Getting rid of cable or satellite television is something every American has trouble with. Prices for cable can easily climb over $80 per month, with satellite service prices being even higher. These prices coupled with waning, doltish American TV content such as “Conveyor Belt of Love”, poor mainstream news coverage, and ridiculously long advertisement breaks; is leaving the viewers with much to be desired.  However, a fantastic emerging alternative – the internet – has evolved to a point where it can replace your cable lifestyle.

The theory for Web TV is simple – just have a dedicated computer hooked up to your HDTV. Although, there are many quirks to doing the setup right, which will make the experience most enjoyable.  This post is written with the intentions of getting you going correctly with a computer for Web TV.

What can I do with a TV computer?

  • Watch any online streaming content, such as Hulu, Ted, YouTube, NetFlix, Vimeo, Pitchfork TV, CNN News, etc – fullscreen on your HDTV
  • Download videos, TV shows, and movies via BitTorrent – then watch them on your TV.
  • Share your iTunes music from another computer to be played on the TV computer.
  • Play video & social games with others, such as “You Don’t Know Jack” or “Worms”.
  • Use Boxee for a sandboxed music & photo slideshow solution.

What you will need:

  1. A decent purchased or home-built computer with Windows Vista or 7. Right off the bat I would recommend the Dell Zino HD starting at a mere $250. Bump up the processor for it, though.  A good home-built computer for Web TV will cost circa $400. Your computer must at least have a DVI monitor port, although a built-in HDMI port is recommended.  For processing power, any cheap dual-core processor will do unless you wish to watch 1080p movie files; then a 1066mhz bus Core2Duo should be required. A NVIDIA graphics card is also strongly recommended, because of recent Flash video acceleration developments with the cards. Windows Vista or 7 is required because XP’s interface doesn’t useably scale to HDTV’s. Mac or Linux can be used, however Flash performance & web video compatibility will suffer with them. View my recommended home-built TV computer from NewEgg.
  2. An HDTV with an available HDMI port. If your HDTV has red / white audio input plugs for an HDMI port, that is a big plus. If not, you will need a computer with full HDMI audio / video output.
  3. DVI and audio cables. If your HDTV has the red & white audio inputs for HDMI, then you will need a DVI to HDMI cable for video, as well as a headphone to red & white audio cable. If your computer has full HDMI audio / video out, then you will just need a standard HDMI cable.
  4. A wireless keyboard / mouse. Geeks.com regularly sells wireless bundles for less than $20.  iPod / iPhone users can alternatively purchase the fantastic $3 Mobile Air Mouse App.
  5. A fast internet connection. Preferably 1 Megabit or higher, usually available from Time Warner. If your HDTV isn’t physically near your internet router, a computer WiFi card may be needed.

What is Optional:

  1. A Netflix account.  Netflix has a huge movie database that’s available on-demand for $8 per month.
  2. A free dedicated GMail account. Want to e-mail or instant message your TV computer links for things you need to watch? Setup a free GMail account for the computer, install GTalk & GNotifier – and you can.
  3. An HDTV antenna for local content, or a basic cable subscription (usually less than $10 per month).
  4. Create logins for sites like Hulu, Youtube, etc and set them to prefer higher quality video.

What should I know about using Web TV?

  • For the best user experience, it’s strongly recommended to leave the computer dedicated to watching TV only.  That means basically installing only Firefox & iTunes – and not using it for any personal work or other enjoyment.
  • Flash video, which most of the internet uses, is very processor intensive.  Make sure to get a strong computer or your viewing experience will suffer with stuttering and skipping video.
  • Choosing the correct screen resolution is key to the user experience. In most cases, setting your screen resolution to 720p (1280×720) will be optimum.  Setting your resolution to something higher like 1080p (1920×1080) will likely make everything too small to see.
  • Using a computer for TV is continuously active - you can’t just sit back and let content come to you as with cable or satellite.  Whenever a video is done playing, you must go select a new one to view.
  • Most major shows & sitcoms can be found online now at their corresponding network website (CBS, NBC, FOX).  Hulu is a great movie and TV resource as well.
  • Setting up bookmarks correctly is key to a simple experience.  Use Firefox or Chrome as a browser, and set your favorite video site bookmarks to be in the bookmarks toolbar, just a click away.
  • Your local content can be had with a HDTV antenna, or your local news stations website.  For example – my local news, WRAL, is continuously improving their online video content.
  • Slow loading video – internet video, especially YouTube, has an annoying tendency to pause & buffer.  This will get better as American internet infrastructure improves.
  • Sporting events are mostly absent on the web.  Your best options for watching sports online are by using channelsurfing.net, paying for a specialized online team viewing package, or being lucky enough to receive ESPN360 from your internet provider.

What sites can I use to watch content?

There are thousands of sites to choose from now which have video.  Here are some I have bookmarked in my toolbar to get you started: