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Once upon a time, the only option for TV viewing was analog TV, delivered over the airwaves and brought into the home via an antenna. It was free for viewers who only needed the right equipment, and that was very basic: a television and an antenna. Then, along came cable, which offered an increased number of choices and consistently better reception, but at a price. With cable, those who could not get reception with the antenna were able to view programs clearly for the first time.
Eventually, the digital conversion changed the analog stations to digital. This conversion required many people to purchase an HD-ready TV or to acquire a converter box. Many of these new TVs and boxes included the technology that made them ready for use with Internet TV. For many people, this is a new concept. The fact is, however, Internet TV has been around for many years. Technology has advanced to make accessing it easier, and now many TV viewers are integrating Internet TV into their viewing options. What is more, many Internet users are now accessing their favorite Internet services via the TV.
Internet connectivity is now included on many common devices, including DVRs, game consoles, and Blu-ray players, as well as being marketed as specific Internet-enabled TVs and set-top boxes. The questions that many people have about Internet TV, now that the term is so widely used, are "What is it?", "How does it work?", and "How do I get it?"
What Internet TV Actually Is
Similar to the usability of video on demand, a feature that many cable services offer, Internet TV allows users to watch the programs they want to watch when they want to watch them. These programs are available on many Internet sites. Some are free, some are accessible through a paid subscription, and some sites allow the user to rent or purchase the movie or TV episode of their choice. This appeals to many users who prefer to choose what they watch and when they watch it.
Some cable users also utilize Internet TV in addition to cable. This is because, even though there are numerous viewing options available through cable TV, there is limited access to many of the favorites, except for catching a rerun at a select time. Even then, some of the programs available through one of the many Internet TV sites are never (or very rarely) shown on cable or network TV.
How Internet TV Works
Put simply, Internet TV works by connecting an Internet-enabled device to the TV and streaming video content from select Internet sites through the device onto the TV. Some TVs are already Internet-enabled and do not require the addition of a separate device.
The most basic connection, and probably the one that offers the most variety, is to actually connect a computer to the TV. Most of the recent computers on the market have some advanced functionality that makes this relatively easy, even allowing the connections to be made wirelessly over the home's Wi-Fi network. Using the computer this way, however, ties up much of its functionality for other purposes, as running these programs and streaming content requires a significant amount of processing.
Some users may have a dedicated computer for the purpose of accessing the Internet through the TV. One that does the job well is a good investment. While it does offer the widest availability, many of the other options that have have recently developed often do a better job at keeping the drain on resources (i.e. electricity and broadband) to a minimum. Also, their programming often allows the buffering to happen faster at a lower broadband connection speed.
Other than the option of purchasing a computer specifically for this purpose or selecting an Internet-enabled TV, the other devices that allow users to access the Internet and stream content on the TV include those that have either been developed specifically for this purpose or regular home entertainment devices that have had this functionality added. These include game consoles, DVRs, and Blu-ray or DVD players.
Pros and Cons of Internet TV
Many consumers consider Internet TV a bonus to living in the technological age. Many also wonder if it can actually allow them to cut their ties to cable or satellite TV. With the addition of receiving consistent over-the-air broadcasts, which require
an antenna and possibly a HDTV converter box, some Internet TV users are able to make the switch. However, Internet TV is not the same service as cable, so some users may be disappointed by the limitations.
Pros of Internet TV
The two biggest pros of using Internet TV are convenience and selection. There is a very broad selection of entertainment available across many genres, and users do not have to tune in at a certain time to watch. Because there are so many sites providing programing, including the TV network sites and YouTube, which has new videos added by users daily, it no longer matters what time of day it is, there is alway the ability to find something great to watch.
The choices are attractive, too. TV networks offer recent episodes of many of their most popular shows. Other paid subscription sites, such as Netflix, offer the chance to watch every episode of many TV series that are out of production. Long-time favorites that everyone grew up watching can easily be seen whenever the user is in the mood. Many of these programs are available for free, even if for a limited time, which is the case with most recent TV show episodes.
Movies, too, are available through many of the Internet TV sites. Often, movies that are most readily available are not always the newest, most popular ones that have just hit DVD, but most users find they are surprised at how recent the movies are. Certainly, movies from the current production year are available.
Many viewers enjoy streaming educational programing and consider this a major plus over cable or satellite options. In the past, the only educational options on the TV were limited to select channels that only showed certain programs at preset times and select documentaries. With Internet TV, the entire Internet of education is available whenever the viewer is ready to learn.
Many sites are packed with educational presentations that help the viewer to quickly understand complex ideas. In some instances, lectures from an entire college course are available online. For anything from a college Physics course at MIT, a cooking program, and even many educational technological programs, Internet TV opens the door not just to entertainment but entertainment that can truly enrich lives.
Cons of Internet TV
The downside of Internet TV, unfortunately, is that not all programs and movies are available for free and many are not available indefinitely. Some sites are only available through a paid subscription, such as Netflix. Some free services, such as Hulu, have optional paid subscriptions that open up access to greater variety.
This is disappointing for those who were looking for completely free and unlimited programming. There may well be monthly costs involved in the Internet TV option, although, for the most part, the added costs are optional.
With Internet TV, there is no access to over-the-air programming, so if users hope to stay up to date on their favorite network programs, there will typically be a delay. Most TV episodes are available only 24 hrs to a week after their original air date. Not all services that offer these episodes are accessible on every device. Some that are more accessible only include the previous seasons of many TV programs and not the most recent airings.
Also, while just about all Internet TV sites are accessible by most computers, many sites are not accessible by all Internet-enabled devices. Generally speaking, Internet-enabled TVs, game consoles, set-top boxes, and other such devices can only access the sites they have been programmed to access. Typically, the sites accessible by these devices are the more popular sites, with a wide variety of movies and programs, and most devices regularly add the ability to access more and more content.
Last, streaming video can be quite a drain on broadband. Some Internet services just cannot handle the speeds, and broadband is required. Even those that can may require considerable buffering time in order to stream the content. Many users also experience a quite noticeable slowdown of other Internet connections while streaming video.
How to Get Internet TV
With all that the Internet has to offer, more and more Internet-enabled devices are being developed and manufactured every year. The table below lists several methods whereby viewers can access Internet TV, a description of each, and the pros and cons of each option.