Tired of squinting at a computer monitor to view vacation photos, home movies, or that zany episode of 30 Rock you missed Thursday night? Transferring all that video from a hard drive and onto the TV where it belongs has never been easier.
There are a number of options, starting with a simple box that acts as a bridge from a computer or the Internet to a TV. And it really is simple. Just connect it to the TV and a home network, and you’re good to go. (A home network allows devices, such as computer hard drives, to share data, a printer, or Internet access—with or without wires.)
Some of the best solutions for transferring content involve partnering with a service that allows access to entertainment with a mere click. It’s no surprise that Apple has one of the top choices. Apple TV is an 8-inch-square white box that syncs to iTunes and streams content from the Internet or other hard drives in the house to a TV. Download television shows and movies, or pull other content from a hard drive to watch where you like.
TiVo makes a similar device, the HD DVR. This high-definition digital video recorder is designed for use as a cable box and has all the features of a TiVo—programming, storage, pausing live TV—plus it uses the home network to connect to the Internet to transfer video from a computer or download content from TiVo’s service, which works much like iTunes.
Or try amazon.com’s Unbox subscription service, designed to work with existing TiVo models. Just add the monthly subscription, register at TiVo’s Web site, and begin downloading content. Netflix devotees can use a box from Roku for $100 plus a Netflix subscription. And this fall, Microsoft is offering a similar service, with Netflix content downloaded to the Xbox 360. Sony will launch a video program for the PlayStation platform soon.
Sadly, no technology is without a few glitches. DSL (digital subscriber line) connections that work over existing phone lines come in more than one speed, and even the faster connections are often prone to interruptions, according to Tom Stone of Stone-Glidden, a Philadelphia-area audio-video custom installation business. Cable providers offer more reliable data transfer, he says, and will keep the stuttering on your screen at bay.
Remember that downloaded content is digital data, so most of these solutions will only work with a digital TV, or they require additional cables to connect to an older analog set. Picture quality suffers when viewed on a non-digital TV. Check specifications of the product under consideration.
Content from any of these hard drives isn’t as good as from a true high-definition (HD) digital source, such as what you’d receive from playing one of the new Blu-ray discs on a Blu-ray DVD player. This is the new generation of DVD technology that is just now coming into its own. Movies and other content produced for Blu-ray are recorded in true HD, and when played on an HD TV offer the best home viewing experience possible.
Blu-ray players now have an interactive feature called BD Live. Movies connect to the Internet via links embedded on the disc, access additional content, or connect to other viewers. The bad news is that none of these will actually turn your TV into a true interactive experience. That’s still in the future.“We’re not at the place yet where the TV and PC are interchangeable with a central server,” says Washington, D.C.-based technology consultant Sean Wargo. “Those are still conceptual, but it’s theoretically possible.” And coming soon.