital content from your couch. The player supports practically every audio, video and image format and you can connect it to the TV using HDMI or composite A/V cables. Cost is $99.
Popcorn Hour - The Popcorn Hour device allows you to play all kinds of video, music and photos from the Internet or from your PC and external storage devices directly to your TV.
Except YouTube, Popcorn Hour supports nearly every popular web service including Flickr, Picasa, CNN, Blip.TV and more. You can even follow feeds of Yahoo! Weather and Yahoo! News on your TV via Popcorn Hour. Starts at $299.
Asus TV HD Player - Like the WD player, Asus O!Play Media player can play nearly all audio and video codecs but it also supports external SATA disks in addition to USB drives. The Asus player has a LAN port so you can stream content directly from any network connect PC on your TV. Cost is $99.
FreeAgent Theater - Connect the FreeAgent drive to your PC or Mac, transfer the file and then slide it back into the FreeAgent Theater Dock to enjoy all the digital media on your TV. This has an Ethernet port as well so you can easily access shared content on your network or watch YouTube videos, pictures from Flickr or Picasa and even RSS feeds on your TV. Starts at $195.
WD Network Player - This is like the WD Media player discussed earlier except that it is network capable so you can watch Internet content live on your TV from a variety of sources include YouTube, Pandora, Flickr and Live365 online radio stations. You can also access media from any other computer in the home on your TV. Starts at $120.
PS:Some portable media players like the iPod and Zune can directly connect to the TV so you can download stuff on your computer using iTunes (or Zune Desktop player), sync the media files with your portable player and then play them on your TV.
If you have a spare desktop or laptop computer that you are no longer using, you can use that computer to watch Internet content on your TV.
First install Boxee - it’s a free software for Mac, Windows and Linux that will let you watch streaming videos, music and photos from numerous sources including YouTube, BBC, CNN, Flickr, Pandora and Last.fm. Then connect the laptop to your TV using standard cables, grab a wireless keyboard and control your computer from the couch.
Google Developer Expert, Google Cloud Champion
Amit Agarwal is a Google Developer Expert in Google Workspace and Google Apps Script. He holds an engineering degree in Computer Science (I.I.T.) and is the first professional blogger in India.