Getting Started with Internet TV

Swapping pay-TV for Internet streaming services like Netflix is the latest trend for tech savvy consumers looking to cut rising cable costs in a tough economy. But for those new to Internet TV with little or no knowledge of the streaming landscape, things might look a little confusing.

That’s why most haven’t taken the leap. Too many options. And no clear way to get started. What are the best services? Is Netflix the only option? How do I get the content to my TV? How many TVs can I connect it to? Does the video content get old? How often do they add new content?

For all of those questions and more, I’m happy to introduce the first edition of Getting Started. Getting Started with Internet TV.

Getting Started

What you’ll need:

1. A streaming service.

Netflix is the top dog in on-demand movies for $7.99 per month for unlimited streaming (and no DVDs by mail). Netflix is also rapidly increasing the number of television shows on its roster and has even signed a deal to bring House of Cards exclusively to Netflix, beating out other bids from HBO and others.

Hulu Plus is to TV shows what Netflix is to movies. Hulu Plus is also $7.99 per month. Beyond Netflix and Hulu Plus, the competition drops off. Among the next tier of performers is Amazon Instant Video ($79/year) that also includes free two-day shipping on Amazon.com; Ustream (free); Crackle (free), PlayOn ($5 per month); among others. Most subscriptions are month-by-month and can be canceled at any time.

Once you’ve selected which service you’ll use, go to the website and sign up online. Most services offer a trial period of either one week or one month. Once you’ve signed up, just jot down your username and password. We’ll need that later when we connect it to your TV.

2. High-speed Internet.

At least 3 megabits per second (abbreviated 3 Mbps). The faster the better. You can connect your device to your TV through an Ethernet cable or wirelessly through your home network. To set up a home network, you’ll need a wireless router. However streaming quality is better if the connection is hard-wired with the Ethernet cable.

3. A streaming device.

A Roku XDS. Roku recently introduced the Roku 2. Check the specs for each device to compare features and connectivity options to make sure your device will work with your selected service.

Hundreds of available devices are ready to connect your TV to Internet video. Take your pick. Blu-ray players; Video-game systems including Xbox 360; Playstation 3; Nintendo Wii; and streaming boxes like Roku, Boxee, D-Link, WD, Apple TV and hundreds more. Just check the box — or online — to ensure it connects to Netflix, Hulu Plus or other Internet channels.

Everything will be clearly labeled. If it’s not on the box, look online. Just make sure your selected streaming service is available on the device. If we want Netflix, we’re good to go with the Sony BDP-S570 Blu-ray player pictured below.

Packaging for a Sony Blu-ray player, showing Netflix as a featured partner. If it’s not clearly labeled on the box, check online before purchasing.

Most devices connect to at least Netflix and Hulu Plus. Some devices feature different channels, like Ustream or Crackle by Sony. Few channels are exclusive. Some TV sets also come with channels like Netflix, Hulu Plus or Crackle built-in. As well as Blu-ray players. Purchasing a Blu-ray player that connects to Netflix or Hulu Plus is a great way to bring high-quality Blu-ray content into your home as well as thousands of on-demand offerings.

Hooking it up

A step-by-step guide

1. Connect device to your TV.

HDMI is best but some devices allow RCA connection for older television sets. After the device is hooked up, then it’s as simple as changing the video input like you would for a video-game system or DVD player.

2. Connect to the Internet.

Connect your device using either a wireless network or wired setup using an Ethernet cable. Connecting your device via Ethernet is the quickest way to get set up and also offers the highest quality streaming. Once the cable is connected to both your modem and your Streaming Device you’ll be connected. For a wireless connection, you’ll need to search for the wireless network and sign in.

3. Sign in to your account.

Launch your Streaming Device and select your desired streaming service, i.e. Netflix. Use the username and password you selected when you signed up online.

You’ll need to verify your device with your streaming subscription. You’ll be given a code that you’ll need to enter online to link the device and service. You’ll only need to do this once. It’s used to verify your subscription and link the device to your account.

