Do-It-Yourself Internet TV
PC for the TV that's no bigger than a paperback.
Last week's announcement of GoogleTV, which will bring the Internet experience to future Sony TVs, brought the tug of war between TV makers and computer manufacturers into the spotlight. Yes, pieces of the Internet are available on some new TVs, but it is also possible to connect a computer to a TV and use the TV as both a TV and a computer with full Internet access.
There are pros and cons to both. Here are considerations to help make the best decision for you and your family.
Internet TVs, Blu-ray players, home theater systems
TVs are not the only component to deliver a bundle of Web apps to your screen. Blu-ray players and home theater systems (sound components) may also be equipped with Internet capability. Internet TVs and other components feature built in programs that offer access to selected sites like YouTube, Netflix, Flickr and Facebook. TV manufacturers call them by different names, including apps and widgets.
For instance, Samsung's apps are available on selected LED, LCD and plasma TV models, Blu-ray players and home theater systems. Viewers access the apps from the TV menu and navigate with the remote. Samsung apps include Blockbuster, YouTube and Netflix for video and movies, Facebook and Twitter for social networking, USA Today for news and a gaming app devoted to family games like Monopoly and Sudoku. Vizio, LG, Panasonic, Sharp and others offer a similar feature. Compare apps to select a TV that offers ones you are most likely to use.
Sony TVs will be the first TVs designed around the new GoogleTV platform. Google TV promises to bring the entire Internet to the TV including video calling, email and a quick way to search for shows you'd like to watch whether on a TV station including cable channels or on the Web, like Hulu.com and Clicked.tv. Sony plans to offer both Google TV capable TVs and set-top boxes with integrated Blu-ray players this fall. Google TV will also be added to Dish Network boxes and offered to Dish subscribers in the fall too.
Limited Web access, cost of new equipment and the difficulty of navigating Web pages with a traditional remote may dampen the enthusiasm for some viewers. The alternative is to connect a computer to a hi-def TV with an HDMI cable.
TV-connected computers, keyboards
Computer manufacturers have introduced several "computers" that may surprise you in their design and affordability.
Earlier this month, Lenovo introduced its Q150 ultra-thin net-top PC. About the size of a paperback and less than an inch thick, this little PC can be connected to a TV for a complete Internet experience. Once connected, it can be easily hidden behind the TV, but it is stylish enough to be on display. This PC can also be connected to a PC monitor.
Its complementary remote looks like a ping pong paddle with a full QWERTY keyboard and large trackball mouse, and it aims to make both TV and Web browsing easy to do. The computer and remote will be available in June for $349.
New from Asus is the Eee keyboard computer. This is the only full-sized keyboard device on the market. It features a 5-inch capacitive touchscreen and has computing capabilities built in that are equivalent to a typical netbook. The advantage of this option for adding Internet to the TV is the roomy, familiar keyboard. It is available from Amazon for $599.
You may be able to add Internet to your TV for free by connecting an unused computer, a netbook or even your smartphone. If the device has an HDMI output, you may connect it to your HD TV, and enjoy the Internet on a big screen at no extra expense. With these options, you are essentially using your TV as a monitor, so no fancy interface or combined search features. It is a utilitarian option, but may work well if what you want is to watch Internet content on a bigger screen.
Finally, if you have a Sony PlayStation and subscribe to Sony's PSN service , your online entertainment options just opened up with Sony's announcement of its partnership with HBO to deliver full length TV episodes through the PS3. Xbox Live subscribers already enjoy TV shows and movies through the Microsoft service. If you haven't checked the kids' gaming console for grown-up options, you may already have Internet entertainment streaming to the TV.