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Tools Toys and Technology - About the Tools You Use and the Toys That Make Life Interesting

Internet TV – An Introduction

Copyright © 2012 Richard Beaty

I know it’s probably not a revelation to you that you can now receive television over the Internet. But I thought I should, at least, review it before digging into the nuts and bolts.

Video on Websites became commonplace several years ago. And the quality has gotten better and better as the technology behind video streaming gets more sophisticated and Internet speeds get faster and faster. Technology has gone from allowing us to view a few minutes of fuzzy video on Youtube with our computers, to being able to watch full length feature films in HD streamed over the Internet to our 50+ inch wide screen living room TVs.

To be able to do this, there are a few things you must have.

  1. High-speed Internet access
  2. A means of distributing the Internet throughout your home
  3. An Internet TV Receiver
  4. A source of streaming TV programming

This is way too much to cover in one article. This month, I’ll limit myself to the first three, which deal with the hardware of getting an Internet TV signal to your TV set. I’ll be writing about some very interesting and little-known programming options in later articles.

How to View High Quality
Internet Video on Your TV

High Speed Internet

Here in SaddleBrooke, we have limited options for high speed Internet. We’ve got DSL from CenturyLink (formerly Qwest) and cable Internet through Western Broadband. The high speeds you hear advertised by CeuturyLink are not available to us here in SaddleBrooke. Therefore, if you want to receive the best video quality possible over the Internet, you really have only one option: Western Broadband.

With no real competition, we get hit with premium prices in SaddleBrooke for Internet access. I pay over $70 a month for Internet only from Western Broadband. You can get it for less if you bundle it with their cable TV service, which kind of negates the purpose of what this article is about.  By contrast, in the summer in a rural town in Colorado, I pay $49 a month for Internet service that is 25% to 35% faster than we get here. It would be nice if competition would come to SaddleBrooke.

Bringing the Internet to Your TV

I’m assuming your Internet service comes into an office area where you have your computer. I’m also assuming your television is in another room. Getting your Internet service from one room to another is typically done with a wireless router that broadcasts the signal wirelessly throughout your home. Devices equipped to receive this “WiFi” signal can now be connected to the Internet without running wires around the house.

WiFi is generally acceptable for connecting other computers in your household to the Internet. But continuous streaming of video signal requires the highest speeds possible. If your WiFi signal strength is attenuated too much by the time it reaches your living room, you may experience problems with video streaming. If you video freezes from time to time as you are watching it, then your WiFi signal is too low and/or it’s just not fast enough to keep up with the massive amounts of data transfer required to stream a continuous video signal.

Ideally, you should have wired Internet for transmitting video throughout your home. But running wires from one room to another is not a very practical solution. Fortunately, there is a very simple answer. It’s called a “powerline network adapter.” Using these adapters can essentially “wire” your entire home for Internet by transmitting the signal through your household 110v circuitry.

Here’s how it works. You need two of these adapters. You connect one adapter directly to your modem (or router if you still want WiFi elsewhere in the house) via one of the 4 available Ethernet connections on the adapter. Then plug the device’s power cord into a nearby house outlet. Now, plug the second adapter into a house outlet near your TV, and connect Ethernet cables from that adapter directly to your TV or other streaming video device. That’s it. It’s no more complicated than that.

How well this works will depend on your house wiring, but it works perfectly for me. I suspect it will work equally well for most, if not all, SaddleBrooke homes. The only thing you have to pay attention to is to connect the power cords of both devices directly to the house outlet. Do not use an electrical multi-strip or surge suppressor. This system is capable of speeds that are, if fact, faster than your incoming Western Broadband speed. This simply means that you will be able to transfer the full Internet bandwidth that is coming into your home directly to your TV area. This should give you speeds fast enough to stream 1080p full HD video.

There are several powerline network adapters available. I use and recommend the WD Livewire. A pair of these adapters currently costs under $100. I like this brand because it has 4 Ethernet connection ports at each end. That means you can connect up to 4 devices direct to wired Internet at your TV location. Why would you want multiple connections? That will become obvious as we progress through this series of articles. [See Resources at the end of this article for information on powerline network adapters.]

Connecting the Internet to Your TV

Now that you’ve got Internet access to your living room, you need to be able to translate the video delivered over the Internet to a form that can be displayed on your television. There are currently quite a few options for doing this.

Smart TVs

A number of the latest HD TVs, sometimes referred to as “smart TVs,” have Internet access built in, with both wired Ethernet and wireless WiFi connections. Samsung, Sony, LG and other models advertise this feature. If you have one of these Internet-ready TVs, you may need nothing extra to receive Internet TV. If you have an Internet-ready television, refer to your product manual for details on how to connect your TV to the Internet.

Set-Top Box

The device that really started the revolution for living-room quality Internet TV was a small set-top box called the Roku. I bought an early Roku model, and have been in love with it ever since. I have purchased an additional HD model that I now use on my HD TV, transferring the original one to a television in my office. Current Roku models start at just $50 and range up to $100, depending on the HD quality and other features you want. [See Resources at the end of this article for details on current Roku models].

While Roku is the most popular set-top solution to Internet TV, there are others, including: Logitech, Sony, Tivo, Western Digital, Apple, and more.

Other Devices

Other devices that can serve as the interface between the Internet and your TV include certain Blu-ray players (Samsung, Sony, LG, Pioneer, Panasonic, Sharp, LG and more) and even game consoles (Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360). Even some smart phones and tablets can play Internet TV directly via WiFi, but I can’t get too excited about watching a movie on a 4-inch screen.

Not All Devices are Created Equal

While all of the above devices can give you Internet TV, not all of them offer an interface to all programming options.  I have a smart TV that gives me access to Internet TV directly. But I use my Roku instead, because Roku has over 350 channels of programming, far more than that built into my TV.

Speaking of programming …

Next Month in Tools, Toys and Technology

Next month we’ll begin to explore what programming is available online. There will be some names you know, like Netflix, and some other high-quality ones that you may not have heard of before. I think you’re going to be surprised at what you can watch online without once going to your high-priced cable and satellite TV service.

Can you really get low-cost and no-cost TV on the Internet and fire your current, expensive program provider? We’ll get closer to the answer next month.

Resources

For information on equipment mentioned in this article, powerline network adapters and current Roku models, see:

www.FreeTVconnection.com/resources