You’ll be able to use your streaming account on any number of televisions; the subscription is not tied to any single TV. If you’re adding a box to another TV in your house, you’ll use the same login info. You’ll just have to verify each streaming device with your subscription using a new code, supplied when you launch the service for the first time on each TV.

You can also connect multiple accounts to your streaming device, i.e. Netflix and Hulu Plus.

4. Enjoy your content.

The most compelling difference between content on pay-TV and Internet TV is cost-vs-content. With pay-TV, you pay more for additional content; with Internet TV, you get increasingly more content for the same low monthly price. Netflix is signing new deals and bringing new content to its service on a monthly basis. Same goes for Hulu Plus. The rest are playing catch-up. Which is a win for the Internet TV consumer and the competing services. Increased competition will only expand the amount of programming and the quality of content deals.

For more on Internet TV, check out related posts below.

Related posts

Ustream, the free Internet television network

On-demand is the next TiVo

Xbox 360: Microsoft’s entertainment powerhouse

Internet TV gains support from Comcast, testing IPTV

My predictions for Internet TV and the future of Cable

Roku, a glimpse into the future of TV

Hello, hulu

Netflix. Redefining Television.

Ustream, the free Internet television network

Netflix gets all the hype when it comes to cable-killing Internet video, but Internet superchannel Ustream might be a better model for the next online cable network.

Founded in 2007, Ustream offers an array of shows, both live and recorded, as well as Internet channels from some of our favorite brands and celebrities. The company has offices Los Angeles, Tokyo and Budapest. Ustream Asia launched in 2010.

From CBS and TMZ to more specific interests like Campaign 2012 — or genre-specific channels like TechCrunch or Leo Leporte Live, a technology-focused show by popular tech reporter Leo Leporte of Tech TV fame — Ustream has a channel for every interest.

Ustream offers 12 categories on the dashboard including On Air — happening Live — News, Campaign 2012, Pets & Animals, Entertainment, Sports, Music, Tech, Gaming, Education, Spirituality and More.

Each category lists available channels. The Tech Category for example — one of my favorites — displays featured channels as well as Live channels In the below screenshot you’ll see three featured channels: Leo Leporte Live, Android Central as well as Space Vid Cast. NASA also offers a Ustream channels.

Ustream’s categories and channels are like networks and shows on a typical cable network. In fact, many popular network broadcasts, like the 2011 Emmy Awards, are simulcast on Ustream. After a show broadcasts live on Ustream, content can be archived. Though not all live shows offer this feature.

Users can view the channels live, view recorded programs or click “Join Crowd” which essentially adds the channel to the user’s favorites.

Ustream’s Mission: “to bring people together around shared interests for amazing live, interactive experiences that build and maintain relationships” (Ustream.tv/about).

When streaming on a computer, users can communicate with both the show and other Ustreamers during a live stream. Some televisions are now incorporating a Twitter feed to foster interactivity through social media.

On Ustream, social media interactivity is intrinsic to its design. On pay-TV — not distributed through an Internet connection — social media can seem forced or out of place. Flip on ESPN on DirecTV for five minutes and see how many times they drop “Twitter.” It feels forced almost every time. When video content is distributed via the Internet –whether on a computer or on a television — social media chatter is second nature; it’s a part of the experience. And the possibilities for advertisers are obvious. Purchases and more information are only one click away.

It’s tie-in with social media like Facebook and Twitter also allows for instantaneous updates on what’s streaming Live and what’s upcoming.

Users can get in on the fun, too, as Ustream allows anyone to start an Internet channel and “Go Live!” by broadcasting via webcam. Even Anderson Cooper has a Ustream Channel.

Closing comments & my experience with Ustream

I’m kind of a newbie to Ustream. I first checked it out a year ago and added the channel to my Roku player, where it sat unused. But then last week, I dove right in when I spotted a post on the Facebook Newsfeed concerning F8. Ustream was offering a Live Broadcast complete with commentary from Leo Leporte. F8 is the Facebook Developers Conference, which brings together developers, entrepreneurs and innovators “who are building a more social web.”

