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It seems like a shift in technology that’s going to be a big deal. But it’s hard for me to even come close to sampling all that’s out there or to know about the varied methods readers are using to become their own programming directors.
Boy, did I get help. More than 100 readers sent e-mails explaining how they’re digging through the various Internet-based providers of movies, TV shows and sports. And they told me how they’re moving that content from the Internet to their TVs. In many cases, those readers are way ahead of me as far getting the most from this technology.
Today, I’ll use what I’ve learned from you, and what I’ve discovered myself, as a starting point in what I think will become a continuing time-to-time conversation in this column about this major shift in how we watch TV. I’ll keep trying new content providers and testing the hardware needed to put that content on big screens in our homes. With any luck, you’ll keep me honest by telling me what you’ve learned.
Let’s start with what I’m doing. I use both an Internet-enabled Blu-ray DVD player as well as a device called Boxee (www.boxee.tv) to stream video to my HDTV. In both cases, these devices connect to the Internet wirelessly. Both also have the ability to be connected by ethernet cable. If that’s possible in your home, it’s an even better way to go than my wireless connection.
Based on the short time I’ve used these gadgets, I have preliminary recommendations for those of you who haven’t tried Internet-based content.
If you’re interested only in connecting to some of the big-name players in this new field — maybe sampling the Internet-based content from Netflix, YouTube and Hulu Plus — then a DVD player with Internet connectivity has powerful pluses. I heard from plenty of readers who love the simplicity of using a DVD player to connect.
It’s easy to set up, easy to use. And DVD players like this aren’t expensive. I found the Sony BDP-S570 I use on sale for $140. There are several other DVD players that do the same thing. You’ll find reviews of Blu-ray players here: tinyurl.com/4mqglk3 (just make sure the players you check out offer Internet connectivity).
Getting my own DVD player working with my wireless router wasn’t challenging. I just followed the on-screen prompts to connect it to the Internet. Within five minutes, it was working. The picture quality is very good — about like what I experience when watching a regular DVD. I just scroll through the list of content providers available and click a button to watch.
But some of what I want to see isn’t available from the limited menu offered by the DVD player. That’s where the Boxee comes in. Unlike the DVD player, which is limited to pre-installed applications such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube and others, the Boxee can do a lot more.
With a built-in Web browser, it broadens the amount of video I can watch, stuff I can’t get on the DVD player. For instance, I can use the Boxee’s remote — it has a tiny but complete keyboard — and type in www.rte.ie and sample Irish television programming streamed right off that Web site.
There’s a lot of specialized content on the Internet that isn’t available any other way. I like the fact that the remote has a full keyboard; it also comes in handy when I use Boxee’s browser to do searches and other regular Internet chores on the big screen.
Especially during the first few days, using the Boxee isn’t as easy as connecting with the DVD player. And it has other liabilities, too. For instance, the service has been setting deadlines for including Netflix in its offerings and missing those deadlines. Since I write this column weeks before you see it, it’s possible that you can get Netflix with the Boxee by now. It’s also possible that the company has missed another deadline.
There are two big-name players I haven’t tried at all. But based on what readers tell me, I need to do that soon.
One, the Roku, drew rave reviews from several of you. Like the DVD players I mentioned, it’s easy to use, but offers more sources for TV shows and movies. And readers who have tried various ways to connect tell me the video quality is even better than what I’m experiencing from the DVD player or my Boxee.
I’ll try to get my hands on a Roku unit to see why it’s so appealing to so many of you. You can read about it, or order one at www.roku.com. But you also need to know that the Roku shares a liability with the DVD players. Unlike my Boxee, it doesn’t include a Web browser.
And that brings us to another promising and highly touted system that I haven’t tried: Apple TV. It does include a browser and offers content from Netflix as well as movie rentals. You can check out all the details at www.apple.com/appletv.
Based on the limited time I’ve spent with this, my guess is that none of these devices have things just right yet. I think that very soon we’ll see gizmos that have the ease of use of a DVD player, but the broader capability of a Boxee. And televisions with the built-in capability (no Boxee or DVD player needed) to use the Internet as a programming source are already available.