Internet Television - the Future of Television

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Television is changing. Several years ago, over the air television went digital, bringing with it higher quality images and more channels. For the past several decades, an increasing number of homes received their television signals through cable or sattelite systems, and more recently, some homes get their signals by fiber.

But these newer, subscription based television services are expensive. At the lower end, one can expect to pay in the upper $30 range, and as you select more channels, and more content, the cost can exceed $100 per month. For those chosing packages they give them everthing, this may be reasonable, it is a lot of content, and to some, perhaps quite a bit of entertainment.

For me, however, most of what I watch can be viewed over the air - on the network television stations. There are really only three of the "cable" channels (actually, I get them via sattelite) in which I am interested, and on two of these channels, I only watch a single show. Wouldn't it be great to have a la carte programming - where I could pay for these two shows and one channel for perhaps $3 per month, and get the rest of my content over the air. Of course this would not really happen with a la carte programming as it has been proposed, but we will get there within the next decade. We are starting to see the technology to support it already. What will make this possible is the greater adoption of internet television.

Internet Enabled Televisions

With the recent introduction of internet enabled televisions, such as several offerings from Vizeo, and internet enabled "set-top" boxes such as the Google TV enabled Revue from Logitech and the Boxee Box from D-Link, one is able to stream content straight to your television from the internet. Some networks make selected shows available on their web sites, which can now be viewed as channels on your internet enabled television, as well as from your PC. Services like Netflix, at $8 per month (at the time I am writing this) provide a great substitution for those high priced movie channels, and you get a larger selection of movies on-demand.

These services consume lots of bandwidth, and you will pay for an internet connection in addition to any content you might purchase, but then you probably are already paying for such an internet connection anyway. Some internet service providers may limit your baldwidth allowance per month, but for moderate use of these services you are likely to remain below your (often unpiblished) cap.

Internet Set Top Boxes

These rarely sit on top of the television set since most are now flat-panel, but they attach to your television in much the same way that a traditional cable or satellite box would, and give you access to content from the internet. The two most popular inernet set top boxes are the Logitech Revue which supports the Google TV interface, and the Boxee Box from D-Link. These boxes provide access to lots of free content, but they also come bundled with "apps" that provide access to various movie and music pay services such as Netflix or Amazon's video on demand services.

Logitech Revue - Supporitng Google TV

The Logitech Revue provided an integrated interface to content from television and the internet, and supported tighter integration with certain DVRs especially those from Dish Network. The box had both HDMI in and HDMI out ports, with the input video feed passed through to the output as is, or captured and presented as a picture in picture when other services are used. This device was never well supported and has been discontinued, replaced in part by the Google Chromecast device.

Google Chromecast

The Chromecast device is slightly larger than a USB thumbdrive and plugs directly into the HDMI port of your television or monitor. Ir provides streamed content to your television, but does not embed your over the air (or cable or satelite) content within its user interface. The device uses your wireless router to access the internet and is a useful upgrade to a television that does not already support streaming network content. Many televisions today come with support for internet content built in, and this device would be redundant with that capability on these newer televisions.

Amazon Fire TV Stick

The Fire TV Stick provides similar capabilities as the Chromecast device, although there is a slightly different selection of supported services, and it integrates better with Amazon Prime Video. I have one of the Fire Sticks and am quite happy with it. Like the Chromecast device, Because many televisions today come with support for internet content built in, this device would be redundant with that capability on these newer televisions.

Boxee Box

As compared with the Logitech Revue, the Boxee Box did not provide HDMI input, meaning that it can not process or integrated feeds from other AV devices. You would connect it to an HDMI input on your television and switch to the Boxee Input when you wish to view Internet content, in much the same way that you do for the much smaller Chromecast device. The Boxee Box was much more capable than the other devices in its support for local network based content (such as from a network attached storage device) and its ability to convert content from a large set of formats. Unfortunately, the company supporting the Boxee Box stopped supporting it and was eventually aquired by Samsung, which effectively shut down the Cloud DVR service that had been sold as this companies followon product. The shutdown of the promised and operating Cloud DVR service for Boxee TV was sudden (occuring within 8 months of the products introduction) and in my opinion was handled in a shameful manner by Samsung, leaving customers who had purchased the BoxeeTV box for its Cloud DVR capability without the promised service, and with no way to obtain a refund. For this reason I would recommend avoiding any Samsung television or set top box products.

TiVO Digital Video Recorders

While the Logitech Review, Boxee Box, Chromecast, and Amazon Fire Stick can display internet content, they do not record content, and thus are not suitable replacements for a DVR (although availability of your favorite shows on demand from the internet might eliminate the need for a DVR). If you want to record cable or over the air content, these devices are best paired with a DVR. However, the newer DVRs such as the TiVO Roamio actually include the internet service capabilities directly. Therefore, you might consider one of these DVRs. The downside of the TiVO DVRs is that they require a monhtly fee (though you can purchase an expensive lifetime subscription). The Roamio DVR comes in many versions, and you should carefully match the version you get to your needs. Some of the higher end versions work only with cable, and not with over the air signals. I have one that works with over the air signals, which allowed me to eliminate my cable and satellite services (which had cost much more than the monthly TiVo subscripotion). I absulutely love the combination that I went with.