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July 26, 2009

Getting your TV on the Web

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 5:30 pm

Ah, there’s nothing like sinking into your comfy sofa with remote in hand and watching your favorite show on that giant flat screen television.  Problem is that to an ever increasing extent, the content you want to watch isn’t on your TV – it’s on your PC.  Whether you’re streaming the latest movies from Amazon, getting your favorite programs from hulu.com, surfing the potpourri of content from youtube.com or watching home videos from your own harddrive, viewing online content typically means huddling over the cruddy monitor on your computer.
 
However, it doesn’t have to.  Many products are now available that can bring that online content right to your living room television.  They are called digital media receivers (DMR’s for short), and despite this somewhat techy nine syllable name they’re actually quite simple to install and use.

THE BASICS
 
In principle, DMR’s are very similar to that cable or satellite set-top box you’re already familiar with.  One side connects to your Internet router so it can access the content and the other directly to your TV or entertainment system.  You select what you want to watch using a remote and assisted by a menu of options that you can display on your TV screen.
 
THE OPTIONS
 
While eventually it is reasonable to expect that nearly all DMR’s will support nearly all content sources, until the dust settles on certain technical and business issues related to file formats and digital rights management there are choices to be made and trade-offs to be had.  The main choice you have to make is which source of online content you are most interested in.  Here are the main options:
 
1. Content from your own computer: If you’re the kind of person who likes to download video content from the Web, copy your DVD’s to your harddrive, or otherwise build up a digital library of video on storage within your home, you’ll want a DMR with support for many file types and the ability to stream media from a share on your PC (or NAS.)
 
2. Movies on demand: If what you want is to use on demand subscription movie services like Netflix, Amazon or Vudu, you’ll need a special breed of DMR.  Because of the need for tighter content control (and other related factors), access to these services is generally limited to select products where special relationships with the manufacturers are in place.  (In the case of Vudu, the content provider and DMR vendor are one and the same.)
 
3. Miscellaneous Web sites: If it’s particularly important for you to access videos from a specific Web site (i.e. youtube.com, hulu.com, etc.), be sure to select a DMR that explicitly states support for that site.
 
Aside from this content source issue, you should also consider whether you need wi-fi support.  If you can’t run an Ethernet cable from your TV (or entertainment center) to your Internet router, it’s a good bet you do.
 
THE PURCHASE
 
So, how do you get one and what does it cost?
 
Most DMR’s cost around $200 and they all can be purchased online. While the choice of product and options can be overwhelming, this simple approach should get you going pretty far pretty fast:
 
1. Decide which of the above 3 content options is most important to you.
 
2a. If content on your own computer is most important, this link will provide you with a rundown of which products to consider. (BONUS: if you already have a PS3, you already have a DMR!)
 
b. If movies on the demand is most important, checkout the products and movie offerings for Netflix, Amazon or Vudu, as well as this comparison with Apple TV for movies.
 c. If you want support for a specific Web site, go to google and search for “digital media receiver WWW.ABC.COM“, replacing WWW.ABC.COM with the popular Web site you want support for.
(APPLE LOVERS: If you want youtube.com AND you’re an Apple kind of person, the Apple TV is a good bet.)
 
One final note.  The AV Science forum (www.avsforum.com) is a great resources where you can ask any question to a dedicated community of AV enthusiasts.  They even have a section dedicated to DMR’s and like devices.  Just be sure that before posting a question, you search the forum to see if it’s already been answered.  The community can be touchy about that sort of thing.

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