Watch Internet on TV
Set Up Your TV to Watch Internet Content like Netflix and Hulu+
Watching internet on TV is becoming a great way to replace an expensive cable or satellite bill for many people. This is a short guide to help you start watching internet TV.
First, I’ll talk a little about what you’ll need to get started, namely high speed internet, a wireless network and a device to play the internet TV (a dedicated box like Roku, Apple TV or one of many others we’ll talk about.) Then I’ll go over the different types of services that provide internet programming to get you off and running.
This is somewhat lengthy, so if you get lost or need help with anything, please feel free to leave a comment below!
High Speed Internet
In order to watch streaming content you need to have an internet connection that’s fast enough to handle all the data. How fast is determined by how good you want the video quality to be.
To get standard definition you’ll want need an internet connection with at least 3 Mbps download speed (if you don’t know what you’re download speed is, click here to test your speed. Make sure you don’t have anything else downloading.)
HD video will require at least 5 Mbps. If you’re going to stream 3D videos you’ll need at least 9 Mbps.
Keep in mind that this bandwith is for your internet connection as a whole. That means if you have a 10 Mbps internet connection and you’re watching Spiderman 3D on Vudu you’re probably not going to be able to have music playing on the computer in the other room. If you do, both will probably deal with buffering issues- they’ll pause for a few seconds to catch up. If this happens once, it’ll probably continue to happen because you’re connection just isn’t fast enough to handle all the data being sent at it.
My suggestion is to get an internet connection that will give you some room on top of what you need for your streaming content. I have a connection that provides 15 Mbps. I don’t stream 3D content yet, so I have plenty of bandwith for whatever I want. If I get a 3D Smart TV however, I may consider upgrading my internet connection. Check with your internet provider to get pricing information, or if you need some help, feel free to leave a comment below!
Once you’ve got a sufficient high speed connection you’ll want to make sure that connection is accessible. A wireless network accomplishes this, and as well, serves more purpose than just for your TV. If you have a smart phone, tablet, e-reader, video game system or one of countless other devices (they even market scales that have wi-fi connectivity) you can access your wireless internet connection.
To set up your wireless network you’ll need a wireless router. They range in prices from about $40 to $500 or more. Keep in mind that in most cases you’ll get what you pay for.
I’ve personally owned or used cheap, mid priced and expensive routers of just about all makes at some point and I’ve come to the conclusion that the bargain routers generally don’t cut it. They tend to lead to weird network issues and if you’re not great at dealing with the technical aspects of the router and network this can be a problem. With that being said I prefer a router in the $75-$150 range. You’ll get a good set of features and a robust router that hardly ever requires your attention.
The above pictured router is the one I use currently. It’s available on Amazon listing at $132 but it frequently lists with a sale price around $90.
Once you purchase a router, follow the instructions in the box. It will most likely be a simple process to set up and configure your router, involving plugging your internet connection in and possibly plugging your router into your computer if it doesn’t have a wireless card. If you’re not sure if your computer has a wireless card, for now just connect the router by wire. (Need help? Leave a comment below!)
Digital Media Receiver/Computer/Game System/Smart TV/Blu-ray player (pick one)
As we talked about, you’ll need to get your TV hooked up to the internet in some way in order to watch internet content there. There’s a handful of ways to accomplish the task and depending on what you want specifically there’s most likely a “best” option. Let’s start with the most convenient: the Smart TV.
A Smart TV will allow you to connect to your wireless network directly. No extra equipment needed, these TVs are designed to stream internet content, and they can come with any other feature available. You want a 3D 1080p 70” LED. You got it, if you can pay for it.
Of course, most people aren’t looking to spend the money it takes to get brand new 70 inch Smart TV, especially if they just bought a TV in the last few years. The fact is, many people look to streaming TV as a way to SAVE money, not spend a bunch on some new (albeit fun) toy.
But, maybe you are in the market for a new TV. If you are, I have a tip to take into consideration:
DON’T ASSUME THAT A BRAND NEW TV WILL BE A SMART TV. You don’t want to spend a bunch of money on an assumption, then not end up with what you want.
Connecting a computer to your TV is the most powerful way to get internet to it. It allows you full web access which will allow you to stream media content from any provider. It also gives you everything you can do with a computer; games, Facebook, email, general web browsing, word processing… literally everything.
New TVs are the same technology as flat panel computer monitors, just implemented a little differently. However, many new TVs have a VGA input, allowing you to connect a computer directly with no extra setup or equipment. Just plug the wire in and switch the TV to the “VGA” or “PC” input setting and you’re up and running.
Problem is, it’s not going to be HD. If you’ve got an HDTV, you probably want it to be HD, though, so lets explore the next option. Many computers have an HDMI out port. This can go from the computer to the TV directly and carries both the audio and video signal. That means the sound on the computer will be played through your TV speakers or sound system .