Thanks to Ustream’s connectivity, I watched portions of F8 on three different devices. Started on my Droid smartphone, then switched to my TV via Roku, and finished up on my laptop on http:ustream.tv

In less than four years, Ustream has successfully incorporated everything pay-TV is still trying to perfect: content, connectivity — across an array of devices — and completely natural interactivity.

On-demand is the next TiVo

TiVo revolutionized the way we watch television, allowing us to record, pause and rewind live TV broadcasts and even skip commercial content. TiVo is second nature to us now; in fact, it’s even become a verb.

To the networks and advertisers, it posed a slight challenge to not only prime-time TV — by allowing users to watch content on their schedule — but also commercials. If users could record a program and watch it whenever they chose, what would happen to prime-time TV and advertising?

But in every way TiVo has changed our lives, and commercials, On-Demand TV is set to overshadow it completely. And one day, become the main source of TV entertainment.

On-Demand refers to content that’s available in a digitally recorded format like videos on Netflix, Hulu Plus or other streaming services; pay cable services like Time Warner On-Demand or Comcast On-Demand; or premium cable like HBO GO and Showtime On-Demand. Right now, the On-Demand offerings from cable companies are a bonus offered with a pay-TV subscription. Others feature On-Demand movies that cost as much as $6 per rental.

What I’m suggesting is that, in the near future, our television content will be built around On-Demand offerings. There will still be live TV, however it will be delivered through the Internet. A delivery method referred to as IPTV or Internet Protocol TV. Comcast is already testing IPTV at MIT.

On-Demand puts the entire TV experience — Movies, News, Sports, TV shows — on the user’s schedule, not the networks. For the majority of you still enjoying pay-TV, on the network’s schedule, think about how TiVo has changed our lives. Can you imagine TV without TiVO? Ten years from now On-Demand will have the same effect, only greater.

To me — now more than one year into my cable-cutting lifestyle — On-Demand TV is second-nature. When I want to watch a particular show, I watch the show, whether it’s 7pm, 7:20pm or 2am. The Colbert Report; Saturday Night Live; Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares; Lie to Me; 30 Rock; Comedy Central; Weeds; MasterChef; Mad Men; The Office; SportsCenter; even NBC News, CBS, ABC, or older shows like Arrested Development, a new obsession of mine even though the show concluded in 2006. On-Demand increases the shelf-life of television, therefore increasing the benefit to advertisers.

With On-Demand, users don’t have to wait for it to be on. It’s always on. And waiting.

I’m so accustomed to On-Demand that when I travel, I bring my Roku with me. The last two weeks I’ve been out of town. I’m staying at a Residence Inn by Marriott, equipped with everything I’d need for my three-week stay: refrigerator, oven, stove, microwave, flat-screen HDTV including HBO, ESPN and more. Everything, that is, but my On-Demand TV content.

I hooked up my Roku and rarely flipped on pay-TV, even with premium cable like HBO included. Below is a photo of my Roku XD, which I bought at Best Buy for $79.99. Roku is completely subscription free and offers Internet apps including Netflix; Hulu Plus; Amazon Instant Video; Pandora; CNet; Blip.tv; Break.com; Crackle; Facebook Photos; FlickrNASA; Revision3; NBA Game Time; MLB.tv; NHL Game Center; and Roku Newscaster, a Channel featuring news from all the major news outlets and more: Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, PBS, Aljazeera, NASA, CNet, Current TV, ESPN, C-Span, NPR, PRI and BBC. For Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video a subscription to each is required. For more on Roku, read my in-depth review here.

Prime Time? What Prime Time? There’s no more Prime Time TV with On-Demand. Prime Time is up to the viewer.

What that also means for both viewers and networks — in addition to advertisers — is that a viewer can join the show at any time and catch up immediately via previous seasons On-Demand.

Viewership, and TV ratings, become more like a magazine, with a longer shelf-life. Not only for the television content but advertising as well. As I mentioned, I’m watching Arrested Development, which first aired in 2003 and ended in 2006. I was able to start with Season 1, episode 1.

With Hulu Plus — a great model for On-Demand TV — advertising is incorporated into each program — usually two ads per commercial break totaling about 60 seconds. They’re unable to be skipped; but actually, I wouldn’t anyway. The break is actually nice. On-Demand has changed the way I view TV and commercials. And will soon change TV all together.

The biggest fear of cable and TV networks today is the broadcast to on-demand delay. Cable companies and networks are attempting to increase the time it takes from broadcast until it becomes available on-demand for Netflix, Hulu or any other IPTV service. Fox announced last week that it was limiting the next-day streaming of content on Fox.com and Hulu.com in an attempt to curb the adoption of On-Demand streaming.

The networks can fight all they want. Their efforts are only delaying the inevitable.


Tech companies battling for customers

This is a great time to be a consumer. Companies are battling to release the next greatest advancement in technology — whether it’s NFC, Cloud Storage, Streaming Video or even Social Networking — and the consumers are ready and waiting. The instant a company releases a new product or service, the competition follows suit.

And that makes today’s consumer more connected than ever.

Brand extensions are to blame for much of the competition in technology today. Foursquare brings about Facebook Places. Skype leads to Google Hangouts. Square brings mobile payment to the forefront, with PayPal and Google following closely behind. Facebook (and MySpace before that) brought the rise of the social network; Google is now employing a brand extension with Google+.

A Brand Extension is when a company known for a particular good/service attempts to extend its services to another business category beyond its initial range.

Now, the current landscape:

Social Networking

Facebook vs. Google+

Facebook has been king of the social networking world since it overtook MySpace in 2008. MySpace was recently sold to Specific Media and entertainment artist Justin Timberlake. It’s future is still uncertain.

In the limited beta release of Google+, Google goes head to head with Facebook. A similar scenario to its battle with MySpace, only Google+ seems better equipped.

Google+ invites are on the streets as the company seems to be opening up its social network to more users. It’s limited beta at first offered only short windows for invites from current users. The service already is reported to have users in the millions, after a little more than one week on the market. Facebook, meanwhile, recently confirmed it has acquired 750 million users.

Mobile Payment

Square vs. Google vs. Paypal

Mobile payments are a hot topic, and the most popular service is likely Square, which hit $1 million in processed payments after less than a year in business. Square was launched by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey in May of 2010.

Square allows users — whether it’s for personal or businesses use — to accept credit card payments using a smartphone and Square’s free mobile payment device, through which users swipe their actual plastic cards. (Square does not use NFC technology.)

Google unveiled its Google Wallet offering, a partnership with Citi, MasterCard, First Data, and Sprint. Google Wallet is an Android app that makes your phone your wallet. It accomplishes this by storing virtual versions of your plastic cards on your smartphone.

Using Near-Field Technology (NFC), users will be able to pay via their Google-Wallet equipped smartphones simply by tapping the phone on a checkout reader, available at many merchant locations.

And most recently, PayPal bolstered its mobile offering on July 7 with the $240 million acquisition of mobile-payment service Zong.

Zong partners with hundreds of mobile phone carriers around the world and allows users to enter their mobile phone number to make purchases. The charges are then applied to the user’s monthly mobile-phone bill.

Zong was eBay’s second mobile acquisition. The first was Fig Card, a Square-like device that allows users to accept payments with credit cards by swiping them through Fig’s USB-powered reader.

Check-ins

Foursquare vs. Facebook

Location-based applications allow users to ‘check-in’ via smartphone and share their location with other users of the service or other social networks. Users are able to see who else is checked in at a given location (from all users) or friends in nearby locations. By checking in, users receive points and/or badges and can unlock certain specials determined by the retailer.

The most publicized of these location-based apps is Foursquare. Today, there are a reported 8 million Foursquare users, up from just one million a year ago.

With the introduction of Facebook Places and other location-based services like Whrrl, which was acquired by daily deals service Groupon in mid-April, companies are copying Foursquare’s model. And vice versa, as evidenced by Foursquare’s recent inclusion and emphasis on its Yelp-like service directory Explore. Brand extensions are on display everywhere we look.

In June, Fast Company took a closer look at Foursquare vs. Facebook Places.

