February 16 2008

How To Watch Internet Videos On Your TV

More and more companies are turning to Internet downloads to deliver media in to our homes, but, for now, you mainly have to watch them on your computer. While this may be okay for watching something as short as a YouTube video, it’s not always the optimal way to watch a feature length film. So, how do you get all of this wonderful content on to your television? Mind you I am focusing on your standard computer user and not the higher-end users who know all about media centers and strapping a Mac Mini to the back of a television.

Apple TV

Apple TVThough some critics have referred to the Apple TV as the “iFlop“, due to it’s sluggish sales, there is no denying how easy this device makes getting content to your television. The only problem is the content you are limited to, which is mostly Apple downloads via their iTunes Store. You can, however, stream home movies and photos from your TV with it, making that time family picnic show up on your TV with just a few clicks.

With the recent “Take 2” update, you can also now rent movies and make purchases from Apple directly on your TV with no need for a computer, and YouTube videos can also now be streamed directly.

Buffalo LinkTheater Wireless A&G Network Media Player

LinkTheate Wireless A&G Network Media PlayerThe Buffalo LinkTheater will do wireless and wired network streaming of video over your home network, but at the expense of responsiveness or support for popular file formats. There’s limited music streaming support, and it won’t play iTunes files if they are Digital Rights Management (DRM) protected or not, which seems silly considering how prevalent iTunes has become thanks to the iPod.

Considering some of the reviews the unit has gotten, it’s probably best to avoid it, but it needed to be included here so you were at least aware of it.

D-Link DSM-330 DivX Connected HD Media Player

D-Link DSM-330 DivX Connected HD Media PlayerThe D-Link DSM-330 DivX Connected HD Media Player device is fairly new, and not available in the United States yet, but it is expected to be fairly soon. For those of you in the United Kingdom, you can enjoy streaming your DivX content over your home network to this device, and then enjoying it on your TV. It supports DivX, Xvid with MP3 or PCM audio, WMV9 (transcoded on PC)MP3 (up to 320kbps), MP3 Playlist, WMA (transcoded on PC), JPEG (grayscale, RGB & YCbCy only), JPEG 2000 BMP (non-compressed)

The DSM-330 uses either Ethernet or Wi-Fi for the streaming from computers, and has no local storage on the device, so you’ll need to make sure you network is up to snuff to handle such intense streaming.

UPDATED 10/11/08: If you would like more details on the DSM-330, please listen to episode 2 of Scattercast, my personal podcast, where I interview Bruce Lidl from DivX about it.

Microsoft Xbox 360

Xbox 360 VideoIt may surprise some people to know this, but you can actually stream videos to your Xbox 360. The reason it is not that well known is that it’s not always the easiest thing to do. People have been doing it for ages if they have the Windows Media Center operating system, but people who have Windows XP, the far more common flavor of Windows, have some problems getting it to work. The other problem is that it only natively supports WMV (Windows Media Video) formatted files, which is far from being the most popular of file formats.

There are solutions out there for transcoding your files to work with the 360 such as guides and tools, and you can also buy some movies and TV shows directly from the Xbox Live marketplace. With far easier solutions out there, this should rank pretty far down your list as possibilities if you’re just starting to look into doing videos on your TV.

Netgear EVA8000

Netgear EVA8000The Netgear EVA8000 will give you wireless and wired network integration, but besides focusing on streaming all of your video and audio formats, it also gives you the ability to pull up portions of your desktop such as a web browser or your email, and access them right on your TV screen.

Overall, the Netgear device aims to be more of a true hub for your digital life with the ability to play content from most major online services, play DRM protected WMV files, plug in your camera and other gadgets, and playback your AVI files. There doesn’t seem to be much this device doesn’t aim to do for you.

Sansa TakeTV

Sansa TakeTVFrom SanDisk, the TakeTV takes only three steps to get your MPEG4, Xvid and AVI files displayed on your television.

  1. Plug the device into your computer to move the files to it.
  2. Plug the device into the cradle connected to your computer.
  3. Play.

It is super easy to use no matter what level of computer user you are, but if you are an experienced user, it is almost scary how quick and easy it is to use. The only problem I have found is a couple of Xvid videos that played on my computer with no problem, did not play at all on the TakeTV, but it seems to be a very small minority of files. You can read my more detailed thoughts on this device here.

Sony Playstation 3

Sony Playstation 3Besides being a game console and a Blu-ray player, the Sony Playstation 3 is able to connect to your network and play back Divx and Windows Media files.

Though the system has been around for some time now, these functions didn’t show up until recently when they released the 2.10 firmware update late in December 2007. While it is fully certified by the DivX company, some people have found problems with some of their XviD encoded files. Usually the two video codecs are interchangeable, but it doesn’t seem to be always the case with the latest in the line of Sony game systems.


TiVoThe TiVo is currently limited to videos you acquire through the Amazon Unbox Service. When you download the files, you are given the option of having them delivered to your Internet connected TiVo, but you can’t do the choosing from the device itself.

There are ways to play other types of files on TiVo, and there are instructions on how to do so, but don’t be surprised if it violates some portion of your warranty.

Your Laptop

Belkin CableMost people don’t know that you can actually connect most laptops to your TV and display your screen in full-sized glory. Once you’ve done this there is no need to stream content to another device, or have any go between, you are simply turning your television into a giant monitor to display whatever content it is you feel the need to show, whether it be movies, music videos, YouTube or anything else. The only drawback to this method is it pretty much sacrafices your computer to do nothing other than showing the media you’ve selected.

To do it you’ll usually need a S-Video cable, and something like the Belkin produced cable I pictured here. You plug the 2.5 mm end of that cable into your earphone jack and the audio ends into your TV input. You then run the S-Video between the corresponding jacks and switch your video output to an external source. Each computer is slightly different in how it does these steps, so make sure to consult your setup guide.

So, which solution is best for you? It’s all a matter of preference and if you want the device to do more than one thing for you. You technically can get started right away with just a couple of cables if you want to just use your laptop, or do what I did and set up an old laptop just for showing files. I then chose to personally to go with the TakeTV due to its compact size, but the solution that works best for me may be totally different from what works best for you, so weight your own needs accordingly.

And this is certainly not a complete list of every solution out there. Do some searches, visit forums, read up on the subject, and you may find you have something sit in your house already that will work for your needs. Leave a comment and let me know what worked for you!

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