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Streaming Video Devices: How to Make Your TV Smart

March 21, 2014 | Comments

If you're interested in watching Internet-delivered programming on a big screen but your HDTV is not one of the new so-called "smart TVs," don't despair.

You can buy an inexpensive add-on device that brings Internet streaming capability to your TV so you can watch House of Cards and other popular online-only shows without having to create a temporary setup with cables running to a smartphone, laptop or tablet.

So-called "media players" or "media streamers" cost $50 to $200 and come in two forms: a small set-top box or a USB thumb-drive-like dongle that plugs into an HDMI input on your TV. Popular gaming consoles offer another option: Sony's PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, as well as Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Xbox One, all connect to the Internet and can be used to stream content from video sites such as Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu and music sites like Pandora and Spotify.

Finding the Right Device

As is the case with any evolving technology, it pays to do research before you buy and, if possible, take the product for a test drive. Getting an expert appraisal of a product you're considering is a great place to start. Ask a home technology professional or read test reports in AV magazines and websites.

And, by all means, check with your friends to see if they have experience with streaming. Nothing beats a recommendation (or "don't buy" warning!) from a good friend.

To help you make an informed decision and choose the "right" media player, here are a few things to consider:

  • Is there a monthly fee?
  • Does the device have built-in Wi-Fi for wireless connectivity?
  • What services will you have access to? See what is offered beyond common offerings such as Netflix, Hulu, and Pandora.
  • Does it support full 1080p high-definition streaming? How about 5.1 surround sound?
  • Do you have to set up an account? Devices that support Google TV require you to create a Google account.
  • Is the onscreen interface intuitive and easy to follow? In other words, can you get to what you want to watch quickly or do you have to wade through a maze of menus? Perhaps more important, does the interface aggregate all available programming on one screen so you don't have to switch between cable/satellite, the Internet, and your home network?
  • Is the remote control intuitive and easy to operate? Does it have a mini keyboard for Web browsing? (Some remotes are two-sided with a keyboard on the back, and some companies offer a wireless keyboard option.)
  • What kind of Search function is provided? The ability to search for programs by title, actor, director, etc. can be a powerful tool.
  • Is a special HDMI input required? Some "stick" devices work only with a Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL)-enabled input.
  • Is there a USB input so you can access media from a connected drive or device?

With a small investment in time and money, you'll be able to bring the wild and wooly world of Internet programming to your TV.

To learn more about the latest television and home entertainment options, consult a CEDIA professional. Click here for a list of CEDIA-member home technology professionals in your area.