Giving Up Cable Doesn’t Mean Giving Up TV
Get The Most From Cutting Cable with Online TV (Early 2010 Edition, Part 1 of 5)
Online TV*. The landscape changes fast. The barren wasteland of 2004 became a desert oasis in 2007 and is blossoming into a viable alternative in 2010. While you still can’t (legally) see everything that’s available on cable, there is a lot to watch and the price tag of free is terribly tempting.
There’s lots of ways to dip your toe into online TV. Online TV services are built-in to many new TVs, Blu-Ray Players, Video Game consoles, set-top boxes, and even cell phones. (Not to mention it’s all over the web.) You can get into Online TV right now by clicking any links in the sidebar. Getting it isn’t the problem – getting the most from it is the trick.
Getting the most out of it means the best picture/sound and making it easy to use. You can do this with four basic hardware pieces, many of which you may already own: A computer, a TV/Monitor, a Blu-Ray Player, and an A/V Receiver. After that there are things you can add like video game consoles, DVRs, remotes, smartphones, projectors, and more… but for right now, let’s stick with the basics. If you choose the basic four pieces wisely and wire it together correctly, it becomes a system so easy even company can use it.
You don’t NEED all 4 pieces to get online TV. To get a majority of it, all you need is a computer built in the last few years. But an easy-to-use, internet-based, large screen home theatre with multi-channel sound is cheaper and easier to obtain than you think.
*Note: “Online TV” refers to streaming and downloading movies and television shows, online content for Blu-Ray movies, and Internet Original video content. Other internet content such as music, music videos, social networking, and online gaming is beyond the scope of this article.
Piece 1 of 4: A Screen
Whether it’s a 13″ laptop, a 65″ OLED HDTV, or a 10 foot projection, to fully enjoy Online TV you need a screen to see it on.
My guess is that you will be watching this on your living room television. If this is the case, you can just skip the rest of Part 1 of this article. Part 5 will deal with wiring it all together, and I’ll discuss using your existing stuff.
If, on the other hand, you are planning to build a new internet-based home theatre from scratch, then read on.
When buying a screen, size matters less than resolution and refresh rate.
Whether it’s a TV or a computer monitor, your screen should have a native resolution of 1920 x 1080.
Pitfall #1: Buying a TV
Not all “1080p” TVs are 1920 x 1080. Some TVs “support 1080p” but have a 1366 x 768 screen. These TVs “support 1080p” signals, but scale the 1080p picture down to 720p then back up to 768p – resulting in a soft, muddy picture. Check the native resolution, because that’s what you’ll actually be looking at.
Pitfall #2: Buying a Monitor
Not all “1080p” monitors are 1920 x 1080. Some are 1920 x 1200. Like TVs, these monitors support 1080p signals but stretch the image 10% too tall when connected to DVD Players, Blu-Ray-Players, Netflix Boxes, and video game consoles – making everyone look sickly thin with elongated heads. These are 16:10 monitors, and you want 16:9.
Some 16:9 aspect ratio monitors have resolutions higher than 1920 x 1080, but as long as it’s 16:9, your picture will be the correct shape. Resolutions higher than 1920 x 1080 are great for computers but wasted on TV/Movies because nothing is distributed at higher resolutions than that.
While showing 1080p, it should have a refresh rate of at least one of these: 60Hz, 120Hz, 240Hz, 480Hz, etc. (Movie buffs like 24p and 48p modes, but the screens that output them are as uncommon as the commercial content encoded at that framerate.) Beware TVs that claim 240Hz on the box but reveal in the fine print that it only does 240Hz in 480p mode and does 1080p at 30Hz. Check the 1080p refresh rate, because that’s what you’ll actually be looking at.
After resolution and refresh rate, the next important thing is ports.
An increasing amount of copy-protected content requires an HDCP-compliant port, such as HDMI and DisplayPort, or else it degrades the picture. Neither DVI nor Component connectors are HDCP-compliant, so if you’re connecting anything to your TV with DVI or component, you aren’t looking at full 1080p as often as you think.
To get the most from Online Television, your screen should have at least one (1) HDMI 1.3b or higher port, or one (1) DisplayPort/MiniDisplayPort.
More ports can be better but if you’re getting all four basic pieces you’ll only need one on the screen.
A Word on Built-In Online TV Services:
If you’re going to do at least 2 of the 4 pieces, and one of them is a screen, chances are the other piece will do Netflix Streaming so it’s (next to) pointless to have it built-in to your screen. It needlessly complicates the menus and prevents us from tossing the remote in a drawer and forgetting about it.
A Word on Dynamic Contrast Ratio:
Anything that passes all the other tests is going to be good enough. Don’t go broke chasing a bigger number spread.
Your screen doesn’t need anything else. It doesn’t need a tuner or speakers or Picture-In-Picture or a fancy remote. It just needs to be able to show you the best visual representation of what 1080p content can offer.
Next up, Blu-Ray.