1) What kind of TV do you have?
Most importantly, what type of connections do you have on the back of your TV. For most of you, you will find any/some of the following:
HDMI (best and most common on TVs < 5 years old)
DVI (good and common on TVs <10 years old without HDMI)
Component (Red/White/Yellow/Green/Blue. Common on HD tv’s)
RCA (Red/White/Yellow, common on TV’s before HD)
S-Video (Yellow circular plug, somewhat common on TV’s before HD)
Coaxial / SCART (Basically standard on all TV’s in the last 25 years).
An HDMI connector will look like this:
A DVI connector and cord will look like this:
Why this is important is because of the connections on the back of your computer or device you are going to hook up to the TV. Most computers have an HDMI or a DVI connector. To hook up these devices is a simple cable from the device directly to the TV. If your TV is older, you may need some sort of adapter that will connect whatever type of plug on the device to the TV.
2) What are you going to connect to the TV?
You have a wide range of devices you can connect to your TV. First, and probably easiest, is an old computer that you might have lying around, such as a laptop you no longer need or a desktop. Find a place for it behind the television and connect it via the HDMI or DVI ports.
Other options include what are known as “streaming devices”. Apple TV is an example of a streaming device, as is the Roku and Western Digital Live devices. These connect to your home network and then to the net to bring you content from all over the world. I personally prefer a Mac Mini as it gives me more options for content to watch.
If you do opt for an old computer, you should consider buying a wireless keyboard and a mouse, or more preferably a trackpad. Why a trackpad? It looks better on your couch and it doesn’t get as thrown around / beat up as a mouse.
And as strange as it sounds, there is a great deal of content that is “over the air” for free. You should consider attaching an antenna to your TV to pull in a number of free signals from the major networks, PBS, and the independent channels in your area. Because cable companies compress the quality of the HD signal over their lines, you may found that HD over the air is actually clearer than what you were getting with cable. To see what signals you can get over the air, check out the broadcasters Antenna Web site and input your details.
3) What are you going to watch?
This is where it gets fun, and this is also where you start to make a change in your viewing habits.
With a standard TV, you can turn it on and just leave it running, flipping channels as you feel like it seeking out some content. But when you make the switch to Internet TV, you find yourself watching only “what you want to watch” rather than having television on as an ambient background noise. Sure you can put on a stream and have it run all day, but generally you’ll find yourself turning it on and off as needed.
You can start by getting some sort of media management program. You can use iTunes to download and rent movie and TV shows, or you can look into some other media management tools like Plex or the open source XBMC. You can also use your web browser and look through sites like:
ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox
A&E, Discovery, History Channel, etc.
For live television, you can find streams on many of the websites for television stations, but you can also look at streaming specific apps like Livestation and LiveStream, but also sites like JustinTV and UStreamTV.
There are also what are known as peer-to-peer streaming apps, some of which have content that is not copyright safe but still stuff you would like to watch. PPTV and Sopcast are examples of these programs.
4) Going International
There are literally dozens of channels from around the world that have streaming content available, such as the BBC iPlayer and the ABC (Australia) Player. However, many of these are geographically restricted to people who have an IP address in that country.
To get around this, you need a VPN or DNS redirection service. While there are a few you can find for free, if you really want higher quality, you should consider paying for a service like Overplay.net. This gives you a VPN to over 65 countries and can open up a whole world of content no matter where you are living. For example here in Hong Kong I’m streaming BBC 1 ‘Breakfast’ as I type this article.
Read more about my adventures with IPTV as a replacement for cable by searching here.
Read about cutting cable and going fully online for your television.