Video Inside Social Networking

Google vs. Facebook

With Google+, the company introduced Hangouts, a video-calling service. One week later, Facebook announced a partnership with Skype, allowing users to make video calls over the social network.

Facebook Video Calling will feature one-on-one video calls to your friends, a stripped-down version of Skype from what I understand. (Note: that’s not me in the screenshot; it’s a Facebook promo screen.)

The biggest advantage with Facebook Video Calling has when compared to Skype is that users don’t have to sign-up and login to Skype to chat; they simply do so through Facebook.

Google+ Hangouts allows group video chats with up to 10 participants, a sort of live chat room among your friends.

When Google+ Hangouts feature is launched, you can choose whom to invite in the video chat or simply alert all friends (or any other Circle) that you’re hanging out. And then wait for someone, among the Circle you’ve selected, to respond. (Note: that is me in the screenshot below, chatting with no one.)

As you can see at the bottom of the chat window (above), YouTube is also accessible via Hangouts.

I haven’t really discovered how YouTube can be used inside Hangouts. But I did watch Cake’s The Distance. I guess if my friends were on there we could have all watched it together…and then checked all of our reactions?

Google+ Hangouts and YouTube might be useful for work-related presentations. This service encroaches on GoToMeeting‘s territory. Now I’ve just got to find some people who want to have a meeting about Cake.

Cloud Storage

Amazon vs. Apple

On the Cloud, users can store music, videos, photos, and documents, which are then accessible from any computer or device with an internet connection and access to the cloud.

Amazon starts users off with a free 5GB of storage space. The 5GB of free space is about enough space, Amazon says, to store 1,000 songs. This first tier is free and you’ll never be charged for it. If a user purchases a digital album from Amazon’s mp3 store (amazon.com), it’ll upgrade your 5GB of free storage to 20GB. Other pricing/storage options for the Amazon Cloud range from 20GB to 1,000GB of space.

Apple iCloud operates in the same way as the Amazon Cloud Player, with iTunes integrated into iCloud. Everything purchased on iTunes is automatically accessible on the iCloud, in addition to other apps, photos, books and documents.

Streaming Music

Some companies like Amazon and Apple have tied their digital music services directly to Cloud Storage. Others like Slacker and Pandora are offering a more entertainment-centered approach.

Pandora makes things easy for listeners: subscription free and on nearly every device you own.

Pandora got its start on the computer. But the company is making even bigger leaps away from its traditional home on the PC; Pandora is now available on smartphones, tablets, televisions and a select number of automobiles.

According to a published report from Advertising Age, more than 50 percent of Pandora listening accomplished on devices other than the PC.

Slacker, however, is beginning to outshine Pandora in both integration and subscription options. Slacker offers three ways to listen. The first tier, like Pandora, is free of charge (but with ads) and allows users to create a custom station based on a particular band or song. The second is a paid subscription plan that provides unlimited song skips and is ad-free; Slacker Radio Plus is $3.99 per month.

Slacker also has a partnership with ABC News, with news breaks at the top of each hour for subscribers of either Slacker Plus or Slacker Premium Radio.

Slacker’s newest subscription is called Slacker Premium Radio. At $9.99 per month, this service includes everything available in Slacker Radio Plus as well as on-demand music, allowing listeners to search for and play songs on-demand, or songs from a particular artist. Slacker Premium Radio encroaches on MOG’s and Rdio’s territory — a brand-extension of sorts — by offering on-demand music.

It’s an exciting time for both consumers and businesses. Each service is experiencing tremendous competition — which only fuels innovation — as companies vie for the consumers’ time, interest and money.

The customers ultimately decide which products succeed and which ones flop. Therefore the success of these businesses relies much on us, the consumers, and in our experiences with these products and brands and how seamlessly we can integrate them into our lives.

The best technology becomes second-nature, like a brand extension of ourselves.

