I love TV. Before my son was born, fall would find me setting my DVR to tape every new show. Now that my 2-year-old drastically limits my TV time, I'm looking long and hard at my satellite TV bill. There must be a better way to watch my favorite shows here and there -- and not on my computer. I'm rather partial to my HDTV and Surround Sound.
Luckily, some great options can bring a multitude of Internet-delivered content to my home theater so I can finally wean myself off satellite and save some serious cash.
TV delivered over the Internet is growing increasingly popular. Distribution is cheaper and it's easier for advertisers to track viewership and promote interactive ad campaigns. While many websites offer online content, some of the biggest are Hulu, Apple and Netflix.
Hulu offers a free application that allows you to watch up to five recent episodes of current season TV shows. Hulu Plus costs $8 per month, but lets you view more shows and entire seasons. Apple's iTunes allows you to stream TV or movies, but you'll pay per episode. Netflix offers streaming of select movies and prior-season TV shows for a monthly fee.
Several plug-and-play options, in the form of set-top boxes that connect to your Internet and your TV, let you stream content on your big screen. The easiest and least expensive is the Roku box. Starting at $59 with no monthly fee, Roku supports streaming Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video and Pandora Radio, and it connects easily to your home theater. The main drawback is that you are limited to the content Roku supports. If it stop supporting Hulu tomorrow, say goodbye to future episodes of "America's Got Talent."
If you have an extensive library of content stored on various computers, you'll want to consider an option that will let you wirelessly stream to your set-top box. Apple TV will allow you to stream movies and TV shows from the iTunes store, Netflix, Major League Baseball and YouTube videos, but it will also allow you to stream content from any computer on your network wirelessly. If you have an iPad, iPod or iPhone, you can use Airplay to stream video and music stored on your device to your TV, or watch via apps like HBO Go or ABC.com for iPad.
Owners of an Internet-connected Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 already have the ability to stream content to a TV.
An Xbox 360 will let you stream Hulu Plus, Netflix, ESPN and more, or purchase content through the Xbox Live store. It also lets you stream digital content from a Windows Media Center PC.
PlayStation 3 brings an integrated Blu-ray Player to your home theater system, while supporting Netflix and letting you stream content from other computers on your home network.
One of the most flexible options I've found is Boxee. You can customize the shows you want to stream by choosing which "plug-ins" to activate, including Netflix, Vudu, Pandora, Major League Baseball and National Hockey League games. Most of these services have fees -- for example, a subscription rate of $8 a month or pay-per-show or monthly subscriptions -- but you only pay to access what you choose. A set-top Boxee Box costs $199, or you can download the Boxee software to a computer and make your own home theater PC to view your own content, or any web-based media on your TV.
Ready to cut the cable cord? Send me a note at www.callnerds.com/andrea for help getting connected to streaming media services.
Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds on Call, which offers on-site computer and home theater set-up and repair. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states. Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea