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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.

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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.

Consumer Electronics Show…CES

Tomorrow’s gadgets, games and mind-blowing media, introduced today at the world’s largest consumer electronics trade show, CES.

The 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, CES, was held Jan. 6 through Jan. 9 at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Showcasing the next best things in every conceivable category, with some 2,500 media companies on display, CES gives us a look into the future. From the next DROID (the Droid Bionic), to the Porsche 918 RSR, the 767hp hybrid to Samsung’s flexible (and shatter-proof) mobile displays, then the weird…like the “eTime Home Endoscope.” As PC World puts it, “Finally–a way to peer into your loved ones’ mouths and ears, putting their orifices on display in a live computer video feed.”

Two trends to keep an eye on: 1) Music, particularly how we listen to radio at work, in the car and at home; 2) Television. I predict a big change in 2011 in the way we watch TV. We’ve already experienced the start of it with Netflix, Hulu, GoogleTV, Boxee Box, etc and devices like SlingBox, which slings your paid content to other sets and devices outside of your home. But I think this trend will explode in 2011 or early 2012. TV isn’t dead, it’s just evolving, and its audience is becoming fragmented.

Here are a few CES announcements I found noteworthy (and one or two I just found, well, strange)…

1) Toyota Entune infotainment system

Toyota Entune infotainment system hands-on

The Entune infotainment system incorporates navigation, media and entertainment into your dash via smartphone integration. Basically, it syncs applications from your smartphone (be it iPod, Droid or Blackberry) and displays the apps (like Pandora) on the dash. Including Bing search, MovieTickets.com, navigation, and music services like Pandora and iheartradio. Toyota has announced that some of these features are disabled while the vehicle is in motion (forcing you to fumble around on the tiny screen of your Blackberry instead, perhaps).

Entune is due on “select models” sometime this year.

2). Samsung GoogleTV Box and SmartTV platform

Television doesn’t live in box anymore. Well, it still kind of does, but that box is hooked up to the Internet. Connecting our HDTV sets to the world wide web syncs our Televisions to an array of programming and applications. Programming like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Vudu as well as applications (apps) that vary depending on the manufacturer, product and model. Samsung’s apps include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pandora, Blockbuster, ESPN, AP, USAToday, Yahoo!, Skype, and many more, all on your TV.

And good for us, everyone’s getting in on the act. From Apple to Zenith.

3. Motorola Xoom Tablet

Tablets melt the Web, Books and TV into one mobile device that goes where you go. Motorola Xoom is the latest, which utilizes the Android operating system, and includes the the first dual-core processor.