If your computer doesn’t have an HDMI port you can install an internal graphics card with an HDMI port. This is a relatively detailed process and if done wrong could result in destroying your computer, so if you’ve never done it or something similar before I don’t recommend trying it alone.
There is a second option; an external HDMI video adapter. It plugs into your USB port and its sole function is to give you an HDMI port. Quick and easy, I’d recommend this option for just about anyone. They’re relatively cheap, as well.
Gaming today has become, largely, a social experience. People love to play games with other people and a lot of times it ends up being over the internet. As a result, gaming companies started including Wi-Fi capabilities in their gaming systems allowing their users to connect to the internet for an enhanced gaming experience.
In fact, all three of the newest game systems from the major companies have Wi-Fi capabilities. The Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and the newest release, the Nintendo U allow you to use that connection to access streaming content providers. Both the Playstation and Wii have full web browsers as well, giving you a good portion of the same capabilities a computer would give you. The Playstation is the only one of the three that has a blu-ray player.
Buying a game system solely to connect your TV to the internet is probably not the best option. Game systems are not cheap. However, if you’re looking to buy a game system anyway, or you already have one, they’re a good option for streaming content. The Playstation gives you the most functionality, and the Xbox the least, but if you’re going to buy a system to play games as well you should make a decision based on what games you’d like to play.
Many Blu-ray players now come with Wi-fi capabilities with the purpose of allowing the user to stream content. If you’ve got a Blu-ray collection your Blu-ray player may already give you what you need.
If it doesn’t, a new Blu-ray player with Wi-fi capabilities may be worthwhile for you, but I wouldn’t suggest it if you’re current player is still good. The reason is buying a Blu-ray player will be more expensive than the next option we’ll look at, and it’ll most likely give you less functionality. That next option is:
Digital Media Receiver
Digital media receivers are boxes that allow your TV to connect to the internet as a primary function. They are the cheapest category on this list and for most people it will be the cheapest and easiest way to get the ball rolling on streaming media in your living room.
There are two major players providing top notch experiences with their digital media receivers: Roku and Apple TV. Depending on personal preference one may stand out as a clear choice for you.
Roku provides a massive amount of content. In fact, there’s not a digital media receiver out that will allow you access to more content than the Roku, and they do it for a lower price than any other company out there.
Apple TV offers a strong content selection but like other Apple products, integrates flawlessly into the Apple universe. That means you iPad and iPhone and Airport and other Apple products will all work seamlessly with Apple TV and have access to some pretty cool options like Airplay.
Personally, I’d say go with Apple TV if you’re already a loyal apple customer. If not, go with the cheaper, more content loaded Roku.
Types of content providers
Once you get your TV connected to the internet you’ll need to find the best way for you to stream content. There are a lot of choices available and you don’t want to end up paying for more than you need to.
I’m going to group the types of content providers into five groups:
- Streaming Rental/Purchase service
- Free content channels
Subscription services provide a library of content available at any point in time for one monthly fee. Depending on what types of content you watch most often, you may choose one or two of these options in many cases. I don’t see a whole lot of reason to go with all three, and I’ll tell you why in a minute.
Hulu consts $7.99 a month and offers a lot of content, mostly from TV networks.
I mean, just a ton of content.
They have a deal with Fox, NBC, ABC, Comedy Central, MTV, USA, Syfy among many, many others. In general they release their television content the day after it originally aired which is significantly sooner than the other subscription services; with the others you have to wait for the season to be released on DVD and then hope the service has in.
They also offer a small amount of movies, mostly older films. The movie content is limited at best and is not worth considering when deciding on Hulu.
The upgrade to Hulu+ will cost you $7.99 a month and gives you access to HD content. It also gives access, in some cases to more episodes. For example, Saturday Night Live has 5 episodes on Hulu, but 730 on Hulu +! That’s literally the entire series, since the 70′s!
The main drawback to Hulu and Hulu+ is the commercials. You’re going to see almost the same amount of commercials watching Hulu as watching normal TV. Not quite the same, but close.
If you watch TV shows, Hulu+ is for you. It’s basically your DVR, but you never have to set it and its storage capacity is a lot bigger. Most of what I watch on the internet is through Hulu+.
Netflix has been around for awhile and most people have at least some experience with their rental by mail business model, but the company was also one of the first to provide a streaming content subscription service. For $7.99 a month they allow you to stream as much online content as you want, but for that price you don’t get any DVDs by mail.
I really don’t miss the rental service at all. I get all the content I can handle from my subscription services and on the rare occasions that I want to watch a new movie, I use a streaming rental service.
