Best ways to stream internet video to your TV
The days of just having a TV that offers you a range of TV channels is far behind us. Now your TV can be the home of your digital hub, allowing you to access a range of services in your lounge beyond what the broadcasters have to offer.
No longer will you be able to claim that there is "nothing on TV." Here are some of the best ways (not all) to get the most out of the internet to watch stuff on your TV.
When people first came up with the notion of connecting their computers to their TVs the biggest problem was the size, noise and ugliness of the thought of a tower computer case sat in your lounge.
Today however you can get a small slim laptop tucked in between your amp and regular TV set top box and you've turned your television into a fully operational media hub.
The laptop, or even mini PC, doesn't have to be that powerful, but make sure it can play HD video, and if its an old machine you've grabbed off eBay, make sure it's either got Wi-Fi or that your router is nearby so you can connect it to the internet via an Ethernet cable
Most televisions from the last five years have either a VGA or DVI connector on the back or you can opt for a VGA to HDMI cable for under £10 to do the job as well.
A good optional extra is a wireless keyboard and mouse.
Once you've connected it, you can set the laptop to stay on even though the screen is shut, and then use the television as a giant monitor to either surf the internet for your favourite videos on YouTube, streaming services (read porn) or one of the many UK terrestrial on demand services like the BBC iPlayer, Sky Player, ITV player, Five Demand, and 4 On Demand or tvcatchup.com. In the US services like Netflix, ABC Player, and Hulu offer similar ideals.
If the thought of turning your TV into a browser isn't for you, you can even get software to make you believe your laptop is a big set top box. Boxee, a free application for both PC and Mac gives you just that letting you access streaming content and videos and shows you've got stored on a hard drive, while Front Row for the Mac lets you make the most of your movies and music at the press of a button. Those running Windows 7 will get Microsoft's Media Center capabilities thrown in for free - a very good dedicated media hub offering
Microsoft Xbox 360
If the thought of connecting your/a computer to your TV is either a bit daunting, or geeky, then there are plenty of easier options available to you.
The Xbox 360 is one of those as it offers you not only the chance to download the latest movies from the Xbox Live Marketplace, but also access the Sky Player from your console.
If you've already got a Sky Subscription you can add the service you're your Xbox 360 within minutes, but you will need an Xbox Live Gold subscription service (£40 a year) to access the features. Once you do however you can watch up to 30 live TV channels as well as access hundreds of movies on demand, above and beyond what is available via your Sky Plus box.
You'll also be able to watch movies or sports events with your mates via something Xbox calls the Avatar Party mode. Don't panic the Nav'i or 3D effects aren't included.
Sony PlayStation 3
Like the Xbox 360, the PS3 comes with its own on-demand offering above and beyond the ability to play Blu-ray movies or play games.
Sony also offer the latest blockbuster movies via the company's PlayStation Network Store for you to rent and buy. But fans of the BBC in the UK will be pleased to see that you can access the BBC iPlayer from the PS3 as well.
Select the icon and you get access to the last 7 days of content from the BBC to catch up on. Handy if you've got into the office and everyone is raving about a new show that you happen to miss.
Considered by many, including Apple to be a pet project, nonetheless, the Apple TV is an easy way to buy and rent movies to watch on your television via the internet and without the need to go to the local video store.
Furthermore with the help of a large hard drive and some software you can get the Apple TV to act as a media hub for you so you can create your own on-demand service in your home with your own DVD collection. Skirting around the grey areas of copyright law, you can use software applications like Handbrake to create digital copies of the DVDs that you own to store on a central hard drive that is accessed by the Apple TV.
Now you can watch you favourite movies without having to get off the sofa and find the actual DVD.
Sony Bravia TVs and Blu-ray players
The latest batch of Sony Bravia TVs and Blu-ray players add Love Film streaming capabilities into the mix meaning you can, if you're a Love Film subscriber, get the latest movies to your TV without having to wait a week for it to turn up in the post.
TVs with the system include the BRAVIA NX803, BRAVIA EX703, and BRAVIA HX703, while the Blu-ray players include the BDP-S730.
Unlimited LOVEFiLM subscribers can select the service from an icon on the Sony menu bar of Sony Internet Video devices, search for titles through categories such as genre or "most watched" as well as manage their DVD and Blu-ray rental lists through the TV.
This set top box attempts to be everything to everyone offering you Freeview Plus, BBC iPlayer, Channel 4 shows, videos and podcasts from the web, movies and TV shows from its own offering, and then when that doesn't offer what you want, the ability to be a media server for your own content.
There are three main offerings from the company; the Smartbox 7000, the Smartbox 8000 and a multi-room bundle that includes the two. Prices start from £99.99 and go up to £268.01.
Although it comes with a 160GB hard drive, those keen to record their TV can expand this by simple adding more USB hard drives.
3view set top box
This set top box packs together free HD terrestrial TV, Sky Player, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, home streaming and more.
Adding to the mix is the promise of more apps in the future, 500GB of hard drive space to store recordings on, and a DLNA connect so users can stream content from a DLNA enabled device like a Samsung phone.
The £299 box aims to bring much more than just TV to your television.
The other half of the Slingbox family, SlingCatcher lets you, as the name suggests, catch the signal that you are sending out with your slingbox.
While Slingbox lets you stream and control a single or multiple set top boxes from your laptop, sitting in front of your laptop watching television isn't that great.
The SlingCatcher allows you to stream it to another TV instead. Furthermore the SlingCatcher lets you stream a screen grab from a computer on your network (it's as kooky as it sounds) and connect a hard drive or media server into the offering so you can watch movies or shows you've bought or recorded digitally.
You will need the Slingbox for this to work.
Sky might offer you more channels and its pseudo on-demand service Anytime, but Virgin Media's V+ HD Box or V HD Box offer you on demand services from the likes of the BBC iPlayer and it's PictureBox offering that gives you 28 films every month for a £5 a month.
There's also the ability to catch up on TV shows you've missed with TV Choice on Demand.
We've yet to see the full potential however with Virgin scheduled to be teaming up with TiVo to develope a converged television and broadband interactive interface to power Virgin Media's next generation, high definition set top boxes.
"TiVo will offer Virgin Media's nearly four million UK customers TiVo's advanced television software and user interface on both its traditional and DVR set-top boxes", confirmed the company's CEO last year.
Samsung internet TV
When it's not offering you the chance to watch BBC iPlayer, the latest range of Samsung internet enabled TV's is giving you access to Love Film's movie streaming catalogue, Muzu music themed videos, Twitter and Skype.
If that's not enough buzz words for you in one sentence then you can also download apps for the TV with more apps inbound over the next 12 months.
Expect your Samsung phone to become a remote control, your TV to be giving you up to the minute weather reports and of course who is friending you on Facebook.
In the UK the Samsung C9000, C8000, C7000, C6500 from the LED range will support the services, as will the C750 and C650 LCD TVs.
As we said at the beginning, these aren't all the options available but just the ones we thing are the best, simplest, and easiest to get to grips with and up and running with minimum of fuss. What's your favourite way of getting your favourite shows or web content on to your TV. Let us know in the comments below.
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