Streaming online movies to television easier than ever

Getting online content on television is easier than ever. A growing number of Internet-capable televisions and Blu-ray players allow consumers to stream video from the Web to the big screen via a broadband connection.
Consumer Reports’ latest Ratings of televisions and Blu-ray players that can stream movies online included more than 20 sets from $1,000 and four players from $150. Lab tests also revealed that set up and access to online content was easy and picture quality was decent if not quite up to the claimed resolution.
CR’s tests also found another dozen or so televisions that can stream other types of content aside from movies; however, Internet browser capabilities on Web-enabled televisions and Blu-ray players are limited. Viewers can watch videos from YouTube; news, sports and more from Yahoo!; digital photos stored on Picasa and Flickr; and music from Internet radio stations such as Pandora and Slacker. Some of the content is free. Movies and TV episodes are pay-per-view or, with Netflix, included with a subscription. Other online streaming services include Amazon Video on Demand, Blockbuster on Demand and Vudu.
Aside from Web-enabled televisions and Blu-ray players, there are other devices available that offer access to streaming movies and online content, including the TiVo HD DVR, $250, and two game consoles: Microsoft’s Xbox 360, $200 and up, and Sony’s PlayStation 3, $300, which includes a Blu-ray player and a Web browser. There are also dedicated boxes that connect to an existing broadband service via a wired or wireless (Wi-Fi) hookup. Some of the streaming services, such as Vudu, also offer their own boxes for a fee.
Things to consider
— Which Net-cable gear? Each hardware brand has partnered with specific services; content may vary for different players or televisions within a brand. CR recommends that consumers who are upgrading from a standard DVD player to a Blu-ray player should consider an Internet-enabled model as it costs much less than upgrading to a television that can receive the Web and gets the same content. Boxes dedicated to streaming video are available from Roku HD, $80, and MediaPoint, free with $99 worth of Blockbuster movie rentals. Apple TV, $229, allows access to the iTunes video library, and Vudu has a box for $149. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3 can stream content from Netflix
— Which brand? Each hardware brand has partnered with specific services; content may vary for different players or televisions within a brand. Just because a TV or Blu-ray player is Internet-capable, it may not be able to stream content from a desired service. For example, Samsung televisions and Blu-ray players that are Web-enabled can stream content from all the service providers CR looked at; however, Panasonic enabled devices can only stream content from Amazon Video on Demand from among the streaming services CR looked at.
— Which movie services? The major streaming movie services offer immediate access to tens of thousands of titles and most are available on demand. The vast majority of offerings are standard-definition, but there are some HD videos. Vudu’s HDX movie format was the only movie stream that looked like real HD but required the high end of most broadband providers’ standard service (4.5 to 9Mbps). Most charge per rental except for Netflix, which offers unlimited streaming which is included with monthly plans starting at $9.

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