How to Watch Internet Video On Your TV (YouTube, Netflix, etc)
I’ve been hearing more and more good things about the Roku box lately. This is an inexpensive little device - between $79 and $129 - that connects to your TV and lets you watch tons of online video from places like Netflix and Amazon Video On Demand. It also supports "channels" that allow people to add support for additional sources, including YouTube, and can display photos from Facebook and Flickr. It even supports lots of smaller indie-type stuff like the TWiT.tv podcasts, and can play your custom Pandora music stations too.
There’s a similar box from Western Digital called the WD TV Live Plus that appears to include many if not all of the same features, plus better handling of your own photos and movies via USB sticks/drives. It’s a little more pricey at $149. But the Roku seems to be quite a well-loved product, whereas I haven’t heard much about this WD device yet.
Much of the online content that you can access through these kinds of devices is free, but that generally does not include feature films and popular TV shows. For that you’d use Amazon’s VOD, which has movie rentals for a couple bucks each; or Netflix, which has a ~17,000-title library of instant-streaming movies and TV shows with unlimited access for as little as $8.99 per month. Of course Netflix is also an amazing DVD-rental-by-mail service, and the $8.99 subscription is actually their entry-level one DVD at a time package; all their packages include the instant-streaming for no extra charge.
The ultimate solution for TV, though, is TiVo. A TiVo costs $299 and is worth every penny. I don’t know how I watched TV before TiVo... actually I do know: I just didn’t bother. The TiVo’s interface for selecting shows to watch/record is by far the best I’ve ever used: there’s no messing with channels or dates or times, you just tell it the name of the show. And its fast-forward (and rewind) implementation is perfect, to the point that trying to use any other devices’s FF/RW (I’m looking at you Boxee, Front Row, etc) is just aggravating. More to the point for this article: through TiVo you can access Netflix, Amazon VOD, and lots of video podcasts like TWiT as well. I’m not sure about Facebook and Flickr, but I have a Mac mini connected to the TV for various other geeky reasons, so I just use that for anything requiring a browser.
There’s also Apple TV and Google TV, but the former has been kind of a dud, is more expensive ($229) and supports neither Netflix nor Amazon VOD (though you can buy/rent content on it via the iTunes Store); the latter isn’t yet available, and seems like it might be a built-into-the-TV feature rather than a separate box you can add to an existing TV. So for the time being, for non-geeky types who don’t want to spend a lot of money, the Roku box looks like a pretty nice solution.