But, if you watch a lot of newer movies, having the DVD rental service may not be a bad option for you. For $7.99 you can have one DVD out at a time, $11.99 gets you two DVDs and their top tier plan is three DVDs for $15.99.
Their streaming library has a mixture of movies and TV shows. The movie selection isn’t their full library and sometimes it seems like the offerings are random; in a way, they are. Netflix doesn’t really get to decided what flicks they offer streaming. It’s based on contracts the company is able to work out with the media conglomerates who control the rights to the individual titles.
Basically, you shouldn’t assume that new releases will be there but a lot of slightly older films are there.
As far as TV shows go, there’s a healthy dose offered, and completely commercial free. However, you don’t get access to episodes until there’s a DVD released with the episode on it.
Amazon Prime is Amazon’s two day shipping program. It costs $79 per year (roughly $6.58 per month) and gives you two day shipping on any item you order from Amazon for no additional charge.
Strangely, that is the primary function of the service that also gives you access to streaming content that is pretty much on par with Netflix. Pretty much on par, is not the same, however.
Netflix is still the better service. They have a better user interface than Amazon and overall selection is slightly better. This is why I don’t suggest having Amazon Prime for streaming video AND paying for Netflix at the same time. For the most part, if you have both you’re paying for the same content twice.
But Amazon Prime Instant Video is a benefit you receive for getting a different product. If you spend money on Amazon relatively frequently, Amazon Prime is probably a better choice for you than Netflix.
And, their selection gets better and better all the time. We may soon get to the point where their selection beats Netflix and at then it’s seriously worth considering the switch.
Streaming Rental/Purchase service
Streaming rental and purchase services are where the video store has migrated to in the digital age. They provide you a place to buy or rent movies and the release dates are in sync with the release dates of DVDs, so you’ll be able to get all the newest titles.
There are a whole bunch of these services and in a lot of cases, they all provide the same titles at the same times for similar prices. To me, the winner is whatever one you think has the best interface, and this will most likely be a matter of personal preference.
The following services offer on demand rental and purchase streaming services:
- Amazon Prime Instant Video
- Vudu (currently, the only service offering 3D titles)
… and I wouldn’t be surprised to find another 20 out there. I have personally only used Amazon Prime and iTunes and I don’t see whole lot of need to jump around.
Most TV networks offer full episodes of their shows on their websites. You’ll definitely watch some commercials this way, and each website has its own interface for watching the videos so the quality of presentation may change from site to site.
There really isn’t much point in listing all the network sites that provide online content since it is so common. You can almost assume that if the show is currently running you can get it online.
HBO, Showtime and Cinemax, being premium cable channels, provide their content on a different model; they allow access to their entire library ONLY IF you have a subscription to their cable TV service. If you do, certainly take advantage. Being that I haven’t had cable TV in about four years I’m pretty unfamiliar with their services, but I have heard some great things.
Major sports leagues have already started jumping on the streaming content bandwagon and one, MLB.tv has been doing it since 2002! These sports leagues offer various streaming packages:
Unfortunately, the NFL doesn’t offer live streaming games yet, unless you’re paying for the Direct TV Sunday Ticket. They do offer access to full game replays currently, but that’s really not the same thing in the sports world. However, if you’re a fantasy football nut and want to watch tons of games for research, this is a good way to go.
On top of the pay services, ESPN offers live online content, but depending on what, if any cable provider you have your access may change. For example, I use Cox Cable for my internet connection (not for TV) and I get access to anything labeled as ESPN 3 content. Currently, I’m watching the Dallas Mavericks vs. the Boston Celtics.
If I paid for a certain level of cable TV I would also have access to stream content available on any one of the ESPN networks.
But I don’t, so I watch a lot of highlights on ESPN.com.
The streaming sports options get better and better by the day, so keep an eye on what’s available. They may not offer what you want right now, but in a few months they may. You never know.
Free content channels
Companies that make digital media receivers want to provide content that is unique to their product with the hopes of adding value to their offering that another media receiver can’t offer. This type of content tends to be free but purely limited to the digital media receiver you are using. Whatever product you choose, have a look around their free channels and you may find something you like.
Watch Local TV Live
As a note, if you decide to turn your cable or satellite service off and go to streaming all your content as I have, you will probably want to invest in an antenna to allow you to watch live local TV channels. They are inexpensive and simple to set up and will allow you to watch the news, live sports and other things that you would prefer to watch live instead of on replay.
I went over the different devices you can use to watch internet programming, my favorite being the Roku because of its total package of features, ease of use and price. Click the picture on the right to buy yours now.
I also showed you the best services to get content to your TV, namely Hulu+, Netflix and Amazon. Follow the banners below to sign up for their services.
If you need any help feel free to reach out in a comment!