Source: PC Magazine, cbsradio.com, siriusxm.com, pandora.com, slacker.com, usatoday.com, cnet.com, radioink.com, Ando Media, Mashable.com, Mediapost.com, TechCrunch, Tech Crunch TVFast Company, Mashable, Techmeme, CNet, ReadWriteWeb, GigaOm, Engadget, CNN Money, MacWorld, AdAge, All Things Digital, The Next Web, Foursquare, Google, Facebook, Pandora, Slacker, Square, Paypal, Amazon.

Will Google+ be the death of Facebook?

Google is making waves with its closed beta release of Google+, the company’s new social networking initiative that may soon challenge Facebook as the coolest kid on the Internet block. Well, next to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who is already the most followed Google+ user.

The truth is, with the launch of Google+, Facebook risks losing all of its cool factor.

Google+ is following in Facebook’s footsteps, making its initial release available to a small audience in a closed beta. Facebook was at first open only to college students (Major cool factor).

Google+ is using an invitation system (Equally cool).  Those who were selected to join Google+ were able to invite other users to the network. These invite-only users are like VIP guests to Google’s party.

Meanwhile, Facebook’s busy hanging out with your mom and dad (Not so cool).

Google+ includes a feature called Circles, which allows users to easily categorize their friends in, well, social circles and then choose to share relevant information only to that particular group. Say, if you don’t want to share late-night status updates with your parents.

Google+ Circles is kind of like Facebook’s Groups feature. Only more user-friendly. And with Circles.

“We tried to build a system that you could use for the relationships over time. Circles are organized around the set of relationships that you in fact have in life,” said former Google CEO and current Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt in a talk at the Allen & Co conference in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Something to think about: how will the 18-24 demo, Facebook’s biggest user base, view Goolge+? (And even 25-34. Users under 35 make up more than 62 percent of Facebook users, according to iStrategy Labs.)

Very likely, they’ll view Google+ as a cool new hangout where they can connect with friends, chat, share photos and status updates without mom.

On the other end of the spectrum is the 55+ user, the segment that has experienced the largest percentage of growth among Facebook users (subtract cool).

As Facebook becomes a place for everyone, it loses its cool. If everyone’s doing it, it’s not cool; it’s just there.

The 18-24 demo is also a majority of the Early Adopters and Early Majority in the technology adoption curve.

The left half of the technology curve (Innovators, Early Adopters and Early Majority) is really what drives changes and trends in technology. Those users will determine the success of Goolge+. The Technology Adoption Curve was developed by Joe Bohlen, George Beal and Everett Rogers at Iowa State University in the 1950s. Graphic from Wikipedia.

The left half of the technology curve (Innovators, Early Adopters and Early Majority) is really what drives changes and trends in technology. Those users will determine the success of Goolge+.

Google v. Facebook

The real question is how will Google+ differentiate itself from Facebook. And will that be enough to compete against Zuck’s social networking behemoth?

I feel that product competition is not only compelling but completely necessary to any industry. Competition keeps companies on their game, forces them to improve and perfect their products and services.

That’s the kind of healthy competition that Facebook and Google can really use to their advantage. And that’s where MySpace faltered. MySpace — which at one time had a larger user base than Facebook is now shedding users and staff by the minute — was lethargic and ignorant to change and innovation.

MySpace was recently sold to Specific Media and entertainment artist Justin Timberlake [who in January was named Marketer of the Decade by yours truly].

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is a social networking god, portrayed in books and a Hollywood blockbuster film. I doubt he’ll let the same thing happen to The Facebook (His character in The Social Network was relentless).

Unlike MySpace, Facebook will embrace the competition and use it as a spark to enhance its network and offer more to its users.

If Google+ does put a dent in Facebook’s user base, it won’t be the death of it; MySpace is still around for Zuck’s sake.

Source: TechCrunch, Tech Crunch TVFast Company, Mashable, Techmeme, CNet, ReadWriteWeb, GigaOm, Engadget, CNN Money, MacWorld, AdAge, All Things Digital, The Next Web, iStrategy Labs, funnypictures.co.uk, The Technology Adoption Curve was developed by Joe Bohlen, George Beal and Everett Rogers at Iowa State University in the 1950s. Graphic from Wikipedia.

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