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April 8, 2008 Provided by System Dynamics Inc.

Internet Content on the TV: Let Us Count the Ways

It seems like a simple question. A friend who knows you work with the Internet and computers says: "I'd like to connect my PC to my TV. How should I do it?" What do you say?

There are a bewildering number of ways to do this, so you first have to find out what our friend actually wants. Does she want to watch Internet content like You Tube or an old episode of Miami Vice on the TV? Does she want to play a DVD on the PC and show it on her big screen TV? Does she want to use her PC-based PVR, such as Windows Media Center, to deliver content to a TV located in another room? Does she have other things in mind? Maybe it's some combination of these. Or maybe she's asking because she has heard it can be done and thinks "it" might be cool.

With answers to these questions, we could point her toward a solution that will do what she wants. To clarify the choices, we created a decision tree detailing the various things people might want to do and some of the solutions available for doing them.

But even the narrower question of watching Internet video on the TV screen presents a lot of choices. For starters, she could use her PC to access the Internet, or could access Internet video without a PC.

Using a PC to access the Internet

A PC seems like the most natural way to access Internet video. If your friend is interested in Internet content on the TV, she probably already has a PC with a broadband Internet connection.

But how does she get the Internet video from her PC to her TV? There are several choices:

  • If her PC is close to the TV, she could just connect the PC output to the TV input. Unfortunately, there are six different ways she could make this connection, depending on the available PC outputs and TV inputs. Microsoft provides a nice web page describing the connection choices ( ) for Windows Media Center that is applicable for any connection. Picture quality will vary depending both on the type of connection (HDMI has the highest quality and composite video the lowest) and the quality of the original video content.
  • If she's using a PC with Windows Media Center, she could use an Extender for Windows Media Center. Many of these boxes are available today, including the Microsoft Xbox 360, D-Link DSM-750; Niveus Media Extender; and Linksys DMA2100 and DMA2200.
  • If she's not using Windows Media Center, or would prefer a different user interface on her TV, she could use a different digital media adapter. Linksys, D-Link, Netgear and Buffalo make many of these boxes, with a wide variety of features. They often come bundled with PC software, such as the SageTV client included with Hauppauge's MediaMVP.

If she chooses to use one of these boxes (Extender or other), she'll have many choices of how to connect the box to the TV, depending on the box outputs and the TV inputs (HDMI would be best). She'll also have many choices of networking technologies to connect the PC to the box. Most boxes support Ethernet and some "flavor" of Wi-Fi (802.11n would be best); others may include HomePlug A/V, MoCA or other powerline or coaxial networking. For help in connecting a Media Center Extender to her TV, you could point her to a "how to" video Connecting Windows Media Center to your TV ( ).

Connecting to the Internet without a PC

If all she wants to do is watch Internet video on the TV, she doesn't have to use a PC. Instead, she could

  • Buy a new TV with built-in media connections. As an example, HP has several MediaSmart LCD TVs. These can connect directly to the Internet and display Internet content; they can also act as an Extender for Windows Media Center.
  • Use an auxiliary box to connect the TV to the Internet, such as Apple's Apple TV ( ) or D-Link's DSM 520. Some of Tivo's newer boxes also support Internet video.

Either of these requires choosing a networking connection to the home network, and the auxiliary boxes require choosing a connection between the box and the TV.

You might want to tell your friend that this approach could lead to problems in the future. Internet content is targeted to the capabilities of PCs, and evolves quite rapidly. PCs provide a very flexible platform; new formats come along all the time and are downloaded into the Web browser. Will a networked TV or a stand-alone box provide similar capability for growth? Maybe this doesn't matter that much for an auxiliary box--if it's cheap enough, she can always get a new one when it runs out of steam--but it could be a serious consideration for a large plasma TV.

Yet More Choices

The considerations are more complex if it is not just Internet video she wants to watch. She also might want to:

  • Watch broadcast video received by the PC from cable or satellite
  • Watch video recorded on the PC hard drive by a PVR program such as Windows Media Center
  • Watch over the air digital video through the PC or recorded on the hard drive
  • Watch videos she or her friends have recorded with a video camera
  • Watch DVDs played on the PC DVD drive

Each of these presents yet more options and issues for consideration.

In the face of this head-spinning menu of options and their associated implementations and choices, it's no wonder many people throw up their hands in despair. For now, they find it easier to decide to keep life simple and just leave well enough alone.

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